Thursday, 4 April 2013

A reponse to Fr Ceirion Gilbert: a war of words that obscures the Church's message

In a recent Blog Post for the Tablet, Fr Ceirion Gilbert, the director of youth services in my diocese (Menevia)  expressed his ire regarding Cardinal O'Brien's recent letter on marriage.

Though I believe that Fr Ceirion was right to express his concern regarding the language used in the Cardinal's letter (it could certainly have been more qualified and perhaps fitting for what was essentially a pastoral letter), I was a little concerned about some of the other comments he had to make.  

I too am riled when I hear people who profess to share my Faith use inflamitory and derogatory words towards others which are incompatible with that Faith. I can also attest however that when I was a young person of the Diocese of Menevia, I felt that my Faith was at odds with my generation and I was glad for it - materialism, nihilism and hedonism have nothing to offer us.

When entering a debate, the type of language used is crucial as it is quite easy to fail to reach an intended audience either because the language used is inaccessible to the recipients (e.g. too theological nuanced) , aggressive or inappropriate.

I see this as a particular problem on Twtter where the 140 character limit leaves little more for expression and manoeuvre. I feel that some Catholic commentators are basically bringing the Faith into disrepute as their exchanges with each other are often full of bile and vitriol. It's Starkey Syndrome - any good they may actually do or truth they speak is lost in the manner of their language and behaviour.

You cannot however play language games with theology. Revisionists can debate what the word "marriage" means in a modern context until The Second Comming or Maximum Entropy - what they cannot do is change God's plan of creation from Genesis to the Marriage of the Lamb.

Fr Ceirion fears that the Church offers "an interpretation of society and humanity at odds with that of younger generations and almost incomprehensible to them". We therefore need to make the message of the church more accessible to them, perhaps through an examination of the language we use to express that message (and through other forms of communication like liturgy, art, creation etc) but certainly not at the expense of the message. It is often all too easy to blame a non-personal entity such as the Magisterium for our own failures in our mission to evangelise, particularly when our best efforts result in failure. Introducing an “us and them” attitude to the hierarchy of the Church is also extremely counter-productive.
The "sensus fidelium" has always been an important part of Church teaching and sacred Tradition is kept alive by its waters. One only has to think of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception to see that. The Church however is not a democracy - we have Christ as our Head, the Pope as his Vicar and the Holy Spirit as our guide. It has a care of duty for all souls - sinners and saints, all should feel "welcomed and loved". This however cannot be at the expense of Truth - as the Black Eyed Peas suggest, “If you never know truth, then you never know love”.

Jesus was not a stranger to the disappointing effects his own teachings could have on followers or potential followers. Of His own words many of them said "'This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?'” Indeed, “After this, many of his disciples went away and accompanied him no more". If they would not follow Christ, many of this generation will not follow us.

The Church now exists in a time when its teachings are increasingly labelled as "intolerable".  Jesus asks us "What about you, do you want to go away too?" Can we answer with Peter "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God"?

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