Is the Church Getting It Right — or Getting It Wrong?

Over the years I’ve noticed that my readership has grown older and greyer. Nothing wrong with that as far as I’m concerned. I’m growing older and greyer myself and begin to appreciate better than before how much is owed to those who just ‘get on with things’ and are not in themselves particularly scintillating. Blogging is no longer as popular as it was for diffusing ideas and inviting debate but the format suits me and is more manageable than most alternatives. The unease I am voicing this morning therefore comes hedged with qualifications. I admit my own ignorance and the difficulty of judging a situation that is, by its very nature, known only partially and imperfectly. I recognize that only a very small part of the Church (the part that reads this blog) is likely to respond and that its demographic is not representative of the Church as a whole. So, I write as a Catholic, of a certain age and background, living in the West, more specifically England, with its unique experience of Catholicism, and heavily influenced by my interests in history and theology. But the question I ask is of wider significance because it concerns the very nature of the Church and her role in the world.

The question troubling me is, do the current public preoccupations of the Church really help to spread the gospel? Are they, in any meaningful sense, meeting the desire for God? Or does the Church have some other reason for being than leading all to salvation in Christ?

Current Preoccupations of the Church

Sitting where I do, one might think the Church had no other interest than safeguarding regulations (the horse long bolted from that particular stable, I would suggest) and ever more complicated directives concerning COVID prevention, Mass attendance and online liturgies. All too often, this has ended up with a lot of form-filling and the compilation of statistics that a statistician would say revealed nothing of much use or importance.

From Holy Week (yes, Holy Week) until now, here in the monastery we have been working through an endless stream of safeguarding material provided by the Catholic Church in England and Wales. We agree that safeguarding is important. We have attended courses, adjusted our buildings and grounds, had an independent audit of our arrangements and practices and, crucially no doubt, paid our fee to the safeguarding service. Given our small numbers as enclosed (or cloistered) nuns, the absence of a chaplain and our clear policy of not allowing children to visit unless accompanied by a responsible adult, one might think we pose little risk. But the time we give to these matters is taken from time we might otherwise give to prayer and spreading the gospel, and that not only worries me, it suggests to me a fundamental misunderstanding of the Church and her missionary character. We are not here to be defensive, surely? What are we defending anyway?

Like many others, I had hoped that the experience of lockdown and the creative way in which many tried to meet its challenges might have led to a profound enrichment of the Church’s missionary endeavour. However, if the anecdotal evidence I have received is to be believed, many clergy are simply sighing with relief that things can go back to normal (i.e what was understood to be normal before the pandemic began) though there is some anxiety about those who have been ‘lost’ to the Church and decided they are not returning to their parish for worship — or to make the financial contributions on which the parish relies. But is anyone asking why people have gone from their parishes?

Public Utterances and Public Spats

Ask anyone in this country what they know of the Catholic Church and one is likely to get some shocked references to abuse and cover-ups and perhaps an observation or two about the Latin Mass and the pope’s hostility to it. Neither is exactly the whole truth, but if people bother about churchy things at all, that is what they are likely to come up with. The very lame response to abuse and official attempts to mitigate its awfulness have not been impressive. There is a sense, which many Catholics share, that the Church is not really facing up to the sin in our midst; and in any case, is there no other narrative to be told other than one of regret and apology?

We have sometimes been asked to apologize for abuse committed in Ireland by religious sisters with whom we have no connection other than membership of the same Church. In vain do I say, it was wrong, we pray for those who have suffered (and those who caused the suffering), that it happened before we were born, we are doing our best to ensure that nothing of the same can ever happen again. But it is not enough. For some, the narrative of abuse and cover-up has become the whole narrative of the Church. What is not always recognized is the fact that, by and large, we have let it become so. Yes, we have let others set the agenda, and I think we may have got it wrong.

One consequence of this, not always sufficiently appreciated, is the effect on the morale of many clergy and their reluctance, amounting in some cases to crippling fear, to go out to others. Parishioners may lament the loss of the pastoral visit; some of the clergy are questioning whether the pastoral visit is simply going to end in tears (for the priest). An awkwardness has been introduced that need not be there. A wise bishop, alert to the needs of priests and people, can do much to help; but I wonder how many are.

