Having reflected on the need for better bishops and priests, men of God who exude confident leadership, loving zeal and authentic holiness, attention must turn to the laity. For the pews are the pool from which clerics are drawn, meaning that when the laity are not living the faith in the home the sanctity of the entire church comes under threat.
If parents are not raising virtuous holy children, through family devotions and teaching faith and morals, the quality of priest will suffer. We might ponder that seminaries today teach a basic level of theology on entry that would have insulted previous generations raised in homes where faith was taken seriously. They arrived in the adult world formed in faith with spiritual maturity. This generation is barely literate in terms of Christian faith. Now factor in how secular universities and modern school curriculums have failed people of faith as the culture all but abandoned virtues, like chastity, purity, self control and mortification, and a perfect storm emerges as regards the early formation of candidates for the priesthood.
So the collapse of the domestic church is the heart of the crisis. Few parents stand by traditional belief and transmit it to their offspring. The more usual pattern is lax church attending grandparents whose children barely practice and certainly don’t believe and whose grandchildren don’t bother with faith at all. That is the situation from which we must turn things round. It is a colossal challenge and quick fix solutions don’t exist. This needs surgery not sticking plasters. So let us identify where things went wrong in the hope of then putting them right. Three things stand out.
First the rise of a powerful modern media which the church failed to grasp or be part of. Television and radio came under control of those in thrall to the sexual revolution whose liberal ideology now dominates air waves as a direct confrontation to historic Christian belief. To understand how devastating this was read ‘the death of Christian Britain’ by Callum Brown.
Once magazines of the 1950’s stopped celebrating family life and turned to rampant individualism, sexual permissiveness and libertarianism, via magazines like Jackie and Cosmopolitan, the cultural revolution of the 1960’s began. And because the modern media streamed into homes 24/7 the competition was unfair. How could a ten minute Sunday sermon compete? Portrayals of cruel, dour, stuffy Christians set against an enlightened, kind, liberalised people became the norm. Christianity fell from fashion and even those remaining in church got into the habit of watching the television with children as family prayer time and faith instruction fell by the wayside. Soon the cultural changes led to breakdown of the family. A huge blow to faith.
The second factor was that radicalised ideologues did not stop at control of the media. Soon the education system fell under their power. Robust theology fell out of fashion in universities; a programme of doubt and confusion took its place. Campus life revolved around hedonism. I went to college in the 1990’s and the first thing I was handed was a welcome pack containing free condoms and a pamphlet instructing me to have fun but be safe! As the culture abandoned faith so our Catholic schools were hollowed out. Fifty years ago most every Catholic teacher was practising. Today our local “Catholic” Secondary has only a handful who attend Mass rarely. The number of practising Catholic pupils is no better. So even our faith schools, within the present education system, are hardly on the side of Christian praxis and belief.
And finally we have Vatican II which, however necessary, arrived at the worst possible moment because the working out of that seismic council became ensnared within the sixties revolution. Thus instead of a faithful working out of the council’s vision, to ensure historic Christianity was equipped to transform secular culture (the documents of Vatican II anticipate ad orientem worship, kneeling for communion on the tongue, use of plainsong and Latin, etc) the enterprise was hijacked by those who felt the emerging secular culture should transform the church. A generation more passionate about the various ‘isms’ than Christian doctrine was born. Soon they were ripping out altar rails, installing guitar stands, throwing out statues and raising rainbow flags in their place. Naturally it led to an historic decline in vocations, youth and piety. Yet the ageing revolutionaries cannot bear to admit defeat and, being in the positions of power due to age, continue to push hard for revolution. Ever undermining authentic Catholic faith to endorse subjectivity, virtue signalling and sentimentality. Their attempts to water down faith to appease the world is obvious suicide, all the data backs this, yet they continue to push for reconciliation of the impossible; the church and the world that at baptism we promise to resist.
How then to counter the three things which led to rampant decline in the pews? The answer is obvious. First we must work really hard to grow afresh the domestic church. Supporting the family, upholding marriage and encouraging mothers and fathers to pray in the home, teach their young and resist the cultural cues. Next we must relinquish or reform those schools and colleges that are Catholic in history and name only. An easy going cultural Catholicism is not going to evangelise the world. So we need radical authentic Catholic schools and universities where faith is taught and practiced with confidence. And finally we must look again at Vatican II and especially at the numerous errors that arose in its wake. It is surely time for a reform of the reform or a third council. One that ensures liturgy is performed to good standard and focused on God not man. Without these things hope of change is futile. It begins with babes in arms then – we must grow the solution organically. This is the work for radical committed Catholics only. Application forms will be found in the parishes still taking faith seriously.