Saturday, September 7, 2019

Brexit: Democracy in Torment

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PM Boris Johnson promised to get the UK out of the EU by 31 October - the so-called 'No Deal Brexit'.

After three years of wrangling and solipsism, opposition MPs are now trying to make a 'law' forcing the PM to delay Brexit yet again. If he refuses, he may face prosecution.

Meanwhile, Boris has called an election. But the opposition stymied that too, by refusing to vote for it in the Commons. They did this from spite and to avoid a drubbing at the next election.

Meanwhile Boris has lost his majority owing to a mix of purging the disloyal and defections.

Will the PM be forced to ask for more time just to enable an election? (How can forcing somebody to do something be legal?) What's to stop him from ignoring the opposition? And why wouldn't he enact a no-deal Brexit after the end of another extension period anyway? If he won a general election, couldn't he reverse any law brought in to stop a no-deal? Couldn't he vote in a law to ban the Labour party or arrest Jeremy Corbyn? If that's what the majority wants... it could be ignored and overturned.... then that itself banned.... more votes... debates... alliances.... referenda.... how many times??

When will this nightmare end?? WAAAAARGHHHHH!!!!!!!

Democracy's weaknesses have now been made very clear by the Brexit farago. If a situation arises which is sufficiently polarising in society, about which the various parties cannot agree, that issue can lead to stalemate and insanity, paralysing the course of ordinary political discourse and practice. The result is a merry-go-round of pseudo-democracy ('process for its own sake'), with the courage needed to make the big decisions forgotten or actively negated by MP's self-interest.

In essence, the system is in turmoil. Very similar to the situation in Poland-Lithuania during the later 17th and 18th centuries, where politicians' private concerns led to the weakening of the state, as outside powers and personal ambitions impacted on the government and wellbeing of the nation itself.

Since there were no parameters to Brexit at the referendum in 2016 and its very content and meaning varies from person to person, it has become an insidious worm in the body politic. We see reason cast aside as all sides scamper to limit the fallout of this H-Bomb of relativism in their midst. Brexit has exposed the vacuity and thin-veneer of parliamentarism in the UK. There are no big characters ready to rescue the situation, but many bit-part-players all too keen to perpetuate chaos and division.

The lesson for the enemies of democracy is clear. It can be manipulated and subverted both from inside and outside. A nation or power with sufficient guile and resources can play the system or collapse it. Meanwhile, the result of the initial referendum is in doubt, with Remainers quite happy to undermine any form of Brexit whatsoever in the hope that it can be utterly abolished if only by apathy and mutual exhaustion, or incessant delays.

By jettisoning Christ and jettisoning God, the UK has lost the deep roots of integrity and principle found in the Christian tradition and Christian civilisation. Today, anything goes with respect to morals and ideology, with hypocrisy and self-will never more evident than in the halls of Parliament. This is only to be expected, since nobody agrees on any basic principles anymore except the idolisation of democracy itself - a kind of fetishism. Democracy is good when healthy, but dreadful when corrupted and self-referential. It is but a means to an end: true human flourishing and security. If it fails, other forms of governance may step in. And they may well provide a corrective jolt to the entire cabal of hubristic politicians dominating the scene today.

Prorogue parliament? We may need to go a bit further than that!

Monday, August 26, 2019

Florence: The Museumisation of Christian Culture?

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I have spent a week in Florence, Italy, with my sister, on holiday. It was very hot and busy, so perhaps not the best time to visit!

The famous Renaissance city boasts numerous churches, galleries and museums, mostly showing off the medieval and early modern art works and architecture of the likes of Giotto, Brunelleschi, Bronzino, Leonardo, etc.

As a place to visit it is quite small, with most things in easy walking distance. We took in the Uffizi gallery, the Palazzo Vecchio, Accademia, Duomo (cathedral), and several basilicas, each with courtyards and cloisters. The Palazzo Pitti was one of my favourites, as it has the Boboli Gardens next to it, and inside boasts a large collection of artworks (the cool cloister-based cafe was nice too).

While all this was great, something was missing. We went to evening Mass at the cathedral, and at Santa Croce. Typical Mass attendance was about 20 people on a weekday evening, with maybe 80 on a Saturday vigil Mass. That's not many, even compared to English Catholic churches, and certainly far fewer than in Poland. A tiny band of practising Catholics have to be secured in small chapels away from the horde of visitors. The churches are thus effectively more museums than sacred spaces.

