Thursday, September 06, 2012

Come to judge the quick and the dedde




One of the problems of being an aging and solitary celibate is not having a wife or superior to nag you about visiting the doctor; I wasn't too well the other week, in fact I had a few symptoms that suggested I might be quite ill but they have passed now but these things get one thinking a bit about death. Most priests either die in a nursing home or are found dead when parishioners turn up for Mass and there is no one to say it. Death is the only certain fact in all of our lives.

Father Hugh Thwaites used to tell priests, "most priests go to hell", it is not original it is patristic. St Theresa apparently said that the road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops, and presumably after an encounter with an obdurate Parish Priest, also said that their skulls too served the same purpose.

Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell have passed from the thinking of most Catholics, I don't think Eschatology features highly in the theological formation of most priests. Christ as the dredde Lord with woundes redde will come to judge the quick and the dedde is not an idea at the forefront of contemporary Christology.

Judgement is the bite of Jesus' own teaching, it seems to be the subject of half of his parables, and so much of the rest of the New Testament is about Heaven and union with Christ. In contrast neither seems to be a significant part of either preaching or evangelisation today. The reason is obvious: today most people do not believe in a personal God and for most belief in this life is all, and for those who do believe in God, God is love and will not reject anything he has created. Therefore any talk of anything beyond death is unreal, obscurantist, rather hard, so much for Christ!

Father Lucie-Smith discusses a letter of Fr Andrew Pinsent, both are priests of my diocese, in which Fr Andrew suggests that this presents a serious problem in our participation in the “drama of salvation”. I agree with both and would add that a loss of eschatogical teaching is indicative of a lack of hope in today's Church.

The great divide between Christians and the rest of mankind is, or should be, our hope. Christ does something momentous, he changes our very anthropology. Life for us does not end in decomposition or an urnful of ash but in our eternal Life: Death is not the end! Neither is our life, or what we do in it, inconsequential but each decision, each action has momentous consequences.

A loss of the eschatological really does mean we have nothing to say to anyone, for ultimately our message is about redemption and salvation. centred not just on the Resurrection of Christ but ours too and his coming as judge of the living and the dead. If we are evangelise effectively then we need to clarify our message of what salvation means

19 comments:

YE OLDE JARRA SCRIBE said...

Fr Ray,
Excellent post-I am glad that you are feeling much better too!


Michael.

Mr Grumpy said...

Very glad your symptoms have cleared up, your opening sentence had me worried!

AndrewWS said...

Another of the problems of being an aging and solitary celibate is that you don't have anyone to tell you that you're not really ill, are actually a bit of a hypochondriac, and should snap out of it.

Fr Ray Blake said...

True, very true!

Jacobi said...

“the road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops”

Well not for me to say, but the appalling absence of any teaching other than “be nice to your neighbour” in the sermons of the majority of priests is ultimately the responsibility of their bishops, who will be answerable.

I’ve already mentioned a sermon in our church, well preached, about the “Four Last Things” which dealt courageously! with death and nicely with heaven - but made no mention at all of judgement and hell.

That was not Catholicism.

George said...

Would it be possible years from now for you to retire into a monastery of some sort, so that you would never be far from receiving the Sacraments at the end of life.

Gigi said...

Glad you're feeling better Father Ray. The picture accompanying this post doesn't display or open, at least on my laptop. Reading your opening lines, I dread to think what it might be! @ AndrewWS: that is a tad harsh, although very funny! Father Ray; should you find yourself similarly worried in future, you should of course contact any one of your many friends or caring parishioners, or indeed "blog" your symptoms... : )

Pablo the Mexican said...

Most Priests die without the Sacraments.

Priests left in a nursing home are a shame upon us.

Parishes need to have a cottage where a Widow resides that cares for the Priests of the Parish.

The Padre needs to horsewhip the Parishioners that claim they are scandalized and put them to work churning butter for sale in the support of needy Priests.

Do not go without Extreme Unction.

One day I will tell you the story of the Priest that married my wife and me.

With the assurance of my Holy Rosary prayers for all your good work in the vineyard of the Divine Master, I remain yours truly in Jesus and Mary Immaculate


*

JARay said...

