LAST WEEK'S Catholic Herald was almost as grim as a casualty list. Imminent financial disaster in the Archdioceses of Westminster and Liverpool! A general air of change and decay not in the Catholic Herald, of course, but in the visible Church! It is as if Fin de siecle had come a little early this century.
We are seldom now given cause for the old, abandoned optimism. Great religious orders dwindle, schools close for want of nuns, here and there the Faith withdraws and a church is left stranded. The statistics of baptisms, conversions and attendance are all down, our priests grow older and rash young curates represent almost a threatened species.
Catholics tend to feel diminished each time a priest decides to hand in his stole or a young friend simply stops going to church, drops his Faith and does not even look back to sec why or where it fell.
Yet an excessive mourning is probably a bad sign. It means probably that the mourner is in danger of over-identifying with his Church and bolstering his personality with his membership, that his faith is more verbal than real.
Some genuinely love the Church, not only its Truth, but all that goes with it in terms of beauty and myth and history and treasure. Such a love may be a sign of weakness, though it cannot be forced. I think it is a powerful influence to keep a temporarily arid soul at work. And people who really love the Church, warts and all, seem always unconsciously to be more
Equally, it is possible actively to dislike the apparatus of the Church while believing in its essential Truth. You can dislike its residual ,pomps, its civil service, its men in authority, while still being a good Catholic except that you are making it a lot harder for yourself. You will, moreover, he more likely to drift away on some highminded, sociological cloud.
I wish I could explain the current doldrums and be able to comfort those who suffer in them. But I cannot do either of these things.
The traditional reaction to such set-backs is "The Will of God." This is fine and comforting, but if relied upon too much it can lead to all sorts of csoteric intellectual sins which are the worst sort that exist. So we plod on, most of us, and rely upon that other excuse for idleness and ease "The Lord will Provide". And doubtless he well may. But I was comforted when, last Sunday, the parish priest, for the first time ever, preached about the finances of the parish, not a ferverino or a statement of accounts, but a timely reminder that the provisions of God usually have to come through us. His will is usually expressed not in bolts of lightning, which would be alarming even to the miracleprone, but in the work either of those in authority or those whose dignity it is to be called "grassroots." .
A plain tale from the North
THE HISTORY dale Catholic Church used to he a subject for self-indulgent romance, It is pure gain that it he deromanticised and demythologised, and when that process is done it is astonishing how much romance there is still left to indulge in. was started off on this tack by a careful and loving publication of some Catholic researches in Vic, north-east of England. It is called "Northern Catholic History", though it deals mostly with the north-east. It appears twice a year, typed and elegantly reproduced, and it is illustrated.
It subjects its area it seems to be strongest in Newcastle and Durham to the minute observation of the local historian. And that means facts the sort which bring street corners in small towns suddenly alive with tragedy or triumph. For example, it goes into the details of lonely missions which lived on the guineas of the rich and the pennies of the poor in the 18th centruy. It goes into the history of families whose younger sons became priests and who kept chapels and chaplains. Odd details keep comint forward. At Darlington on Sunday in 1839 they had Mass at 10 and Vespers at 3 in the afternoon.
in that year there were 280 Easter communicants, 65 candidates for confirmation of whom 25 were adults, 18 converts, 24 baptisms, a school for 32 children, 58 children in catechism classes, a parish library of 285 books, a chapel, house and garden freehold and a priest called Fr Hugarth, who was made bishop as Vicar Apostolic of the North and then as the first bishop of Hexham in 1850, and the great flooding in of the Irish had only just started. In another edition there is an account of a Catholic pilgrimage to Lidisfarne, or Holy Island, reprinted from the 'Northern Catholic Calendar" of 1888. The occasion was the 12th centenary of St Cuthbert.
The artless account does not fail for want of trying. It was a hot
August day. 'Thousands came by road, boat and rail.
"From the island could be descried a dark stream coming from the mainland across the three miles of sands, as though to empty ttselt into the sea; but onwards it came, and banners began to appear streaming in the breeze, and the sight of white surplices, and a procession numbering thousands, began to unfold itself herore the astonished gaze of the inhabitants.
"Barefoot, with rosary in hands, and responding audibly to the prayers of the clergy, each hand, headed by cross-bearer, approached and halted under the shadow of the sandhills, then, chanting the Litany of the Saints, and the hymn, "Faith of our Fathers", the mass of people moved forwards, the clergy leading the way." There is the photograph of the massed clergy, looking menacing in lace and birettas. The crowd has the usual rumpled, over-clothed Victorian look.