I suppose the main thing about Florence is that it has become a 'tourist city', with most shops purveying luxury goods at exorbitant prices, food being expensive (£20 for two ice creams), and a constant swirl of visitors from around the world. Visitors are milked of their cash by restaurants, shops, markets, and (mostly) African street beggars. The religious art and architecture makes up the majority of what is on offer culturally speaking, but there is little contemplation of the religious truths behind the images and icons visitors come to 'clock' or 'tick off' their lists.

In effect, the once-glorious city which took inspiration from the Catholic faith and the Classics, has become a holiday park for the curious and the ignorant. In today's world we are all prone to photographing, but much less prone to pondering and appreciating, the meaning of the art we see in museums and galleries. So by snapping scenes of Christ's life, or even Michelangelo's David, we try to hold onto cultural artefacts but never really appropriate their meaning or true value. It is a form of consumerism, and actually undermines rather than promotes understanding and learning.

More importantly, is that the millions of tourists are participating in the 'museumisation' of Christian (Catholic) culture. With few going to Mass or practising the faith, its outwards surface of art and culture becomes cheapened and increasingly seen as kitsch and futile. Even I concluded that much of the 'amazing' paintings were actually poor works of art in themselves. Their true purpose was to provoke meditation, reflection, and contemplation: something impossible once consigned to a busy museum with hundreds straining to see 'famous' icons by 'famous' artists.

In effect, Florence is living off a vulgarisation of its past, with images of Christ, the saints, Mary, confined to gallery space as mere examples of the development of Western civilisation. Art in itself has instrumental value by getting us to think and contemplate, but 'in itself' it can be just another idol, standing in for the true inner life which is meant to accompany it (if it is religious art, of course).

Is Christianity now just degenerating into a religion of the museum, with its culture reduced to tourist fodder? Is current theology and practice open to art? What is the best place for religious artwork? Is the mission of the Church and the Gospel served by preserving 'past glories' or mummified by it? Where is individual faith, the response to beauty, or the reality which actually inspires wonderful artistic expression?

Christ is alive, and the faith, hope, and love, he enjoined is the route to true joy and satisfaction. Art comes and goes. Much modern religious art is in fact better at conveying the essence of our faith than that of the Renaissance masters was. The simple, abstract and the serene are often more in tune with our needs than the muscular, busy, and sometimes naff masterworks of the long-dead.

We can let go of old forms of art, which retain historical and cultural value, but sometimes distract and detract from the core of Christian existence today. Let the museum do its job, but let's not allow the Church to mistake itself for a museum! What we truly need is a Renaissance of the Catholic Church in the world of today...

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Advantages of the Christian Life

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Some people spend their lives yearning after the lures of the world. Even after discovering that these things are fleeting and hollow. They rarely encounter Christians who can convey the advantages of being such, so assume that there is no point or advantage to being a Christian. This then reinforces the quixotic search for more/less in the world.

So what are the advantages of being a Christian, and of life in Christ?

1). Faith brings Certainty. By letting go of following the world's clamouring opinions, we have space to access the objective life of grace when we turn to God. We experience the certainty that comes with trusting in the God who loves us.

2). Faith introduces the objective hierarchy of goods. We can now truly discriminate between options, fashions, suggestions, and values, to choose the best and lasting, in short - the eternal, and its approximates which may pass in this life.

3). Being our true selves. Christian life is about authentic life and communion with God. With God there is no pretence, and no hiding of failure or sin. We are redeemed by Christ, however, and we progressively become the true selves God intended.

4). Going beyond convention and exhibitionism. There is no need for social media bile, nor for following the crowd and bowing to social pressure. In Christ we are radical as well as safe from toxically seeking validation at any price.

5). Integrity and Peace. Rooted in Jesus, strengthened by grace, we discover integrity not in claiming fame through superficial actions to please the world, but in obedience and humble repentance. True peace comes from being right with God. That is the foundation of inner life.

