Eff the Pope!

“Eff the pope!” the bull voice shouted at me – only he did not confine himself to the initial letter. Standing on my soapbox in Leicester Court, on the north side of Leicester Square, I fortunately remembered my training: repeat the question for clarification and get a moment to think. I came back with: “Are you asking me if I would invite the pope to indulge in an intimate activity of which he would disapprove?” Silence in the crowd. Then his voice boomed again: ”Nah. I said Eff the pope” You can’t win them all.

This was the Catholic Evidence Guild back in the 1950s when I was a young man cutting my teeth as a Catholic in public. Speaker’s Corner, Tower Hill and Leicester Court were among the places where Catholics stood up to explain and defend Catholic belief. The Guild started in 1918 in Westminster, and was to spawn other branches, including overseas. The doyen in my time was the lay theologian, Frank Sheed, once described as the greatest Catholic apologist of the last hundred years. Few people can hold a crowd with an explanation of the Trinity or the Incarnation – but Sheed could. His great book, among others, “Theology and Sanity” still stands alone.

I had come to the Guild via my Jesuit education, which had involved a good deal of public speaking. Not for nothing the senior Jesuit class was called Rhetoric – the skill need to take part in public affairs. But I was quickly to learn that I was a mere amateur in front of a hostile and often well briefed crowd. The training I was to receive was remorseless.

We were licensed to speak only on specific subjects. Not for me the Hypostatic Union or the Mystical Body – papal infallibility or confession were more my mark. Again and again I had to rehearse my chosen topic in front of my peers in the Guild. They knew from experience every tricky question, every vulnerable point, and they battered me down again and again. I saw several hopeful speakers choke into confused tears. At last I was allowed to attend the panel of senior members, including a theologian, and I was able to qualify to speak on my subject.

This gave me great confidence as I set out for my pitch – clearly I would be more than a match for the crowd. Except that they did not know the subjects in which I was qualified, so their questions ranged beyond my knowledge. At Speakers Corner there was a solid opposition group who specialised in difficult Catholic questions. But they meant no harm, and ironically some would coach me when I descended from my box. Sometimes the discussion was too quiet, Frank Sheed once left the platform with the remark that a good drunk would have helped.

Leicester Court provided a different problem. This was passing trade, and the first challenge was to build a crowd at all. It seemed weird to be earnestly addressing no one. The odd person would stop, occasionally mock, and wander off. Then you could strike lucky – a good heckler. With tactful management one would become two, two become four and, before long, there was a decent, vocal, crowd. Occasionally I was helped by a queue for the adjacent cinema – the poor dears were trapped, but they listened. I did not always surmount the temptation to entertain the crowd rather than do my job. There’s no business like show business…

For self-protection I needed to extend my knowledge. By the time I finished I knew about most alleged Catholic rogues in history, the basis and the problems of every denomination of consequence and nigh every common criticism likely to come up. In this I was greatly helped by Radio Replies, a three volume work which dealt with over 4000 questions from an attacking public. Somewhat updated, it remains available on the internet (http://tinyurl.com/hwpcppr ). And still lives in my upstairs loo.

Did we do any good? I have no proof, but I like to think that we clarified the truth, perhaps started some new thoughts which could lead somewhere, and conveyed to some that the Catholic Church had worthwhile approaches to the meaning of life. No doubt the greats, like Frank Sheed, got much further than most of us. But the banner is still being carried in this digital age by the organisation, Catholic Voices, who, through the media, carries the message to a larger audience than we could ever have addressed.

As for me, the benefits are all one way. No audience can frighten me, and I flourish on questions and attack. But, above all, I have been tempered by the fire of opposition. Not only do I believe but I know why I believe because I have been obliged to engage every criticism which the crowd can muster.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Church and Society and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

69 Responses to Eff the Pope!

  1. pnyikos says:

    I enjoyed reading about your early experiences, Quentin. Although my background is very different from yours, I have arrived at the same point described in your last paragraph after decades of plotting my own course.

    My skimpy formal training in Catholic apologetics came in my twelfth and last year in Catholic primary and secondary schools. It was a standard classroom setting, with no training of the sort you had; indeed, there were no ‘tough’ questions, in fact no questions at all, just an explanation of the most important doctrines in a language suitable for that level. Naively, I thought that through private study and some of my own native reasoning ability, and experience in high school debating, I could get to be a great defender of the faith myself.

    But this was in the days of Vatican II, when it soon became understood that the real opponents to be concerned with were not Protestants, or even theists of all sorts, but the atheistic humanists. Radio Replies got shelved since almost none of the questions in it seemed relevant in that setting.

    It took close to a decade of very sporadic but often intensive arguing with atheists before I came to the conviction that it is pointless to try to convert them. The important thing is to make them see that theirs is not the only reasonable point of view; in particular, that an honest agnosticism is preferable to doctrinaire atheism; and, at the opposite extreme, that it is possible to be a believing Catholic while being just as rational as a believing atheist.

    The average atheist lives under the illusion that there is no evidence for the existence of anything supernatural. This is a misuse of the word ‘evidence’ just as, at the opposite extreme, it is a misuse of the word ‘proof’ to claim that there are many ‘proofs’ for the existence of God, for the divinity of Jesus Christ, etc, The plain fact is that there is evidence for all of these things, but nothing like a proof for any of them. Once this semantic difficulty is overcome, a real dialogue can commence if our “opponent” isn’t closed-minded.

    • Alan says:

      pnyikos – “The plain fact is that there is evidence for all of these things…”

      I think it might depend on how you look at it.

      Something might look to be evidence of a supernatural intelligence but it might not actually be. Take the early example from the link in Quentin’s post. It suggests that mankind’s common and unprompted impressions that there is a God, even when we are very young, is evidence that there is one. Not necessarily I would suggest. We are also inclined to imagine some intelligent agency at work in situations where we know there is none. Simple tests demonstrate that we commonly sense agency and purpose where none exists. So this evidence that there may be a God might in fact be evidence of something else entirely. Something much more human. This is only true if God doesn’t exist of course, but if someone isn’t entirely closed-minded about that possibility then I think they must accept that there may be no evidence at all for God.

