Church guides us on our path

  • November 21, 2013

I flew to Dallas last week to give a speech to Fort Worth Legatus and at the city’s cathedral. Wonderful town, wonderful people, wonderful Catholics. It was an early flight, I was up before 5 a.m., and when my long-suffering wife dropped me off at Toronto airport it was still dark. As I walked towards the terminal I saw a man in his late 20s or 30s lifting a suitcase onto the sidewalk for an older man who had been the passenger in his car. They then embraced, and the heavily bearded young fellow said, “Goodbye pops. I love you.”

Perhaps it was lack of sleep, the coldness of the air, the embracing darkness, memories of my late father, but I felt close to tears. There was something so unrehearsed, so genuine, tender, real and authentically warm and devoted about this simple, everyday encounter. I began to imagine the context. Was mum still alive, was it to be a long, lonely flight, would there be warmth and friendship when dad arrived at his destination?

I know, I know. Pretty dumb really, and the world would tell me not to be such a softy. But relationship, surely, is at the heart of the Christian faith. Not the submissive one of Islam, not the dialectical one of orthodox Judaism, but the familial one of God, God’s son, God’s human children. We are creatures yet we are also beloved.

This relationship, however, has to be understood properly. Families work best when there is structure. Love, forgiveness, understanding, sacrifice, but structure. If you doubt me, ask kids who have been raised without fathers or with modernist parents who think rules and order are oppressive and stifling. I obeyed or tried to obey my parents not because I was frightened of them but because I loved them. I obey or try to obey God not because I am frightened of Him but because I love Him.

Such obedience means we follow Church teaching. This is crucial. What the Church tells us about marriage, morality, sex, humanity, justice is not some arbitrary litany of archaic rules designed to stop us having fun, but a God-given guide book to enjoying and relishing life to its fullest. Those who spend so much time, even define themselves, by how resistant they are to what the Church tells them are not swimming in love, they are drowning in error.

It’s bad enough when laity fail to appreciate what has been done for them, but far worse when priests act similarly. Thank God the seminaries are full of intelligent, orthodox young men, and so many of our older clergy and bishops are outstanding. Yet just recently I was told of a Catholic priest — and I shall be writing more of him at a later date — who was approached by an exemplary group of Catholics in his parish who merely wanted an ancient, reverential, entirely faithful Mass to be held locally. He refused. But, they said politely, the Vatican approves of this. “Perhaps,” was his reply, “but it is not my personal type of spirituality.”

My personal type of spirituality. So proud, so subjective, so Protestant. How we speak to God, how we pray, is to a very large extent up to us; even the type of Mass we attend, as long as it is not heretical, is our concern. But for a man to prevent other Catholics from worshipping because he enjoys a small amount of power and wields it selfishly and irresponsibly is a dreadful thing. Pride, all pride. The most fatal of sins.

Back to that father and son departure. We said goodbye to the earthly Jesus 2,000 years ago, but we meet Him still in the Mass and communicate in our prayers. It’s not for us to make it up as we go along, and in the relationship with Jesus we are meant to become more like Him, not have Him become more like us. My own “personal type of spirituality” is guided and guarded by the Church I entered almost 30 years ago. If it hadn’t been so, there would have been no point. That conversion caused pain to many I love and has led to abuse since. No matter, because what is true remains true. Nothing “ personal” about it.

(Coren’s latest book is The Future of Catholicism. His web site is www.michaelcoren.com.)