Are Practicing Catholics Becoming Irrelevant in France?

Author Joseph Pearce recently wrote an article with a hopeful title that caught my eye and I’m sure many others, “The Son Rises in the West: France & the Resurrection of the Faith”. It’s based on a piece from the Jesuit magazine America by Pascal-Emmanuel Goby, who cites evidence for what he sees as the early stage of a Catholic renaissance in France. He noticed that his church was getting increasingly crowded on Sundays:

“I have started going to other, random parishes on Sundays, just to see if this is a real trend. And indeed, Sunday high Mass is packed in most parishes in Paris. This is also true in Lyon, the second biggest city in the country.”

Perhaps he’s on to something, but he comes up with the curious notion that since the percentage of practicing Catholics in the country is so small (1.8%), they may be less relevant to this revival than a much larger segment within the 48% who are non-practicing.

La Manif Pour Tous

Mr. Goby believes this revival may have started with the grassroots movement that emerged to fight the proposed homosexual marriage law in 2013, La Manif Pour Tous (“Demonstration for All”). The Catholic-influenced movement shocked France with the numbers of demonstrators it inspired to take to the streets, reportedly approaching a million at one point. Later, it spawned other, smaller, secular but Catholic-inspired initiatives which Mr. Goby sees as part of this revival. Their goals are primarily humanitarian and inspired by the teachings of Pope Francis.

He admits that the crowded churches may be the result of immigrants from former French colonies that had been Christianized. He also concedes that in France “…vocations to the priesthood, perhaps the ultimate criterion of the church’s health, are not palpably growing.” While anecdotal evidence is not always reliable for forming broader judgments, he has made a point of asking others if they have the same sense of an emerging appreciation for the Catholic religion and many have shared his sentiment.

Of the 53% that self-identify as Catholics in France only 5% of these attend church regularly according to polls. The author, citing a recent study, suggests that there is a much larger group of Catholics in France who should be regarded as part of this revival even though they attend mass seldom or not at all; these he refers to as “involved Catholics”. He adds, “Mass attendance may not be the only measure of the strength of Catholicism.”

The Catholic daily La Croix  reports that the sociologists who analyzed the survey data suggest that the 5% who attend mass regularly may no longer be relevant to the faith:

“Who are the real Catholics in France? The five per cent who attend Mass regularly, according to opinion polls, or the 53% who describe themselves as Catholic? The broad survey carried out by Ipsos under the direction of sociologists, Philippe Cibois and Yann Raison du Cleuziou, shows that there is also a third possibility. Thus, 23% of French people can be characterized as ‘involved’ Catholics, i.e. people who feel attached to the Church by means of their donations, their family lives or their commitments.”

“As a result, the study sets aside the traditional distinction between practicing and non-practicing Catholics and includes those who do not attend Mass regularly ‘but who consider themselves all the same as Catholics because they live out their lives differently,’ as the authors note.”

There is an obvious danger in taking seriously what sociologists say should define what constitutes a Catholic, (especially one named Cleuziou). Whether or not this revival, or “resurrection” of the Church, as Mr. Pearce calls it, is real, it will not be the work of the very same ones that need to revive their own Catholic faith.

…rjt

St. Hildegard’s ‘Five Beasts’ in a Nutshell

In 1150 St. Hildegard completed her first major work, Scivias (“Know the Ways of God”), a description of 26 highly symbolized visions that manifest the history of salvation. Soon after her death, inexplicably, Scivias and Hildegard fell into obscurity. It wasn’t until the late 20th-century that the work was rediscovered by Latin scholars looking for material for their students. The first complete English translation appeared in the 1990s.

In Book Three, Vision 11, Hildegard describes five symbolic animals as the forerunners of the Antichrist: a Fiery-Red Dog, Yellow Lion, Pale Horse, Black Pig, and Grey Wolf. She explains that each one represents individual and brief historical periods that follow each other in succession. She also reveals how each animal symbolizes a particular evil that afflicts society during the corresponding period.