      Having said that I don’t know what sort of agreement about acceptable evidence you have come to with other non-believers. I’m curious about how the “real dialogue” continues after that and whether and how it still addresses the possibility that there is no God. Could you explain more?

      • ionzone says:

        A really good study on Near Death Experiences would help. I like to use this one:

        “Life after death? Largest-ever study provides evidence that ‘out of body’ and ‘near-death’ experiences may be real” Independent.co.uk

      • ignatius says:

        Alan,
        “Simple tests demonstrate that we commonly sense agency and purpose where none exists. So this evidence that there may be a God might in fact be evidence of something else entirely. Something much more human. This is only true if God doesn’t exist of course, but if someone isn’t entirely closed-minded about that possibility then I think they must accept that there may be no evidence at all for God…”

        We must be here revolving round the different meanings of ‘evidence’ Suppose I say to you that the sheer existence of the 2 billion strong Christian Church is ‘evidence’ that goes towards the likelihood of God’s existence. This is backed up by the fact that probably up to 90% of the planet believe in and worship a God of some kind. Surely this ‘fact’ goes towards the existence of God, because, surely, 90% of the planet aren’t all simpletons or clones.
        But you turn round to me then and say that actually all my figures ‘prove’ is that the human race, in order to create parameters for personal existence, simply needs to ‘believe’ in some overarching system or being. Either that or there is simply a ‘religious impulse’, given in the substrata of our brains, which makes sense of the world via the construction of symbols.
        I don’t think there would be any way into this kind of debate Alan, no way of ‘proving’ along either axis because the ‘evidence’ does not lead to a firm conclusion in either direction. On a personal note, I am quite prepared for the possibility that I may have lived the past 30 years of my life in vain (as a religious person that is). However I could not do the kind of chaplaincy I do unless I FIRMLY believed in the power of God for change. This tells me that somewhere in my life has accumulated sufficient ‘experience’ to count as ‘evidence’ for my belief.

      • G.D. says:

        Alan –
        Evidence is something that is not proven. The evidence presented – by young or old – is not proven, no, but the evidence is still a factor in existance.

        There is no materialistic proof nor (it seems to me) ever will be proof for a materialistic evaluation of God.
        There is only the unproven evidence of experiences and beleifs by them that know existentially & subjectively the presence of the (factually unproven) God.
        But the evidence for God is not null and void for that fact.
        The evidence still is, ever has been, and (it seems to me) ever will be, under scrutiny.

        When the evidence is finally proven, beyond any question of doubt, materialisticaly and/or metaphorically, it will then, and only then, be known what the evidence proves.
        Meanwhile, there is still evidence for God.
        (For a fuller and deeper dialougue of this sort check out ‘Bernard Kastrups’ site. I think you’d enjoy the discussions there).

        ionzone –
        Do you know of ‘collective evolution’ site? There are many links to scientific studies on NDEs. (And plenty more scientific evaluations of after life/consiousness/’god’ concepts).

      • Alan says:

        Ignatius,
        “But you turn round to me then and say that actually all my figures ‘prove’ is that the human race, in order to create parameters for personal existence, simply needs to ‘believe’ in some overarching system or being.”
        I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say “prove”, but I would suggest this as an alternative explanation for the same data/evidence. So we would agree that we have evidence but we couldn’t be certain what it was evidence of. Am I wrong to think that these facts can’t actually be evidence of both? I only meant to question the “plain fact” pnyikos claimed that we did have evidence for God and the divinity of Christ.

        ionzone,
        I’ve seen some of the reports of the research into NDE’s before. As the article mentions it probably does deserve further study. With the single exception of the patient reportedly hearing more than one “beep” from a hospital monitor I’m puzzled as to how they identify the timing of the experiences these people relate. At some point before and after the patient’s brain shut down it will have been working and presumably under far from ideal conditions.

        G.D.
        “Evidence is something that is not proven. The evidence presented – by young or old – is not proven, no, but the evidence is still a factor in existance.”
        I’m all in favour of evidence never proving anything. I’m just struggling with the idea that there can be evidence for something if that something turns out not to exist. Perhaps I should reconsider. Is it true to say that we really did once have evidence that the Sun orbited the Earth? Or should we just think of that as a mistake/misunderstanding of what the evidence really pointed to? I lean towards the latter, but maybe I shouldn’t.

      • G.D. says:

        Alan –
        Yes it “Is it true to say that we really did once have evidence that the Sun orbited the Earth? … and that was … “a mistake/misunderstanding of what the evidence really pointed to” …… And now we have EVIDENCE (not ‘shouting’ just for emphasis) that the Earth orbits the Sun ….. but the PROOF that is true is in question with various developments of scientific evidence(s) from the science of the last decade or so – al la Quantum Physics and all that evidence …….. evidence yes, proofs no.

      • G.D. says:

        First line error in my last post. Should read .. Yes, it is “true to say that we really did … etc ..

      • pnyikos says:

        The evidence with which I confront atheists goes to the foundations of our universe — the way our universe is almost infinitely more congenial to the emergence and evolution of life than we have any right to expect. This includes the fantastic “fine-tuning” of the basic physical constants, expounded on by several thoughtful leading physicists, including Martin Rees, Cambridge Professor and England’s Astronomer Royal. His book “Just Six Numbers” lays out the way these constants have to be just so for life to be possible. Here is one example:

        “The cosmos is so vast because there is one crucially important huge
        number N in nature, equal
        to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. This number
        measures the strength of the electrical forces that hold atoms together,
        divided by the force of gravity between them. If N had a few less zeros,
        only a short-lived miniature universe could exist: no creatures could grow
        larger than insects, and there would be no time for biological evolution.”

        http://www.ichthuk.infs/BigBang/Dols/Just6num.pdf

        Faced with such highly un-random features of our universe, one can no longer uphold the naive atheistic notion that this one universe of ours, the one that started with a Big Bang roughly 13 thousand million years ago, is all there is or was or ever will be. One must either opt for a superhuman intelligence responsible for all this apparent design, or one must opt for an incomprehensibly large number and variety of universes, almost all of which are pure garbage and unable to bring forth life. The latter prospect is unpalatable for many, and helps them to see why it is reasonable to believe in a creator. [Of course, they consider a creator to be even more unpalatable, otherwise they would cease being atheists.]

