Talk to Oxford Newman Society
+Patrick O’Donoghue, Bishop of Lancaster
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Reading your promotion of my talk on your website I know you would like me to talk about the
following two questions:
1. ‘What motivated me to write Fit
for Mission? Church?’
2. How I think the Church should respond to the areas I have highlighted
as needing further work?
- Both are good questions which provide me with plenty of interesting things to
talk about. However, would you mind if I slightly rephrase the second question to be ‘How do I think you should respond to the areas I have highlighted as needing further work?'
- Sometimes when the word ‘Church’ is used we can forget it refers to us, as members
of the People of God, as individuals baptised into Christ’s dignity and power as priest, prophet and king.
- It’s easy to assume that the Church is the ‘institution’, and sometimes it is necessary to talk about the institution, but tonight I want to talk
about the Church as ‘us’
here in this room, as well as the Pope, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and the laity.
I’d like to begin answering your questions by reading a familiar extract
from Cardinal Newman’s famous homily, The Second Spring:
“It is not God’s way that great
blessings should descend without the sacrifice of great sufferings. If the truth is to be spread to any wide
extent among this people, how can we dream, how can we hope, that trial and trouble shall not accompany its going
Here, Cardinal Newman touches upon the four motives that inspired me to
write Fit for Mission? Church, and Fit for Mission? Schools. These are more than
catchy titles – the material within has caused a stir throughout the country and indeed in many lands.
My four motives are as follows:
1. My desire to celebrate the great blessings we all
receive through the Church in countless different ways. And especially through the Church we know with certainty
that we have a wonderful destiny – to participate in the life and love of God eternally.
2. To openly and honestly acknowledge as a Bishop the
trials and challenges facing us all in the Church in England and Wales, and indeed throughout much of the West.
3. To make clear the need for us all – bishops, clergy,
religious and laity – to re-embrace sacrifice as the hallmark of Catholic life, the sacrifice of Christ on the
Cross. This entails the following aspects:
- Courage in facing sin, opposition and evil in society, government, and the way many of us live
- Obedience to the Pope and teachings of the Church,
- A sense of duty to God and neighbour, particularly the poor and marginalised – there’s a lot
of brokenness in our society.
- Humility before the truth of Scripture and Tradition.
- A renewed sense that our lives and spirituality must be rooted in Christ’s sacrifice made present
in the Mass – after all we glory in the Joy of Cross!
4. My passion is that – as Cardinal Newman puts it –
the truth is spread to a wide extent among this people of Great Britain. What is profoundly engaging here is that
you and I are involved in the work and mission of Christ.
Let’s look more closely at these four motives:
1. The desire to celebrate the great blessings we
all receive through the Church.
- Last Sunday we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope John XXIII convening the Second
Vatican Council. As I wrote in this week’s Catholic Herald, the documents of Vatican II are the Magna Carta
of the Holy Spirit for this generation of Catholics.
- Pope John XXIII firmly believed that he called the Council as a direct inspiration of the Lord.
I believe that God, in His provident and merciful care of the Church knew the apostasy and suffering, humanity
was about to endure in the late 20th and 21st centuries.
- Through the Second Vatican Council He has given us the graces and tools to face the challenges.
It’s now up to us to fully embrace the ‘true’
teaching and decisions of the Council, and abandon the ‘fictions’ foisted on us by some clergy, religious and laity who are disobedient and arrogant in their will-to-power.
So, I am calling for an enquiring fidelity to the teaching of the Council.
- For me personally, it has been a great joy to participate in a Church that has left behind the
ghetto and the siege mentality, to go out into the world to proclaim the liberating power of Christ’s Gospel, witnessed
in the renewal of the liturgy, the growing centrality of the Word of God, the development of lay ministry and the
pace change in our commitment to social justice. It is my joy to belong to a Church that craves for unity, a unity
that Christ prayed for. First, unity between all believers, and then unity between all peoples.
2. To openly and honestly acknowledge as a Bishop the
trials and troubles facing us all in the Church in England and Wales.