The constant spats about Pope Francis’ decisions, even his legitimacy as pope, enthrall some sections of the Catholic Church and provide useful copy to online journalists and media types. Often those who are most vociferous are most ignorant, presenting as fact what is merely opinion, and opinion based on an inadequate knowledge of the sources. This applies to both left and right, liberals and conservatives, all who see themselves as being right when everyone else is wrong. What comes across, therefore, is a Church bitterly divided, more intent on scoring points than seeking truth, not a place where sinners will be made righteous through the experience of love and compassion but where the self-appointed righteous exclude all who are not like them.

A Harsh Judgement

I’m sure many will think what I have written is harsh and arrogant, that I am guilty of the very faults and shortcomings I see in others. But isn’t that the point? We are all, to some extent, blind and deaf. I do not believe that the Lord will ever abandon his Church, but I do think we are in danger of forgetting that is is his Church, that we have a mission to perform, and that currently we are not making a very good fist of it. Perhaps if we were to spend a few moments today thinking about what first drew us to Christ, to what changed for ever when we said ‘yes’ to him, the way ahead would be clearer. I’m sure it would be much more attractive to others also.

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43 thoughts on “Is the Church Getting It Right — or Getting It Wrong?”

  1. Much to ponder on, dear Sister Catherine. It is all too easy for any institution to lose its way as its internal bureaucracy overwhelms its initial purpose so that the means become the end.
    One has to keep reading the Gospels and Acts to remind us of the power of God’s love for us all. The message of peace and love is there and the Church, whichever strand one adheres to, needs to review and renew how it gets the good Lord’s simple message to as many people as possible.
    Your small community is in my mind doing a better job of dissemination than head office in Rome in supporting and augmenting the size of the flock.
    You keep the message simple whereas others bury it in complicated language.
    The good Lord gave you the power, means and desire to bring the Word to the world and we are all better for your ministration.
    God bless and bring you relief from pain and distress, dear Sister Catherine. Peace and love be with you and in your messages now and always.

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  2. You articulate so much that makes me uneasy about Catholic discourse in the public square, including social media – thank you.

    I haven’t returned to Mass yet, and I gave up on live-streamed Masses. I’m bored with the endless journalistic politics of Catholic social media. Many of the women I know have realized during lockdown that there are riches of faith to be discovered beyond the mediation or control of a dysfunctional hierarchy, and their shenanigans are of little interest.

    As a convert I’m reflecting on the ways in which Catholicism has transformed – and continues to transform – my view of the world and my quest for God. The sacramental richness of the tradition, its sanctification of the material world and the creative genius that has inspired in art, architecture, music etc., and the goodness of so many millions of Catholics working anonymously among the vulnerable, the poor and the suffering – all these keep me Catholic.

    But your last couple of sentences make me realize I’m still searching. An early adult encounter with boisterous evangelicalism has left me reticent about publicly speaking of faith in such a direct personal way. I wonder if being honest about our doubts and struggles is also important. I feel an affinity with Simone Weil’s quest and some of the ways she described her groping along the margins of the Church. For me – and maybe for others? – becoming Catholic began a process of being wooed by Christ, but I’m not sure I’ve said yes yet.

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    • Thank you for sharing that, Tina. I think most people would resonate with what you say, I certainly do. The ‘yes’ to which I referred has to be renewed every day, doesn’t it? It’s like a vow of marriage or in monastic life: we pledge ourselves to the unknown, to being changed (Newman’s sense). I know that many will take issue with me, point to Mass attendance numbers at their church, etc, etc. and decry the notion of being honest about doubts and fears, but I think they are part of a maturing faith.

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      • Thank you. In my evangelical days I used to feel intimidated by being told all who love Jesus are welcome to communion. It really is like marriage. Being in love comes and goes, but the commitment endures.