      • Alan says:

        pnyikos,

        It does seem that we agree on the evidence. I’m still not sure it can be said to be evidence of something in particular though.
        It was some decades ago now that I saw a program where several physicists were asked if they thought the Big Bang was the beginning of everything. Not one did. I don’t think it has ever been a “naive atheistic notion” that this universe was necessarily all there is. For many, myself included, I think the notion is instead that we don’t know nearly enough about it to draw a conclusion. Hence the mix of ideas that I see still being considered in scientific publications. I’m very keen to keep the possibilities of what lurks over the horizon of our current knowledge open.
        The chances of the universe having the “Goldilocks” forces that allow for the development of life depend entirely on how it was formed. The chances of me hitting triple twenty on a dart board three times in a row are slim, with my eyes shut and throwing left handed next to impossible. But if I throw a grenade rather than a dart I can hardly miss. Without any assumption that we really understand that creation event 14 billion odd years ago what we seem to be left with to me is a mystery. I think this is why, with some exceptions of course, most of the people studying this subject aren’t so swayed by the fine tuning argument suggesting a god. We are all agreed there is more out there to discover. Most cosmologists will merely speculate about what it might be.
        Besides that, I’ve also read the suggestion that ours might not be the only stable possibility for the creation of complexity. Not life as we know it necessarily, but not chaos either. Altering one “dial” might throw out the tuning. But there might be other “stations” to be found. Our particular needs are very specific, but then we developed within very particular conditions. We might fit this universe so perfectly because it shaped us. There isn’t much evidence of any of this of course. Just some educated guesses. But I’d have to think the natural world had run out of surprises to dismiss them out of hand.

      • Quentin says:

        Forgive me if I am missing the point of this conversation but there is another way of looking at it. We have existing substance — it doesn’t matter if it’s the universe as we know it, or possible preceding universes. What needs to be explained is the existence of substance in the first place. Instinctively we look for preceding causes, and so we conceive of a first cause. But we have to accept that this is not a point in time, because time only exists in relation to substance. The statement: ‘substance has always existed’ is therefore strictly correct.

        So we are still left with the need for a cause through which substance can exist. Our first answer cannot be ‘God’, because that, on examination, turns out to be a tautology. It is simply a word that means a cause that can create something out of nothing. I argue that the best we can do, following this line, is to identify the characteristics which this cause must have in order to be an adequate cause. Thus we would look to such characteristics as an entity which is infinite (since it cannot, by definition, itself have a cause); it must be personal since it is the cause of persons; it must be good because it comprehends ultimate reality; and so on.

        It is only after we have recognised the necessary characteristics of an adequate cause that we can address the question of how we choose to react to such a cause. How should we respond to an infinite person, who is infinity good and who brought about our existence?

      • overload says:

        Presumably a fundamental attribute of God as creator and sustainer of substance & time—which we hold is done out of love—is will; and presumably will necessarily includes desire?

      • Alan says:

        Quentin,

        “I argue that the best we can do, following this line, is to identify the characteristics which this cause must have in order to be an adequate cause.”

        Our understanding of how things work seems to break down in various places. Typically at the very limits of our knowledge. 14 billion years ago being one such place. In the quantum world cause and effect don’t seem to follow the same rules we are used to in our day to day lives. Superposition and twinned particles (to name just a couple of examples)aren’t at all like our everyday experiences. Most of the substance of the universe seems to be “dark” and even the bits which aren’t can be pretty odd! You seem to me to be looking at a close up picture of the elephant’s tail and telling me not what you think the animal might look like, not what you think the animal the elephant descended from might look like, but what the animal’s dim and distant relative “must be” like. Clearly we’ve at least some missing pieces of the puzzle. Perhaps we are missing a lot.

        And where am I most likely to find such arguments as the ones given by yourself and pnyikos? Is it mostly cosmologists that advance the case for god based on cosmological constants? Is it mainly physicists who reason from the physical substance of the universe to a personal deity? Even if they did, I would imagine it being with the same notes of caution and speculation and hypothesis that they do for M-theory or multiple universes or “that might be like asking “what’s north of the north pole?””. Any degree of confidence seems entirely inappropriate to me. It feels like this speaks much more to motive than to substance.

        Recently you quite rightly pointed out the problems that science suffers from when confirmation bias and fraud and mistakes plough their way through the defences of peer review, repeatable experimentation and scientific method in general. A disappointingly high percentage of errors remain. I wonder what the error rate is without such measures.

    • St.Joseph says:

      pnyikos.
      For someone to send His only son to suffer and die for our salvation on a Cross and leave us with the new Life in us with a sacrifice to save our souls, also to feed millions and millions over a period of 2 thousand years all over the world.
      There has to be a God to work that all out!

  2. John Nolan says:

    If you look at the combox of the on-line ‘Guardian’ – the favourite organ of the liberal intelligentsia – whenever anything to do with the Catholic Church comes up, the level of vitriol, prejudice and sheer ignorance beggars belief.

    There was a time when even non-believers had the detachment to recognize the contribution of the Church to western civilization. Not any more. The most bigoted Protestants had nothing on modern liberal secularists.