6). Giving, taking, leaving. In Christ we can begin to reach out and share God's love with others, without impairing our relationship with God. We can also take or leave much of what the world has to offer: it is often not bad in itself, but must be used with caution. We now have the wisdom to do so.

7). Strong in purpose, strong societies. Founded on God's Word, and the life of grace, we can build relationships at home, work, and everywhere we go, knowing that God commands righteousness as well as compassion. Practising Christians do indeed form societies with greater integrity and purpose, having been energised and called by Christ to do so.

8). Evil is Discerned and Rejected. The reason for so much chaos in today's world is that few moderns know what evil is, how it presents us with temptations, and how to combat it. Christians can discern what is evil based on the Word of God and indwelling grace. Once identified, we have to reject evil and choose the good. This basic discernment is simply lacking today, causing violence, hatred, perversity,.and confusion.

9). Friendship and security with the Creator. With God by our sides, we have the clear advantage of being supported and loved by our Lord. This leads to security and stability in our lives, as we order our lives to the good, and open up to the influence of the Holy Spirit. This is the real life within, the richness of accompaniment by a friend who never betrays us and will always stand by us.

10). The earthly life is a journey, but heaven is the final destination. Knowing that this life is fleeting, we can correctly appraise how we should respond to it. God made the world as good, but the Fall introduced evil. As Christians we will not be overwhelmed by the world if we remain faithful. Let us live the life we have, but never despair, and always look towards the consummation of life with Christ in heaven. The destination is ultimately more important than the journey: but we can still keep things in perspective while on that journey.

Christian life is living in imitation of Christ: love incarnate. But we can't do it alone, and this life unfolds before us according to God's will and purpose. A Christian is somebody who knows and loves Christ, and their neighbour as themselves.

A Christian gains the following benefits: power to do good and to avoid evil; discernment of right and wrong; growth in wisdom granted by the Holy Spirit; accompaniment from the Spirit; consolation and strengthening; authentic selfhood and identity in Christ; the possibility of repentance and growth in the good, holy, and true; a community of faith (be that Church, family, friends, or spiritual associates); the riches of the Bible, particularly the Gospels; knowledge of the spiritual realm; being part of Christ and connection with others, especially believers and the saints in heaven; access to God's mercy, and help from the intercession of saints in heaven and the faithful on earth; the beauty of the truth shines forth and reveals God's hand everywhere.

In the end the believer gains everything eternal, and loses nothing of true value on earth. The mundane is simply life without God and without love. All who seek the truth may discover the true purpose of existence in the life, death, resurrection, of Jesus. Alleluja!

Sunday, July 21, 2019

God's Love, What's Community?

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The reality of God has to suffice for those dissatisfied within the Church.

Often people are brought up as Catholics but drift away without experiencing the love and mercy and grace of God personally. For them, God and the Church were and remain false. Only a rupture in life or an experience of God's love (perhaps through another Christian) can change their minds, hearts, and lives. 

Within the Church - i.e. those who practice the Catholic faith - are many people, conversely, who are personally convinced of the truths of the faith, because they have had their lives changed in various ways:

* Forgiveness (i.e. repentance and sacramental confession)

* Experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit ('heart strangely warmed')

* Savouring the reality of prayer

* Benefitting from God's wisdom and nourishment in the Scriptures

* Ongoing support from God on a daily basis

This multiform "experience of God" is real, and is the main thing keeping practising Catholics practising. 

What is less real, perhaps, is the social reality of the Church. We remain practising Catholics because of Jesus, the Eucharist, and penance, NOT because of enjoyable community experiences. Let us face it, parish life can be narrow and unappealing. It often falls far short of expectations we might have for an "ideal community" as supposedly revealed in religious life or the "early Church".

In other words, many Catholics are part of the Church because of God, not because of the nice and amazing personalities which inhabit the Church - as organisation, and as putative "community" or aggregate of 'communities'.

Partly, individualism and technology make real community so taxing and difficult. We are used to focusing on ourselves, our needs, desires, and wants, not on sharing and living with non-ideal people who may be of totally dissimilar background or life experience. We are afraid to be hurt, and don't want to invest time in something that seems not to be making our lives more joyful or better. 