In my book The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard: Prophetic Symbols of Modern Society, I start with an examination the 20th-century with the intention of seeing how historians divided it up and then how they characterized the individual eras that the divisions would unveil. It turned out that there is general agreement among them; certain years marked major social and geopolitical changes in Western society: 1914, 1945, and 1991. Continue reading “St. Hildegard’s ‘Five Beasts’ in a Nutshell”

The Celestial Phenomenon on Sept. 23 and Revelation 12

Stellarium screen shot, 9/23/2017

The following will occur in the daytime sky on Sept. 23rd:

“And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered” (Revelation 12:1-2).

As the sun envelopes the constellation Virgo (a virgin maiden in Greek mythology) the moon will cross beneath her feet. At the same time twelve stars will congregate just above her head, nine from the constellation Leo plus three visiting planets: Mercury, Venus, and Mars.* The planet Jupiter (mythological king), which had entered Virgo’s torso back on Dec. 1, 2016, will have just exited between her legs on Sept. 12th, 9 1/2 months later. (Recall that Jupiter’s entry into the constellation Leo represented the birth of a prince in Babylonian astrology and inspired the journey of the Magi). Continue reading “The Celestial Phenomenon on Sept. 23 and Revelation 12”

Contraception and Spousal Accountability

Everyone knows that millions of Catholic married couples are using contraceptives irrespective of the Church’s condemnation of the practice. What is interesting about this reality is that the common methods being used place the responsibility on either the man or the woman, but not both. This means that only one of the two is actively facilitating contraception. So, for example, what if a Catholic man has a change of heart on moral grounds and would rather his wife switch from the pill to natural family planning and she refuses? According to Pope Pius XI, he would not be culpable for the sin of contraception:

“Holy Church knows well that not infrequently one of the parties is sinned against rather than sinning, when for a grave cause he or she reluctantly allows the perversion of the right order [contraception]. In such a case, there is no sin, provided that, mindful of the law of charity, he or she does not neglect to seek to dissuade and to deter the partner from sin” (Casti Connubii, 1930, #59).

Continue reading “Contraception and Spousal Accountability”

A Costly Misinterpretation of Scripture

While numerous passages in the Bible are ambiguous in meaning and can be validly interpreted in multiple ways, certain passages are so clear one would have to try very hard to get them wrong. One of those is Matthew 25:31-46, the separation of the sheep from the goats and Christ’s judgment upon His return. The ethical imperatives that will form the basis of that judgment are the treatment of those people he regards as His “brothers”. Identifying Jesus’ brothers is the key to understanding the passage:

“‘When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’” (vv. 37-40).

Throughout Church history the “brothers” were primarily interpreted as referring to Christ’s followers. More recently however, the modern concepts of social justice and universal brotherhood have influenced the way this text is read and most interpreters wrongly identify “brothers” as anyone who suffers hunger, thirst, etc. But that isn’t what Matthew wrote or intended. Continue reading “A Costly Misinterpretation of Scripture”

The Causal Connection of the Love Commandments

It is impossible to overstate the magnitude of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees when they tested him on which is the greatest commandment:

”Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:34-40).

The Pharisees responded with silence because Jesus answered correctly. That the entire Law can be summarized in those same few lines can be found in the Rabbinic literature of the first-century. Continue reading “The Causal Connection of the Love Commandments”

St. Hildegard’s Unsettling Vision of the Bride of Christ

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Bride of Christ, Scivias, Book III, vision 11, chapter 13

It is generally agreed that the illuminations which accompany Hildegard’s Scivias (Rupertsberg Manuscript) were either sketched and painted by her, or produced under her supervision. The image of the Church as a Bride appears periodically throughout her visionary work. In Book III, Vision 11, chap. 13, which immediately follows her description of the era of the Grey Wolf, she describes the vision that corresponds to the illumination here:

“And I saw again the figure of a woman whom I had previously seen in front of the alter that stands before the eyes of God, …but now I saw her from the waist down. And from her waist to the place that denotes the female, she had various scaly blemishes, and in that latter place was a black and monstrous head.”

The Bride who appeared in an earlier vision only from the waist up is now seen fully complete, which reflects that the last days have arrived. Importantly, Hildegard adds that by this time the Church will be “…replete with the full number of her children” (Chap. 13); it will have completed her mission of evangelization. Continue reading “St. Hildegard’s Unsettling Vision of the Bride of Christ”

‘Damnation Don’t Slumber’

In a statistical analysis of mass attendance by CARA, one of the major findings was that the percentage of U.S. self-identifying Catholics who attend mass weekly has steadily declined since 1950, and now stands at 23%. Unsurprisingly, the number jumps to 68% on Easter Sunday. Parish priests get a captive audience and an opportunity to encourage lapsed Catholics back to the faith.