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  3. I am Catholic by birth. A ‘good Irish’ Catholic, some might say. However, over the years I find myself thinking of myself as a Christian who attends a Catholic Mass, mainly because I still believe in the transubstiantian – not sure I spelt that right! I was thrilled when Francis became Pope because I thought he would revive its connection with the congregation or body of the church. It would appear, to me, that the hierarchy of the Catholic is not much different from that of the Jewish religion at the time of Christ. As a language scholar I wonder if you could explain the exact words that were used to Peter ‘and on this rock I will build my Church’. I honestly feel that the pandemic could have been the equivalent to the religious persecution periods. When people went out to the country side and testified to their faith by saying Mass with a rock as the altar. Then the presume might have felt that the clergy cared about their parishioners and the public in general might have seen our faith being lived. But our clergy are mainly old and the very ones who needed to shield. Like yourself Sister, my experience of Catholicism is only that is a small village with an infirm parish priest in a tiny village. However I have felt that the Church has let us down during this time and concentrated on regulations rather than on nurturing the people. Surely Love thy Neighbour should have been the focus.

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    • Matthew 16.18 ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church’ can’t convey the play on words in the Greek. You are Petros and on this petra, I will build my church. Both words mean rock or stone, but Peter is given the masculine form as his name, whereas the word for stone used in the second half is feminine. If we go behind the Greek to the Aramaic which Jesus probably used rather than Greek, we get the word cephas — a transliteration of the Aramaic kepha. What Jesus said to Simon in Matthew 16:18 was probably this: ‘You are Kepha, and on this kepha I will build my Church.’ He was equating Simon and the rock. Does that answer your question? As to your other points, yes, age and infirmity do lead to missed opportunities.

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  4. Goodness, you covered, most eloquently, some ground there.

    I had to laugh when I noted your grumble about the cost of filing a safeguarding form. I am in complete agreement with you on this issue.

    Yet again a really thought provoking (and well written) piece, which will give me much to think about today.

    Thank you

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  5. Thank you as ever for much good quality food for thought. My own journey brought me to Catholicism via a short but illuminating period in the ‘anglo-catholic’ wing of the C of E. The little church I attended had been a parish church in a fairly deprived area and over time it had lost contact with the people living around it and became dominated by affluent retired people from out of the district who travelled miles to join a church affiliated to Forward in Faith (and often because they had fallen out with their local parish).

    The church was conservative with both a small and large C and although there is nothing essentially wrong with either of those things, I found the refusal to reach out to people in the parish frustrating. The truth was that the church was becoming a club of likeminded people and I was told repeatedly that it was better that the church die than it ever change or get the ‘wrong kind of people.’ Instead, it turned its gaze inwards and became preoccupied with the internal politics of the C of E and its own perceived grievances.

    One of the many joys of coming to a Catholic church was joining a parish where congregants actually lived and where there was a range of nationalities, races and ages in the pews. That said, the internecine bickering of some Catholics on social media is doing nothing but harm and in a cultural climate that seeks to vilify everything Christian, we surely can’t afford any churches to die either of apathy or schism.

    I have no solutions but note the late Father Bedard, a Canadian priest, who transformed his dying Ottawa parish into a thriving one which included an influx of enthusiastic young people and families. Father Bedard’s secret was to ask his congregation to ‘give God permission to act’ in the parish and stop trying to impose his will instead. Letting God run His church His way may indeed be the answer if we can bring ourselves to let go of the ‘church of Me’.

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      • Your reflection has left me wanting to gently ask how much reaching out in mission your community has felt itself able to do for those who have experienced sexual or spiritual abuse within the church? Is part of ‘where the Church goes wrong’ not it’s seemingly perpetual drive to sweep under the carpet or minimise the harm it has and continues to cause ? If you had experienced abuse yourself please think about how you would perceive the message of those gently grumbling about the safeguarding forms.

