Pub Quiz! The Skewed Youth Synod of 2018


Torch of The Faith News on Thursday 20 April 2017 - 19:01:58 | by admin

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The 215 year-old Priory pub in its final years as a local Merseyside landmark. In the background at the right, the Catholic parish church of English Martyrs can just be discerned. 

Like many people in the Liverpool suburb where I grew up, we were deeply saddened when the lovely old Priory pub was suddenly demolished in April, 2015. What a terrible waste it seemed to do that to such a splendid and well-loved construction!

A valiant group of locals had tried to raise sufficient funds to save the pub building for the community, but it was tragically knocked down anyway to make way for new housing. To add insult to injury, the fine building was torn down just as the enthusiastic community group received an invitation to a seminar to look at the next round of European funding for such projects. 

It is not hard to see the parallels with the ongoing and short-sighted destruction of all that pertains to beauty, order, continuity and tradition in the Catholic Church, in these crazy times.

The Priory had been a sturdy and attractive local landmark throughout my entire life. Many locals enjoyed their first pints there. The funeral reception of my brother's father-in-law was also held in the pub's main room. Angie and I had a few drinks in there when we first got engaged.

As the pictures above and below demonstrate, the building itself stood just yards away from the parish of English Martyrs; where I was received into the Catholic Church, just one week before my 21st birthday, in 1993.

In fact, about a decade later, the late Father Bob Starkey used to drink in there as a way of getting to know the locals. When ''Father Starx'' died, an old schoolfriend of mine who was not a Catholic, remarked just how much he would miss seeing that friendly little Catholic priest. 

Having stood since 1800, the Priory was one of the oldest buildings in Sefton. As such, it naturally had a number of local historical associations.

In its earliest incarnation as the Litherland Hotel - it was still called that when I was a boy - it was a landmark coaching house in the, (then), surrounding countryside. Before the local Anglican parish of St. Philip's was constructed, the hotel's stables were used as a Sunday chapel; and on the ordinary days of the week as a small school. Prior to the completion of the large Litherland Town Hall, the building also housed the offices of the local council. In the 1960's, the Beatles are even reputed to have had the odd pint there, whenever they played gigs on the stage of the Litherland Town Hall.

From a Catholic perspective, the Priory pub, at least under its former title of the Litherland Hotel, was interesting because of its associations with the famous literary convert, Siegfried Sassoon.
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Sassoon spent some time during the First World War at the long-gone Litherland Army Camp, just up the lane from the pub. It was whilst based there that Sassoon made the anti-war protest of throwing his Military Cross medal into the River Mersey, during a train trip up the coast to the Formby Golf Club.

Sassoon is another famous visitor who is said to have enjoyed supping pints at the historical pub during his stay on Merseyside.

In later life, of course, Sassoon became friends with such famous Catholics as Hilaire Belloc and that other famous literary convert Msgr. Ronald Knox.

Following a life of deep searching, Sassoon was himself received into the communion of the Catholic Church at Downside Abbey in Somerset, shortly after his 71st birthday, in September, 1957.

For me, the Priory pub is also associated with one of my first ever collisions with the tragic phenomenon of dissent within the Catholic Church.
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A view of the Italianate English Martyrs church from the leafy School Lane in Litherland. To the left can be seen the historical Priory public house; the setting for the partaking of many a pleasant beer! 

Being full of convert's zeal, and coming from a background where Protestant youth groups were often chock-full of Scripturally literate teens seeking to win converts for Christ, I was a little taken aback, during those early days as a Catholic in 1993, to discover an Archdiocesan youth group containing a class of students who were just longing for their 18th-birthdays, so they could leave the oversight of their parents and the Catholic Church! They could not understand why I, having just turned 21, had chosen to convert to the religion of their childhood.

Having gradually come to accept the mysteries of the Catholic Faith in the years prior to converting, and having been so impressed by the holiness of the parish priest and key parishioners during those years, I was bewildered to suddenly meet young tribal Catholics who did not know the basics about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass or the Real Presence. It shocked me that they blasphemed, used foul language, scoffed throughout Mass, mocked the priest's sermons and joyfully sang R.E.M.'s, Losing My Religion! after church.

At that time, I could not have known of the widespread collapse of catechesis and Catholic education; or of the fact that, for many years in England, the lapsation rate of Catholic teens has stood around 90% per annum.

During those difficult days, a local ''Catholic'' youth leader snarled to me, with a determinedly pointed finger, that he was going to ''drag the Catholic Church kicking and screaming into the modern age!''

To accomplish this task, he devised a detailed questionnaire to seek young people's views on the Church's teaching on, you've guessed it, sexual morality.

In the weeks that followed, this young man spent untold hours at the bars of Merseyside's pubs and night-clubs, including the parish's own famous local the Priory, and sought the views of non-Catholic and lapsed Catholic drinkers and partygoers about the Catholic religion and her teachings on sexual ethics.

As you might expect, the results of this alchohol-fuelled exercise suggested that, if the Church were to get rid of its traditional teachings on sexual morality, then she could become popular with the bright-young things of modern society.

It is hardly rocket-science to grasp that, if you send out a skewed set of questions, to a skewed target group, then you are very likely to get a skewed set of answers...

