I quite often look at Fr Ray Blake’s blog, and found What have we come to? Fr Blake is a Roman Catholic priest in Brighton and shows a considerable amount of pastoral insight for his long experience in his parish.
How did the Church in the past deal with sin and sinners? We are all in the same boat. After having read this article and thought about the possibility of having ordinary lay folk receive Shrift (medieval word for confession)and Housel (medieval word for Communion) only once a year, then what about us priests who celebrate Mass each day or at least every week on Sundays and feast days? What degree of sinlessness if required of priests?
Obviously we priests are called to holiness and asked to do all we can to live an honest Christian life.
A just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief. Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth.
A priest will go on serving his people, celebrating Mass and receiving the Sacraments. Fr Blake seems to be making the point that churches in the past were full of all kinds of people, from the grenouilles de bénitier to people struggling with drugs, alcohol and their sexual instincts.
I remember being taught as a seminarian that the Cathars had two levels of membership of their community: the uninitiated and those who had received the Consolamentum and had to remain absolutely pure until death. I think the history of the Cathars was certainly much more subtle, a reaction against the laxness and hypocrisy of wealthy bishops and abbots, but we are confronted with a shocking excess of rigour of which none of us is capable.
We read Evelyn Waugh about the diversity of people in the parishes in the “old days”. Sebastian Flyte is described as a person with no will or “moral fibre”, but described by his sister as someone approaching holiness. This is the paradox many of us today cannot understand in our Cartesian rationalism of sorting every person into types. I am thinking about studying and writing something on Personalism, a philosophy of thought found with some Orthodox writers and with existentialists like Heidegger and Pope John Paul II. I’ll return to that subject later. The longer I live, the more I find that no two human persons have anything in common or can understand the other!
I notice the changes in the way priests are dealt with when they fall short. In the old days, they were sent to a monastery for a while and then served as an “auxiliary priest” in a big city parish. Nowadays, they are simply eliminated, laicised and cut off, lest legal action should be taken against their diocese – and not merely for child sex abuse.
Should we revive Jansenism and reverse the “other excess” of people being too familiar with the Sacraments, return to Shrift and Housel once a year after a very uncomfortable time in the confessional? If so, priests ought also to be bound by such a discipline. Then it is good night and close the remaining churches down… The salt lost its savour decades ago, perhaps many centuries ago. We know the arguments of the rigorists, and those of the anti-Jansenists (seventeenth-century Jesuits), and the arguments seem to have little to do with our own experience.
Jesus came as a doctor for the sick, which is the natural reaction on reading the Gospel and trying to understand the character of Christ contrasted with that of the Pharisees. Hate the sin but love the sinner. Sometimes the distinction is not so easy. Did Christ come for the strong or the weak? Can humanity hope for its survival if weakness is tolerated? I went into this when discussing politics a couple of days ago. Can we give the Sacraments to those who don’t care about them and who seem to care about nothing other than entertainment and pleasure? Do we give the Bread of Angels to dogs?
I appreciate Fr Blake trying to find a personal way to see this conundrum and avoid coming up with worn-out clichés. Priests certainly need an antidote to clericalism, and this is to have the experience of living like ordinary people, faced with the same temptations, addictions, weaknesses – so that he can develop empathy and compassion.
Another one of my favourite films is Nosso Lar, a Brazilian film about death and the afterlife. Despite its being somewhat influenced by New Age, we find a common theme: souls being in a hell-like place and being rescued by light-bearing people when they are ready to see beyond their own misery and wretchedness. It seems to be a portrayal of purgatory, where no one is left entirely without any hope, except it be through that person’s own fault and refusal of the light. The souls are then taken to a hospital and healed with tenderness and devotion. What strikes me most is that we are all in this state of wretchedness in this life, and we all need healing. The merciful shall obtain mercy. The message might not be very “orthodox”, but is Christ-like.
The Sacraments are pledges of Christ’s mercy and tenderness for us.