The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say and the Pharisees and the scribes complained: ‘this man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
Last Holy Thursday Pope Francis was saying Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper in a juvenile detention centre in Rome. Moving one of the most important celebrations from the splendour of St Peter’s Basilica to the rather humble surroundings of prison raised some eyebrows. When he washed the feet of two girls, and one of them was Muslim, it caused strong disapproval and anger among some Catholics. They accused the Pope of irreversible damage to the respectful and revered importance of papal office and the Catholic Church. Surprisingly the Pope’s direct, down-to-earth attitude and his rejection of any pomp, have already won him massive interest and popularity. His behaviour has made the headlines many times since his election, but for all good reasons. Many people are willing to listen to him, even if they don’t agree with him.
In the last issue of our Parish Magazine I wrote about living in the past. It came quite naturally in the light of my rather saddening experience of meeting people recalling their own past glory, or those ‘good old days’, when everything was better than now. Among those locked in the past were those fondly remembering churches full of people, grand pompous celebrations, abbeys and convents full of monks and nuns, and a seemingly continuous stream of new priests. They tend to blame the modern cultural climate for emptying churches, ageing congregations, closed down monasteries and shortage of priests. Their recipe for improvement is worryingly and sadly the same all the time: the Church must return to the past way of doing business, and everything will be grand. The only problem is that it won’t. That authoritarian, unquestionable and conceited approach of the past has no appeal whatsoever to anyone nowadays.
What’s more important that old approach is to blame for all those scandalous behaviours in the past. Seemingly untouchable priests, going unpunished over the years and decades, were products of the Church’s self-importance and falsely understood prestige. Forgive me this massively simplified comparison, but tolerance for evil and negligence to act properly led to the closure of the school in Fort Augustus, and subsequently the Abbey itself. In the meantime Pluscarden Abbey has flourished, drawing new candidates and growing in numbers.
Jesus didn’t establish another religion for its own sake. The very existence of the Church is conditioned by its purpose, and that purpose is summarised in one simple sentence Jesus addresses to his followers: ‘Go, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them […] and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.’ Every teacher knows perfectly well that great ideas and knowledge is nothing if their pupils simply don’t want to listen. As the Church we’ve got a great message to share; the message of hope and support to people battered by everyday life. The only thing we need is to find the way of proclaiming it in a way that people would like to listen to it.