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        • Thank you, Maggie. Your question demands a much more detailed answer than I am able to give. For example, while I can say we have had contact with those who have been abused, I do not feel I can say more without breaking confidences. It may be that one of those I’m talking about will see your comment and respond to you directly, but if they do, that is their decision. Part of the suffering of abuse is that control is wrested away from the one who has been abused. If you look back over my posts of the last seventeen years, you will see that I have written about abuse in various forms, rape and the Catholic Church, and so on. I have consistently argued that we are not doing enough. You may not have registered from my post that we had our own Safeguarding arrangements independently audited (by the Police, at our request and initiative) because we were unhappy with the ‘closed’ system currently operating in the Catholic Church in England and Wales. We also implemented the Police suggestions — immediately, and at some expense. So, I do not think anyone who knows us, has visited our monastery or read our public utterances would necessarily conclude that we are indifferent or uncaring. I hope not, anyway. My grumble about the sheer volume of paperwork sent to us by the CSAS in Holy Week has little to do with safeguarding as such. It felt like a desk-clearing and tick-box exercise that would do nothing to protect a child or vulnerable adult, and could have been dealt with at a less crammed time of year. I can only repeat that, given our size and our being cloistered nuns, without a chaplain, nor any visitors during the pandemic as one of us is clinically extremely vulnerable, I hope I am right in my assessment that we pose very little risk to others. In the meantime, we continue to pray for the healing of those who have suffered and suffer still.

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  6. Thank you for, as always, raising some vital questions. In our C of E church months of agonising over COVID regulations/guidance have left us strained and in danger of being drained, which has (IMHO) meant less time for reaching out beyond our own loving fellowship to those in the wider community who need God’s love. This is a great opportunity to learn from those things which have worked during the pandemic (e.g. Zoom services which we will continue), and to see what is needed, roll up our sleeves and get started.

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  7. So much to think about there Sr Catherine. I take your point about the bureaucracy around safeguarding but perhaps it is in reaction to the Church’s literally criminal lack of care. I think the bishops in this country were right to follow the guidance around COVID. In my Redemptorist parish with its community of elderly men, some of whom died while some were left with serious illness, most of us wanted to protect them and happily complied with instructions when Masses restarted. Our PP has worked really hard to keep people connected with each other and with the Sacraments. I can only admire him. I have been back to Mass to help with stewarding and cleaning and it has been a joy to receive communion and be part of the community but I am starting to ask “Why do we try to limit Jesus? We are literally putting him back in the box.” I don’t mean to be sacrilegious here. I am trying to feel my way.
    My problem is that I don’t think people will come back to ‘normal’ just because the bishops say so. I don’t think they are enough part of our lives for many people to accept or even be aware of what they say.
    Along with many, I have found much help and inspiration in talks, retreats and prayer with groups such as Root and Branch, a group of religious and lay people which grew from various meetings in the ‘before times’ and the Sunday evening prayer organised by Tina.

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    • Thank you, Mary. One of the joys of lockdown was seeing communities, congregations and parishes getting to grips with finding new ways of strengthening faith and fellowship with others. Having been pioneers of some of these ourselves years ago, when, to be honest, we sometimes encountered a lot of hostility, it seems a validation of a call to widen the CHurch’s way of proclaiming he gospel. How we take it into the future remains to be seen. In some ways, the vision of Vatican II, of a Church with a strong laity, is being realised — but patchily and uncertainly. Asto the bureaucracy of safeguarding, please see some of my comments above.

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      • Thank you for your reply Sister Catherine. Please don’t worry about replying further as what you wrote was, as always, very helpful and I know it must tire you.
        I get a bit worked up about safeguarding; partly as a former teacher and partly because my former parish was one of the Ampleforth family of parishes. I’m glad to say that none of our priests seems to have been involved in the horrific scandal. I agree that the constant apologies don’t seem to do anything. It takes a profound change of heart by those who didn’t seem to understand the evil that was done to vulnerable children and adults if things are to change.

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  8. I’m not officially a Catholic, I’m an Anglican, but I believe the same things and would happily worship in both churches. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I am cheered by biblical evidence that Jesus felt exactly the same about the religious authorities of his day.
    I work on a prison chaplaincy with 3 Imams. We agree that we are all trying to work out why we are here and how God wants us to live our lives. We can be in harmony while those at the top spend time on paperwork.

