The Tablet Blog
A persecution complex certainly won't help Sr Gemma Simmonds, guest contributor
8 December 2011, 9:00
In The Tablet this week, we report on a homily in which the Bishop of Shrewsbury, Mark Davies, argues that today is the hardest time to be Catholics since the 'days of persecution'. Sr Gemma Simmonds, a lecturer at Heythrop College, London, responds:
Tacitus wrote in the first century: 'Our time is a time of religious decline. The once enduring vitality of the religious is in decay. (...) Youth is in open conflict with the established society and with the authority of the past. They experiment with eastern religions and techniques of meditation. The greater part of mankind is affected by the decay of the times'.
It is characteristic of every generation to think it is going to Hell in a hand basket, and that this is at least partly the fault of its parents' generation. People have been bewailing the decay of the times and its effect on religion since the days of Tacitus, and no doubt before.
No generation ever alive has passed on the fullness of faith to the next. The fullness of faith is beyond us all. This is why Jesus came on earth, to be 'our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom' (1 Corinthians 1:30). Each generation brings something to the search for faith and loses something. Many of the present generation are keen for faith to be sure, well-defined, distinct and strong on boundaries between the sacred and the secular. They are keen on certain types of devotion and on manifesting their faith in a way that defies the consumption-driven and individualistic values of their age. Perhaps they are less adept at making the connection between faith and justice/social transformation that became such a burning issue to the generation that immediately followed the Second Vatican Council.
The greatest gift to our time is the enduring legacy of the Council, the most authoritative gathering of the Church on earth. The Council did not call us to stand in isolation from or enmity with the world, seen as a hostile force bent on destroying faith. It called us to enter into dialogue with the world, refining our capacity to see within the many human endeavours for truth, freedom and wellbeing the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This doesn't invite us to be naively uncritical about the world, but it precisely drew us out of a defensive ecclesial ghetto into which the church had, in some instances, withdrawn. Going to Mass on Sunday is certainly a way to express and nourish faith, but it is not the fullness of faith, which is something that has to be lived in the context of the ordinary in solidarity with all that is good and true and beautiful in our world. I'm not sure that putting the generations even more at odds with one another than they already are is going to help this.
21 December 2011 9:53 (23 of 23)
Following my reading of subsequent posts, I feel a further response from me is in order. I cannot fault the way the faith has been handed on to me (however deficient this process may be perceived to be by some in the hierarchy, in view of my feelings on the new translation of the missal). I have been taught about a God who knows me and loves me and who called me into being. The God of my parents, my school, and my home community is a friend. The faith is being successfully passed on. The revelation of how knowledge of the faith comes to us is tied to history (and to a certain extent, reason), and in a special way, the person of Jesus, who, by his life, revealed to us the extent of the Father's love for us. One beautiful part of Lumen Gentium speaks of those who, in shadows and images, seek the unknown God. The way of salvation is open to them. God speaks to them through the voice of their conscience. To someone of my generation (born in the mid-1970s), this is pretty obvious. It cannot be any other way. There can be no exclusivity to God's calling or to salvation. When I went to university to study physics I met non-Catholic Christians who seemed to have a zeal for life because they knew they (and perhaps they alone) had been saved. But they still encouraged others to take on board their beliefs and so not lose out. Salvation had never bothered me before this and I hadn't given it much thought. What will be will be. My hope had always been (and still is) that if God has called me into being, he will not abandon me. After all, it would be a bit mean to create me without my agreement and then leave me to perish. I hope one day to leave this world in God's friendship (cf. the old translation of Eucharistic Prayer III). There are plenty of Gospel examples where Jesus reminds us we will not be left alone. At university I remember talking to a priest about all this and I was reminded of what St Paul wrote, and how today was the day of salvation. Add into this a Salesian priest's reminder that 'with God there is only the present' and you get a new way of looking at things. Live each day as it comes, love your neighbour as yourself, and remember God wants us to be happy. And yes that involves seeing God in our neighbour, looking after the environment, not wasting our precious resources and, perhaps, not putting too much water in our kettles when we make a cup of tea. It is in concrete examples, illuminated by history, that we learn about God and how to live so we respect others. As a child I remember learning this prayer: 'Every day, all day, I'm faced with a choice: To make others happy, or make others sad. Lord, help me to choose to do good, not bad.' The foundations had been laid by my first class at primary school and they were firm. Contrary to the view of my bishop, I am confident there has been no failure in my catechesis. Ongoing reflection and discussion with priests and religious over recent weeks, since that earlier conversation with him, has reassured me I stand on firm ground. As I said in my earlier post, one barrier to passing on the faith is coming from the hierarchy. The translation of the missal is perhaps the most telling example of where things have gone wrong. Anyone reading the history of ICEL and the murky power games that have taken place in the Vatican in recent years cannot in all honesty see this as a good work. It will become a barrier to evangelisation. Through its grovelling-to-God language and overly humbling of humanity it is obscuring the very truth it should be proclaiming. If I can see this, if the priests on the golf course can see this, if people in all the English speaking countries can see this, why aren't the bishops engaging? The decline in the passing on of the faith that some of them speak of will accelerate if nothing is done soon. Being able to read the signs of the times is not their exclusive preserve. Rather than just opening a window in the church, perhaps we need some investment in a new HVAC system. An inspection of the foundations would not go amiss either.