The publication costs 45p. You can, too, join the North-Eastern Catholic History Society for 50p a year and attend their meetings and outings. And if you want details of this admirable and scholarly apostolate, write to Mr R. M. Gard, 4 Oaklands, Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE3 4YQ. I suspect it would he taken kindly if you included a stamped addressed envelope.
DO YOU WANT to be a clergyman but cannot afford the time or bother to make the effort? There appear to be about 100 organisations in the United States which can help you.
These provide mail-order ordinations and diplomas, and their prices are tailored to fit the pockets of the lowly and those who cannot make it on their own.
One of the chief of these is the Universal Life Church founded in California in 1959. Of itself it says engagingly: "We, as an organisation, only believe in that which is right.
"Each individual has the privilege and responsibility to determine what is right." They will post you a Doctorate of Divinity for 20 dollars.
From Sacramento, also in California, you can he ordained by post for three dollars. If you want to be an Archbishop, it will set you back eight dollars, which sounds
reasonable, thougn at Leyland's they would object to the inadequacy of the differential.
Once a minister and your religious convictions are nobody's concern except your own you can ordain, preach, and marry. You may even be able to claim exemption from income-tax.
An amendment to the American Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and covers wide areas of madness and greed; religion also manages to cover wide areas of madness and greed. Your faculties will come in an envelope marked with the title of the sect you chose, And there is not
much the American postal services or the courts can do about it. There seems to be no impediment in Britain or Ireland to using a title so acquired.
According to a U.S. Federal Court judgment, no court is suppos ed "to consider the merits or falacies of a religion . . . however excellent or fanatical or preposterous it may seem. Were the court to do so it would impinge upon the guarantees of the First Amendment."
Privately, the Federal Tax Service seems able to dissuade too many sects from claiming too much tax exemption. But it's easy to call a man a charlatan. It is another thing to prove it in court.
Lawyers correct my incivility
SOMEONE, when I was not looking, passed the Lord Chancellor (Tenure of Office and Discharge of Ecclesiastical Functions Act) Act, 1974: with the shaming result that I referred to the Lord Chancellorship as being a secular office of State which is still forbidden to Catholics.
It was doubly embarassing, I had not noticed the passage of an Act which, at least symbolically, is of importance. And l wrote the mention of the religious limitation that used to hang' over the Lord Chancellor with reference to Lord Hailsham, who was responsible for the Act that took away the disability. Two upright Catholic lawyers have written to me and shown me both my error and my incivility.
It seems that a few years ago a group of Catholic lawyers called on the Lord Chancellor who, in a Labour Administration, was the formidable Gerald Gardiner. They raised the question of the ancient convention that the Lord Chancellor could not be a Catholic.
He agreed that the matter should be cleared PP as there were two fairly old and conflicting counsels' opinions on the eligibility of Catholics to the office. Lord Gardiner suggested that a friendly nonCatholic peer be asked to introduce a private Bill in the Lords.
Lord Hailsham, who had ceased to be Lord Chancellor after the return of Labour, introduced a Private Bill in the House of Lords which is now the Act of which Section 1 reads: "For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that the
office of Lord Chancellor is and shall be tenable by an adherent of the Roman Catholic Faith," A group of Catholics later gave a dinner for Lord Hailsham and his wife to say thank you for his removal of this antiquated blockage in the legal pipeline. Lord Gardiner was, of course, not a Catholic, but his mother had been a convert to the Faith.
And while we are into error, there is the subjeet of St Olaf, the Patron Saint of Norway. At the end of Jan uary, 1 wrote casting doubt on the authenticity of the sanctity of this saint, whose enthusiasm for the death of pagans seems excessive even for those generous I 1 th century times.
Lord Anstey wrote to the Catholic Herald in protest and correction. and some enemy on our remarkable Letters Page headed it with "Wrong Olaf, O'Donovan"! Lord Anstey said I had got hold of some other and less splendid Olaf.
So I hurried to my note books. I had been doing something about Vikings, and St Olaf when young had taken part in attacks on England. ("From the fury of the Northmen, Lord deliver us.").
But I had lost the book with St Olaf in it. And then found a page in another with this solemn list in it: Swein Fork beard Eric the Victorous Eric Bloodaxe Harald Bluetooth Gorr the Old, I cannot remember why I wrote these gentlemen down, or who they were. But they serve to demonstrate the intricate dangers of Scandinavian history.
However, I did not get St Olaf wrong. He was a king; he was a great pagan killer; he died in battle against his own people; he was a great supporter of the Church, and the Church raised him to the altar and patriotism kept him there.
He became a popular Saint in Europe, but then so did Jerome and Thomas Becket neither of whom now appear wholly qualified for the