Catechesis? What catechesis?
If any proof were needed that a serious crisis of catechesis exists in Malta, go no further than an online comment on Fr Joe Borg's contribution 'In praise of diversity' last Sunday.
One bright spark misfired and described it as "a load of waffle over what is...a non-subject". He referred to Peter as "an ex-angler with nets (who) was elevated by Christ to run a church" - making the whole thing sound like a bazaar. As for "Paul - like Christ his first existence is shrouded in mystery" (but is it?) "one day (he) fell off a horse and saw the light"...(the sort of sentence a delightfully innocent child would make up, but an adult?) "What Peter stood for got diluted with the passage of time and started to lose grip" (what on earth can that possibly mean?). "So the Church - well, the Pope in fact-declared himself infallible, no questions asked." No marks for the proposition, either.
Worrisome that ignorance can be paraded so boldly; more harrowing when one considers that at some stage in his life our intrepid onliner presumably underwent some form of catechesis. Yet the best he could do was to come up with a caricature of Peter, Paul, his horse and the light, the Pope and infallibility. Where does such burlesque leave us?
We know where it left the composer of those lines and, if one bothers to read others who descend gracelessly into meaninglessness, where it leaves many others. Nor among the latter do I exclude those who imply more or less the same thing and dress it up in pseudo-intellectual verbiage, within which, an emptiness of thought.
Where, more seriously, does it leave Archbishop Paul Cremona and Gozo Bishop Mario Grech? Sleepless, I hope, for it is a measure of what they face in terms of catechesis and evangelisation. If they wish to address the problem squarely and swiftly by conducting a rigorous examination of the structures in place to teach and promote the faith, and to identify within those structures the human resources involved in homiletics and in the schoolrooms of Church, state and independent schools.
How qualified, if at all, are some of these human resources? Let me be more specific; how many of those who teach the Catholic faith in school have a copy of the nearly 700-page Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has been in print since 1994 and is a far cry from the Penny Catechism some of us were brought up in? For that matter, how many university lecturers, professors in the Faculty of Theology promote it with their seminarians and lay students? It is clear that where light should be, there is near darkness.
Grech was described by Fr Borg as a "content-centred" leader, Cremona as a "people-centred" one; but if I may add my tuppence worth, the Church's mission demands of bishops that they be both; one need look no further for an example than Pope Benedict XVI and, for absolute confirmation, Christ Himself.
At the back of any people-centeredness approach there has to be content; in the forefront of content-centeredness must be people. The absence of both-at-the-same-time creates problems and confusion in the minds of people.
But catechesis cannot be limited to classroom and lecture hall. It needs to be advanced every Sunday in church, where the faithful and those in danger of losing the faith are gathered; it should provide every priest with a sense of mission, in particular that of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to go in search of the one that is lost. Not easy; not easy at all, but it is for this that they became priests, to preach the Word, live it and bring it to those in difficulty.
The challenges they face, we face, are enormous; there is today's world and the technology it employs to spread its word to contend with; there is unbelief and disbelief, indifference and differences to contend with, a tendency towards a la carte Catholicism to correct. There is pornography to grapple with, its promoters to bring to book, its $13 billion industry to scale down and those who defend it in the name of freedom of expression to lure back; there is the Real Absence as evidenced by believers who walk into church, scarcely a nod, let alone a genuflection in the direction of the Real Presence - what greater proof of a failure of catechesis even on this central doctrine?
There are broken homes and broken hearts and broken children to nurse; and a visual and printed media that exalts violence, drugs, teenage sex, never mind all manner of the adult sort; there is infidelity writ large on big and small screens and that most insidious statement to de-legitimise, "Love means never having to say you are sorry", when love means forever saying just that if it is to survive; and an ever growing "it's my-life-and-I-do-what-I-want (see-if-I-don-t)" mentality.
Clever Dickies and Nellies see little wrong with this environmental sludge - ("it's-their-life...."), but you would need to be a sociologist with the mind-set of an alien not to accept that much is wrong with the spirit of the age, that much vaunted Zeitgeist which, Chesterton once famously remarked, "is very often the worst enemy of the age".
And hey! Here's Jeffrey again!
This time, the man has conjured up a Private Member's Bill on the introduction of divorce and expressed the wish that it would not be seen as a motion he was trying to get through Parliament, but rather one that Parliament as a whole would father. How thoughtful of the man.
This was, as they say, a bit of a fast one; it certainly caught the government unawares - hence the summons to a meeting of the Nationalist Party parliamentary group, which to the best of my knowledge did not have an inkling of what Cremona described as "a bolt from the blue". The opposition was similarly taken by surprise.
The Archbishop's use of simile was correct only in the sense that it had its genesis in Pullicino Orlando; Labour's leader has already declared he will present a Private Member's Bill to the same effect at an opportune moment; organisations like Proġettimpenn made it clear some years ago that the natural institution of marriage was under fire and has since worked hard to promote and safeguard it. No; the bolt was blue-sourced only because it came from what was seen as an unlikely political source. The man will deny it, but all denials to the contrary, beating the Leader of the Opposition to it must have given Pullicino Orlando a great deal of pleasure.
The Nationalist MP spelt it all out - the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage; the denial of a second marriage under the current system; the unregulated situation re cohabiting couples; a mandatory five-year waiting period for those contemplating a break-up of the home and the family, during which time the couple wishing to remove the ring with which they had each other wed, had to show a four-year separation and that everything possible had been done to bring about reconciliation; and nothing about the children.
These arguments have been made before and will be made again; it is the cogent counter-arguments that now have to be deployed should Pullicino Orlando's bill come to market. There are plenty of these, not least that the gravitas that accompanies the word irretrievability will last only as long as it takes for frivolous clauses (no-fault divorce, divorce on demand, for example) to be inserted into any Divorce Act, as has happened everywhere else. And frivolous divorce, as Chesterton so aptly remarked, 100 years ago, makes for frivolous marriage.
The Church, as a society in its own right, has a serious contribution to make to any discussion on the subject. What I hope its leaders will get right is the necessity to have their priests reading from the same hymn sheet, calmly, intelligently, reasonably, Perhaps both bishops should meet to formulate a strategy that, above all, presents Maltese society with a display of coherence and a commitment to the defence and uniqueness of marriage as a natural institution.
For reasons best known to him, Pullicino Orlando ventured to include in his statement a reference to an opinion expressed by the Pope that it is not the role of the Church to build a just state; no, but it has a tremendous social responsibility and much to offer in the definition of a just State. And once he quoted the Pope, the member for Siġġiewi should not have had the slightest difficulty, indeed a duty, to quote him all the way.
"Your nation should continue to stand for the indissolubility of marriage as a natural institution as well as a sacramental one, and for the true nature of the family". And: "You should be proud that your country both defends the unborn and promotes stable family life by saying no to abortion and divorce. I urge you to maintain this courageous witness to the sanctity of life and the centrality of marriage and family life for a healthy society."
With the best will in the world, I cannot escape a conviction that Pullicino Orlando is after a footnote in history - and to remove from the same footnote, except perhaps as a footnote to a footnote, the name of Joseph Muscat. We shall see.