Good Pope John’s purpose for the Council was to guard and better present the ‘precious deposit of Christian doctrine in order to make it more accessible to the Christian
faithful and to all people of good will’.
Looking around at the pathetic situation of catechetics in this country, and the extent of ignorance
and apostasy among generations of Catholics since the Council, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Why has Pope John’s vision for the Council not been realised in this country?’
Finding answers to this question is the driving force behind both Fit
for Mission? Schools and Fit for Mission? Church.
One conclusion I’ve come to is that, simply put, I am convinced that we will only experience the
full renewal heralded by Vatican II when Catholics – particularly in positions of leadership in schools, seminaries,
parishes, and dioceses – no longer place obstacles in the way of the authentic implementation of the Council but
positively engage with it.
Why for instance, are some Catholic education authorities, even bishops in this country, so fearful
of Fit for Mission Schools? After all, it only re-iterates the teaching of the Church and it is has been widely and publically welcomed
by the Vatican and many bishops, clergy and laity around the world?
In Fit for Mission? Schools and Fit for Mission? Church I have sought to identify the obstacles that
have blocked the true vision and grace of the Council. Let me briefly list what has got in the way and continues
to do so:
Rejection of the past
Rejection of the moral authority of Church in favour of the authority of conscience.
- A wide-spread caricature of the Council’s Decree on Religious Freedom has resulted in many Catholics holding that if – in conscience – they disagree with any teaching of the
Church then they have the freedom – even the duty – to reject that teaching. For many, the authority of the
autonomous conscience has overthrown the authority of Christ given to Peter and the Apostles.
- Catholics have forgotten that a conscience ill-informed about the divine law and natural law
has a predisposition to make errors of judgement, due to being easily swayed by passion and self-interest, and
weakened by habitual sin.
- As a consequence for some Catholics the objective authority of the Church’s doctrine, morality
and discipline has been replaced by a subjective, personal judgement of the so called ‘pick and mix’ generation of Catholics.
- In some circles the infallibility of the Pope has been replaced by the infallibility of individual
Influence of secularism in the Church.
- Rejecting much that is essential to Catholic faith and practice, relentlessly criticising
the Church’s past, placing their own judgement above the authority of the Church, these ‘Catholics’ advocate, and import into the Church, what the secular world
holds up as ‘good’ as being in keeping with the
‘tolerance’ and ‘compassion’ of Jesus – divorce, contraception, abortion, IVF, homosexual acts/unions, embryonic stem cell research.
- They also attempt to impose a political model of decision-making on the Church, misusing the
term ‘Sensus fidelium’ to mean the democratic rule of the majority. The unspoken assumption is that the Church develops
doctrine like a secular government, through lobbying, protest, and pressure groups.
- This is a travesty of Lumen Gentium’s understanding of how the ‘sense of faith’
operates (LG 12): It always operates under ‘the guidance of the sacred teaching authority’, and never apart
from or contrary to it.
Scepticism or at least down playing of the supernatural.
- Hand in hand with the infiltration of secularism into the Church, the secular mindset has gained
a foothold in the lives of many Catholics, clergy and laity. This is characterised by a certain scepticism
or embarrassed reserve about the supernatural dimension of the Faith. Some central aspects have been abandoned
as superstitious relics, such as the Church’s teaching on Angels and demons, even though they play such an important
role in the Gospel.
- The supernatural dimension of Jesus’ identity and role has been eclipsed on occasions by an
emphasis on His humanity, emphasising His role as a great moral teacher. The trouble with this is that once
you downplay the Incarnation, His self-consciousness of being God, the atonement, it’s an easy step to portray
Jesus as just one great moral teacher among the other moral teachers of the world religions.
- Where we find this secular humanism, we see essential doctrines of the Church downplayed or
ignored, explaining the ease with which teaching the Trinity, the Real Presence, the Immaculate Conception, the
sacrificial nature of the Mass are dropped. These bedrocks of the faith are either ignored or passed over
quickly as unintelligible, irrelevant to our young people.
Humanity becomes the measure of everything.