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    • You know what I’m going to say! You are very dear and I’m happy to pray with you, even though we don’t believe quite the same things. I was addressing the particular difficulties I believe we face in the Church of which I am a member and which are, of course, to be found in various guises in most denominations today. However, how we address them in the Catholic Church is likely to differ from the way in which Anglicans do, for example, because of our different understanding of ecclesiology and hierarchical structure. My fidget is that we may not get around to addressing them but I daresay the Holy Spirit will ensure that we do. Thank God for God!

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  9. As a Christian sitting outside the RC church and tradition much of what you say resonates with my experience of other denominations. In addition to Safeguarding and is bureaucratic but we’ll intended response to the churches sins of ommission and commission I would add those areas where we appear out of step with the world particularly in the spheres of whole life sanctity and dignity of every individual and traditional views of marriage and relationships. I think we are right in these areas to be a signpost not a weather vane!
    But the primary calling remains that everyone should have the opportunity to meet their Saviour before they meet their Maker and that is not something the world wishes to engage in as much as the other topics. It remains our clear mandate to share the Good News (the best news of all) for all.

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  10. Dear Sister,

    Your reflection is spot on, IMHO. Cradle Catholic, here. Plenty old, too. IMHO the Church is “getting it wrong.” In fact, getting it very wrong. Wrote my Bishop for the first time in my life last month. It was respectful of ALL persons–not some unhinged tyrade. No response. Not even an acknowledgement of receipt.

    I never left the Church. Not in college, as many Catholics do, or amidst all sorts of personal calamities. But I am quite sure the Church has left us. Was speaking of this with a family member only yesterday. My conclusion is that I am dying to find out how certain of this Church do in the next life. Literally.

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    • Sadly, I have heard many people expressing similar sentiments to yours, Tim, and often meeting with a negative response from their pastors. (I feel a bit guilty saying that as one of the things that keeps me awake at night is awareness of all the unanswered letters and emails I ought to deal with.) The sense of abandonment by the institutional Church has intensified during the pandemic in a way we in the West never expected and do not truly understand. I pray that there may be a change of heart, a fresh flourishing, that will draw all to Jesus Christ, our Lord.

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  11. I’ve been pondering on this all morning while doing my Covid stricken family’s ironing! As a cradle Catholic of a certain age, excited by V2 and anticipating wonderful things, I’ve grown more and more despairing of the way most of the men in charge have prioritised the institution and this has had the consequences you describe.
    But to answer your question ‘what is it that drew you to Christ – what changed’. I remember attending a retreat with a great friend of mine who is an Anglican woman priest. The director was Fr Micheál O’Neill O Carm on liberation theology. Truly inspirational and as a doer who can’t sit still, it set me on the road to activism while seeing that activism as a manifestation of being a Christian. I looked him up a minute ago and he’s a lot older now and even greyer than me (it’s over 40 years ago) and his message to his order had the same clear message and honesty and warmth that I find in your blogs.

    As for the safeguarding bureaucracy, it’s ridiculous that your monastery is treated the same as other settings where children are part of the community, but it’s even worse in schools and universities. Says me! But as ever you can have all the policies and all the forms that you want but until there’s real respect for the integrity of children, women and the vulnerable not much will change. Words and forms and tick boxes are all very well but it’s actions that speak.

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    • It’s taken me a lifetime to recognize the obvious but men and women really are different! I think that may be part of what the Church as an institution is now facing: acceptance of the reality of that difference rather than simply issuing yet another well-meaning but ultimately rather dismissive document designed to keep women in our place. (Yes, your Eminence, I’ll come quietly. can I bring a few books with me, please?) It’s important not to despair, however gloomy everything looks at times. I’ve explained in my answer to Maggie that we are far from indifferent to safeguarding issues and regard what is being done now as inadequate. Prayers continue for you and your COVID-stricken family.

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      • Thank you Dame Catherine. Your prayers are so appreciated.
        And as you said in your answer to Maggie, your monastery has approached safeguarding properly. The rest of the church could learn a lot from what you do. And some LEAs and universities.
        And when (with the help of the Holy Spirit) the men in the hierarchy start listening to and learning from women – both consecrated and lay, and also ceding power and responsibilities, we shall perhaps see a new dawn.
        But I’m not holding my breath.

