No perfunctory condemnations, no glib solutions - just thoughtfulness.(And fascinating anecdotes and erudition. Who knew? Cockles.)
What have we come to? I had a letter recently from a parishioner telling me he had fallen in love with another man and therefore wasn't going to be coming to Mass anymore!Not certain what I think of any of this - do I receive the Blessed Sacrament too casually?
The Gospel yesterday in the Old Rite was the wheat harvest sown with zizzania (translated as cockle), the owner tells the servants that rather than weeding out the weeds, to leave them until harvest time, 'lest the wheat also is lost'. The Second Vatican Council spoke about a 'universal call to holiness', what we seem to have difficulty with is coping with the fact that not everyone wants 'holiness', or at least wants to delay it until the last moment, or simply feels they are incapable of itIn the past we dealt with this by accepting people were at different places in their spiritual pilgrimage. Now I wonder if we have lost that flexibility. Chesterton's remark about the possibility of leaving an umbrella safely in any church, of any denomination, except a Catholic church, because in a Catholic church it was bound to be stolen, because Catholic churches are full of sinners, once contained a lot of truth. I remember certain London churches and certain continental churches that seemed to be full of ladies of certain character and men of certain 'exotic' tendencies, all at the back or behind pillars or in side chapels praying with intensity, and slightly more reflectively 'pray for us sinners, now and the hour of death'.
One of our parishioners remembers as a young boy being told by the Parish Priest not to accept sweets from the then rather elderly Lord Alfred Douglas and another, now dead, told me that his mother didn't think it "safe", presumably in the modern sense of 'safeguarding', for children to come here on their own "because of the strange people who go to 'Mad Mary Mags'". If their parents didn't come with them they were sent to the posher and safer Sacred Heart Church next door in more select Hove. Graham Greene used to come here when he stayed in Brighton, he was friends, along with Belloc and Chesterton. with Mgr Wallis, who was Rector here until his death in 1950. I can well imagine that on a Sunday not only Rose but most of the characters from Brighton Rock turning up here at Mass. Maybe even Pinky came here at Christmas and Easter.We have always taken it that the God 'tolerates' sin in the Church, and sin in its members. It hates sin but loves sinners and yet is formed of men and women who are sinners. In the inter and post-war Catholic novels of the great age of Catholic literary converts, who often had an ambiguous relationship with God themselves, there is a deep sense of the divided self, Sebastian Flyte deeply in love with his German lover and yet ultimately finding a relationship with God, that is quite saintly but which occasionally falls disastrously apart but he he always returns again and again, to care for the sick and to live alongside the brothers in the monastery that have taken him in. It seems typical of the light and dark motifs of Catholic literature and spirituality of those years, and tells the true story of Catholic pastoral care of those years.....The older idea, still prevalent in Orthodoxy and certain declining branches of Protestantism, and amongst more ultra Traditionalists, that people should receive Communion only rarely, and then only after confession and a period of intensified fasting and penance, was the norm up until Pius X. In pre-Reformation England the norm was for Communion once a year, following Lateran IV's precept of reception at 'Easter or there abouts'. The confession, penance, prayer and rigorous fasting of Lent was the period of preparation....if everyone is to receive the Eucharist, does it means that there is no room for the prostitute or the gay man or adulterer unable to control his sexual desires or the alcoholic or the wife beater or the paedophile or the murderous God hating gangster, or the simply confused, or just plain ordinary sinner with a divided soul who loves the idea of God but is too damaged to fully embrace him.We are indeed all called to holiness but yet whilst virtue might indeed be growing in us like a rich crop of wheat, the zizzania flourishes too and maybe, until harvest time, it dominates. The problem is we see the weeds and God sees virtue. We are not the best judges in our own cause....[emphasis supplied]we have never been a 'holiness cult' but a Church of sinners....Is there a place in today's Church for the man who washes the wounds of the diseased and lights copious candles, faithfully tells his beads, yet has a penchant for a particular vice and then goes on a bender, throws his beads in the dustbin and a few weeks later, horrified is found kneeling outside the confessional or weeping before the statue of Our Lady? Is there place for the priest addicted to drink, or maybe nowadays porn, who claims he has lost his faith, yet is actually heroic in his fidelity? Is there a place for Saint Mark Ji Tianxiang, the opium addict, forbidden the sacraments for thirty years, yet had the courage to die for Christ.
I had forgotten until just now, when I was younger there was a parish at which my Mother sang, my younger brother and I sometimes joined her with the choir.
She pointed out to me once a young couple, 2 very lovely men, boys, really. She told me they were there every week, arrived early, (like the musicians,) very devout, knelt in prayer for a long time, participated devoutly in Mass and never presented for Communion.
And then she smiled sadly.
That was all she said about them, I was never quite sure why - thought perhaps at the time she was trying to tell me something about many of my friends, (as if i didn't know....)