- For all the above reasons, many Catholics are not able to get beyond the human in their
understanding and practice of the Faith. We have the community Mass, whose sole function is to build up the
sense of community solidarity. We have clergy and laity criticising the Church as if she were only a human
institution, not one that originates in the divine will, we have theologians arguing that Jesus’ claims to divinity
are only the product of second century Christians, we have Christianity reduced to an agency for the social betterment
3. To make clear the need for us all – bishops, clergy,
religious and laity – to re-embrace sacrifice as the hallmark of Catholic life.
I am convinced that the remedy for all these trials and troubles in the Church in England and
Wales is for each one of us to embrace sacrifice as the hallmark of our lives in the world and in the church, the
hallmark of our spirituality. In Christ, we come to resurrection, new life, through the Cross.
I want to propose to all of you here tonight the following acts of sacrifice to counter the trials
and troubles I have just outlined to you.
Embrace the Tradition of the Church.
- To counter the rejection of the past, I want you to sacrifice the modern compulsion for novelty
and fashion through embracing the Tradition of the Church, which is nothing more than the source of God’s revelation,
along with Scripture.
- I want you to re-discover the joys and beauty of personal prayer, as well as family and community
prayer. Also, to re-discover liturgical prayer, to counter an undue focus on our own human activity. So often
the sacred is swamped by the volume of words, noise and activity!
- I want you to re-discover the devotions of the Church, such as praying the rosary, the Stations
of the Cross, Benediction. I want you to embrace the discipline of praying the daily Office of the Church;
the practice of regular confession. The Holy Father goes every week, so why not us also. I want you to know
the four Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council inside out, start with the wonderful Constitution on revelation,
Embrace a self-critical conscience:
- To counter the rejection of the authority of the Church, I want you to sacrifice the notion
that ‘if it feels OK, and it doesn’t seemingly harm anyone else, it’s morally
right to do’.
- I want you to re-discover the ancient Catholic attitude of a self-critical conscience that includes
suspicion about the obsessions and cravings of human nature. Notice I say, ‘obsessions
and cravings’. Of course, there are good and natural human desires, like the desire
for trust and commitment in sexual love that can only come through life-long commitment in marriage that is open
- But so much that is held up nowadays as harmless and ‘good’ is really unbalanced and distorted, such as pornography, lap dancing, homosexuality, so called ‘comfort’ sex between friends. Obsession and craving are
at the heart of this unbalanced and dehumanising behaviour.
Embrace obedience to the teachings of the Church.
- To counter the infiltration of secular ideas such as relativism, utilitarianism, and hedonism
into the Church, sacrifice the automatic assumption that your ideas about doctrine and morals must be right, and
the Church’s 2,000 years reflection on God’s revelation must be wrong.
- I want you to take a leap of faith, based on trust in the person of Jesus Christ, and start
from the assumption that the Church has good reasons for teaching the doctrines and morals that she teaches.
Search out those reasons, make the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church the most thumbed and creased books in your libraries. Go, read the Fathers of the Church and St
Thomas Aquinas’ Summae, with a
good guide. Go, study the books and homilies of Pope Benedict XVI, and other good Catholic literature.
- And if you hear any Catholic say or teach something that goes against the teaching and discipline
of the Church, as safe-guarded by the Pope, politely, but firmly, challenge them, be they a lay catechist, teacher,
deacon, priest or even a bishop.
Embrace the total Catholic world view.
- To counter the modern embarrassment about the supernatural and the sacred, sacrifice
the comfort of silence and conformity, sacrifice the safety of mental reservation and secular ‘commonsense, and
accept the fullness of God’s word in revelation which speaks of a reality beyond sense-data.
- I want you to take seriously the Church’s teaching – based on revelation – that you have a totally
unique, immortal soul directly created by God, that when you die you will experience purgatory, and heaven, or
hell. I want you to take seriously – because Jesus did – the reality of angels and demons, but do it lightly, not
in an obsessive way. I want you to pray to the saints and pray for the souls in purgatory. I want you to deepen
your adoration and love of Jesus really, truly and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament.
