Infantilizing the Church.

Beneath the apple tree: 
there I took you for my own, 
there I offered you my hand, 
and restored you, 
where your mother was corrupted.

– St. John of the Cross (stanza 23 of the Spiritual Canticle).

I read this stanza this evening to my 11 and 8 year olds. The 8 year old loves the romance and imagery of the Spiritual Canticle and is naturally poetic herself. The 11 year old is very bright and immediately picks up on the fact that this stanza is talking about the apple tree in the Garden of Eden and Eve. I go on to explain that the wood of the tree is also symbolic of the Cross. We talk about the fact that St John of the Cross always talks about things that go on in the depths of our hearts, and also the ups and downs in our relationship with God. We notice this especially in the words ‘corrupted’ and ‘restored’.

My 8 year old tells me that she thinks she understands it in her heart but not in her head! I tell her that is perfectly ok because St John often speaks more to our hearts than he does to our heads. The 11 year old goes on to talk about what ‘restored’ means, and links it back to a computer game he likes to play. He gets it. They are both eager to read the next stanza tomorrow night.

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross

All of this is a far cry from “I wish I was a Butterfly” and all the other regular offenders that are spoon fed to my kids at children’s liturgies up and down the country. My 11 year old finds that absolutely cringeworthy now and so do I. I often find children’s liturgy is obsessed with making the children as physically active as possible during the Mass – which I believe to be a mistake. If our minds are completely taken up with actions and songs and carrying things in the offertory or watching our friends do bidding prayers, then when is the time for learning to properly, internally actively participate in the Mass?

I think that one of the biggest mistakes we make in children’s liturgy is to try to keep the children entertained. This teaches them from the word go that Church is somewhere you go to watch a show. And when they get a bit older, and that show is still the same show they were watching when they were 5 years old, they don’t want to go see that show anymore because it’s babyish. Their internal spiritual life has been neglected, and has not had a chance to mature past “This little light of mine”. Of course they are going to reject it. They are not stupid.

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Last week I heard that there was outrage in a Catholic Parish over a homily given at a First Holy Communion Mass. Apparently some of the parents felt the day had been ruined, and the children ‘traumatized’ because the priest had talked about the Eucharist being Jesus’ real flesh and blood. One has to ask the question what exactly has been going on here? But it is clear from this catastrophe that we are now looking at a 3rd generation of Catholics who have not been adequately evangelised or catechised. Whatever we have been doing for the last 3 generations has got us to this point. Something needs to change.

Another big mistake that I believe the church has made is to take evangelisation out of the home and into the catechist classroom. Now I am not saying that all Catechists are bad – far from it, most of them are absolutely brilliant. However, the faith is something that cannot be truly learned in a classroom. It needs to be witnessed through example. Parents are the first and most influential educators of their children, and it truly believe that if they are not living the faith at home, then there is very little chance their children will carry on the faith into their adulthood.

I do not think I am wrong in saying here that most Catholic parents today have good intention, but very little in terms of their own catechesis and evangelisation. In my experience, your average First Communion parent does not pray regularly, if at all, does not frequent the sacraments and does not own a Bible. And I must make it very clear here that it is not my intention to blame the parents for this. Quite the contrary – I am fighting their corner. It is not their fault they have not been taught properly.

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When the church decided to catechise children in the classroom, it seperated knowledge from lived example. Now this was not a problem until catechesis took a turn for the worse in the 1960’s. At that point, the first generation of children were lost to guitars, the socialist Gospel, and little fluffy baby Jesus. When these children grew up and became parents, that is all they had to pass on to their children. This pattern continued into the next generation, and the next, and here we are today. The difficulty now is that the previous two generations have been left as spiritual infants – almost completely unable to offer any sort of evangelisation or catechesis to their own children, and so once again it is being left to those outside of the family home.

