Monday, June 22, 2015

Choose Christ, Or, Give The People What They Want?

Our feast today, St John Fisher and St Thomas More seems to grow in relevance every year. After our battle for marriage these last few months their stand for the integrity of marriage and fidelity to Christ in the face of the Henry VIII's tyranny certainly resonates and shines out as a beacon of hope and encouragement. 

The feast hits home more forcefully today after an experience I had this morning, one many many young priests have these days, particularly in Ireland. I had a lady on the phone ringing to buy a burial plot, she had rung the wrong parish but when she realised she was talking to me she started to rebuke me for my ministry and preaching.  She believes that I am driving people away because I am preaching a Gospel she does not agree with. She wants the Church to be more like the Protestants, she said: "If the Church was more like the Anglicans and the other Protestants I would be going and so would many other people". Reality and experience show otherwise as many an Anglican minister will tell you. I told her I had to preach what Christ preached and she asked me when I was going to cop myself on and get sense. "You going to stop it, now, do you hear me? You're going to stop it!" (she actually said that).

As her recriminations grew I decided to asked her to answer one question: which was more important: to choose Christ or to give people what they wanted? She said she would go for the people; it was apparent in the conversation that, sadly, the Gospel means nothing to her. As I tried to explain what Our Lord said about that she hung up. Her attitude is not uncommon in Ireland today, particularly among people of her age group, the middle aged to elderly. Whatever has happened that generation! I could try and surmise why this lady and many like her are the way they are, but I have said it before: the Church in Ireland has failed to preach the Gospel for last half century or so, and for many Irish Catholics the faith is nothing more than a social thing, a sentimental relic useful only to make people happy or when they need a little boost. Part of me feels like concluding that it will be almost impossible to bring these people back, they are so far gone and so resistant to change, and indeed many of them, like the lady today, so bitter. But such a conclusion defies hope, and we must always hope.

The martyrs today speak of a different approach to faith. They realized that we must choose Christ, the faith is about him and the redemption he offers and the Gospel he preached. It is not about keeping people happy or giving them what they want, if it was Henry would have been able to marry and divorce at will without any moral teaching to stir his conscience. The faith is not about being popular, it is about truth, mercy and salvation and people coming to embrace all of that. Many in the Church in Ireland today live under the delusion that if we are popular (bishops and priests) we will bring people back in: but Christ's experience teaches us otherwise. In an age which rejects truth and morality, to remain popular we would have to abandon them to keep in with the people, and then we lose faith ourselves; sadly many priests in Ireland do that and they are now doing great damage as we saw with the "media priests" during the referendum.

If only Jesus had been more careful, more pastoral, turned a blind eye, say nice things to keep people in, he would never have been crucified, he would have lived a long life with lots of nice people around him listening to him and having the craic.....and none of us would have been saved.  If only John Fisher had gone with the rest of the bishops of England and assented, he would have lived his last years in comfort and ease. If only Thomas More had consented, he would have had great success and honour in the kingdom, perhaps become an Earl or Marquis or even a Duke! But they didn't; they chose Christ rather than keep Henry happy because they knew what was right and what was wrong, what Christ required, and if that meant they stood alone, were attacked, faced ignominy, then so be it.

Pope Benedict wisely taught us during his pontificate that it is not numbers that matter, but fidelity to Christ. We priests and faithful should not dilute the Word of God to get people in, if we do, in the end, we will have nothing to offer and we lose everything. There may be fewer people going to Mass, but at least they want to be there, they are committed and trying to live Christ-centred lives, and we can begin working with them to reignite a new evangelisation. 