- Why is it important to take the supernatural seriously? Because we are like amphibians,
made of body and soul and meant to live both in the material world and in the spiritual world. If you ignore
either world, you miss the whole point of human existence.
- To deepen your appreciation and experience of the supernatural, go on retreat, go on pilgrimage
to holy sites in this country and around the world, and you will gradually become more attuned to this dimension
of reality. Experience God among the hills and lakes, in the forests and fields – nature too, can help to lead
us to God.
Embrace the divinity and humanity of Jesus.
- To counter making humanity the measure of everything, sacrifice the attitude that your limited
experience of being human is the rule against which to measure everything. There is only one human being who knows
and shows what it means to be truly human, and that person is Jesus Christ, both God and man.
- I want you to reject that wrong-headed view that dominates academic theology and New Testament
studies that Jesus did not know himself to the divine, the incarnate Son of God. I want you to read Pope Benedict’s
book, Jesus of Nazareth, and the work of scholars that
are rejecting that the New Testament claims about the divinity of Christ are ‘holy
fictions’ created by second generation Christians. Nothing can be so destructive
of faith than this unfounded and speculative heresy.
- Pray and study the Scriptures, study good Catholic commentaries and literature, go to Mass regularly,
study the account of Jesus in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and Jesus will grow clearer and more present in your life.
4. A passion that – as Cardinal Newman puts it – the
truth is spread to a wide extent among this people of Great Britain.
Finally, I would like to read you another quote, because it touches on
a dimension of Christian life that is very dear to my heart, and the heart of my documents – our call to mission.
‘That we preach Jesus
without preaching, not by words but by our example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we
do, the evident fullness of love our hearts bear to You, Lord’.
These wise words of Cardinal Newman remind me of similar words spoken by
that great missionary of the 20th century, Blessed Charles de Foucauld,
‘That we learn that
it is possible to do good to men without using words, without preaching, without fuss, but by silence, devotion,
poverty, humility and obscurity’.
It is a sad truth that many people are so alienated from the Church, the
language of the Bible, and their need for salvation, that they are either indifferent or violently allergic to
Christianity. Also, it is heart-breaking to admit that the behaviour of some Catholics, such as paedophile priests
and the failure of some in authority in the Church, has damaged the credibility of the Church.
I am convinced that in order to evangelise this generation we must follow
the advice of Newman and de Foucauld and concentrate our missionary efforts on showing the unconditional love of
Christ for suffering humanity though practical acts of justice and peace. In particular, we must act in solidarity
with the poor and all those on the margins of society, migrants, drug addicts, alcoholics, men and women in the
sex industry, those suffering mental illness.
We must do this without any ulterior motives, such as seeking converts.
We must only undertake this work to show them the love of Jesus Christ.
It is only when or if they ask us why we do this work, that we can gently
begin to talk to them about Jesus, and only at the pace that they want. If they reject Jesus, but accept
His practical love through our actions, we must be content with that.
I want to address my final words to the students who are here tonight –
when you have completed your studies and entered upon your chosen professions, be it medicine, politics, law, science,
education, business, or whatever, I encourage you to continue witnessing to the doctrinal and moral teaching of
the Church, prayer and the regular celebration of Mass.
There is an urgent need for professional bodies to truly hear the ethical
teaching of the Church, such as business ethics based on our social teaching or medical ethics based on natural
law. All of you will have the opportunity to shape the future moral ethos of our country; I encourage you
to seize that opportunity whenever it presents itself, with the grace of God.
Let’s finish by listening to the Word of God, the source of our hope for
a holier Church, a fairer society, a better world:
‘Now Jesus did many other signs
in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may
come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his
May all of us be so changed by God’s revelation, in word and deed, in Scripture
and Tradition, that we daily have a deeper faith in Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. And so believing may we
enjoy an immeasurably rich life as Catholics living in His name. Amen.
Reproduced on this website with permission.
Copyright ©; Patrick O'Donoghue, Bishop of Lancaster 2009
Link to PDF version of talk on Lancaster Diocese website
Version: 9th February 2009