Why am I a Christian today? Why am I a Catholic today? It is because of the witness of authenticity. Put very simply–I am a Christian today because of the lived witness of my parents and I am a Catholic today because of the lived witness of two remarkable women–a mother and daughter.
I am a Christian today because my father and mother lived out their Christian faith. They did so with honesty, integrity, compassion, generosity, sincerity and love. Of course they were not perfect, but they were consistent. They acted on their faith without showing off–with trust and open-ness of heart and home. I am a Catholic today because of a similar witness of a woman called June Reynolds and her daughter–a Poor Clare nun named Sister Mary Lucy. They exhibited a similar simplicity, honesty, good humor, intelligence and reality.
These four people were real and their lives of faith were real.
I see what Pope Francis wants and I want it too. He realizes that, to the outside observer, the Catholic faith has become encrusted with unintelligible ceremonies and traditions. He realizes that most people in the world are actually greatly attracted to the simple carpenter of Nazareth and the simple friar from Assisi. He realizes that the simple, authentic gospel of Jesus Christ can still take the world by storm. He realizes that the simple gospel of Jesus Christ is a Way, a Truth and a Life that still overturns the world and brings light and love and life to the darkest places. He realizes that this simple, authenticity is what wins the arguments and converts the world. This is why he is passionate about it.
This does not mean that he is opposed to beauty. It does not mean that he wishes to eliminate all the great traditions of the Catholic Church. It does not mean that he wishes to abolish the Latin Mass or persecute traditionalists. It may be that some liberals will hi-jack his message for their cause, but this is a risk he is willing to take.
Will he be a proponent of Vatican II? Yes, but let’s consider the heart of the reasoning behind the second Vatican Council: it may have been hi jacked and of course certain abuses have swept into the church, but the main aim of the Second Vatican Council was to proclaim the gospel to the needy in a fresh way–not to change the timeless message, but to re-express it for modern man. Was there a risk involved in this proposal? Yes, a great risk, but what is the Christian faith anyway except a constant adventure of risk–a constant call on the stormy night to step out of the boat and walk on the waves.
Part of this will be a renewal of liturgy–not the destruction of liturgy. Let’s be clear–a liturgy is beautiful because of the beauty of our faith. If you have Palestrina and beautifully trained servers and the most splendid high Mass but have no love it is nothing worth. It’s not even a beautiful liturgy. It’s a beautiful act. Likewise, if you have a dumbed down, honkey tonk liturgy without love it is just entertainment.
Simplicity and authenticity will bring a renewal to the liturgy from within–from the beauty of the faith and sacrifice of the priests and the people. I speak from experience. I have worshipped God with a Monteverdi Mass in St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. I have worshipped with the world’s finest choir at Kings College in Cambridge. I have worshipped in monastic austerity at Mont St Michel, Quarr Abbey and many other beautiful monasteries. But I have also worshipped with simplicity and authenticity in a village church in El Salvador in the heat and sweat and smell of poverty. I have worshipped at Catholic Charismatic Conferences and at big circus tent AmChurch churches and on a little folding table at summer camp with kids in shorts and T-shirts.
In each case it was the simplicity and authenticity of love in the hearts of the faithful which made the difference. That’s what I care about, and if it can be done with mozzettas and red shoes and big miters and splendiferousness, I like that too, but I don’t mind if they’re absent as long as the simplicity, honesty and authentic love of Christ and his people is there.