If it were me I would do three things this year:

  • Encourage parishioners to park at a distance if possible, or attend a mass that is not likely to have visitors. People tend to avoid going back to places where parking is a problem.
  • Have one or more confessionals open prior to mass and, if another priest is around, during mass. Visiting Catholics might feel the call to reconciliation just by seeing that it’s available.
  • Preach a homily on Hell. It doesn’t have to be in the fire and brimstone style of Jonathan Edwards, though it worked for him, and started a movement, “The Great Awakening”:

sinners2“The Wrath of God burns against them, their Damnation don’t slumber, the Pit is prepared, the Fire is made ready, the Furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the Flames do now rage and glow. The glittering Sword is whet, and held over them, and the Pit hath opened her Mouth under them.”

“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (ca. 1741)

The fiery puritan grew tired of the malaise he noticed at his colonial-era church and community. People went through the motions of the religious life but lacked passion, which for Edwards meant an absence of an appreciation of the reality of God, heaven, and hell. He wanted evidence that a person was a true Christian through a visible “religious affection”. The malaise, however, was the unavoidable by-product of Calvinism, in which salvation or damnation was predetermined for everyone.

It has been claimed that certain readings and prayers addressing eternal damnation were purged in the mass of Pope Paul VI. Theologian Brian Harrison, O.S. examined this question in detail and concluded that there was little substantial difference between the old and new masses with respect to such matters. He added, however, that the true disparity comes from the pulpit:

“…Catholics attending the old rite heard – and still hear – a lot more about sin, judgment, wrath and Hell than their ‘Novus Ordo’ brethren, simply because post-conciliar priests, whatever the readings of the day may be, tend to avoid those topics like the plague in their bland, vacuous, and politically correct homilies.” (link)

Continue reading “‘Damnation Don’t Slumber’”

A Pastoral Revolution?

medieval-confessionIn the Middle Ages confession could be an unpleasant experience; penances were severe and could last years. Priests had been taught that if a penance accorded was not in proportion to the gravity of the sin, a portion of the temporal punishment would be transferred to the priest. But around the middle of the twelfth-century priests were encouraged to develop a gentler approach to confession.

French scholar Pierre Payer, an expert on the penitential literature of the period,  called it a “pastoral revolution”, where the focus of preaching and the confessional was to educate and counsel rather than admonish and punish. Confession would become, according to Payer, “…one of the most intimate of human relationships that was institutionalized in the Christian Church”.*

Another “pastoral revolution” may be taking place in the Church with the implementation of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, in which Pope Francis introduces a new development in pastoral discernment:

“[Seminarians and future priests] need to truly understand this: in life not everything is black and white, white and black. No! In life shades of gray predominate. We must then teach how to discern within this gray.” (link)

Continue reading “A Pastoral Revolution?”

An Ancient Law Written on the Heart

When I studied Akkadian, the language of Mesopotamia, we would occasionally spend class time reading ancient legal texts. It often provoked discussion because laws reveal much about a society’s concerns. While laws regarding homosexuality in the Near Eastern codes are relatively rare, Tablet A, 19-20 of the Middle Assyrian Law Code (ca. 1400 BC) describes the punishment for falsely accusing someone of engaging in a homosexual act as well as the penalty for the act itself:

“If a man has secretly started a rumor about his neighbor saying, ‘He has allowed men to have sex with him,’ or in a quarrel has told him in the presence of others, ‘Men have sex with you,’ and then, ‘I will bring charges against you myself,’ but is then unable to substantiate the charge, and cannot prove it, that man is to be caned (fifty blows), be sentenced to a month’s hard labor for the king, be cut off [hair], and pay one talent of lead.”

The very next law establishes the penalty if the accusation is proven in court:

“If a man lay with his neighbor, when they have prosecuted him [and] convicted him, they shall lie with him [and] turn him into a eunuch.”

Continue reading “An Ancient Law Written on the Heart”