This morning and this afternoon I was at the meeting of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy at St Patrick’s, Soho Square. These meetings are always excellent chances to spend time with fellow priests, and to engage in the three aims of the Confraternity: fidelity, formation, and fraternity. We were treated to an excellent talk by Bishop Philip Egan (tick one and two), and an excellent lunch in the crypt of St Patrick’s (tick three). I walked there and back from Chelsea in the beautiful June sunshine, taking in the Mall – still decked in the Union Flags from the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Coronation this weekend.
Bishop Egan’s talk focussed on two aspects of secularisation. First, what secularisation is – including what language we might use to describe it; second, how the Priest can respond to the advent of secularisation and engage a nominally secular culture with the truth of the Catholic faith in the person of Jesus Christ.
Three points from each section remain with me as I write this. What is secularisation? First, we can say that secularisation is a Christian heresy, because it relies on Christian ideals and patrimony. It does not have an independent philosophical base, and so it is essentially a reductionist or relativist view of the Christian religion. Secondly, we can say that secularisation is a negative force in society (and we need not view this from a religious perspective to make this judgement) because, as the Bishop said, ‘it ring-fences religion from public discourse’. Secularisation refuses to allow the foundational aspects of Western society and civilisation to contribute to contemporary discourse about the state, future, and development of Western society and civilisation. Thirdly, secularisation does not create a utopian multi-cultural, multi-faith society, but a culture (and, I would argue, not a civilisation) based on increasing levels of polarisation between those of faith and the secularist agenda.
As a response to secularisation, these three ideas were put forward by the Bishop. First, that in a society where Christian practice has declined, but where (arguably) some Christian belief remains – something seen in public displays of religious sentiment – the response of the New Evangelisation is essential. We are not dealing with convinced atheists (despite the claims often made), but with people taken in by secularism, which we can understand as a Christian heresy. Secondly, the response must not simply be a programme of evangelisation, but a representation of the person of Jesus Christ. We must re-present Christ as the source and purpose of all human activity, and enable others to enter into a personal relationship with him, through the Church and through the sacraments as the vessels of God’s grace to the world. Thirdly, we must allow those who already have faith to build that experience of the person of Jesus Christ into a real and living relationship that draws others to God. Bishop Egan commended finding better ways to engage those who are already committed to the faith, and enabling them to become active practitioners and evangelists in their own particular place of work or environment.
We ended with these four practical suggestions, which can be easily adopted by the Priest and lay faithful alike:
- Daily adoration as a means of developing a relationship with Christ.
- Spiritual reading and study of contemporary culture and society.
- Fraternity as a means of aiding each other in deepening our faith.
- An attitude which reflects more visibly the joy and love of knowing Christ.
Let us pray that many will come to know Christ, and that we can be faithful to the work of evangelisation entrusted to each of us by virtue of our incorporation into Christ through baptism.
You can read a similar talk by Bishop Egan on this topic here.