Now, you can have the best catechist in the entire world, and have a child who knows the New Testament off by heart. But if that child then goes back to a home where the faith is not lived with any maturity, and Church extends to some old boomer bashing out songs on their guitar from the 1960’s because ‘that’s what the young people like’, then at best the cycle of infantesized Catholic spirituality will be repeated once again. At worst, and more often than not, it will just be rejected. These kids are not rejecting the Catholic faith, they are rejecting the infantilised version of it that they, their parents and Grandparents have been spoonfed over the last 50 years or so.

Older children and teenagers will continue to find Mass boring and ultimately leave the church for as long as we keep them infantilised. And we will never break this cycle of misplaced catechesis until we begin to respect the fact that parents are the first and most influential educators of their children, and alert them to this fact. We need to equip and empower them to carry out this fundamentally important role that we have taken away from them.

This infantilization of the faith needs to stop. Today.

St. John of the Cross pray for us.

Catholic “Youth Priest” compares St Elizabeth to the LGBT Movement – Youth Reject Homily.

(Fr Dominc Howarth compares St Elizabeth to the LGBT movement at 6 mins into the video.)

Here we have Fr Dominic Howarth preaching for the official Lourdes 2017 Centenary commemoration Mass. He is from Brentwood diocese UK and is the Episcopal Vicar for Formation. He is in charge of Catechesis and Youth. This event was the diocesan pilgrimage, and the Brentwood Catholic Youth Service had 200 young people on the trip.

Fr Howarth is also one of the founders of “Flame” the largest UK youth conference who’s main speaker was pro gay, pro women’s ordination Fr Timothy Radcliffe. He also presided at the “Gay Mass” at Brentwood Cathedral in 2016. I have been told that he is regarded by the Bishops conference of England a Wales to be leading figure as regards to Catholic Youth.

In the above homily, Fr Howarth talks about loneliness and how St Elizabeth would have been shunned for being barren – which at that time was considered a disgrace. At 6 mins into the video he compares St Elizabeth’s experience of being shunned to that of today’s LGBT community. Personally I find this quite odd, as Fr Howarth seems to not understand that homosexuality is in fact lauded by our society today. I also find it quite odd that a priest would compare a saint to the LGBT community – especially with no clear explanation of what the churches teaching on homosexuality actually is.

I showed the video to a few young Catholics and asked for their opinion:

“…The problem is this: before the 19th century there was no concept of LGBT identity, only homosexual sex acts. This is how the Catholic Church still views this. Shunning sinners, whether they be tax-collectors, prostitutes or homosexuals, is wrong and un-Christian. The problem is that nowadays the act and the person are an identity group. So when this priest compares the shunning of gays to the shunning of St Elizabeth, he’s implying that we should accept homosexual sex as non-sinful. I think that homosexuals shouldn’t be prosecuted or persecuted, but what they do is still wrong. Finally, I notice that the trend in the RC Church is to try and compromise with the postmodern culture. It’s as if all these clergy think that by embracing the buzz words of our era they’ll attract more people. Compromise on the truth never works.” – Lewis age 23.

“…St Elizabeth chose to be outside of the world and to live far from it contrary to what the priest makes out and Mary by making the journey to Elizabeth with Christ in her womb makes the first Eucharistic procession. So if anything Elizabeth is about the sanctity of life, So quite the reverse of the LGBT movement. Therefore Mary and Elisabeth are all about child bearing and life whereas the LGBT movement impedes life by their promotion of such people who by the nature of their relationships are closed to life.” – Brad, age 25.

“…Ok, he is comparing two things that are very different from one another. St. Elizabeth’s barrenness, at the time, was seen as a curse, because in those days maladies such as that, including blindness, infirmity, etc, were all viewed as punishments that God had inflicted on people throughout the Old Testament. You cannot compare St. Elizabeth’s barrenness to the LGBT.

Those in the LGBT are living in sin, Elizabeth was not, she was an instrument through which God moved to make the way for His Son’s arrival. The LGBT may, yes, be lonely, but their loneliness stems from living in sin.

