Spiritual evolution

Here is an edited version of a blog post that I wrote on the right-leaning Daily Telegraph religion blog, in a thread looking at the willingness of Pope Benedict XVI to encourage making the latin Mass more easily available to ordinary Catholics:

(original article)

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I have always tried to look at the decline in religious practice from a positive perspective... i.e. yes, things have gone wrong post-Vatican II, but maybe, just maybe, this is part of a process, a much bigger picture that only God knows, and that we (the Church) have needed to go through this difficult time to come out stronger the other side. My main reason for this is that I feel humanity's religious nature is one in evolution (or purification), an evolution/purification that is gradually (through many highs and lows) bringing us all closer to God, closer to the day when we will all be one with Him again. I have always felt that the Book of Job is a crucial one in terms of highlighting this process of purification of belief.


St. John Lateran Basilica, Rome

Now, changes in preaching and teaching style (less "fire+brimstone", more "peace+love") post-V2 have had much to do with more recent changes/decline in religious practice. But let's think about this a moment. Many people may have only been going to Mass out of fear of God's punishment if they didn't. This is a caricature, I know. But, speak to someone like my father and you begin to realise that this hold over people (eg. in Ireland) that the Church had through fear was a very powerful one.

I would contend that the faith of such people must have been pretty shallow if the removal of the fear factor led to them drifting from the Church.

Now, don't get me wrong. I think fear/awe is a necessary part of faith, but a mature faith balanced by the knowledge of the depth of his love for us, not a childish faith such as that between a young child and an adult where the child simply obeys because they don't want to get a slap. God would want us to obey him out of love, not fear. Why were criminals, outcasts, etc... so attracted to Jesus? Because they felt comfortable with him, they didn't fear punishment and rebuke from him over their sins. They heard his message (which in some ways was much more uncompromising than that of the Jewish hierarchy in place), and yet they saw that he said it out of love for them. And this drew them in.

So, in conclusion, yes, changes since Vatican II (in terms of liturgy, teaching, etc...) and a misinterpretation of its recommendations have had a detrimental effect on the Church. But, I would contend that those who do still go to Church are much more convinced of what they believe, are far more committed, etc... Our job now is to reach out to those who have drifted away (in our families, workplace, friends...) and by the example of our faith help to draw them into a deeper relationship with God built on surer foundations.

The reforms of Pope Benedict will help us to do this if it makes the liturgy a more meaningful experience for all (both in the vernacular form (Novus Ordo) + the Latin form (Extraordinary Form)).

I am an optimist by nature and have great trust in God's Divine Providence (his ways are not our ways) as did the Founder of my congregation, Fr. Jean-Marie De La Mennais.

"Act as if everything depends on you and at the same time as if everything depends on God."
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