Home > Straws For The Camel's Back > Issue 3: June 23, 2014

Issue 3: June 23, 2014

To Hell with “Spiritual”!

I note that the Holy Father’s niece Cristina Bergoglio, described as an artist, has announced that she is  “not religious but spiritual”.  She’s just the latest in a long line of pseuds to make such an assertion. They want us to believe they are intelligent, sensitive and caring. But  how much better to fly in the face of fashion and be religious but not spiritual.

Just think about it: (I pinched most of the following from Fr Ray Blake’s blog), well before Ms Bergoglio let it be known she had joined this tiresome and snobbish club):

We believe in Jesus Christ who did not abhor a Virgin’s womb; indeed that was where He became flesh–flesh and blood.

We believe in the flesh-and-blood Resurrection of the flesh-and-blood enfleshed Word of God. Those who claim he rose “spiritually” or somehow took on our humanity “spiritually” are damnable heretics.

Catholicism is about physical realities; we believe our resurrection is physical, not “spiritual”; we believe that “in my flesh I shall see God” (Job, 19:26).

In the Holy Eucharist we do not receive “spiritual” food but the actual body and blood, the soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. That’s why I (Stramentarius, not Fr Blake) am not at all happy with the phrase “spiritual drink” in the Novus Ordo Mass.)

We do not believe that the Church is merely the spiritual body of Jesus but is the real tangible reality of Christ’s presence in the world.

Even the Holy Spirit, the most “spiritual”’ thing that we believe in, manifests Himself in a real way, in the Incarnation, in the Resurrection of the Person of Christ, in the gathering of the Church, in transubstantiation of bread and wine, in the real sanctification of those who have received Him.

We are not called to “spiritually” feed the hungry but actually to do it, we are not called to “spiritually” instruct the ignorant but to actually do it, nor to be spiritually chaste but to actually be chaste. Indeed we are not called to have a “spiritual life” but to have Life. The Holy Spirit always manifests Himself in the flesh.

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Spooky Catholicism

As  I have just endorsed all that about the Flesh you may be surprised to learn that I am a devotee of what Hilary White, in her blog Orwell’s Picnic, calls Spooky Catholicism. Here’s how she explains it:

“People who are interested in religion are really interested in the Spooky parts. They want to know about the grand movements of Heaven and Hell, of angels and demons and the Great War between them. They want to know that their own moral struggles are about something greater, taller and more grand than global warming or the dangers of smoking. Something better, that is, than what the secular world offers.

“It’s the real reason movies and books like the Da Vinci Code are so wildly popular. Why Hollywood always dresses its pretend nuns to look more like real nuns than the real nuns have looked in 40 years. And why the Godfather movies all have depictions of the brocade and velvet, pointed arches, gold-curlicued and marble-columned Catholicism of the pre-Vatican II era. No one who is looking for the real, Spooky, Supernatural version of religion wants a priest to dress in a polyester poncho and sing folk songs.

“There’s The Rules, yes, and we give intellectual assent to the doctrines of the Faith, (which is what `The Rules` is shorthand for.) But what are The Rules guiding if not the supernatural life of the soul?

“What is it all for if there’s no Spooky?”

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Estranged Young Catholics

It is a truism, but unfortunately true, that bad things which happen in the United States will almost inevitably be replicated in Ireland and Britain a few years later. A new book, Young Catholic America, a  massive survey of Catholics aged from 18 to 23, indicates that the overwhelming majority of them have given up the Faith to a greater or lesser degree.

It divides these youngsters into five groups: Apostates, Switchers, Estranged, Nominal and Engaged.

Seventeen per cent of those interviewed had become Apostates: they had totally abandoned the Church and given up their Catholic identity, without joining any other religion.

Twelve per cent, the Switchers, had joined some other faith. These categories together make up nearly 30 per cent of the total.

But it’s worse than that: 27 per cent are labelled as “Estranged”, meaning they still described themselves as Catholic but rejected Catholic teachings and distanced themselves from the Church. This means that 56 per cent of  all those interviewed were no longer meaningfully connected to the Church.

