Referring to his Irish Catholic upbringing, avowed atheist Bob Geldof KBE has said:
Intellectually I resisted, but though logic stripped away the cant and ceremony, I still could not rid myself of the voodoo.
Oddly enough, here, I think, is testimony to a concept that I share with Bob Geldof.
It is a concept, once entirely obvious to multitudes, but ever more effaced by modern ideologies. And although it is a concept charged with unutterable profundity, I hope you will forgive me, dear Reader, if I start by phrasing it in the simplest of terms.
For the situation today is grave and sometimes things can benefit from bare, even banal expression.
Thus I believe that the testimony of Bob Geldof can point us towards this: Though folk in Protestant cultures frequently associate Christianity with simply adherence to a belief-system, there is SOMETHING ELSE operating in Catholicism.
This Something Else: “Sir Bob” calls it a “voodoo” he apparently could never quite shake off. For him, perhaps there appears to be a debased form of magic at work here. Possibly it clutches hold of him, unforgettable, unriddable – despite his real and determined effort.
Perhaps too, he has suffered deeply from the all-too-human expressions of Catholicism – but still Something Else works on, indelibly. Certainly, many disenchanted Catholics have spoken of their inability to completely free themselves from the strange hold that Catholicism exerts …
But what if dear Reader, we have testimony here, not to debased magic, but the Divine Magic of Jesus Christ, whose Presence operating in Catholicism, explains its numinous, attractive, indelible Power from century to century?
And what if it is this Power, which explains why Catholicism continues – despite continuous slanders, misrepresentations, persecutions and martyrdoms?
What if it is this Power which explains – at least in part – why the Church is so often hated?
If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth youJohn xv 18-19 Douay Rheims translation.
And what if it is this Power operating more obviously and amply in the Traditional Liturgy, which explains why people attempt to destroy it?
And what if it is this numinous, attractive Power, which explains why all kinds of liberal Catholics cannot bear to leave their Church and become Protestant instead? Disillusioned, they want to remake the Church in a Protestant image.
As Joseph Ratzinger once observed, there is a distinct tendency for the Catholic Church to be remade into a “clone” of Protestantism …
Why, why we may ask do people expend their life’s efforts in some cases, endeavouring to fashion a clone of Protestantism? Why not simply leave the Catholic Church and become a high church Anglican or Lutheran, for example? Why do so many find it so hard to leave the Church?
Our modern, materialistic age would have us think that religion is just a set of beliefs and common practices. Human things. And Christianity is just one more belief-system.
Now, Protestant Christianity has certainly contributed to that perception, with the turn it took – a turn from the Sacraments, towards a long Sunday sermon expounding belief. And in many modern Catholic churches, a similar pattern emerges now: a long homily with the Sacrament treated like a secondary, obligatory element.
And the Power, the Power at the Heart of the Church is obscured and forgotten …
Clearly, I feel the “what if’s” posed above are very important questions.
Now, I began this entry with an observation regarding Irish Catholic upbringing. In like spirit, I will close with a very personal what if, which haunts my soul.
What if the Irish Catholic Tradition – at least the Irish Catholic Tradition, prior to the Protestantisation of the Church – what if this Irish Catholic Tradition serves to explain so much more than simply that which haunts the solitary soul of one Bob Geldof?
Speaking personally Lector, I was raised in what has been called WASP America – that is, of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant heritage. (Though that appellation is perhaps not quite correct. White America is actually more ethnically German than English and its Protestant ethos owes much to a number of different Northern European peoples).
Then I lived most of my adult life in Britain – another country of profound Protestant heritage. Then I went to Ireland and what differences I beheld there!
This was a country with a communitarian ethos and a passion for charity and Social Justice, unlike anything I had known – a tradition which no doubt also served to shape the heartbreakingly beautiful efforts of Bob Geldof towards addressing Africa’s untold misery and horror.
It was also a country which for decades never even had anything like an economically right-wing party – where there had been a two-party system, in which both parties eschewed Anglo-American style capitalism to a significant degree. Of course, in a non-economic sense, Ireland had a very Conservative Tradition indeed.
I turn, I turn towards Catholic Ireland. And I ask, what if the Power working through the Tradition serves to explain so much there, that the world would have us ignore? What if …?
In wondering such things aloud, I will no doubt be told in time that my questions are preposterous – and that there are, there simply have to be, other reasons that made Ireland different. And no doubt there are other reasons, as well.
But may I be permitted at least to wonder out loud, whether in a land soaked for centuries with the Sacraments and prayer, whether it was not more likely that a less materialistic and more communitarian ethic would naturally evolve? And may I be permitted to ask what all this means, not only for Ireland – but for the World …?
Foreword for Monarchy by Roger Buck
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