Sunday, 19 September 2010

Reflections on the Pope's visit to England

The Pope has left England. We are again what we have always been for the last 450 years, which is a spiritually isolated set of windy islands off the north coast of Europe.

I guess now we must expect a virulent reaction from the "extremist atheists", which is a useful term the Pope's team coined. I agree with a friend who was glad for more "holy TV" while he was here. I was glad not to read headlines that insult those of faith. I learnt, with some shock, about aspects of Cardinal Newman and sainthood, not least that being exhumed after death was not something Newman ever wanted. There is this macabre strand in Catholicism, in relation to bones and corpses, which astonishes modern Britons.

Catholicism is a religion which draws its roots from various sources, one of which is Christianity. Its other strands include the Roman Empire and paganism. So some of the things stated by the Pope we would all agree with - but not everything. A careful "gap analysis" is required.

The Catholic Church teaches that a sense of what is right and wrong, a sense of conscience in natural man is not enough to please God. Agreed. We all know that "good without God" (the humanist slogan) is a spiritual non-starter in terms of Christianity. The Catholic Church teaches that "more" is required from man than his conscience dictates (often more than is humanly possible). Agreed. It teaches that only the Catholic Church knows what this "more" is and promotes it as the lives of the Catholic saints prove. This is the point at which the Catholic way diverges with that of Protestants.

This is because the Gospel in the New Testament offers another solution. It teaches that neither the sense of right and wrong in natural man or the "more" of Catholicism is enough for God. It teaches that God is too holy ever to be pleased with puny man-made efforts at self sanctification. This is why He sent a Saviour. We must receive that Saviour through faith, who gives us, as a free gift, a righteousness (the righteousness of Christ) that cannot be merited. So we enter Heaven on His merits, and not on our own. This is a gift which in its turn restrains sin.

This is the concept that affronts Catholics and which they clearly cannot grasp. It may be because it renders rituals, which are at the heart of Catholicism, unnecessary. Or it may be that the concept of a personal relationship with God through Christ, is simply inconceivable.

I would be interested to hear from a Catholic what the problem on this point really is?

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