20 December 2011 15:52 (22 of 23)
Gemma Simmonds is correct and Mark Davies is wholly wrong. He fails or refuses to perceive 'within the many human endeavours for truth, freedom and wellbeing the indwelling of the Holy Spirit'. This is a grave error on his part and in those who imagine retreat and distancing oneself from 'the world' is in any sense living the Christian life. To denigrate and turn our backs on our brothers and sisters of all faiths and none who, as in every time, are struggling with the hard questions of THIS time, is shameful. Our calling is not to hold ourselves aloof but engage fully in life as it is now, this moment, and look for the good where it is to be found. It is surely to be found and, as Jesus shows us, not in the most expected places.
17 December 2011 18:40 (21 of 23)
Bishop Davis uses the example of driving a car to illustrate the importance of maintaining attention when engaged in important work; being encouraged to look in the wrong direction can so easily lead to trouble. Any driver who has experienced the wails of a small child will attest to the efficacy of this!
Perhaps this analogy can be extended to encompass the all too familiar Post-Conciliar experience of the well educated speaking outside their hard-earned expertise. The rush to 'pop psychology'¯ indicated by the label of 'persecution complex'¯ does no service to the Reverend Dr Simmonds. Without evidence and based on minimal textual material there is nothing to support any sense of irrationality in Bishop Davis's homily. The emphasis of his text seems to be that Sunday is special; that attending Mass on Sunday is necessary and that however, banal, dull, trite or dispiriting the liturgical experience is, the essence of the Eucharist transforms the mundane to bring the Kingdom of Heaven closer.
There is nothing that God asks of me that I cannot with his help achieve. Sunday Mass Attendance may not be sufficient of itself to experince the fullness of faith but neither is it possible to experience the fullness of faith without honouring the Sabbath. If we had treated the Second Vatican Council authentically then perhaps we would not be reaping the fruits of loneliness that distraction from mass church attendance has brought.
God bless Bishop Davis and Sister Gemma.
Fr Ray Blake
17 December 2011 15:59 (20 of 23)
Yes, why not invite Bishop Davies to write a weekly column, or even better invite him to become a Trustee of The Tablet, it might help its credibility, but then he might be too busy preaching the faith to those who are hungering for it.
16 December 2011 9:45 (19 of 23)
It would be welcome to many outside of The Tablet's limited readership if men of Bishop Davies' outlook were to be appointed to any vacant dioceses.
15 December 2011 14:42 (18 of 23)
It seems that Bishop Davies is a jolly good bloke. Can we have some more bishops like him? Please.
14 December 2011 21:23 (17 of 23)
Bishop Mark Davies is to be congratulated for his accurate assessment of the state of play. Perhaps The Tablet should live up to its claim to be a 'Catholic weekly' and give him a weekly column.
14 December 2011 20:47 (16 of 23)
Going to Sunday Mass is one essential part of the Faith, not the entirety. But the Eucharist is the 'source and summit' of the Church's life, according to Vatican II. Where Catholics fail to be present at Mass and praying, they are cutting themselves off from Christ the Source. Vatican II is simply the most recent of 22 or 23 church councils and needs to be read in continuity with the rest. It is not 'the most authoritative gathering of the Church on earth' in isolation from all the rest. Bishop Davies is a great example to the rest of our often mediocre episcopate.
14 December 2011 9:24 (15 of 23)
Bishop Davies is a fantastic pastor and we are very blessed to have him. He is a man of deep interior life and great virtue and he sees the signs of the times. Please do not waste print 'bashing' him.
14 December 2011 7:37 (14 of 23)
'No generation ever alive has passed on the fullness of faith to the next. The fullness of faith is beyond us all'¯. By the same token, all of our marriages are annulable, because not until paradise (if) will we fully understand etc .. On this precise point, annulment on account of unwilful lack of understanding as a basis for anulment, Pope JPII spoke clearly and pithily: ONLY in special and pathological cases. ( I have but minutes ,tho it must be on the net) Mutatis mutandis to passing on the faith the same words apply. Is not the creed teachable? Is it not referred to as simbolo because of its radiating meanings? Inexhaustible if you like. But he who passed not on the creed would be failing to pass on the fullness it is the 'simbolo' of. And given enough fulness of understanding, as twere, on his own account, committing a grave sin of ommision in thereby so failing or so not endevoring enough.