Then we have the “Nominal” category: 15 per cent said they were Catholic but no longer practiced the Faith at all. So far, then, 71 per cent  of these “Catholics” had either left the Church or were Catholic only in name.

Then we have the “Engaged”. Twenty-nine per cent embraced their Catholic identity, and said they find the Faith important and meaningful. However, they don’t accept all the Church’s teaching. That means one hundred per cent of those surveyed were either lapsed or wobbly.

There was, however, a sixth category the researchers were looking for. These would have been labelled Devout–meaning those who practice their faith consistently, believe in and understand Church doctrine, and expect to remain Catholic. The researchers state: “There were none we could categorise as devout.”

That is the only part of the survey I would regard as dubious. One must assume there was something not entirely representative about the sample interviewed. I don’t know all that many young American Catholics, but  I have met several whose zeal for the Faith would put me to shame.

Be that as it may, there is a ring of truth about the rest of the survey. It indicates that over the next half century, the Church in North America will shrink to microscopic proportions. Who can doubt that other English-speaking countries, including Ireland, will follow suit?

One has to agree with the assessment of Churchmilitant.TV that this represents a disastrous failure on the part of Catholic bishops in the West to insist on proper catechesis in schools and other educational establishments. They are down to the last generation of young Catholics.

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The Bishop and the Wendy House

In the 1930s there was an Anglican bishop of Gloucester known as “Nazi” Headlam because of his extreme racist ideas and approval of eugenics. An Anglican Benedictine monk, Dom Gregory Dix, once had an appointment to see this rather unsavoury individual and was ushered into a drawing room. After a long wait he was joined, not by the bishop but  by a small girl who was sobbing uncontrollably. In his attempt to console the child, Dix began by asking her who she was. It transpired she was the bishop’s granddaughter. Asked why she was crying, the little girl replied, between sobs “It’s my Wendy house.” (A Wendy house is a toy house just big enough for a child).

Dom Gregory offered her the cleaner of his two monastic handkerchiefs and asked for more precise information.

“Well,” said the child, “I persuaded grandpa to crawl into my Wendy house. It wasn’t really big enough for him, and he got wedged inside. Then I went for a ride on my pony and no one heard him shouting for three hours and when he got out he was all stiff and hoarse and all he could say was ‘Now I’ve got to go and see that bloody monk.’ Oh,  please don’t’ tell them I used that bad word! I’m already in disgrace.”

Recounting this story afterwards, Dom Gregory added: “I patted her on the head and told her what a good girl she was and gave her half a crown.”

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What You Think

It is useful, indeed probably vital, to know what readers are thinking about NewStraws. We have had some very helpful responses to the first two issues.

One priest  friend expressed his general approval but thought there was too much “Angry Young Man” at the expense of “Jolly Satirist”. Well, it’s a fair comment, but I have to point out that I am in fact an Angry Old Man who thinks there is rather a lot to be angry about. And I’m not sure that “Jolly Satirist” is not an oxymoron.

Another priest friend points out that our Holy Father Pope Francis, if he puts his foot in it, always corrects the error. As it happens, on the day I read this comment I happened to be reading  G.K. Chesterton’s The Scandal of Father Brown.:

“The truth is still half an hour behind the slander; and nobody can be certain when or where it will catch up with it,The garrulity of pressmen and the eagerness of enemies had spread the first story through the city, even before it appeared in the first printed version. It was instantly corrected and contradicted in a second story…but it was by no means certain that the first story was killed. A positively incredible number of people seemed to have read the first issue of the paper and not the second.”

My point is that a huge amount of damage has been done, and it is impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.

But now some good news. (About time, sez you.) Another friend, a layman, tells me that a recent  issue of the Tablet carried an item stating that the Catholic Church had helped to lift more people out of poverty than any other worldwide organisation.  Credit where credit is due.

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