Yes it is hard to see people go, and those attached to the faith may well go to other priests and parishes where the Gospel has been replaced with the doctrine of nice so their comfort is not disturbed. Yes, we may be laughed at, rebuked, told to cop ourselves on, be blamed for the collapse of the Church (it seems it is adherence to the Gospel that has led to the decline of the Church in Ireland, or so I am told). Our brother priests may look at us sadly and say we really don't get it, we are ruining it for everyone. But in the end if we cannot remain true to Christ and what he requires of us, then there is no reason to remain in the ministry we would be better off out of it for ourselves and for the Church. John Fisher and Thomas More understood that, and even though it was not the popular thing they chose Christ because that is what being Christian really means.

Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith has a good article on the two martyrs in the Catholic Herald


  1. Dear Fr. Hogan

    I agree with your comments 100% for I hear the very same in my parish where I live.... Keep every body happy, no need to mention the Real Presence in the Church..... Its all talk, talk now... In some parishes the Priest /Celebrant thinks there is no harm in that ... What about those people who wish to Pray in the House of Prayer ??. Are we not suppose to do so .. . Thank GOD and Pope Benedict xvi for Summorum Pontificum... We go to the EFM...
    Peace to all ...

    Laudetur Iesus Christus

    Paul and Mary Brennan
    Diocese of Meath

    Ps. Watched your good self and Fr. O'Gorman on EWTN this a.m.
    thank you and God Bless you both. Keep preaching the Gospel.

  2. I remember while you were attached to St Mary's in Drogheda during one Sunday homily you rebuked those who kept checking their watches - I found it quite funny in a way, some of those seemed mortally insulted when you pointed out that an hour a week was not much to ask. (A social club indeed). Aside from a basic lack of respect and manners (I'm sure any priests homilies take a lot of time to prepare) it highlighted among some the attitude which you have written of. I admit that as a teenager at the time I just went out of habit and not out of any religious conviction - I always found what you said to be thought provoking.

    Personally I think that one of the major problems the church in Ireland faces, in the eyes of my generation (20s) at least is that they know what the church is against(gay marriage, abortion, contraception), but not what it is for. Pope Francis has helped to address this somewhat, the encyclical about climate change being one example.

    If people know what the church is for, they will know that the motives assigned to it with regards to the issues I mentioned above by those who are against religion cannot be true.

    There needs to be much more focus on Catholic social teaching, in recent years in Ireland after the economic crash I have to say that I feel let down, albeit with some exceptions, by its response. The gap between rich and poor has greatly increased and the most vulnerable in society have suffered greatly, but aside from people like Peter McVerry it seems not many have spoken out publicly. The church can become "popular" in this way, without any compromising of doctrine.

    Religious education is a big problem too, there is none in schools and not much at home for many people, its all deferred to that hour on a Sunday. But how can a priest effectively preach to such a diverse group? The old woman who has come every week for decades, the young man like myself who is just "rediscovering" his religion and who knew nothing of it other than that mass was something he was expected to go to each week? I presume that it is assumed by clergy that there is a certain minimum amount of theological education and awareness among parishioners? If so its not the case for many, beyond knowing when to stand, kneel and how to bless oneself knowledge may be very limited.

    I've been trying to expand my own knowledge through independent reading and research. (No easy task, if you could direct me to a reading list it would be appreciated, I'm reading Augustines Confessions currently.)

    1. Thank you for your comments David, you have hit the nail on the head. I'd be delighted to help you in any way I can. Give me a shout and we can talk: 046 905 4138. St Augustine's Confessions is a great place to start, we moderns can identify with him and his struggles.

  3. A great article and so true. Just been reading todays Gospel 23rd June and does it not back up what you have been saying in another way. The narrow gate is the way Christ teaches, his Commandments lived in truth, where as the wide gate that leads to perdition is all the other things that people want, no rule, no regulations, no truths, just do a I please and leave me alone attitude. You are Christ's priest and our Blessed Lady constantly reminds us not to criticise priests but to pray for them. Keep up the great work. God bless you.

  4. Father,on the button as they say. Agree absolutely,yet still increase in Mass attendance for Easter and Lent,so perhaps people searching,thirsting for the Word,so keep doing the good work and promoting the Truth.

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