BY CANON F. H. DRINKWATER
MUST we recognise that the present generation of the young are facing a crisis of faith? One of our bishops was reported as saying so the other day, adding that "an increasing number of children will give up their religion when they leave school".
Perhaps this column, which one imagines is not read by anybody under 20 and by fens under 40 may venture to discuss the problem without fear of being overheard by the young in question.
What is a Catholic parent sup
posed to do when the boy who left school last Friday announces
on Sunday morning that he is not going to Mass? Doesn't see why he should go if he doesn't want to: that will be his way of putting it. Is this what Catholic newspapers call "lapsing"? (Let's hope nobody will call it "lapsa tion" at any rate: bad language won't help.) Is it really a crisis of faith, or (heaven help us) of
morals? Or is it perhaps a crisis of authority? Or should it be in
most cases merely an awkward corner in growing up, like measles or voice-breaking or puberty or something'? Should we even perhaps rejoice to watch the emergence of moral courage, even though in so ill-chosen an occasion?
It makes me think once again of an article which has stuck in my mind since I read it many years ago, in some South African periodical. It was by a Dominican named Fr. Synott, and he argued that Catholic education ought to be orientated towards lapsing.
That sounds odd. and no doubt he put it better than that, but his idea certainly seemed to be that "lapsing" on a pretty large scale was inevitable nowadays and therefore the educator should aim not so much at preventing it but at working in long-term fashion towards the safe return (in due course) of the future wandering sheep.
Anyhow, there's a lot in the idea, it's rather evangelical when you come to think of it. Education for lapsing: Well, you and I might prefer to call it education for freedom, but would there be a lot of difference in practice?
Fr. Synott must evidently have had some prophetic gifts (that article must have been all of 35 or 40 years ago) and my impression is that he was not suggesting any mere changes of syllabus, more apologetics, or any thing like that. • Though of course there is per haps one bit of intellectual instruction which. in view of the above-mentioned declaration of independence on the part of many a charming school-leaver, should somehow be included somewhere in the religious syllabus. This business of freedom: evidently our young friend (oh dear, I do hope he is not listening!) is mixing up several things, several meanings of the word freedom, that need sorting out.
There is for instance, bodily freedom from outward compulsion: that is what he is no doubt chiefly concerned to assert, and perhaps it would have saved a lot of trouble if somebody had told him that England is a free country and that there is no question of physical compulsion for adults. or near-adults, about going to Mass.
But then, of course. you have a second level of freedom, which is much more valuable: namely inward freedom, psychological freedom. The freedom that our fathers. chained in prisons dark, still enjoyed.
The sort of freedom that a chain-smoker hasn't got when he is offered a cigarette. or that an irascible sergeant hasn't got when somebody offers him cheek. The freedom to do what your better self really wants to do—stop smoking, or keep your temper—but is perhaps not capable of doing. Thus if we are going to Mass from pressure of public opinion, it isn't too good from the freedom point of view.
So finally there is that third and highest state of freedom, the freedom to choose the right action, the action which corresponds with God's will that yet leaves us free, the action which
may well go against our own inclinations but which we choose nevertheless, as in Our Lord's story in Matt. 21. 28-32 about the Two Sons. (We could bring it up to date for modern boys and girls—a mother asking her son to do some job for her; he refuses, just going out; but returning later, and seeing her tired out, is sorry and will act differently next time.) And that, I suppose, is where Sunday Mass would come in. Our Lord's will is clear, but leaving us with our freedom. "Do this in commemoration of Me." The Church translates it into a communal rule, but the decision is still ours to make. We are free to love; to love God as He loves us; which is what our freedom is for. (End of freegift lesson-plan!) Yes, for a teenager who has been well-taught it seems to me more likely to he a crisis of authority than of faith. Perhaps the right kind of inoculation would have been to take a part in a ten-minute playlet, dramatising the internal conflict and decision. in a scene showing some unusually articulate parents at home, or some understanding school-chaplain in a classroom argument. If teachers generally would only realize the educational possibilities of drama!
The fact is, today's teenagers are. for various reasons into which we must not enter now, unnaturally. indeed morbidly and obsessively on the look out for anything that seems like domineering in anybody, including the actual representatives of religion, the priests and nuns and so on, whom they happen to encounter in their own lives, or have to listen to from the pulpit of their own church.
The consequence is that the representatives of religion must he just as unnaturally, almost morbidly and obsessively. watchful, to avoid anything like the domineering attitude, outward or inward, which (after all) is precisely what Our Lord warned his disciples against at His most solemn moment. Are we all watchful enough, I wonder?
The English writer who has most fully faced the authority and-obedience problem, with problems for superiors of "commending" their authority, and for subordinates of keeping their superiors truly informed. is Archbishop Thomas E. Roberts. (And there's a man for you! I look forward to Archbishop Roberts being made a Cardinal some day, like Newman, if he lives long enough).
Ten years ago, long before Pope John had been heard of, Archbishop Roberts collected his own findings on this point into a valuable little book with the odd title of "Black Popes" (Longmans, 1954. 8/6d.) There was nothing special in it about teen-agery but plenty about authority, its use and abuse. Our
Lord's religion, he says, is summed up in the Our Father: "understand parenthood and you understand God". (He says "parenthood" because God is Mother as well as Father.) And especially the Archbishop gives us, as his frontispiece, Giotto's picture of Our Lord intent on that notable bit of dramatising with basin and towel, on the occasion of the Last Supper. Yes, in the pagan world domineering is normal. "But you not so. Behold, I have given you an example." (John 13.12, Luke 22.25). Clearly here is something indispensable to apostolate.
Well, are we all watchful enough about our own tendency to domineer? Do we give the impression of "enjoying authority for its own sake, resentful of criticism"? No doubt there are
countries where the clergy are expected to domineer (whether in the pulpit or out of the pulpit, or both, God knoweth) and can hardly avoid rising to expectations; but England is not really one of them.
If the talk is of lapsing, this point may be far from irrelevant. All those other things we worry about, history of . salvation approaches, up-to-date biblical criticism, liturgical movement, sociological outlook and all that. are all very good and indeed necessary.to
umy mind they all matter little beside the basic scarcely-conscious affective roots of human motivation, which are recognised so fully in the gospels and treated so casually if at all in our seminaries and novitiates and training-colleges. So many of us, for all our hook-learning. may easily be psychological illiterates, which does not make things any easier for the grace of God.