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  12. Thank you for this thoughtful and thought-provoking teaching. I think this applies to all of our “institutional” churches, the so-called “mainline” protestant, evangelical, Catholic—or as one respondent wrote, the church catholic. I especially liked what Bernard of Menthon said in his reply “It is all too easy for any institution to lose its way as its internal bureaucracy overwhelms its initial purpose so that the means become the end.” I see this in my workplace (University) as well as at church. Thank you for sharing yourself in all of your blogs.

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    • Thank you, Barbara. From time to time I remind myself that the Catholic Church is the only institution to have survived from the time of the Roman Empire but in practice that can be a mixed blessing. We forget that institutions need constant renewal — and if we don’t or won’t, the Holy Spirit has a way of shaking us up. I wonder if that is what is happening now.

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  13. I suspect that I don’t recognize the Catholic Church that I grew up in today, as the one I left about 30 years ago to become agnostic. Sure I had an issue, which wasn’t helped by my Parish Priest at the time and at a time of real personal trauma I only had condemnation. I had after becoming an Anglican in 2008 that the Catholic Church has become more outgoing and not as insular as I remembered it. However, you put many things into perspective for me, at least, and I will pay more attention to it in the future. I have to say that the Anglican Church that I joined, seems to be just as divided in factions for “this or that” and can give one pause for fault over issues of Abuse and coverup and a culture that either excused or tolerated abuse for generations and that is coming home to roost. I have at least five DBS check certificates to my name, and have attended extended safeguarding on numerous occasions in the past 13 years since I became an Anglican. I don’t resent doing it and being alert to issues that have arisen, but as you demonstrate, somehow it can feel that it is the Church of Safeguarding, not the Church of England. I think that abuse, whether historical or current is sin and evil and will drive people away from Church, and the publicity involved rightly will highlight the failures involved, but the fear that it imposes, the worry for Clergy and Laity alike adds to the stress of anyone in Ministry or a position of responsibility in Church. The arcane Clergy Discipline Measure has destroyed the lives of so many when wrongly applied and has is so secretive in its dealings, that as in recent cases it has taken a suspended Clergyman nearly 12 months to find out what he is accused off and he and his spouse becoming suicidal. Now, having been exonerated, he is considering his future in Ministry, because patently he has lost all faith and trust in the church he loved and ministered for. These scandals in both Catholic and Anglican Churches are causing pain and loss to so many and frankly, I don’t know what can be done about it, without prayer unending and a determination to be more aware of what Jesus taught us and heeding it. We can’t ignore it, but we still need to be aware of Jesus’s command to go out to make disciples in all nations. I just hope we survive the current hiatus and become the Church that is the Body of Christ.

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    • Bless you, Ernie. As always, I think we have more questions than answers. The subject of false accusation is a problem in itself; and while I am, as you know, keen to do anything we can to make things safer for children and vulnerable adults, part of me regrets the fact that I can no longer be ‘natural’ even with our neighbours’ children but must always remember to keep a distance, only talk to them when their parents are present and so on. We even have to have DBS checks on one another in community if we offer one another any personal care!

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  14. In reading your heartfelt interrogation about the Church today I was struck especially by the recommendation to remember our initial encounter with Christ, which for me began in childhood and is ever deepening as I grow older. The Catholic Church has been my North Star leading me to Christ through the Sacraments. My continual immediate sorrow, and that of many friends, is watching our grown children relinquishing their Catholic faith and living unconnected to any faith. How do we draw them back to the light on the hill, to the imperishable faith in Jesus Christ who calls us to follow Him? We can’t just blame the innumerable scandals and wayward disciples, though it’s tempting.

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    • That is the core of my own question about the Church: how do we draw others to Christ? A sad parallel to what you describe is the child/children of a church-going parent who refuse to have a religious funeral hen the parent dies because it means nothing to them, the children, even though they know it is what their parent would have wanted. I have a hunch that each one of us needs to rekindle (?) the love and enthusiasm we experienced when we first realised/heard the call of the Lord. It may have been a bit muddled and indistinct; the joy might not have been very obvious at first; there have probably been innumerable backslidings; but somehow we have persevered. It is this kind of faith that attracts, surely?