I've just been reading and thinking about death and judgement. What I read, disturbed me, not a little. The claim was made that most men end up in hell. Then I came to my senses a little and realised the very encouraging claims of the Divine Mercy. God loves everyone of us. He died for us. We have no better lover. And there are all those promises of Divine assistance which go with the nine First Fridays and the Five First Saturdays. Surely most, if not all priests have managed to fulfill those obligations and can truly look forward to the fulfilment of the promises at the hour of their deaths.
Cheer up Fr. Ray.
Scrupulosity is a vice not a virtue.

Unknown said...

There's a succinct essay on kindle for £0.77 called 'Hell and its Punishments ', addressing our understandable bias for 'pleasant' things. 'Woe to them that sew cushions under every elbow, and make pillows for the heads of persons of every age.' (Ezech. 13: 18)

Fr Ray Blake said...

JARay,
There is a real need here for theological tension. Jesus himself seems to introduce that: sinners are given encouragement, the presumptuous (mainly Pharisees) are slapped on the wrist with the threat of hell. Judgement is for everyone but heaven is always God's free gift, complacency is the enemy of Grace!

Malvenu said...

I wonder if the Saints and all the company of heaven would presently be praying more for good priests - that their bodies sustain them for the good of the Church - or for 'bad' priests that they might repent and start teaching the truth.

It was one of your (weekday) homilies, Father, that finally (on the wise and foolish virgins) motivated me into action in order to be received into the Church. Had my experience of Catholic homilies been of a wishy-washy nature and a failure to mention judgement and Hell i would probably still be dithering!

The Hope that Frs. Lucie-Smith and Pinsent discuss in the linked article is the reason why Hell and judgement should be preached regularly. It is central to the gospel because Christ, in dying, being raised from the dead and ascending into Heaven, took humanity into God's presence, thus making (or restoring) being in the presence of God in Heaven part of what it means to be truly and fully human. Failure to preach this means there is no need for hope or redemption.

An excellent post, Father, and i hope and pray that your health remains good for a long while yet.

Nicolas Bellord said...

For me the key word in Father Pinsent's letter is "drama".

"He who believes in me, though he is dead, will live on, and whoever has life, and has faith in me, to all eternity cannot die". That seems to me to be the essence of it all - the promise of eternal life if we believe. Pascal summed up the position with his wager. It is the drama that you might end up in either heaven or hell that should motivate us all. And yet so much of Catholic life seems to have been reduced to a kind of polite tea-party.

I am sure that young people would be moved by the drama of it all but instead are bored by the tea-party.

Conchúr said...

I think St. Theresa was paraphrasing St. John Chrysostom. I believe the earliest version of the quote runs something like this:

“The road to Hell is paved with the bones of priests and monks, and the skulls of bishops are the lamp posts that light the path.”

Long-Skirts said...

Fr. Blake said:

"Life for us does not end in decomposition or an urnful of ash but in our eternal Life: Death is not the end! Neither is our life, or what we do in it, inconsequential but each decision, each action has momentous consequences."

Thank you for being a good Priest!

ROMANTIC SACRAMENT

Send me not roses
Carafes of wine.
Send me your words
Of love divine.

Send me not jewels
Encased in gold.
Send me your words
My heart will hold.

Send me not silver
In purple so plush.
Send me your words
Oh, make my face flush.

Send me not silks
Of shimmering dyes.
Send me your words
Bring tears to my eyes.

Send me not song
I sleep close to death.
But send me your words
For my very last breath.

Long-Skirts said...

ROMANTIC SACRAMENT

Send me not roses
Carafes of wine.
Send me your words
Of love divine.

Send me not jewels
Encased in gold.
Send me your words
My heart will hold.

Send me not silver
In purple so plush.
Send me your words
Oh, make my face flush.

Send me not silks
Of shimmering dyes.
Send me your words
Bring tears to my eyes.

Send me not song
I sleep close to death.
But send me your words
For my very last breath.

Nicolas Bellord said...

In the old Cathedral at Salamanca there is a mitred bishop amongst the damned above the high altar.

In the nearby convent of Las Duenas the cloister has a floor made up of a pattern of bones from vertebrae. Disappointedly I discovered they had used goats bones.

Gigi said...

@ Pablo: what on earth (or indeed in Heaven) would we name the butter churned by gossiping parishioners?? "I Can't Believe It's Not Bitter"? Your imagination is a delight and a slight fear for me!
Joking aside, thanks for a very thoughtful post Father Ray, and the signposting to a beautiful memoir on Father Thwaites.

Physiocrat said...

Is that Autun?