One Sunday, during an evening sermon at Mass, this young man shared his findings with the various impressionable youths sat around him.

Being a commited and sensitive convert, and naturally concerned for the souls of all involved, I headed off after Mass to ask the late Canon to put a stop to all of this before it was too late.

Perhaps due to the fact that he had been around the block a few times in his five decades as a Catholic parish priest, the Canon laughed the whole thing off and told me not to worry about such trifles, as this could do little harm to the Church's true teachings.

Still, I was worried for the youngsters involved.

Within a couple of years, the great majority of those young people lapsed from the Faith. When I spoke with the young man about his questionnaire and other matters in the months that followed, I realized that he genuinely believed that changing the Church's teachings on things like the Sunday obligation and sexual morality would cause an influx of new converts, who had previously been put off.

That this is clearly a falsehood is, of course, manifest with the help of grace, orthodox formation and a bit of solid communal support.

I was put in mind of all these things recently when I heard that Pope Francis had sent out yet another pre-synodal questionnaire; this time for the forthcoming ''Youth Synod of 2018''.

A flavour of that questionnaire can be gleaned from the American National Catholic Reporter - hilariously nicknamed the ''Distorter'' in some orthodox circles - with its claim that the questionnaire is designed to help bishops not to teach or preach better ''at'' young people, but to become better at ''listening'' to their needs.

Oh, dear, the return of that old chestnut...

Again, that youth leader's skewed pub-quiz style questionnaire came to mind when I read this week in L'Osservatore Romano the following disturbing words, which were uttered by Pope Francis to a gathering of young people in Rome:-

Some people say: ''Let's hold the Synod for young Catholics, for those belonging to Catholic groups; that way it will be better''. No! The Synod is meant to be the Synod for and of all young people. Young people are its protagonists. ''But even young people who consider themselves agnostics?'' Yes! Even young people who no longer go to Church?'' Yes! ''Even young people who - I don't know if there are any here, maybe one or two - consider themselves atheists?'' Yes! This is the Synod of young people and we want to listen to one another: Every young person has something to say to others. He or she has something to say to priests, sisters, bishops and even the Pope. All of us need to listen to you!''

I just hope that Pope Francis and his aides really do have the ears and stomachs to hear just what some of the atheistic young people of today might really want to tell them...

As for the rest of us, and with the instructive experiences of Synods '14-'15 and Amoris Laetitia behind us, it might be worth readying ourselves for the skewed results which will likely issue from this latest synod...
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Quarant 'Ore at English Martyrs late in 1990. I entered here as a Protestant with my then recently converted Catholic parents and received the grace to believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist. At Easter 1993, one week before my 21st birthday, I would also follow my parents into full communion in the Catholic Church.

You know, when I was drawing nearer to the Catholic Church in my late teens and into my 21st year, it is true that I was impressed that the old parish priest made me feel welcome and valued. But, as with so many young people, I would have seen right through, and been put straight off, this kind of patronising attempt to be all things to all people.

Neither would I have considered the voices of other confused young people as sources of eternal truth, or mature wisdom.

Young people who really search for truth are looking for God; not for relativistic ideas from the non-evangelized/under catechised masses.

They look for popes, bishops and priests to impart guidance and leadership; not for embarassing old men to get down to their level in trying to sound hip, trendy or cool.

No, what drew me to Catholicism was the beauty of traditional liturgy, the clarity of traditional doctrine, the peace of traditional prayer and devotions, and the love of authentic Christian community bearing witness to the living Christ.

What is truly needed is the presentation of logical apologetics, together with the convinced and convincing witness, of those commited to the beauty of Catholic life and teaching.

Although there are clearly huge problems with the World Youth Day format, methodology and its execution, it remains the case that the popes who led these events prior to Francis could speak so clearly to the hearts of the young people involved, because they preached Christ to them by their words, actions and the overall trajectory of their programmes. In America, we know several married couples, home-school families and pro-life activists who received their conversions and vocations at the Denver World Youth Day in 1993.

What the young people of today, as in all days, need is to be put in touch with the living Lord Jesus Christ in the holiness of His True Church.

I fear that, with the approach being taken by Francis appearing to be so close to that taken by that young dissenting youth leader all those years ago, something so alien to the heart of the convert, then the title of one of Sassoon's friend's poems might be more appropriate as a theme for the Synod of 2018.

I speak, of course, of the famous Anthem for Doomed Youth by Lt. Wilfred Owen, Military Cross!
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Can it really be that, just as the Synod on Marriage and Family tuned out to be just the opposite, then the Synod on Youth will turn out to be something old and worldly?

If so, then it is no wonder that all the ''old priories'' are being demolished...

Let us end with one of the timeless teachings that Pope St. John Paul II gave to young people.

Only in Christ do we find real love, and the fullness of life. And so I invite you today to look to Christ. When you wonder about the mystery of yourself, look to Christ Who gives you the meaning of life. When you wonder what it means to be a mature person, look to Christ Who is the fullness of humanity. And when you wonder about your role in the future of the world and of the United States, look to Christ. Only in Christ will you fulfill your potential.


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