I was chatting to one of my increasingly rare friends the other day about the state of the Church, and she gave me a couple of things to think about.
The first was the concept of ‘church rage’. This is the ecclesiastical equivalent of road rage, when someone’s behaviour infuriates an already overwrought person to an outburst.
I have been a martyr to this (no pun intended) for most of my life, starting with teenage agonies during embarrassing high school liturgies, and going downhill from there.
Some people experience church rage on a regular basis because they keep going to a parish where they know they will hear a bizarre homily, or see liturgical improvisations, or experience a choir that really belongs in a cocktail lounge.
Sometimes we have no choice but to stay – we can’t drive a car, or we are someone’s lift home, or we volunteered to help with the morning tea. But when you have a choice, it’s probably better to find another parish church if you can.
Is this copping out? Shouldn’t we stay and try to make a difference?
Yes, of course. Have at it. Set to work with the best liturgical guidelines you can find, recite the prayer to St Michael after Mass even if no one else does, and start photocopying the Gregorian chant sheets.
But if you have very little chance of making a difference – if you aren’t prepared to take on the parish council, or the liturgy director, or the choir director, or the parish priest, or all of the above, consistently, and over a long period of time – then you might be better off either gritting your teeth and focusing on the interior realities, or going elsewhere.
Does this make us C S Lewis’ hated ‘tasters of churches’? Yes. But unfortunately, that decision was made for us decades ago when liturgical experimentation was allowed to run riot.
We now have to live with the consequences of no longer worshipping with any consistency between our parishes, even those next door to each other.
Church rage is not productive, and it can become addictive, especially if you struggle to find other things to talk to your family about on Sunday mornings after Mass.
It gets between you and God very easily and very quickly, at a time when you need to be focusing on Him more than usual.
The more sinister aspect of church rage is that it becomes a way of avoiding examining your own faults and spiritual deficiencies. This can take any number of forms – obsessing about social justice, climate change, Freemasonry, the need for lay leadership, or Pope Francis’ less prudent media utterances.
I have seen it extend as far as Flat Earth and belief in aliens, but only in isolated cases.
The second thing my friend gave me to think about was whether social media was partly to blame, and that if we didn’t have this 24-hour media cycle, we could perhaps be holier people.
I partly agreed, but then hit her with the Philippa Martyr Theory of Church History, which can be summed up in just one phrase: there is no golden age.
One of my triggers for church rage is people who talk about the olden days when everything was terrific in the Church. Even the most cursory reading of Church history shows that this era never existed outside their imagination and very limited personal experience.
At the Last Supper, a man who just made his First Holy Communion sold Jesus for money to the people everyone hated the most, and the rest of the First Holy Communion class ran off before they’d even had dessert. The entire Church was held together by just Mary on Holy Saturday.
The history of the Church is full of similar examples of spectacular weakness, deceit, human failure and catastrophe. The present crises on every level are just our version of this ongoing battle outlined in the Book of Revelation – good versus evil, Lamb versus Beast.
The sins of sexual abuse committed in Rome, and Washington, and in so many seminaries and parishes would still have cried to Heaven for vengeance without social media. In fact, they did – exactly as we’ve been promised in Scripture.
So I don’t see the presence or absence of social media as the cause of the distress in the Church today. Sin is the cause of the distress (mine and everyone else’s).
In the meantime, let me know if you need a hand photocopying the Gregorian chant sheets.