I have written elsewhere on the theme of the importance of our secular society and its leaders acquiring a form of religious literacy – if only so they can understand what they are doing before they intervene in areas of the world where people are willing to die for their beliefs, here I want to reflect a little more on how the Catholic Church can respond to this heightened awareness of the place and importance of faith.
In my own diocese the Bishop is driving an impressive agenda of reforming the whole catechetical and educational process. He is proceeding as a successor to the Apostles should. He could have had a long consultation process, in which those most opposed to reform would have been most vocal in explaining why the current useless system should not be changed, and eloquent in analysing the 101 reasons why nothing should be done. His proposal for an annual pilgrimage of witness through Norwich was, when he first proposed it, criticised as too ‘daring’ – it worked, so it is now being called successful; if he had listened to the nay-sayers, nothing would have happened. We were told no one would come, young people wouldn’t come and wouldn’t like it, locals would feel uneasy at a procession with a Crucifix and a statue of the Blessed Virgin: well the young were highly represented, the locals welcoming, and the gloom-mongers confounded.
Now, taking some good orthodox models of catechesis for children and adults, and some good ones for RCIA, we are engaged in adapting them for our diocese and getting them out to the parishes. Those most directly responsible for the current dire state of affairs in all these areas, are prophesying doom, some even asking why it is necessary – perhaps they have grown so used to managing decline that they regard anyone going to church for any reason as a success? Who knows? We don’t really have the time or the resources to engage in an argument with them, and the Bishop is leading from the front – these things will happen.
Will they work? The evidence thus far is that if the trumpet gives a steady note, people respond. They don’t want to hear about nuance and metaphor, they want to hear the Good News. That involves ingesting some really bad news first: we are all sinners; that means sin is real; we are all in danger of hell; that means hell is real; we can none of us heal what ails us by ourselves; that means original sin is real. The Good News is that from all of these things we have been delivered by Christ, and we can encounter him every day if we will at the altar. We can follow his ways, we can walk with him. when we fall, and fall and fail we shall, we have a recourse to confession and absolution. Here, it is not just that no child will be left behind, no human need be.
Our job, under the direction of the Bishop, is to draw up the materials which will underpin this through an orthodox exposition of the timeless faith of the Church. It is, I suppose what the Marxists used to call ‘vanguardism’ – a small group of people motivated to provide leadership in the right direction. It has a longer history than that – a man called St Paul was the first Christian to do it. He wasn’t, history tells us, universally popular, and many thought him too daring, and his ideas remain ones which fail to find a consensus among those for whom fudge is one of life’s necessities – but his method worked, and in the absence of any better model, we thought we’d revert to it.