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  15. So many competent comments here on such a deeply thought and felt blog. I can‘t compete with them. For years, before finally taking the plunge and being received into the Church. I read, prayed, took part in discussions about, mainly, the difference between Anglocatholicism and Roman. Now I find I don‘t want that. I felt welcome and safely home. Of course the shine wore off. It always does. But however tiresome the edicts from Rome, however wrong-headed the behaviour of senior clergy, however arrogant the local bishop was ,I compared the effect these had on me with the way I felt before becoming a Roman Catholic and find that things are better here. I am not dewy eyed as I might have been once, but simply convinced that this is God‘s Church.

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    • I was baptized into the Catholic Church at four weeks old and grace has kept me here — but it is grace, and not everyone receives the same grace or in the same manner/measure. I rejoice that you have found your (imperfect) spiritual home and know that you will join me in praying for those who haven’t or who feel they have been cast out or are otherwise questioning the basis of what they believe.

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  16. Thank you for this. I haven’t returned to Mass, not because I don’t believe or long to be closer to God, but because I can just can’t be part of Church as silo or swallow any more clerical wilful-blinkerdness any longer. I long to experience and share Christ but my experience of Church is the absence of Christ in place of ritual or just plain keeping numbers up. I stayed for as long as I could bear it, leading by example and giving, giving, giving, but with no sustenance of receiving Christ from my parish, I can’t go on. My solution is prayer, trying to be the person I was created to be, giving through my family, work and voluntary work. I will seek out a retreat with a religious community as soon as I can. I won’t be missed and no one will think ‘I wonder why that woman who did all that stuff not come back?’

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    • Your comment made me feel very sad, Emma, and it is no help to say that it echoes others we have received during the long period of lockdown. I can say, truthfully, that access to the Sacraments is an important part of our Christian life and we should never knowingly or willingly separate ourselves from them because to do so is to separate ourselves from Christ, but for the rest, everything you say is depressingly familiar. We are all guilty of this, whether clergy, religious or laity. It is the not seeing, the not reaching out, the not valuing that is so disturbing. Please continue to read the scriptures and to pray. If you do not already do so, have you thought about including a definite daily rhythm of prayer into your day by saying some, at least, of the daily Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours. Universalis provides lots of free resources and their app is a treasure or those on-the-go moments. Be sure that you are in our prayers here.

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    • A retreat sounds like a lovely next step – but yes, as someone who is rather an occasional church attendee (perhaps, uncongregationed Christian?!) I agree that – especially in a time where faith might need bolstering, or a sense of the Holy Spirit really needs to be topped up – sacraments are important. I notice when I’ve left it too long.

      It might also be time to do a little church shopping – travelling to a different church, perhaps a larger one, where you can quietly, and perhaps anonymously, tend to your own faith, without feeling you have to tend to the needs of others. Before I got confirmed Anglican, Evensong at different cathedrals was my favourite service for sneaking in the back – because there was no awkward sitting out of communion to do. A new place, a different atmosphere, and different preacher can all cast a new light on things.

      I do think the community of church congregations is important – but it isn’t always for everyone, at every time. I firmly believe that Jesus is capable of finding us where we are – outside of church or inside. We in turn have responsibility to take him with us to find other people who aren’t setting foot in church. That’s the bit I find harder myself- since not many people realise I’m Christian.

      I sometimes think congregations spend more time serving in an inward facing way, than looking how to draw in those from outside. Focusing on those who have lost or never found their way into faith seems like a more rewarding mission, to me… but I’m still muddling, through, finding my way… much as we all do.

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  17. We do need to look wider and beyond our local churches but I am so saddened by so many people’s individual experience of their local parish. I’ve always felt that we should try and stay put in the parish to help build it up, fan the embers etc but when that fails, nourishment has to be sought elsewhere. After being in a dead parish with a ‘dead’ priest and a congregation that by and large weren’t aware that life could be so different we moved to another area, (to be close to family) the parish situation making it a win-win situation; result ; joy, life in abundance, life in the spirit! Our Bishops need to read these posts!
    Sorry, I’ve strayed from your post Sister Catherine.

    Reply

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