    • Alasdair says:

      As a bigoted protestant I heartily agree. We all know that the one thing that modern liberal secularists are not – is liberal – and they absolutely hate free speech coming from anyone who doesn’t share their world-view.
      On the other hand, unlike Quentin’s audience of old, the modern liberal secularists are dead-easy to defeat. That’s because they seem to work from a script of about half a dozen standard objections to the faith. Anyone with a bare pass in Apologetics 101 can easily make them look silly and make them walk away mumbling.

      • Nektarios says:

        Alasdair
        The sad things is, Alasdair, many a Christian today do not know Apologetics. Many are simply scared off by the term. For such, Apologetics simply means, the reason for, and defence of the faith you say believe in.

        What is Apologetics 101?

  3. Brendan says:

    In the ‘ zeitgeist ‘ of such times as this ; rational, spirited , indeed honest search for mutual understanding and respect of each others position is numbingly suppressed throughout society…… the temptation , among’st oneself , even subtly present ( very infrequently ) in this hallowed ‘ blog.’ It seems to mark our times; Alasdair’s got it about right. How do we think the ordinary ‘ bloke ‘ on the street feels , when he sees those in exalted positions ( whom he believes should know better ) conduct themselves in such a manner ?
    The marked decline in the standard of debate , say on a program like ” Question Time ” over the last ten years or so , has been a barometer for society a a whole . I’ll stay up ( as I will with my wife tonight ) in the forlorn hope of a miraculous recovery ; but alas , the patient if not terminal is showing little sign of recovery !
    What chance for Catholic Evangelism in this kind of milieu ? ….fat chance ! Providentially , the gift of Faith is infinitely stronger , and in Charity … Hope springs eternal !

  4. Nektarios says:

    Brendan

    I have to agree with you about Question Time and the marked decline in the standard of debate.
    Perhaps a note to the Chairman D.B. might see a change, as I am sure he is aware of it.

    Is there such a thing as Catholic Evangelism per-se? What is it? Is it to make people good little
    obedient Catholics, or Christians?

    You write, Brendan about Faith, Hope and Charity – perhaps a reading of The Letter to the Ephesians in the Book of Revelation tells us of what happens when we lose our first love.
    I believe this the times we are living in, a time of declension, where clever debating skills are more important than Preaching the Gospel in its simplicity, and practically. This is what God blesses.

    I have stood on soap-boxes all over Scotland and in the Media and on Radio. But it was not preaching bigoted positions of Protestantism, but The Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the answer to all man’s deep and persistent problems.

  5. ignatius says:

    I’ve stood on a few soap boxes here and there too. But I don’t do it anymore, and probably wouldn’t any longer partly because I am busy with church and prison and partly because I no longer think it appropriate for me to do.

    I was in Rome last week as part of the Jubilee year of Mercy. There were a couple of thousand of us deacons attending mass with Pope Francis who spoke chiefly on having Christs servant nature. Much of the catechesis was comparing Moses who had the nature of servant, with Christ who of course had the nature of Son. In Catholicism as most of us are aware the emphasis is on being servant and announcing Christ in our communities by words and deeds; in living our faith in other words; we are to be a people who’s lives themselves are a sign which points to Christ. Mostly the gathering in of persons to the way of Christ is done via church based catechesis and then inception at Easter.

    It is worth at least trying to grasp that “a good little catholic” is a person baptised into the body of Christ and trying to live out their calling in the power of the Holy spirit whom they received in greater measure at their confirmation and then while growing in the wisdom and understanding of God…I always thought that was a description of a christian, perhaps I’ve misunderstood something somewhere.

    I spend quite a lot of time teaching and preaching these days but too have a limited faith in the power of argument and debate in making disciples, in the end it seems that faith is caught before it is taught; revelation comes in many ways through the grace of God.

    • Nektarios says:

      Ignatius

      Preaching on a soap-box these days is practically impossible. Before we could stand up anywhere and preach the Gospel, but one cannot do that now. Permission would need to be granted by the Town Council, then the Police, and then with other non-christian groups.
      They, as I know, put everything in the way to stop an Evangelical Gospel message ever reaching their ears.

      We discussed heatedly, I have to say, what a Christian is, and is not, in a recent topic.
      The Scriptures are very clear about what a Christian is and is not.

      Arguments, are the Apostle Paul’s way of teaching. But let us acknowledge we are not Apostles, nor have we got beyond what the Apostles taught.
      He lays out the arguments as to what a Christian is, what the Church is, what our life in Christ is and is not. He lays out further arguments on various spiritual matters of our life in Christ. There is nothing we can add, but alas, Church institutions, as history shows has added all sorts of things, and subjecting the Children of God to men. Rather sad really.

      • ignatius says:

        “.Arguments, are the Apostle Paul’s way of teaching. But let us acknowledge we are not Apostles, nor have we got beyond what the Apostles taught. He lays out further arguments on various spiritual matters of our life in Christ. There is nothing we can add,…”

        There may have been a time when I may have agreed with you regarding the pre eminence of the Apostle Paul, but I do say now that there is plenty to further add. If you want to imitate Christ then it is the gospels you must soak yourself in and it is to Jesus Christ himself we must turn. Since, if we believe in Jesus Chrsit and genuinely call him Lord then we are saved then its a good idea to chew over and be moved by his words as a way of becoming like him. I don’t think the Apostle Paul would have argued with this conclusion and I do think you should ask yourself what exactly you mean by “good little Catholics”, setting them apart from Christ as you do by contrasting with ‘Christians’. I meet fairly often this attitude, and the self justifying hidden agenda which accompanies it, within the Evangelical Church,truly a shameful thing to behold.

      • pnyikos says:

        “We discussed heatedly, I have to say, what a Christian is, and is not, in a recent topic.
        The Scriptures are very clear about what a Christian is and is not.”

        Are you referring to “Eunuchs in the Choir”, Nektarios, where G.D. tried to get through to you and finally gave up, and others exhorted you to look more closely at some of the Gospels?

