I need to come clean. It is me. And others like me. We are the ones out of favour with certain members of the hierarchy and therefore find ourselves marginalised, even demonised at times, and called names like ‘rigid’ and ‘neo-palagian’.
It is us who frustrate the desired programme of change by refusing to liberalise on matters of faith, morals, doctrine and scripture; that the church might be in vogue with the world. It is us. We are the rigid. But why? What compels us to swim against the tide and not join this modernist revolution?
Here is what I would say to those who label me as rigid.
First it gives us no pleasure. It isn’t much fun existing on the naughty step, even if God has blessed me as I sit here! Like many who attempt to be faithful to the magisterium, when so many prelates favour the ‘modernist approach’, my ministry has involved glass ceilings, invisible walls and alienation. This doesn’t bother me much – for I love my parish- but its worth noting because this cost speaks of conviction. We rigid are not being difficult for the sake of it. Nor scared, backwards, stupid or uncaring- as claimed by those who dislike us- rather it is a matter of conscience. We believe modernism is wrong. Very wrong. A heresy in fact. And therefore feel compelled to state it even to the point of suffering if necessary.
Why do I think modernism wrong? Because, in multiple ways, it has failed to convince me. Ultimately us rigids have weighed up the evidence and, sorry modernists, your calls for liberalisation just don’t add up…and I speak as a Christian with a lot of experience. All my Christian life I have witnessed decline in the Christian faith and culture of the West. And the hours I spent studying and praying and examining and experiencing Christianity, at one time in a very liberal Anglican seminary incidentally, in two different denominations and across a raft of churchmanship, has led me to one conclusion; its modernism silly! That is the problem. Not the faith.
The claim has ever been that a more liberal/modernist/progressive direction guarantees renewal for the Church. But there exists no evidence whatsoever to support the claim. Quite the reverse. Which is hardly surprising given that the entire history of Christianity teaches the polar opposite; that radical fidelity and witness lead to sanctification and God. Nevertheless many Christians have embraced modernism and I have witnessed first hand how they then tend to fall away, to become more secular in outlook, more faithful to the beliefs of the present secular age than to the revealed Word of God.
Why do many still choose it, given its awful track record? Partly because some know no better, its all they have experienced, others because modernism is convenient; it demands little and promises a life of comfort and ease in this world. It allows for a cafeteria faith- the tribal belonging but without the rigour and discipline. Which is to say it chimes with the West at present. And because 1970’s clerics (the fathers of this revolution) are now in the ascendancy it is experiencing revival. Yet let us not be so foolish as to confuse popularity with success. The awful television programme ‘Love Island’ may be popular- it doesn’t make it any good!
So leaving aside the unsurprising popularism of a loose and easy faith let us explore its fruit. And here we reveal a paucity of spiritual edification. Most Catholic schools opted for modernism since the seventies and what did they churn out? Not many authentic Christians, if we are honest, but militant lapsed atheists with a strong social conscience are two a penny. What we seem to have taught was a type of Marxist activism- a focus on the philosophy of man not God. Little wonder the budget for worship in most of these schools is less than negligible and few of the teachers practice themselves.
Next we might consider how it was on the watch of a modernist leadership that rot set into Western faith to the point that we enabled the secular mindset, so hostile to Catholic faith, to take over. So many dioceses are run like businesses today and not as houses of prayer. Modernist prelates have become line managers not pastoral shepherds and defenders of faith. They are seldom seen in parishes for their time is taken up in so many meetings and with bureaucracy. Priests too are sidelined by a strange understanding of lay ministry that encourages everyone to take up occupancy of the sanctuary, therby emasculating clergy and stealing their sacred functions, instead of going out into the world to serve as evangelists!
And who can deny a loss of beauty and reverence in modernist worship? Little wonder seminaries emptied and parishes closed where houses of God became mundane and unappealing. And statistics back this up. Liberalisation leads to decline no matter the denomination. Yet still the trend persists….and for some reason it is the prelates whose own dioceses have experienced the greatest decline who currently have the loudest voices in this papacy. Why are we listening to the voice of the church in Belgium where zero growth is found? Why don’t we listen to the voice of China and Africa where growth is impressive?
And consider liturgical experience in recent decades. My experience of modernist worship is dreadful. Sorry but it is. Awful music, poor teaching and chummy embarrassing attempts at entertainment have become normative. The emphasis is all wrong- it seems to be on championing man and celebrating the community- not worshiping the God of scripture. Where is the reverence? Where is the awe? Where is the righteous fear of the Lord? So much seems off where worship is banal and dumbed down and devoid of supernatural awareness. Whereas I find a more traditional hymnody centred on Christ and I find the use of altar rails and historic Christian art stirs my soul to worship. So worship proves another nail in the coffin for modernism in my book. Where is the depth and beauty? The holiness and fidelity to Christ?
And, whilst I am on a roll, there is the intellectual life. Sorry modernists but your arguments seem shallow in contrast to orthodox thinkers like Pope Benedict XVI and the desert fathers. You ever hide behind clever ambiguity but you avoid both truth and clarity. The very things that appeal to me. So this again fails to convince.
In modernist praxis I see only impoverishment of living faith then and this makes me suspicious of real motives. It cannot be coincidence that many of the voices calling for a downplaying of moral teaching are the ones embroiled in scandals; lurid murals involving sexual licentiousness to the erection of a St Gallen Mafia to subvert the role of the Holy Spirit even to reported orgies in the Vatican. How do these men survive? It seems only the orthodox are punished- the modernists protected at all costs.
So there you have it modernists. Understand nobody who knows me personally views me as rigid. Only you. Because you have failed to convince me. Failed because, as I see it, liberalisation breeds only surface popularism and fails to win souls for Christ. Oh I know it delights those who want faith neutered- including atheists, nominal Christians, those enslaved to particular sin etc, – but it does not encourage real and living faith. The sort I want for my children. Which means instead of baptising all nations in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you stand with Pilate, asking ‘what is truth?’and visibly shrinking from certainty, integrity and obedience. For that reason I am out. I stand with the saints not you.
See I didn’t give my life to the priesthood to make the church like the world, or to excuse the sexual revolution. I did it for Jesus because I believe the Gospel! I am for the magisterium. The dubia reflects my concerns and I thank God for those who raise it. For if traditional Christian faith built the West it still has much to offer. And if saints and martyrs lived by this faith by grace and flourished – so can we! And in defence I refer you to Revelation 3:16 and the entire letter to Timothy.
Therefore I mean to remain rigid in the faith of the Apostles until my dying breath, hopefully beyond that. Though not being a very good Christian I cannot guarantee it. But nevertheless I shall not apologise for it.
With that said by all means let us debate mercy- how might we reach out in love and help the church become a hospital for sinners not just a club for the holy? I love the way you think that important. So do I. I will debate this with joy -for I am actually quite a liberal chap underneath it all- it is just that when it comes to the faith itself well that is not up for grabs. Non negotiable no matter my feelings. On that I am rigid. I think its what God asks of us. Struggling sinners that we all are.