If Brexit and Trumpism taught the world anything it is that the Western world is experiencing a winter of discontent. All around are signs of polarisation and fracture which, if they are not addressed, will surely lead to trouble.
Those in authority must therefore unite, seek common ground and begin the hard work of bringing people ‘back together’; an act of re-membrance which cannot occur if blind to your own faults. Humility is needed to listen and respond. Forging ahead with your own agenda, whilst leaving people behind, will not cut the mustard anymore. We stand at the brink of real crisis in the world and peacemakers- on all sides of the political spectrum-are going to be needed if civility is to triumph.
I want to reflect on a few examples of current societal dis-connect before considering if this malady is also hurting the church. Should our bishops be mindful of a growing disconnect between what they envision and what the faithful actually need? Are they becoming as out of touch with grass root parish life as Hollywood stars clearly are with those struggling on low wages and zero hour contracts?
The most obvious example of dis-connect in society is economic. In recent years elites have pushed a new global era..but have not shared the spoils. The result is a massive rise in corporate profits but slump in wages. Those at the top experience steep rise in living conditions- all else feel the pinch. Globalisation has, in its present form, benefited the rich and those foreign markets they exploit, at cost to the middle classes back home. And this was the main reason, I believe, for the whipping up of the whirlwind; something had to give. Thus the EU got the boot (to the rage of the British establishment) and Donald Trump got elected (to the rage of the American establishment). Less selfishness and greed might have helped.
And nothing summed up this disconnect better than the photograph above of highly privileged pop star, Bob Geldof, sticking up his fingers at lowly pro-leave fishermen. He and the fishermen living lives as far apart as it is possible to imagine. How do we help to bring them together that they might better understand and serve the other? How can we help an electorate trust those in authority, and foster a sense of national pride and togetherness, when CEOs in large companies earn more than the average worker’s wage in a couple of days? There will always be rich and poor but unfairness of opportunity is something else entirely.
This leads to the next obvious division in modern society between the generations. Turn on Classic FM and most every advertisement is for luxury cruises and aimed at the boomers. That generation now retiring were able to work hard and succeed. They benefited from virtually free university education, with grants worth enough to survive and could later purchase family homes cheaply compared with today. A far cry from millennials who face crippling student debt and cannot even afford single bedroom flats. How can their opportunities be so stunted in comparison?
How do we expect future generations to raise families paying off unreasonably steep mortgages and student debts? The only realistic answer, unless something changes, is via inheritance and not, as it should be, via hard work. Society is being ever more skewed in favour of those from wealthy backgrounds, whose families can help, and this simply will not do. It needs to be skewed in favour of those who have worked hard. We need free markets and level playing fields not stitched up systems. So how can it be dealt with before the losers rise up and show their ire? Peace cannot flourish for long when unreasonable yolks are placed on shoulders.
And so to the church where we also find signs of worrying disconnect; between clerics who set the agenda and the faithful in the pews. We seem to have inherited a generation of bishops, formed in the seminaries of the 60’s and 70’s, hellbent on ‘bringing in a new era’…or more truthfully an era that claims to be new but is actually passe and spent. The tedious return to “Spirit of Vatican II’ mentality heavy on sentiment, light on doctrinal integrity. The pushing of reforms at odds with what is actually bringing growth and renewal at parish level.
Consider the noise around the footnote of Amoris Laetitia. It is clear the intention of the Year of Mercy and Synod on the family was to encourage liberalisation of teaching. Yet all the latest evidence confirms churches with liberalising agendas decline, whilst those upholding orthodoxy flourish. Why then is liberalisation still being peddled at all costs? Is it not because those who champion it are out of touch and cannot see beyond yesterday’s agenda?
It leaves many on the ground, especially younger priests, in frustration. Our future jeopardised via failing methodology that, in the fifty years it has already been attempted, emptied seminaries and closed parishes!! Why are we looking backwards not forwards? Why does it feel like 1970 again? Even Cardinals long since put out to pasture have been raised back from the dead under this current leadership. By all means promote mercy but can we get with the times?
How can we help the episcopate see that the world is unconvinced by poor liturgy, watered down doctrine and wishy washy preaching? That tribal and institutional models of belonging are dead? People dont need or want or respond well to a church that embraces popularism and caves into political agendas. They want a church of integrity and fidelity to God’s word; alive in the Spirit and therefore not only catechising and sacramentalising but also evangelising.
My experience also tell me that people are tired of left wing activist clergy they want authentic priests; those who can bring about a living relationship with Christ. Enough of vanilla establishment men chosen to be bishops and later exposed as perverts and thieves. We need the inspirational and zealous priests promoted- those who hunger for the kingdom and challenge the world with the Gospel. We want and need bishops close to their people not business men whose days are spent in meetings dreaming up strategies on business models.
If prelates are to save us from further fracture and loss they must get out of their bubble and re-connect on the ground. The tired old battles currently being faught in the Vatican only threaten division.When only our favoured agendas and voices are listened to blindness and deafness inevitably occur. What we need is authenticity and holiness and much less disconnect. An end of the establishment model based on secular business and a return to the bishop found amongst his people.