Our family, like many others, are fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (only nine sleeps until Guardians of the Galaxy II!) which, for the ignorant and uninitiated, are light hearted action films centred on a plethora of comic heroes. Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Spiderman etc..
One of the latest heroes to be introduced is Dr. Stephen Strange, played by the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch. Strange is a brilliant surgeon who, having lost the use of his hands in a car accident, travels the world seeking a cure. He finds it, in the East, under the guidance of ‘The Ancient One’ who, alongside healing his hands, grants to him extraordinary mind-bending powers. It is great fun!
Dr. Strange is not alone in finding revelation in the East. Iron Fist, Netflix hero for a more adult audience, fell from a plane over the Himalayas and was rescued by Tibetan monks before learning amazing mystical things. Even Batman, in the DC universe, trained amongst the Eastern mystics. Tibet is clearly the place to go if you desire to wear underpants over your trousers and save humanity. Why am I telling you this?
Because the thought that Marvel might swap East for West, in search of mystical encounter, is laughable. Imagine Dr. Strange sat in the chancel of a typical modern parish. He would not find ancient mystical encounter but rather die of boredom. A curse on the Christian tendency of recent time to de-mystify its liturgy and buildings! What damage this has done. Why seek to secularise and seek worldly relevance instead of going further into the mystical realm? Isn’t that what faith is all about? I suspect the sort of hero the modern church would churn out would be an altogether different species…
Pope Benedict XVI stated that the great ecclesial crisis of modern time is the loss of our sense of the sacred. A theme oft repeated on this blog because I share this conviction. We are what we pray; and rescuing faith from the bland and mundane, from the protestantisation of modernists, is of vital importance. That which Benedict XVI began in his reform of the reform (seen in the liturgical emphasis of the Ordinariate) now in danger of being undone under the present pontificate.
The success of Marvel tells us that mysticism is important. It still holds appeal to the modern culture. There is fascination, even yearning, for the supernatural. People are drawn to that which points beyond our knowledge and which can inspire awe. See how serious it is then, that since Vatican II, many set out to de-mythologise the church? Out went altar rails, the plainsong and haunting chants, the statues and Eastward facing altars; that which pointed beyond self and into the realm of heaven.
In came delight in the mundane. The building of hideous functional worship spaces, the use of ditties and infantile secular music that led to clapping glorias, the turning of priests to face people so that we only gaze on one another but never beyond ourselves. In short any sense of the supernatural evaporated and the evidence is seen in so many parishes today. We are left with a church whose tendency is to operate horizontally not vertically; a big NGO centred on the needs of man not on worship of God. People line up to receive the body and blood of Christ in obvious disbelief; they do not gaze in wonder but line up as if at a school cafeteria.
We have to stop treating the church like a political body or worldly institution- pretending there is creative tension between traditionalist and liberal, between warring factions centred on the views of man. We must encourage instead a unity stemming from firm supernatural faith; a belief in one church, one faith, one Lord! That which brooks no compromise because it comes from the revelation of God himself. A fidelity to ancient scriptures and the teaching of the church in all ages. It requires authentic worship. The sort we once did well but no longer bother with.
Because, until we restore these vital elements to the Church, Dr. Stephen Strange and all his friends, will continue to look elsewhere for revelation and meaning in life. So I continue to pray for the success of Pope Benedict’s reform of the reform.