Thursday, 16 September 2010

The pope is in the building

Well, that was quite a day with one thing and another. There was a bit of a rocket from the pope to kick things off at Holyrood:

As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a 'reductive vision of the person and his destiny' (Caritas in Veritate, 29).

And, yes, that is diplomatic pope-speak warning us that if we exclude God, religion and virtue from public life, we too will end up with a truncated view of man and society (or, in other words, like the Nazis). Now, why do you think the pope said that? Ahem!

It must be fairly tiring for a man of 83 to be cavorting around Edinburgh meeting Scottish dignatories. No wonder he retired for a quiet lunch with the Cardinal of Saint Andrews (I'm reliably informed that neeps, tatties and haggis could have been on the menu ...).

Thence to Bellahouston, a park which sounds oddly like an American Motown singer. Not that Motown was on the agenda for the Mass. There was the odd, regrettable ditty to be heard, notably at the Responsorial Psalm, but it wasn't bad if you turned the sound down. The most solemn moments were in the Liturgy of the Eucharist when the BBC camera, panning across the standing dignatories, caught the Catholic ones amongst them dropping to their knees. The funniest moment was when Susan Boyle came on after Mass and sang to a rapidly emptying field. Was it something she said?

Or was it something the pope said? Neither probably, though he did have some things to say which were couched in papal code but stiff nonetheless. The heart of it was the living out of vocation as a means of evangelising culture. As he put it:

For this reason I appeal in particular to you, the lay faithful, in accordance with your baptismal calling and mission, not only to be examples of faith in public, but also to put the case for the promotion of faith’s wisdom and vision in the public forum. Society today needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the true welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility.


Okay, I thought, but what about our leaders? We need good leadership if we're going to even make an attempt at fulfilling that agenda. And as if he was answering the thought, the pope spoke to the bishops:

As you know, one of your first pastoral duties is to your priests (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 7) and to their sanctification. As they are alter Christus to the Catholic community, so you are to them. Live to the full the charity that flows from Christ, in your brotherly ministry towards your priests, collaborating with them all, and in particular with those who have little contact with their fellow priests. Pray with them for vocations, that the Lord of the harvest will send labourers to his harvest (cf. Lk 10:2). Just as the Eucharist makes the Church, so the priesthood is central to the life of the Church.


You know the subtext: if the priest is average, the people will be lost, if the priest is good, the people will be average, and if the priest is holy, the people will be good. How we need this message in an age of Fr Joe Wheats who think having fifty varieties of Catholicism among young folk is a good thing.

Indeed, that is a proposition Fr Wheat might want to address when trying to explain to young people what the pope meant when he addressed the young people of Scotland thus:

There are many temptations placed before you every day - drugs, money, sex, pornography, alcohol - which the world tells you will bring you happiness, yet these things are destructive and divisive. There is only one thing which lasts: the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you. Search for him, know him and love him, and he will set you free from slavery to the glittering but superficial existence frequently proposed by today’s society. Put aside what is worthless and learn of your own dignity as children of God.

Not much room for flexi-Catholicism there, but plenty of room for the children of God.

I confess my heart sank at the ecumenical opening to the sermon, but you can never underestimate the subtlety of this man (nor the potential for the Scots to slide back into bitter sectarianism). He spoke particularly about the 100th anniversary of the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh which, for those in the know, - and I wasn't one of them until someone mentioned it - was one of the last examples of self-confident Anglo-Saxon Protestantism in the UK. Not a natural bedfellow for Catholics, but consider this: Pope Benedict knows who his political allies are in a context where democratic leverage could facilitate some defence of those principles of natural law which are directly under threat in these sorry islands. If the Anglican leadership continue to pickle their heads in liberal, anti-human fug, Pope Benedict will hope for support from others who will support his agenda of natural law in the public forum.

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Eek, look at the time. I must away to my bed. I hope to wave at the pope from the corner of Lambeth Road and Millbank tomorrow between 4.30 and 5pm.