Affirmation Culture

My first sight of the beautiful Abbey Church at Buckfast in March.
I spent a lovely couple of days at Buckfast Abbey on the 24th & 25th March at the Guild of Our Lady & St. Joseph's day on the New Evangelisation (see here). Archbishop Rino Fisichella was due to give a talk on ‘A new phase of Evangelisation in the thought of Pope Francis’ but was unwell and so couldn't make it. Instead, the text of the talk was delivered by our wonderful Chaplain, Fr. Guy de Gaynesford and you can read the full text here.

Fr. Guy, addressing the Guild on Tuesday night, spoke of it existing in itself as an act of love for God. It is our action, our love for Him that has created it. This got me thinking about discipleship, relationship with God, and the necessity of capitulation in our spiritual lives in general. This process of metanoia is the first call of the Bible. In Genesis, we see how it is man's arrogance before God that leads to The Fall. The pivotal story between the Old Testament and the new is one of a garden, a tree, and man reaching out to make the judgement only God can make, juxtaposed with God emptying Himself to become man and capitulating totally to the divine will, pouring Himself out for love of us.
"In fact, it is only in the mystery of the Word incarnate that light is shed on the mystery of man. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of the future man, namely, of Christ the Lord. It is Christ, the last Adam, who fully discloses man to himself and unfolds his noble calling by revealing the mystery of the Father and the Father's love" GS 22
God Himself calls us to follow Him to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, "the true light that enlightens everyone" (Jn 1:9). When they make an intentional decision to be disciples of Christ, people become "light in the Lord" and "children of light" (Eph 5:8), and are made holy by "obedience to the truth" (1 Pet 1:22).

Throughout the Old Testament, we learn that humility before the Lord, recognising who and what He is, is the very beginning of wisdom (Pro 1:7; 2:59:10; Ps 111:10). There is also a constant reproach against those who carry out the actions without changing their hearts (Is 29:13). This is born out in the New Testament, it is not enough to be a professing Christian:
"Not everyone who says to Me Lord, Lord; shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that does the will of my Father in heaven" Mt 7:21
Jesus teaches us that what matters is doing the will of the Father. To discern what the Father's will is, we must be humble, we must develop the skill of self-examination of our consciences, and we must recognise that we are:
"...constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it towards idols (cf. 1 Thes 1:9), exchanging "the truth about God for a lie" (Rom 1:25). Man's capacity to know the truth is also darkened, and his will to submit to it is weakened. Thus, giving himself over to relativism and scepticism (cf. Jn 18:38), he goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself." VS 1
Once we understand this, we can recognise our need to be reconciled to God. An attitude of constant humility before God can only serve to deepen our relationship with Him, and serve to demonstrate our commitment to His will. Following the example of Jesus, we need to empty ourselves of our arrogance and confidence in our own control, and recognise and submit to God.

The central characteristics of God are love and grace — therefore the central mission of Christians is to extend His hand of grace to others. What God has given to us, we owe to others. If what you’re doing in your life is leading toward reconciliation and redemption, then you’re most likely headed in the right direction. However, if we do not recognise that we need reconciliation and redemption, how can we value or accept them? How do we examine our consciences, our actions and authentically come to a place where we recognise our brokenness to the degree we want to take that brokenness to God and ask Him to fix it?

Mass for the Feast of the Annunciation at Buckfast Abbey Church.
We seem to have largely lost these abilities, I wonder if this is in fact part of the post-cartesian "turning towards self" society has experienced which emphasises "thinking" over "being". It means we ground our being in our own thoughts and ideas about our environment and social context. What matters is what I think about things (subjectively) rather than the truth of a thing. We see this reflected in phone in shows on the radio and television, which endlessly canvas our opinions on a huge array of subjects, as well as in our politics. Here we all bemoan how our politicians display a spacious lack of identity and instead reach out desperately to appeal to the largest common denominator. Principles or an underpinning philosophy seem absent, as politicians flail randomly about, flip-flopping and back-tracking wherever they think they can get away with it. In our current situation, we can see how this leads to the rise in appeal of idealogues in the political process.

A conversation among a few of the delegates at the Guild Day, all old Maryvale people, students of theology and working in parishes, hit on the way this seems to play out in parishes these days. We see Churches full of Catholics in many places, but how many of those attending are actually doing anything more that paying lip service to God?

In her well-researched book Forming Intentional Disciples Sherry Weddell suggests just 5% of any parish are fully practising Catholics. A culture of blindness to our faults seems to have grown up which has allowed us to choose which bits of the faith we want to believe in, the parts we see as inconvenient or difficult are discarded. Anything which brings us into conflict with friends or family is discarded or glossed over. This reality has been compounded by an incredible lack of teaching and a culture of affirmation seems to have grown up between priests and their flocks.

Of course, a priest must care for his people, this is fundamental to his work of bringing them to salvation. But he must also call them to repentance to metanoia. Today, our priests no longer name our sins. Instead, many have entered into a narrative which goes something like "You are wonderful people" and this naturally invokes the response "You are a wonderful priest", everyone is happy, right?

I wonder if this is part of what has led to a culture where mortal sin is often unrecognised? If it is unaddressed in our community, if it is glossed over, if it is affirmed through silence, condoned because it is ignored, does it stop being sin somehow?

One wonders what this ultimately means for priests and people?




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The Guild of Our Lady & St. Joseph was set up to support the authentic mission of the Church in New Evangelisation firstly through prayer, promotion of the Liturgy of the Hours, and also through supporting the work of the School of the Annunciation. It is a great way to keep in touch with what's going on at the School of the Annunciation in Buckfast.

Its first founder members are priests, deacons, religious and lay people who each have different reasons for offering their support but all are united in being committed to the following:

  • Complete adherence to the magisterial teaching of the Church
  • Annual profession of faith
  • Prayer for the mission of New Evangelisation
  • Prayer of the Rosary. 
  • Promotion of the School of the Annunciation
  • An annual donation/subscription
Guild members are entitled to:
  • An annual update meeting and special lecture
  • Invitation to the Holy Mass of the Solemnity of the Annunciation each year
  • Free access to the on-line Library, Guild and Art pages of the website of the School of the Annunciation.
If you are interested in joining the Guild, please Click here for an enrolment form.

For all enquiries concerning the Guild please contact guild@schooloftheannunciation.com

For all enquiries concerning other forms of support for the School of the Annunciation please contact enquiries@schooloftheannunciation.com

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