If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists – they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies. I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. (Pope Francis)
A week or two back I asked for some suggestions of points from Pope Francis which it might be valuable to discuss. John Candido has proposed the passage above, which is an interesting choice. Here I will confine myself to my own, rather mixed, reactions to the issues raised.
I am a born Catholic with 10 years of education under the Jesuits. My first public Catholic activity was to present Catholic belief at Speakers’ Corner, and in Leicester Square, under the auspices of the Catholic Evidence Guild. I already welcomed the certainties of the Church – so different from the shifting slackness of the Church of England. But I can promise you that defending the faith on the street corner strengthens those certainties to a great degree. I recall assuming that most Protestants were bound for Hell because they had ample opportunity to accept the limpid truths that I, and others, was patiently explaining to them.
I found myself at odds with my father, who was the then editor of the Catholic Herald. He was a champion of the role of the laity in the Church and a fervent promoter of Ecumenism, long before it was fashionable. He was at continual loggerheads with the bishops who were a threat to the very existence of the newspaper. His position would look very moderate now, since the Church has gone well beyond his ambitions for it at that time.
It is sixty years since then, and throughout that time I have been conscious of a tension between my original views and my father’s views – or rather his views on reform. We do not exorcise admired parents so easily!
If I am in a state of grace I am heavenbound: if I am out of a state of grace I face damnation for all eternity. Sexual sins are always grave matter. The existence of God is certain for those who look. The smallest baby is defiled by Original Sin. If I follow the Church obediently in all things I shan’t go wrong. The list continues and is long.
But the other side of me rejects such cast iron positions. I know good Catholics and bad Catholics; I know good atheists and bad atheists. I know enough about the history of dogma to know that the Church has often been wrong and has had to change. I know that the Church has often institutionalised wickedness of various kinds. I don’t even like a God who deals out perpetual torture so easily. Again the long list continues – but perhaps you get the idea.
You may understand how I welcome the advent of Pope Francis with a hallelujah – at last the Church is going to approach what Christ wanted to be. And you may also understand that I am afraid of the Church becoming wishy washy (like those Protestants). I am afraid of subjectivism rather than objective truths. I do not want to be in the Church of Good Intentions.
You may say, and with good argument, that much of this is simply illogical, and certainly it is inconsistent. But I write of feelings, fears and intuitions. I could dispose of these tensions no doubt in the ruthless light of cold reason. But would it solve my feelings?