Jean Vanier's book "Community and Growth", which I am reading, however, makes the point that there is no ideal community on earth. Communities can be places of welcome, mutual service, spiritual growth, but also comprise flawed people with mixed motives, blindspots, and frailties. They have to be about something beyond themselves - beyond the notion of 'community' to grow and work. 

Isn't this what we learn from other environments though? At work, in clubs, associations, etc? But we seem to more easily persist in attending hobby clubs, sports clubs, or art and craft associations, than in gelling with and building up parish communities. Why has God made pastimes more appealing than the "spiritual communities" within the Church? And does this really matter? 

We all have a limited amount of energy and time to engage in parish or community life. Families, jobs, and 'personal time', absorb the majority of our waking lives. Many people feel the need to be part of something bigger, but just as many (if not more) feel that Church life is a drag and drain on their psychic resources. The bottom line appears to be that we prefer to spend our meagre free time in "sure-fire" enjoyment than in quasi-Christian 'community' mummery: where forms, cliches, and fakery ring truer than the rhetoric of sacredness and welcome. 

On the other hand, society evolves. The parish is not normative for Christian life. We can choose to embrace different forms of social life. Being a baptised Christian is more than tea and scones, meetings and prayer groups. The relationship with God may be the most important 'thing', but we are part of Christ's body, with different talents, insights, needs, and expectations. Real people always matter. But settings and contexts less so. Online communities, casual friendships, sports and hobbies, are gateways to interactions and should not be pooh-poohed. But we still feel that a sacred community ought to be as good as the God who loves us. 

When we stop worrying about not being the ideal Christian in an ideal community, we can conceive of our lives without the constraints of fear and expectation in such a moribund category of thinking. God's nourishment is real enough, and will bear fruit wherever we go in our lives if we are truly open to others. No one form of 'community' is now prescriptively adequate to free and feed people across this globe. So lets go and do and be ourselves wherever that is most fruitful. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

Boring and Ineffective: The Tottering Church

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Just another cliched projection...

Over the next 50 years the Church will be having to deal with numerous attacks on its doctrine.

This has always been the case, but the internet and social media mean that anyone, at any time, in any place, and for whatever reason, can oppose the Church and decry supposed bigotry, reaction, and intolerance in her official beliefs. And they will have a bigger audience than any official preacher, epistle, or papal pronouncement.

The cry for 'modernisation' has never been greater. This includes a demand to rubber stamp LGBTQism and women clergy, abolish sin, and relativise Christian doctrine wholesale.

The Church stands accused of irrationality, hypocrisy, and the rest. But in actuality, the BORINGNESS and seeming INEFFICACY of Christianity are its biggest problems.

The thing is, if the Church caves in and permits what it believes to be wrong as 'right' and 'equally valid', it will only have given up the struggle for objective truth for a mirage of fitting in with the world. That world will only claim this climbdown as a victory, and will continue to attack and denigrate the Church even more forcefully.

The problem is not in official Church teaching, but in the ineffectiveness of the Church in evangelisation and explanation of its doctrine.

We are also not helped by the cliches and stereotypes which afflict much repetition of Christian truths until they become ossified rhetoric. Here are just a few of these:

1). LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR. We are constantly urged to do so. Has anyone ever succeeded yet? If the neighbour doesn't want love, what can be done practically?

2). CHRISTIAN CHEERFULNESS. We are told the holy are cheerful and joyful. Isn't cloying histrionics the closer description? Who can be cheerful all the time without seeming to need psychiatric medication and a stint in an asylum?

3). PRIESTS, RELIGIOUS, FAMILIES. Seem to be the only permissible lifestyles? When will the Church embrace the single and celibate, which she creates by her laws on sexuality being taken seriously by her faithful?

4). COMMUNITY, COMMUNITY, COMMUNITY. So those who eschew 'community' are evildoers? Hardly! Today's world in the West has no communities. Trying to be part of one is often self-harm in action.

5). GOD PROVIDES. What, exactly? That which WE work for and achieve? The neutral background hum of our lives? It's untestable because whatever happens is God's will. So who do we thank for nothing in particular and everything in general?

I could go on. My point is just that every day theologians project their own ideas onto God and find quotes in scripture to support their own notions. This 'segwaying' of truths into new paradigms which would have seemed heretical a few years earlier is arguably a form of sophistry and sleight-of-hand trickery. The big wigs maintain 'absolute truth' yet are just constantly darning a patchwork quilt of faith and language.