        I forgot about that topic for a couple of weeks, but returned to it two days ago, and replied directly to one of the posts you did towards the end of that heated discussion. There I pointed out some things St. Paul himself wrote that run counter to the standard Evangelical Protestant treatment of Paul’s writings, which you seemed to share.

        Without a well-rounded view of the entire New Testament, no one can be clear about what is a Christian and what is not.

      • Nektarios says:

        Ignatius

        I am not saying there is nothing to add to what the Apostle Paul had to say by way of illustration or application, but the principles are not up for debate.

        I know exactly what I meant by ‘good little catholics or Christians.’?

        I asked Brendan to read the letter to the Church at Ephesus in the Book of Revelation. 2:4-5. and suggest you do the same.

        To get the full import of what is being said, one has to understand something about these letters to the seven Churches in Asia.
        All Scripture are inspired of the Holy Ghost, but here, verse 1:12.
        Here we find the Lord of Glory speaking directly through the Apostle John to these Churches and so by way of application to us all. The description would take too long here and the significance of it all
        to relate, so let us move on to answer your question.

        Now, Ignatius let us look at Rev. 2. The Lord has been relating and commending all the good points about the Church at Ephesus. Yes? Now the perceptive all-seeing eye of the Lord who sees all, saw ‘they had left off their first love.Rev.2:4.
        This was a very serious matter, so serious and would remove their lamp stand unless they repent.

        Now, for the sake of brevity, I will simply put it this way – things were going well on the surface at the Church at Ephesus. They had all put a lot of work and effort and patience
        into the work of the Church. But the all seeing-eye of the Lord saw something they did not – they had left their first love. In other words they were all set up and were going through the services week by week, busy, busy, busy, and they were losing sight of their first love.

        They were losing their source of energy, and the services were just work.
        They took for granted to work with patience, and it became just a laborious routine work.
        They had lost sight of the Lord. They forgot it was His Church, His people, – but they did not know they were in the process of losing their first love.

        How does one know if one has left their first love? Everything becomes routine, a well-oiled machine and a dependency on externalities.

        I’ll stop there, Ignatius.

  6. Hock says:

    We can learn a lot about conversion, the power of speech and the coming of the holy Spirit along with the rise and fall ( and rise again,) of the Church, in a reading of the Actions of the Apostles.
    It is all in there.
    The parable of the seed is yet another example of how faith can flourish and die.
    Many in the same crowd who sang Hosanna and laid palm branches as Jesus rode through Jerusalem were calling for his execution just one week later.
    How many who are enthused by the likes of Billy Graham and other evangelists, or attend an Alpha Course, still feel the same the day or the week after it finishes.
    Example is a better teacher than debate. A kindness done in Christ’s name, even when not spoken of in those terms, is easier to remember than words.

    • Nektarios says:

      Hock
      You are mixing things up a little, Hock. The seed is that which is implanted in your heart, and it must die, to bear fruit. The seed is the word of God in us, taking root, but that is not faith, that gift of God, without which we cannot please Him.

      Faith is an operation of the Holy Spirit in us whereby we are placed by the Holy Spirit in Christ. It is also a spiritual apprehension of things unseen. It is faith that God gives His children, whereby they receive the things of Christ, they love Him, know His Voice and follow Him.

      I sense a derogatory note about Billy Graham, who indeed reached more people with the Gospel than any other to date. Evangelists are gifts to the Church, as are Preachers and Teachers and Pastors. But in these dark days, they are little thought of, even by the Church, as servants of Christ sent into the world and to the Church.

      I can agree that there are many so-called evangelists who are rogues and conmen, using psychological techniques to get people to make decisions for Christ. These are not true Evangelists, nor did Christ send them. But Christ has sent many Evangelists into the world and to the Church for their upbuilding and edification.

      • overload says:

        Nekatarios
        “The seed is that which is implanted in your heart, and it must die, to bear fruit.”
        What do you mean here by saying that the seed “must die” to bear fruit?

        (From a botanical perspective, if a seed dies, it cannot germinate and thus cannot bear fruit. However, when ripened—and I’m unclear about this but think that often whist remaining attached to the living parent plant—the seed’s life is cut-off from that of the parent plant and goes into dormancy. I’m not quite sure what bearing this has on your point Nektarios, but thought to clarify this.)

      • Nektarios says:

        Overload

        The seed referred to, is the heavenly seed, and for us came down in Jesus Christ
        born of a Virgin, lived, and then that seed from heaven that gives birth to in whom it is planted, died.
        Of course He rose from the dead as He said he would.

        On a purely botanical view of a seed dying to give life to its offspring, think of a seed potato.
        I hope this answers your question below.

  7. Brendan says:

    Nektarios – I agree with your belief that preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ is better than clever ‘ soundbites ‘ or even turning out ‘ production line ‘ Catholics … those days are long gone. Though preaching in the conventional sense may be a bit ‘ pass[ay] ‘ to the young ?… considering now the startling number of lapsed cradle Catholics/Anglicans who say they have ” no faith ” now.
    I can see there could be a lot of interest in this issue ; so I’ll have a further think about this and come back on Catholic evangelism later.

    • Nektarios says:

      Brendan
      Good, I shall look forward to what you have to say on the subject.
      On the issue of Protestants and Anglicans the problem started in the 17th century when the approach was simply intellectual argument.
      A famous minister of the time, Thomas Manton, one who those in Government of the day to stock of.
      But alas, for the ordinary member of the Church, it was over their heads.
      Leaving the church, Mr Manton shook hands with one of the parishioners, who said, ‘ You sermon was no doubt brilliant, but I got nothing from it. So your sermon was over my head.’
      Mr Manton replied, I am sorry, my sermon today gave you no profit, but you sir have given me a sermon.