Fr Julian Green
13 December 2011 23:16 (13 of 23)
Bishop Mark Davies really has his finger on the pulse of the Church in this country. He himself has been a hard working priest in inner city Manchester, and has dealt with the pastoral situation caused by a misreading of the Second Vatican Council. Those who took the Council as a green light to jettison the icons of faith which united us as a community, and the ensuing iconoclasm which has left younger Catholics without any sense of identity with the Church which educated them or the God in which it believes, have sold now several generations of Catholics short in terms of formation in the Faith. Anyone involved in ministry to young people and young adults will know the sense of injustice of young people who are resentful of a Church which refused to give them a true formation in the truth of the Faith and its practice. They will also know the immense zeal and joy with which they will practise the Faith once introduced to the person of Jesus Christ and the fulness of the Christian faith which is held in trust in the Catholic Church. This is the experience of Bishop Mark Davies, who seems determined not to repeat the mistakes of recent decades, and is very aware of the grave responsibility laid upon him, and upon all bishops and priests, to ensure that the Faith is communicated to a new generation. He has seen that the new evangelisation is a call to a new faithfulness to the Church and its Tradition in an age of a lack of faith. I am sure that snipes from Tabletistas and others who have an agenda will not deter him from this task.
Father Stephen Brown
13 December 2011 20:06 (12 of 23)
Huzzah for Bishop Davies! As a university chaplain with 99% foreign students and 1% English, I think what he said is spot on.
13 December 2011 19:27 (11 of 23)
Whatever else Sr. Simmonds' views are they certainly aren't Catholic.
13 December 2011 19:03 (10 of 23)
'Tacitus wrote in the first century: 'Our time is a time of religious decline. The once enduring vitality of the religious is in decay. (...) Youth is in open conflict with the established society and with the authority of the past. They experiment with eastern religions and techniques of meditation. The greater part of mankind is affected by the decay of the times'.' Interesting that Sr Gemma quotes Tacitus in the attempt to show that every generation thinks the worst of the next one as far as religious practice is concerned. Tacitus was, of course, quite right: Roman religion (which is what he was talking about) was indeed in decline, and one of those 'eastern religions' he was complaining about was, of course, Christianity. Poor example, Sister.
13 December 2011 16:22 (9 of 23)
As far as I know, the Second Vatican Council described the Sacred Liturgy as the 'source and summit' of the Church's prayer. If anything the Council re-affirmed the place of the Mass, and therefore Sunday attendance, at the very heart of the Catholic Faith. I find it shocking that a nun is suggesting that Mass attendance is 'not the fullness of faith'. What's gone wrong since the Council when nuns are saying such things? Perhaps Bishop Mark Davies is onto something.
13 December 2011 12:19 (8 of 23)
The window of the church that was opened in Vatican II seems like a good place to exit from... Seriously, Mr Coley? You would apostasise because there's been a new (more accurate) translation of the same Mass? Give yourself a shake, man - and spare a thought for those who had to cope with the incalculably more radical liturgical changes of the post-Council years.
13 December 2011 8:25 (7 of 23)
Sometimes it is the church itself (and its hierarchy) that is causing the difficulties! One example: In regard to the new 'enriched' translation that has been forced upon us, I have complained to my bishop in person. He wasn't interested. He thought it was a good thing, after all it had been 'received from Rome'. Any problems I had with the image of God that it was putting across had to be down to a failure in my catechesis in my earlier life. I was brought up in a Catholic family, went to Catholic schools, went on lots of retreats and pilgrimages to TaizÃ©, Lourdes and Walsingham. I wouldn't have thought you could get much more Catholic than this! My mum was an RE teacher too to top it all! Having been in mass for the past few weeks I am just angry at what I hear. The image of God has been distorted and he has been made distant. Where is the God that will wrestle with us and knock our hip out of its socket, the God who is always with us and a part of our lives? We only seem to have this distant deity who we are 'summoned' to worship and bow down before, striking our breasts as we do so. This isn't the image of God that my 1970s/80s/90s upbringing has taught me about. The window of the church that was opened in Vatican II seems like a good place to exit from...
13 December 2011 0:18 (6 of 23)
Gem, Ducks, Surely the 'fullness of the faith' is the person of Jesus Christ, his fullness is received in the Sacraments, through the Church? Isn't the Bishop arguing that your generation has failed to pass that on? Isn't he saying that the liberalism, criticised by Cardinal Pell, that the Tablet has championed has left the people of my generation without even the language to articulate what God has revealed? Is this what you are criticising?
A. V. DeBono
11 December 2011 17:30 (5 of 23)
Hierarchy? Was it in Jesus' mind when he called the Twelve and founded the Church on them?
Fr Frank Maguire
9 December 2011 21:23 (4 of 23)
I think one should prefer Cardinal Ratzinger's (Pope Benedict XVI) comments on the shrinking repository of faith - or even back to Maritain if you wish; but if that raises hackles then this quote from Luke 18:8 should give pause for serious thought - you cannot re-write the Gospels after all: '...And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?'
9 December 2011 14:42 (3 of 23)
I agree that a complex is not helpful. However, where our religious freedoms are being eroded, we need to be aware of this. Our ancestors in faith fought hard to obtain them, and our successors will not thank us for giving them up lightly. Also on natural law issues the Church should be vigorous in opposing those laws that go against it; this is not just for her own good, but for the good of all of society. So we do not lobby for a law requiring everyone to go to Mass, but we should lobby against the great evils of abortion.
8 December 2011 18:18 (2 of 23)
Jesus? Hierarchy indeed has driven Him from Institutional Church, so very Un-Christlike.
8 December 2011 18:17 (1 of 23)
Hierarchy is helping achieve the Ratzinger Vision of a 'smaller purer church.'
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