Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Why punish the butchers? Why indeed?

Recently the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales decided to reintroduce the practice of abstaining from meat on Friday’s. This prompted an article in the Southern Cross, a South African Catholic Newspaper, titled “Why punish the butchers?” by Chris Moerdyk.

While it was slightly amusing, but only very slightly, I considered the contents of this article, especially in a Catholic Newspaper, to be outrageous. If anything, we the Church need more penance, not less.

Consider the words of Pope Benedict XVI in the book titled “Light of the World”: "The concept of penance, which is one of the fundamental elements of the Old Testament message, is something we have increasingly lost. People somehow only want to say positive things."[1]

Chris Moerdyk's states that: "It really is quite odd that this momentous event is now to be celebrated by boycotting butchers and re-establishing a practice that, in my opinion, serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever."

Chris Moerdyk goes further: "Penance, in this modern day and age, is not nearly as important as it used to be...". Chris Moerdyk clearly differs with Pope Benedict XVI in this regard.

Chris Moerdyk does not stop with the abstinence from meat but launches on to question the practice of praying Hail Mary's as penance after confession. He writes "And then came penance in the form of a post-confession recital of three Hail Mary's or saying the rosary if you’d been a really naughty fellow... Why use one of the most wonderful prayers in Catholicism as a form of punishment?"

"I believe", says Chris Moerdyk, "that there are so many other things Catholics can do to express their Catholicism". He goes on to express his belief that acts of kindness would be a better replacement for these acts of penance because we can "no longer justify self-indulgent penance". Once again, he differs with Pope Benedict XVI who also said: “The fact that one can change and allow oneself to be changed through penance is a positive gift. The early Church viewed it this way also.[2]

In light of his concerns about the practice of “self indulgent” acts of penance, I asked Chris Moerdyk to explain his position regarding the Mass. After all, Chris Moerdyk's own argument, if it is a valid argument as he professes, could then surely be applied equally to our Catholic practice of hearing Mass.

If we follow Chris Moerdyk's thought process, outwardly the Mass appears to "serve(s) absolutely no purpose whatsoever", as is apparently the case when doing “self indulgent” acts of penance such as the abstinence from meat on Friday's or the praying of Hail Mary's.

The Mass, it could therefore equally be argued, as Chris Moerdyk did about penance, is also nothing more than a purposeless self-indulgent practice by Catholics. (I am sure that any homeless non-Catholic chap would be much happier if we Catholics were to spend an hour each Sunday building him a house, instead of sitting in church hearing Mass and praying piously.)

Outwardly, many of our Catholic practices, such as penance, going to Mass, and praying, do not appear to serve any useful purpose whatsoever. Yet, we Catholics know that there is so much more to what is seen with our earthly eyes and what we experience outwardly.

So instead of questioning and ridiculing the practice of abstaining from meat and other supposedly "self indulgent" penitential practices, lets embrace them. Let Chris Moerdyk instead devote his space in the Catholic newspaper to remind and educate us all on why the practice of penance continues to be of such great value to Catholics. (There also would certainly be place in such an article to remind us all of the 7 Corporal Works of Mercy, which includes "Feeding the Hungry". A topic that is clearly close to the heart of Chris.)

There is enough ridiculing of our Catholic faith going on in the world. We don't need someone on the inside putting the boot in as well. We need to have a source that reminds us of the value of our Catholic practices and beliefs.

I have had no response from Chris Moerdyk other than a tweet along the lines that the purpose of the article was to encourage debate. 

The editor of the Southern Cross, Günther Simmermacher, has reacted. He is however clearly not ready to consider that the article may in fact not be appropriate for a Catholic Newspaper. Instead, he focusses his concerns on my referring to him by his first name and not as Mr Simmermacher. He further relies on a conspiracy theory, one which involves me being engaged in a personal crusade against Chris Moerdyk.

I can only hope and pray that out of this comes some worthy articles in the Southern Cross to encourage Catholics, instead of it joining the rest of the secular media to mock the practices and beliefs that are so dear to us.


Pope Benedict XVI. (2010). Light of the World. St Mary's Town, Bangalore, India: Asian Trading Corporation & Ignatius Press.

[1] Light of the World, Pg. 45
[2] Light of the World, Pg. 46

1 comment:

  1. This link contains a good article regarding penance: http://on.fb.me/pbgF1n