      From then on, Mr Manton spoke to his ordinary members of the church in as simple as he could language to communicate with the rank and file member.
      Sadly this intellectual argument approach went on until around 1830 odd when the Cof E were leaving their churches in droves to hear Preachers sent and gifted of God and blessed to communicate.

    • ignatius says:

      Brendan,
      ‘ or even turning out ‘ production line ‘ Catholics … those days are long gone..’
      Though I do have parish duties and get involved with catechesis in various corners of life I have never met a ‘production line ‘ Catholic. I must admit I don’t like the phrase or the thought very much either. Perhaps you could explain to me what such a person might look like and how they might present so that I might begin to recognise them when shaking hands at the church door?

  8. John Nolan says:

    Interesting to hear about the declining standards in debate. Political discourse generally has suffered from it in the last forty years or so. In 1975 I voted to stay in what was then called the Common Market; I shall be voting to leave the EU in the coming referendum (not because I feel less European, in fact I am passionate about European civilisation to an extent that is beyond the comprehension of the bureaucrats who run the EU).

    ‘Learning will be cast into the mire and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude.’
    ‘The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.’

    [Edmund Burke 1790]

  9. Iona says:

    Nektarios:
    “Sadly this intellectual argument approach went on until around 1830 odd when the Cof E were leaving their churches in droves to hear Preachers sent and gifted of God and blessed to communicate.”
    I’m wondering who you have in mind? John Wesley and Methodism started in the previous century. John Henry Newman was preaching his “plain and parochial sermons” around 1830 – 1845, and people flocked to hear him, but he was at that time within the C of E.

    • Nektarios says:

      Iona
      There was quite a few, but in England, and in London was C.H. Surgeon, the Prince of Preachers as he was called. Google him up.
      Concerning J.H. Newman, he certainly was not plain or parochial.

  10. Nektarios says:

    Iona
    Correction – it should have read, C.H. Spurgeon.

  11. ignatius says:

    . Nektarios,

    “They took for granted to work with patience, and it became just a laborious routine work.
    They had lost sight of the Lord. They forgot it was His Church, His people, – but they did not know they were in the process of losing their first love.

    How does one know if one has left their first love? Everything becomes routine, a well-oiled machine and a dependency on externalities. ”

    Thats great Nektarios. Now could you produce anything that is remotely relevant to the question please? You say this:

    I know exactly what I meant by ‘good little catholics or Christians.’?

    Now try and give a couple of examples that touch real life.Perhaps you could go and tell a few catholic parishioners that you = think they are simply cogs in a worn out religious machine and that their devotions are in vain…Sit down with them Nektarios, spin them your line, see what they say. Why don’t you try it out Nektarios, then perhaps you will be confronted by the utter blind folly of your words.

  12. Nektarios says:

    Ignatius

    You really are going beyond the bounds. A put down by you, is no put down at all, just brazen faced cheek. Apologise!

    • pnyikos says:

      Nektarios, although I think Ignatius was way out of line with his last sentence, I think some of what he wrote deserves some response. A lot of our lives is a well-oiled machine because it has to be. We cannot let ourselves get hung up on what G.K. Chesterton called “A horror of the Same Old Thing.”

      Many great saints have experienced “the dark night of the soul”, including St. Therese of Lisieux as she was approaching death, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta when she went on doing the work of her order even though Jesus no longer seemed present to her for many years.

      One cannot assume that, just because one does not feel the Holy Spirit moving within one, that one is no longer advancing the kingdom of God. Mother Teresa did more for the advance of the kingdom than any number of “born again” Christians who think the Holy Spirit is moving within them but who do nothing approaching the life of self sacrifice that Mother Teresa lived.

      • Nektarios says:

        pnyikos

        Quite so.
        One comes to understand what the dark night of the soul is really all about. For some souls it is necessary – but do you notice faced with that experience, which I do know something of, how, abiding faithful in Him, love and increasing attachment to Christ grows? Blessed souls are they.

        When the religious life becomes a well-oiled machine, I used the term to also illustrate
        just how mechanical and lacking life it is in itself. It a worrying position for a saint/ christian to be in.
        I would also say, that mechanical religious approach is not the the dark night of the soul.

        Your last point on Mother Teresa: We are not all clones, and what the Holy Spirit has by way of service to do in the Church is different from one another, yet still one body in Christ.

  13. G.D. says:

    I was speaking with three friends last night, while out for a meal with them. Two ‘lapsed’ Catholics, one who doesn’t care much either way for God or religion, one who is a self declared outspoken anti-God atheist, and one who is an oppressed & troubled practising Catholic.
    I expressed freely and fluently the mercy & love of God for all creation, and ways and means of accepting it and living it.
    They, all three, understood where my ‘counsel’ was based (they all know I am a practising Catholic and follower of Christs teachings) – but understood, and accepted, a lot of it deeply, in ways they could appreciate and assimilate.
    I didn’t mention Christ or God at all, didn’t quote the parables and scripture verses that were coming to mind to ‘guide me’. They all knew how to relate what i was saying to the Spirit without needing to hear them.
    Was i evangelising? And does it matter who considers yeah or nay?
    A rhetorical question that doesn’t need an answer.
    I know, on reflection, exactly what was going on, and why ‘The Spirit’ gave me the ‘words’ it did.

    God is beyond any concepts we limit God to. And reaches out to all people in ways they can accept. Not necessarily ways in which i/we can know God.
    When we try to make others comply to a god after our own conceptual image and assume when they understand our image they ‘have God’ – which is what the vast majority of ‘evangelists’ of all persuasions do – God gets side lined, and dissensions are sown in God’s name.

    That’s why ‘evangelistic language’ (doctrine and scripture quoting ect) isn’t always evangelising, and alienates people from each other. … And God. … In the name of ……..??