We must pray for the those living in sin, yes, pray for God’ Mercy upon them and that they will cease to live in sin and enter God’s Grace. If they approach us for help we should, as Catholics, offer it, but we cannot condone their blatant sinful lifestyle.” – Mary, age 27.

“…Okay. Elizabeth was shunned because she was barren, but yet it wasn’t because of a moral issue, rather it was because God had a greater plan: she later gave birth to St. John the Baptist. Active homosexual activity, on the other hand, is a moral issue of great depravity and has caused great damage. Those participating in it must be refused Communion for the sake of their souls and so as to not cause scandal. To receive Communion one must be in Communion, and those not in Communion must be called, with love, to repentance.” – Josh, age 18 (discerning the Priesthood).

“…I went ahead and watched the entire homily up to that point. I find it a bit odd because generally you can tell from the get-go what sort of homily you’re in for. If the priest in question supports a certain vaguely-heretical position it’s usually fairly obvious, but in this case there wasn’t an abundance of buzzwords like there usually would be. I think it’s an unfair comparison to draw a parallel between Elizabeth and the LGBT movement. For many reasons, but especially because being unable to conceive when you are actually in a morally-acceptable marriage which you are faithful to is not remotely a sin, and unless you are definitely making clear that you refer only to people who deal with same-sex attraction who are punished or mistreated DESPITE trying their hardest to overcome their shortcomings, it’s at best vastly irresponsible to compare the two, and at worst outright manipulation.

I don’t believe any people who experience same sex attraction, or even those who act on it, should be physically harmed in any way by anyone solely for being that way, but I also do not believe that homosexuality is a good thing that should be celebrated, and I adhere to church teachings which says that homosexuality is a sin and should be related to as such; with those who are in its grasp treated with the truth they deserve to hear from their priests. It’s unclear to me whether the priest in this video is appealing to current events because he believes that’s what young people are interested in, or whether it’s because he has his own agenda he’s attempting to push, but I’m forced to assume that there is some sort of idea behind it that has some issues.” – Emily, age 19.

“…I never like it when clergy use the term “LGBT”. They allow themselves to be drawn into a battle of semantics and allow enemies of the Church to set the terms of any debate. Secondly, his comparison to Elizabeth is a non-sequitur. If she was excluded it wasn’t because of her lifestyle choices – you don’t choose to be barren but you can choose not to live in sin. There is a gap in the market for someone to explain the Catholic teaching on homosexuality but it seems everyone would rather blur the lines. That merely ignores the inherent dignity of the person and will never be adequate. The other thing I find with “trendy” priests is that they want to portray the Church as “tolerant and loving” by pretending hard teachings don’t exist and papering over them. Nothing is more merciful than the truth. As a cleric, his responsibility is that much greater as he is speaking from the pulpit and is in persona Christi. Time for many priests to live up to that higher standard both in their lives and their preaching.” – Daniel, age 27.

It strikes me that Fr Howarth might want to re-assess if he is actually in touch with what young Catholics want and need. I’m sure he had the best of intentions, but his heavily left-wing “church of nice” approach clearly isn’t cutting it. It is becoming more and more apparent that Catholic youth today are much more socially conservative, and much more solid in their faith than their parents and grandparents generations. This is a fact that those in charge seem to be either completely unaware of – or are choosing to ignore. Either way, it is quite embarrassing for Fr. Howarth that the “youth of today” should be (correctly) pulling him up on his social morality and theology. But isn’t it wonderful to see how intelligent, faithful and passionate our young Catholics are?!

I’m not sure if Fr Howarth’s Bishop has been informed of the above sermon. And especially if you are a young catholic – perhaps you would like to email Bishop Alan Williams of Brentwood Diocese bishopalan@dioceseofbrentwood.org and tell him what you think of Fr Howarth’s homily, and also what you would want from a Youth Ministry.