All around me I see religious leaders trying to make the faith relevant for people. Whether it’s a Protestant pastor laying on parenting classes or the local megachurch advertising drug free rehab sessions, or maybe it is a Catholic priest doing his best to provide a hip hop sermon and a groovy style, or perhaps it’s a sincere pastor who spends all her time housing the homeless and feeding the hungry, maybe it’s the community church with cool music and a hipster pastor…I see them and envy their energy and passion, but as a Catholic priest I wonder if that is what I am supposed to be doing. I doubt it.
Yesterday after hearing confessions and saying Mass and taking the last RCIA class it hit me again that I really don’t have very much to offer when it comes to changing the world or even changing my parish, or most especially changing me. What I do have is a gift: the gift of somehow or other, married and a convert and a very flawed person–being ordained as a Catholic priest. This means I have the gift to bring the sacraments to people for their souls’ salvation. It means I am a steward of the mysteries of God. Along with this I have a gift for communication–for preaching the gospel. This too is a gift and it is therefore no great credit to me except that I use it wisely.
I’m not down on those who wish to make the church inclusive, who reach out to the poor, who serve Christ in others. All that is very good, but when it comes right down to the bottom line I have to ask what is most necessary. What is most necessary is saving souls through the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the saving sacraments. I’m a priest, so this is my main job. The other stuff is good, but not the best good.
In thinking these thoughts I’m then struck, on the one hand, with the utter irrelevance (in the world’s terms) of what I do. Let’s face it. I’m proposing a medieval world view–yea, an ancient worldview–in the modern world. I’m proposing that through these sacraments something supernatural transpires. There is a transaction with the transcendent. Souls are saved from hell, they speed further up and further in on their purgatorial journey, they are enlightened. They are absolved from the sins that hinder them from heaven and they are set free from their bondage to Satan and all his minions. Let the modern secularist laugh at me if he wishes–especially let the modern churchman laugh at me. I don’t actually think it matters that this world view is “medieval” or “ancient” what matters is that it is true.
And laugh at me they do. I well remember a discussion (after we had had a few pints) with a modernist Anglican from my next door parish. I said to him, “George, tell me now, man to man, what is it that y0u really believe?”
He was embarrassed because in England even clergymen are embarrassed to discuss religion. “Well, I suppose I believe that God (if he exists) is there and errm. I suppose I am a sort of shaman to the tribe. I help them through their rites of passage.”
“I see.” said I. “I know it is going to surprise you George, but you know all that stuff about ‘Jesus died to save you from your sins…and if you don’t accept him you’ll go to hell?'” Read More