  14. ignatius says:

    Nektarios,

    A fit of self righteous apoplexy I see, never mind dear boy. You perhaps need to read Matthew 22 while you calm down. Notice that it was the Sadducees who came to Jesus arguing from scripture about marriage. The Sadducees of course knew their Pentateuch inside out Nektarios and they were very happy to come along proudly displaying their knowledge of scripture.But consider Jesus words to them in Matthew ch 22 v29
    “You are wrong because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God”
    Odd that isn’t it? If I were you I would try to cease using bible verses as justification for underlying judgemental attitudes, its really not a very good way to go and hardly a way to enlighten the eyes of the heart; pack it in.

    • Nektarios says:

      Ignatius

      Excuse me!
      You say,“You are wrong because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God”
      Odd that isn’t it? If I were you I would try to cease using bible verses as justification for underlying judgemental attitudes, its really not a very good way to go and hardly a way to enlighten the eyes of the heart; pack it in.”

      If you think that, you have understood nothing about me, nor the Spirit in which I write on this blog.
      As no apology is forth-coming, just more of the same ignorant allegations.
      Very well,
      I am not inferior to you, Ignatius, nor younger in years either, I take a dim view being referred to as, dear boy’.
      Typical Roman Catholic, in the work of ministry, guilt-tripping at every opportunity. Be sure of your facts before you launch into trying to guilt -trip myself.
      Until I get an apology from you, expect nothing more from me.

      • ignatius says:

        ” Until I get an apology from you, expect nothing more from me….”

        Great! a bit of peace and quiet for a change while you huff and puff over your wounded pride. Sorry to hear about your dim view, Nektarios, maybe it comes from all that seeing as through a glass,darkly that the Apostle Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians….

      • Vincent says:

        Look at these Christians. How they love one another.

  15. G.D. says:

    ………….. and alienates people from each other. … And God. … In the name of ……..??

  16. St.Joseph says:

    I am home from hospital now and feel quite well, thank you for all your prayers, and I thank The Lord too.
    I was very pleased to know that a Bible is still in the Lockers in the hospital Wards!!
    It is so important!

  17. ignatius says:

    Good to hear you a still about and kicking St Joseph…yes, good old Gideons bibles… We have a prison full of them too!

  18. John Nolan says:

    Nektarios, you are certainly an odd bird, a Byzantine Christian who takes his theology from sola scriptura Nonconformist tub-thumpers rather than from the traditions of the Orthodox Church. Spurgeon may have had the gift of oratory, but it was oratory in the service of heterodoxy.

    Catholics would be more edified if they perused the sermons of Father Faber, a great evangelizer who brought an entire Anglican parish over to Rome, something that the Ordinariate has not yet succeeded in doing. Faber once broke off a mission sermon to exclaim: ‘How can I touch your hearts? I have prayed to Jesus, I have prayed to Mary; [then falling on his knees] I will pray to you, my dear Irish children, to have mercy on your own souls.’ The whole congregation knelt.

    St John Vianney did the same for obdurate souls, and his fame spread. You have evidenced on this blog a bigoted anti-Catholic stance which possibly reflects your Scotch background. I wonder why you contribute, and in such a tedious and sanctimonious manner that you are hardly likely to win converts to your cause (whatever that may be).

    • Nektarios says:

      John Nolan

      You say, “Nektarios, you are certainly an odd bird, a Byzantine Christian who takes his theology from sola scriptura Nonconformist tub-thumpers rather than from the traditions of the Orthodox Church. Spurgeon may have had the gift of oratory, but it was oratory in the service of heterodoxy.

      Having been a member of Protestant Church as well as in ministry. For a much shorter time I have been in the Orthodox Church, and my wife was in the Roman Catholic Church
      Having read and discussed much, why do you count it strange that I from a human point of view, but not a spiritual one, am an amalgam of them all? All these churches form part of the body of Christ.

      Sorry you find my contributions are tedious, sanctimonious, not a character trait I find in myself.
      Like Ignatius, you choose to judge and condemn me without knowing me at all really.
      But such guilt -tripping and puts downs I have received on this blog, Yes, I too sometimes wonder why I continue to post things on this blog.
      Perhaps it is time you think I stopped?

  19. ignatius says:

    “..But such guilt -tripping and puts downs I have received on this blog, Yes, I too sometimes wonder why I continue to post things on this blog. Perhaps it is time you think I stopped..”

    Rubbish, you post on here because you enjoy it.

  20. G.D. says:

    Oh, come on people!
    All of us have our own take on the meaning of Life the Universe and what God is doing with us. Many of us have particular triats and ways of expressing, out of sincere desires for us all to ‘know’ God more fully. To spread the ‘Word’ so to speak.

    And yes, Nektarios, i’m sorry but you do have a problem with being open to others expressions, and seeing the ‘good’ in them. What you say does SEEM to others condescending and ‘fundamentalistic’. (I am not condemning you in saying that, just stating the way i experience it).

    But so have i experienced you too, John, doing the same with your intellectually entrenched ‘historicaly fact’ defences.
    In the same way, i’m sure, i with my ‘liberal freeflowing Joycean approaches’ are a nonsense to you all.
    And others have thier own particular ‘blockages’. The line(s) we cannot cross, or let go of. Which is fine!

    If that’s the way we are, if that’s the way God reveals to each of us, it’s for a purpose. The fact that we are all ‘communicating’ in sincere love for God (as i see us all trying to do) then maybe it’s to teach us to be more open and loving, and learn from each other, despite (to spite even!) our differences.
    Isn’t it that the diversity that makes God Universal? Truely catholic?
    Even though, as limited sinful individuals we can’t escape our own little ‘boxes’.
    Isn’t there a very good reason we differ?

    As a relatively new contribtor here i hesitate to post this, but I am going to, because the level of condescension and of heated debate seems to me to be anything but Christlike – from any of us.
    Maybe we should all pray very hard with the intention of .. whatever will open us to what we all desire for everyone – Gods Presence.
    And that doesn’t mean giving up any cherished ‘religous’ ethos, just more openess and compassion to our own ‘stupidity’, and lack of love. ……. And the ‘stupidity’ of others without condemnations.

