Rules that assume we are all stupid
The year settles down to something of a pre-Lent routine. There is a sense that now Christmas is over people begin to make plans for the year. One woman even phoned from a considerable distance to ask whether she could have a funeral for her mother here. On further inquiry it turned out that her mother was actually still alive and reasonably healthy, and she was just “thinking ahead”.
Six couples have so far come to talk about weddings for this year. I wish I could be more enthusiastic or regard this as a sign of new life. In fact not one of the weddings is taking place in the church here; they are all marrying in more exotic locations. Not one of the couples is practising. One even had to ask for directions to find the church. All is grace, St Thérèse would say, but sometimes it would just be nice to preach to the converted at weddings.
Perhaps because it is something of a ray of hope for me, as well as something encouraged by the Holy Father in his address to our bishops recently, I have been putting some energy into Quo Vadis, the vocations group which grew out of the trip to World Youth Day in 2008. I have built my first website for it. Like everything with computers, they tell you it’s very simple to build a website, but it isn’t really. Computers are like the spiritual life, in that the more you think you are getting the hang of them, the more you realise you don’t know. Often you follow all the instructions and find that still nothing happens for reasons you can’t fathom. At other times it all seems to go right and you can’t really account for that either in terms of what you did or thought you were doing.
So it is that having constructed it and learned how to use the widgets to put in links and maps and photos, I then had to find something called a domain and a host. This involved an evening where I just determined I would stay up until I had mastered it. In the wee small hours the site finally went live, even though a message was telling me that there was an error and it wouldn’t publish. It was still there when I looked the other day, but I honestly have no idea how. If you know of any young person who wants to grow in faith, who is thinking, however vaguely about what their vocation might be, and who wants to travel to the World Youth Day in 2011, tell them to look at www.quovadisyouth.com, not as an example of web design, but as a reasonable summation of what we are trying to do.
The group met on the first Friday of the month as usual and we celebrated Mass, ate together, spent some time considering the call of the Prophet Samuel and what it told us about vocation, and then went back into church for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Compline and Benediction. That ends the formal part of the evening but people tend to linger afterwards to drink hot chocolate and talk the more relaxed and convivial kind of talk about everything and nothing. It’s a very special group. Though it was set up to promote vocation in general, it is increasingly focusing on priestly vocation, just by virtue of the kind of people who come along.
Such an evening puts new heart in me, but it is soon time to come back down to earth – in a controlled manner, that is, of course. At considerable expense we have fitted a rail above the front panelling of the choir loft to comply with health and safety requirements. It’s a noble thing of wood, and required a considerable amount of thought and effort to come up with something that would not look too out of keeping with the existing fittings but stop those who were determined to try and squeeze, in the manner of Peter Rabbit, through the narrow gap betwixt the old balcony wall and the new safety balustrade above it. As it happens, no one has actually fallen out of the choir loft in 50 years, but now it seems that this is entirely due to luck rather than deference to the judgment of those who know about these things. What depresses me most about the exercise is not just the cost, though at £2,500 I would hardly say that I am chuffed by that aspect of it, but the assumption which renders it a necessity: namely, that human beings have no sense of self-preservation and are basically stupid. If this is so, then by what formula, I wonder, can you possibly eliminate risk if someone with no sense of self-preservation is determined to do something inherently stupid? How long will it be, I wonder, before we have to take a course before being allowed to climb a flight of stairs?
There is an apparently staggering disjunction between an increasing unwillingness to accept any traditionally sanctioned moral certainty or authority in the field of personal conduct and a mute acceptance of an ever-increasing burden of regulation, interference and micro-management in our civic lives. I say an apparent disjunction because, in fact, both ultimately derive from a resistance to the concept of personal responsibility.