Anyone who has been pursued romantically by somebody they do not fancy knows desperation is a turn off. There is something repellent about neediness especially when it stems from lack of self dignity and respect. Thus marriage counsellors tell wounded spouses to retain self worth if they wish to fix marital problems. Become needy and you lose respect. Exude self worth and others find you attractive.
If only the modern church could grasp this truth. For one so often detects a sense of desperation amidst evangelisation which contributes to decline. From giant thermometers begging for money to endless trendy slogans and gimmicks, one senses neediness. Then, instead of showing the world the true value of living faith by putting trust in supernatural grace and daring to live differently, Christians are found begging for societal acceptance, leading to cringe inducing initiatives and misguided approaches to liturgy and doctrine.
Standards slip, truth is watered down, in fact anything goes when Christians become too desperate for secular approval! The church enters an insane courtship dance being gradually seduced by the world’s narrative, seeking relevance at any cost. She appears cheap, desperate and less than attractive. Not mysterious and enticing- as when she relies instead on her founding principles and dares preach the faith without compromise. More attractive is the blood of principled martyrs than the compromised faith of charlatans.
When the balance of power tips in favour of the world the result, as the last Century shows plainly, is a secularisation of ecclesial communities and loss of supernatural faith. The vision shifts from the next life to this, from worship of God to celebration of the gathered community. Roller skating vicar reaches out to youth, reads newspaper slogan, alongside embarrassing photograph that makes youth mock. There is nothing less cool and needy for approval than roller skating vicars.
A well meaning parishioner once explained an emphasis on folk songs at Mass as an appeal to youth. An awkward silence followed when I pointed out those youth were absent. The sentiment was worthy but the approach was flawed. Not only because folk tunes of the 1960’s are no longer attracting youth today but because that sense of neediness to attract the youth pervaded. A scenario replicated in so many congregations where a grey haired youth of a bygone era hunger to maintain relevance. Like the flared trousers of Lionel Blair their notion of youth appeals is out of fashion but, like all who fail to keep up with trends, they fail to notice.
In Pembury good things happened when we moved towards a more timeless approach to liturgy and preached with confidence. The aim was for worship that never goes out of fashion because it does not belong to the worldly realm or any specific era. Plain song settings replaced clapping responses and traditional hymnody the folk songs. And we worked hard to beautify our church to produce a sense of timeless beauty. The average age soon went down and numbers went up.
Our society is in crisis. Politics is broken and there is a sense of tiredness within the culture. Here is the tragedy! A church full of renewed confidence in her own historic worship, faith, morals, philosophy, culture and tradition would soon re-evangelise this failing nation. If emphasis was placed on authentic holiness of life, supernatural grace and its power to transform- amazing things would happen…
..but they cannot for as long as the church loses confidence herself and follows society into that pit of despair. A self pitying church is the last thing the world needs now. For a church terrified of irrelevance, and therefore watering down its message to appease the failing consensus, cannot help that consensus out of the mire! It is part of a problem not solution. But if we could re-locate authentic belief and dignity- the gifts and message of the timeless church in all ages (and drop the desire to get “with it”) we might be an attractive solution.
A half century of modernist tendency has led to decline – is it not time to consider again Pope Benedict’s call for reform of the reform- of which the Ordinariate is significant? Pray for a renewed confidence in the historic faith of the ages.