    Having said that i think your all wrong and I’m right. (In jest only!!!).

  21. Iona says:

    G.D. – they’re usually not quite as bad as this!

    St. Joseph, – delighted you’re back from hospital and on your computer again; and delighted you’re feeling well.

  22. ignatius says:

    Iona!! Ha ha! Thanks for your kindness towards us grizzled old things!

    G.D…Welcome to the blog on a bad ole day….just like life isn’t it.. 🙂 Mostly we do ok, but every now and then we just get mean and down and dirty for a good old rough and tumble, sorry about that..

  23. G.D. says:

    All said from a ‘heart warming irritability’ of my own. (If there is such a paradoxical thing!).
    Not as devastated by it as i sounded.
    Iona – thanks for the levelling common sense.
    St. J – your ‘simple’ wisdom expressed it just right again! Welcome back, glad all is going well.

  24. John Nolan says:

    Nektarios, nobody ‘knows’ anybody on this blog, and we can only make inferences based on what people (yourself included) write. I accept that your religious opinions are eclectic, but one man’s eclecticism is another man’s muddle. I do detect a streak of old fashioned anti-Catholic prejudice, however.

    G.D. , I take your point. However, there is nothing ‘un-Chistlike’ about speaking forthrightly or engaging in vigorous debate. Our Lord did not mince his words, and neither did St Paul.

    • Nektarios says:

      John Nolan

      But this was not vigour debate, this was just hurling unmerited insults and put downs at me because of a misguided view that am somewhat anti-Catholic. I may not agree with everything about Roman Catholicism.

      If anything, one of the reasons I write, though not the only one, is to get people to think.
      I have read many a presumptive statements on this blog that demonstrates something of a lack of thinking things through.

      • John Nolan says:

        Nektarios, referring to someone as an ‘odd bird’ is not exactly high on the insult scale. I fully accept that you as a person may be neither tedious nor sanctimonious, although I am entitled to regard your writings as such. It’s called criticism.

        Another contributor to this blog, whom I quite enjoy taking to task, not infrequently comes across as a choleric blockhead; I suspect in real life he is quite affable.

  25. G.D. says:

    Indeed, John, vigorous debate is very edifying all round, mincing is best left alone.

  26. Quentin says:

    There is an imp in most of us which tempts us to make that clever remark or that little taunt when we disagree. Yet surely we are here because we want to get closer to the truth through discussion with those who may contribute other views. It is always possible to express a contrary view with courtesy. In fact the courtesy strengthens the points we make, and helps our ‘opponent’ to consider them with equal care. My rule of thumb has always been that we write as we would if we were face to face.

    A final point, of which Vincent indirectly reminds us, is that tens of thousands of casual visitors read this blog. What impressions do they take away of how Christians discuss their beliefs?

  27. ignatius says:

    Hmmm, I have had a couple of friends read, and even post, on here over the years. Mainly they think we are a strange and esoteric crew, arguing over issues which are deeply obscure and then squabbling like a sack of feral cats when the mood takes us. perhaps that’s why only a select few dare cross this hallowed online portal..:-)

    But, on the subject of the Pope, I was in Rome last week for the deacons Jubilee mass with Pope Francis who seemed on extremely good form. There were 2000 of us Deacons all up by the altar in St Peters Square. Mostly we retained a posture of reverence but towards the end proximity to the great man got the better of us. At the end of mass Everyone whipped out their camera’s in the hope of a selfie with ‘papa’ and jostled like kids just for a handshake, a hug, or even a touch of his garments. Myself I held back a bit, but then found myself standing on a chair waving like an idiot,silly grin on my face, tears in my eyes and thinking of how Zacchaeus must have felt when Jesus called him down from the tree.
    During the weekend I had the great privelege of standing at the Tomb of St Peter welcoming groups of pilgrims as they made their way through the square, up through the door of Mercy, down the centre of the Basilica and through to the tomb of the great Apostle. many came with tears in their eyes and a discernable expression of awe on their faces.
    Yes Quentin, overall we are courteous here on Second sight, but when we are not it is because deep things are stirred due to us being human after all. The life of faith is not one of urbane professionalism and I personally think that, when it comes to reaching a wider public. the occasional bar room brawl on here is the least of our concerns.

  28. Brendan says:

    Sorry ‘ bloggers ‘ I’ve just lost my piece after forced absence from the blog ! I can’t return now…..God keeping me humble , again !
    Just to answer Ignatius on my phrase… ” production line Catholics ”
    I ,in no way mean to disparage the ‘ Catholicity ‘ of ,my co-religionists ; or have …” a window into another mans souls ”…..nor do I want to ! My meaning was political/sociological. Perhaps I can enlarge some other time.

  29. ignatius says:

    Brendan:
    “A window into a man’s soul ” Yes, this is a thing none of us possess and should never think we do have. Since we cannot even force the door of our own hearts let alone enter the secret palaces of another we really are ill equipped to evaluate. A strange thing seems to have happened to me over the years of assisting at Mass, doing kids work, preaching,teaching, chaplaincy, along with all the other things I do.
    I seem to have come to the point where I guess that the interior palace of the human being is utterly sacred.The heart of another is a place which, to even think one has a right to trespass or make judgement on, is monumental folly.
    If we try to judge the conditions of what goes between Christ and any individual human heart then, according to the measure of our trying and our judging so we ourselves lose some portion of our own dignity as human beings.

    • Brendan says:

      Just so Ignatius. Before I retire for the night I’d just like to point to this weeks Catholic Herald and T A Pascoe’s piece … ” How Catholics can reclaim Britain .”
      I believe this contains the conditions and the mindset by which Catholicism can flourish again in Britain. I have certain reservations ( cultural/historical/ emotional ) living in and being Welsh ; but I align myself very much with Pascoe’s analysis of the current situation as it relates to the whole island.

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