Ordinary Christians meanwhile are finding insuperable contradictions in practice between theology, spiritual claims, and every day life. The Church is not explaining her teachings. Is this because her teaching are constantly being recast into old/new wineskins, or the wine itself diluted?

Meanwhile are the strictly observant any happier, or simply following an ideology which both claims to never change and yet changes daily, as the theologians come up with loopholes, reinterpretations, or just cleave to an unchanging dogma that seems quainter and more psychotic by the day?

Is what passes for Christian truth really true? Or just a species of group think, psychologistics, tired worn out phraseology, or long-suffering resignation?

In the end, it is boredom and lack of efficacy which seems to annihilate Christian faith, not its inherent implausibility.

Ultimately it is only a real experience of God's love that trumps boredom and lack of efficacy. This is a miracle only God can produce in us. There is a real substance to the Church and her language. But it rarely seems to penetrate us. Why is God not doing more? Is He real? God's real but He may be even more bored of us than we are of our ideas of Him (pardon the cliched projection).

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Rebellion = Extinction

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It's very hot in London today. Possibly the hottest in 40 years.

Maybe those young folk marching and protesting about climate change have a point?

Climate Change is now a bigger issue than ever. It has been latched on to by the young in particular as their generational crusade. While I think we can all agree that needless pollution of the environment is wrong and should be avoided, does the radical group Extinction Rebellion really have a point?

The trouble is that even if climate change is occurring, it's far from clear what we can really do about it. We can change cars to electric. We can phase out CO2 emissions and change to renewable sources of energy. We can replace plastic with biodegradable packaging. We can recycle more and waste less.

But even if the UK does all that, it won't change Climate Change. Because bigger and more backward nations are still polluting and causing much more global pollution. And they don't necessarily have the money or priorities to change that. More importantly, HUMAN NATURE unaided by grace is impotent to change itself: human inertia and numbers are firmly against a 'climate victory'.

Most significantly, if people no longer seem to be able to follow God's laws, how can they be disciplined enough to change their environmental habits? In short, doesn't human REBELLION lead ultimately to EXTINCTION, not climate change? If people are living alienated from each other and from God, how can they truly live good lives? Isn't environmentalism thus getting things the wrong way around? Unless people receive the grace to change their lives, live morally, and do good, to what end would addressing climate change be directed?

It's fine to preserve our beautiful world for the next generation. But what will that generation be doing with its time on earth? Where is love, justice, hope, and compassion? Aren't they the true motors of what makes for a life worth living? Can't we have a spiritual and moral revolution as well as an environmental one?

For it is indifference to the good and true, the wisdom and mercy of God, and the real priorities for living, which underlie the environmental issue. People without faith have no reason to think selflessly, because when they die they think that's that - someone else can take responsibility. The underlying cynicism about the environment is thus partly justified: either because the issue itself is seen as vacuous, or because people lack the good faith to see beyond their own selfish lives to do anything about it.

At its worst, the radical climate lobby stands accused of divinising the world - "Gaia" - in opposition to God. It thus smacks of paganism, and anti-Christian ideology. We should not be worshipping the environment, but the Creator of the planet. We may well be "co-creators" of the environment, but we need the Revelation of God to put this is context.

At best, the climate debate is one of the few issues today which are invigorating public debate around behaviour and attitudes. It thus stands as a window into the formation of the young in a truly holistic moral responsibility. Some Christians are engaging with this. But not many: either suspicious of neo-paganism, or sceptical of the effects of 'climate change' as yet another fruitcake ideology.

In truth, God made a beautiful world and put mankind in charge of it. But we can't be responsible for it ALONE. Only by instilling moral and spiritual values can any call to environmental action be successful. The true change needed is within people: global warming is just Hell brewing on earth. Until we refuse Hell and refuse evil, we won't be capable of cooperating with God's grace. Without grace we face an impossible task. Propaganda and protest is not sufficient. Only a metanoia and a return to a simpler state of life, rooted in God's love and providence, can bring an end to the rebellion in our hearts which manifests in the nihilism that makes responsibility so difficult.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Trouble with the Church

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"For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light."

