Church has been
there for a long time
Fiorella Sultana de Maria
/knew I should never have come to the five o'clock Mass. The first hymn had sent me straight back to primary school, complete with the squeaky violin and the lady singing slightly flat with gusto, drowning out the rest of the embattled choir. By the time we reached the homily we had left primary school and entered an episode of The Magic Roundabout.
"We are the Church of today, not yesterday!" declaimed the priest in impassioned tones. He then went on to back himself up with a quote from the outdated scribblings of some first century preacher who went and gut himself executed. Obviously a reactionary extremist.
I would have liked to have stood up and pointed out that "we are the Church of today" hardly constitutes a radical statement. No one seriously doubts that we live in the present moment but the fact that the Church has existed for 2,000 years cannot be brushed aside no matter how awkward some might find it. The absurdity of trying to dismiss the past came back to Me several weeks ago when I found myself returning to Malta for my grandmother's funeral. No offence intended, but when I compared that middle-aged but apparently "present day" priest, waxing lyrical about shrink-to-fit jeans and other joys of the 1970s, with the frail, diminutive old lady I remembered with such admiration, I could not help thinking that she had had a more relevant message to offer me on how to live a good life than the shepherd who drove me to distraction in the pulpit, Yes, she was very old and in many ways, we were from different worlds. She was born before the First World War, baptised into "the Church of yesterday" and there was certainly a great deal about my life that she would not have understood. She never felt the need to warn me about the horror of drug abuse, for example, because as far as I can tell, she never knew that it existed. Added to that, she had minimal formal education and would never have been able to engage in the kind of intellectual tussles that go on at the Catholic Chaplaincy in Cambridge.
But one of the most beautiful aspects of the Catholic faith is the fact of its timelessness. I never recall my oldest teacher ever attempting to make Catholicism "accessible" to me, she simply communicated it as she knew it. It was not always particularly deep or gripping. I spent a good many hours going through every single holy picture in her bursting prayer book or listening to pious stories about little children who saw visions of the Blessed Virgin or Jesus and grew up to die of consumption. There were moments on stifling hot days when we said the rosary together, led by a terrible cassette recording of the then bishop, when my only prayer was, "oh dear God, please don't let him say Sliem ghalik Marija again! Oh please!" But even if it did not always appeal to a nine-year-old's concentration span, it had an encouragingly permanent and honest feel to it. Far from being divided by our vast differences in age, the Faith was a gift that enabled her to reach out to me across a gulf of nearly 70 years.
It is in adolescence that the older generation suddenly become figures of fun and there is an adolescent streak in the desire to run away from the traditions of the Church. The new youth movements that combine youthful dynamism with respect for the once scorned practices of the rosary, Benediction and regular confession, are perhaps a sign of a coming of age. A generation removed from Vatican II, we might prove to be secure enough to respect and build upon our Catholic heritage and to bring to the Faith the freshness and energy that are our gifts to the world.