(Luke 16:8)

Does the World have anything to teach the Church?

Hasn't it already modified Church doctrine and practice since the 19th century, though?

I envy little in the world today: much of its 'glories' are just confusions, madness, evils and superficiality. But the Church likes to believe it maintains the absolute truth of Christ down the ages. In each age, however, it has been forced to accommodate the thinking of the World and the weaknesses of mankind.

Church law today bears little resemblance to its appearance in the Middle Ages. Today sinners are not given harsh penances, nor potentially face execution in the public square by the secular arm.

Our God today is more than a tad more 'merciful' than in past times, when God's justice was more often stressed, and culture and society were compelled to toe the line by a dominant ecclesiastical structure.

This has also meant hypocrisy and contradiction in practice, however. Skipping Mass was once seen as a mortal sin, capable of confining the sinner to hellfire if unconfessed before death. Most people today do not bother with regular Mass attendance, and so skipping Mass becomes de facto a venial sin, or no sin at all, as confession is no longer preached, required, nor enforced.

But this also makes a mockery of the supposed standards of the Church, which still apply to those who take their faith seriously. So we end up with the Church being lenient on the non-practising, while the observant are burdened by an impossible standard. Isn't that pure insanity?

What could the Church learn from the World?

1). Coercion is not conducive to belief or practise. Yet the Church still coerces people through her penitential system, her top-down 'preachiness', and her manipulation of emotions and canon-law casuistry. The World may be superficial but at least you can 'take it or leave it'.

2). Joy and contentment are natural. The Church tries to imply that only religiosity produces deep contentment. We see from the world, and personal experience, that this is not so. Moreover, many deeply religious people are miserable as Hell. Have they missed something - or just followed Church advice to the letter?

3). If you can't be good, then accept yourself for who you are. If God truly loves us as sinners, and we can't stop sinning, isn't it time to recast repentance and issue new guidelines? The World seems more merciful than the Church at times. And much more realistic.

4). Accepting the Other means neither changing them nor trying to 'love' them through mental psychologising. Has hating the sin produced results recently? There is more acceptance of difference, human weakness, and solidarity, in some worldly movements right now - which are officially sinful by Church standards.

5). Real fellowship means eating with sinners, heretics, secularists, without hoping for conversions and without caveats. Yet the Christian has to wrack their mind, loins, heart, and soul, at all times. Can we let go and have some fun please?

6). People are created by God. Either he is making terrible mistakes, or he actually likes and loves them for who they are. Totally ignorant of Christ, and living as they wish to. This means God is ultimately responsible for the world as it is, and tolerates error, sin, and foibles: should we continue to classify people, scan hearts for heresy, and find reasons to reject them?

7). Stop second-guessing Jesus. To all intents and purposes Christians ARE Christ on earth, and must be trusted to act accordingly, not manipulated or patronised by the Church. Yet find 10 Christians and you have 30 opinions, disagreement, pride, madness, and futility.

8). Much of what passes for Church teaching is platitudinous, circular reasoning, obscurantist, impractical, impenetrable, hypocritical, and self-defeating. The world is no better at times, but at other times is at least honest and straightforward. 'Why go to church? I can be good and be normal' is a fair point.

At the end of the day, there are fallacies, or at least tendentious post-hoc rationalisations, in some Christian teachings and logic. Scholasticism was designed to buttress the faith, but often ends up burdening the Church with dead weight. Orthodoxy must be accepted, but has it and does it lead to happiness, joy, and communion with God these days? If not, reform is required, as well as preaching and explanation. But this is not happening. Why are our churches emptying, and football stadiums filling up? Where is more real solidarity and communion, in the church or in the betting shop or wargames club? Why does the Church often seem like a mad cult full of people who despite giving all are ending up with very little to show for it? In short, is faith fully lived salvific or a road to alienation these days?

All that matters in the end is God's love; we will all experience frustration and disgruntlement from time to time. All we can do is to keep the faith as well as being honest. I believe God is calling us all to a simpler and less scrupulous faith, one that can welcome the sinner and not scourge the saint with strictures and impossible expectations. If the truth is lived, charity results - not alienation, fear, or insanity. May God blow a wind of change to topple all fallacies and build up the faithful, while preserving the truth and making it effective in real lives.