The Village Option (Fr. Armand de Mallerais, FSSP)

Poor refugees!

Unfortunate hostages!

Pitiable victims!

As on the news we watch families in distress, or even entire populations affected by natural disasters, wars and persecutions – we give thanks to God that we in Great Britain are spared such ordeals.

Perhaps we wonder if the victims would have coped better if only they had had time to get organised. If only they could have read the signs! If only they had seriously considered what was looming ahead. Perhaps, they did detect inconveniences, but those were not serious enough, they felt, to threaten their comfort, let alone their safety.

Can we read the signs? How much time do we have left? Is it possible that we, in (once) merry England, might be the next targets on the list? Regardless of their liturgical preferences, more and more of our fellow Catholics admit that the grip of secularist laws is tightening. What was taken for granted since the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity seventeen centuries ago is now undermined in many ways. No consolation is it for England to recall that the great man was living in York when he accessed imperial power (A.D. 306): would Constantine be proud of us?

Unjust laws

We now give a sample of institutionalised wrongs and scandals. Our Catholic adoptions agencies, providing well-praised assistance to numerous childless parents, were shut down because we would not condone same-sex parenting. We Christians are prosecuted and fined if at our B&B’s we fail to provide a room with a double bed for guests of the same sex; or if our bakery simply declines to bake a cake promoting so-called ‘gay marriage’. If hostesses wear a small cross around passengers.

Hospitals fire us if, as midwives, we refuse to kill babies or if, as nurses, we console patients with the thought of God’s love for them. Praying silently for the unborn and peacefully advising mothers to keep their babies might soon become criminal offense.

At university, pro-life students are simply banned from freshers’ fairs. Even in primary schools, teachers can be sacked unless they address Tim and Sam as Tina and Pam, as they walk into the classroom wearing their sisters’ skirts.

After trampling upon the rights of conscience, the government just announced that our body is not ours any longer. Soon it will legally belong to the State until expressed otherwise. This results from a change to the organ donation system in England from an ‘opt-in’ system to an ‘opt-out’ one, “shifting the balance of presumption” that we will not donate our organs, to that we will donate. This contradicts the Catechism of the Catholic Church which states (# 2296) that organ transplant “is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent”.

Naming persecution

When will ‘too much’ be too much? When will the frogs in the cauldron admit that the water is not cool any more, not even lukewarm, but nearly boiling? When? Better not wait as long as the witches in Macbeth would advise:“When the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.” Why not wait further? Because it will be too late; at least for our generation. When will our fellow citizens, most of them with common sense still, stand up and say: ‘Enough tyranny!’

Prudence is needed though. How easy to condemn in retrospect those who tried to save the remains of a peace they knew was doomed, like British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain at the 1938 Munich Conference with Hitler.

No one wants to bear before history the responsibility of starting a war – and what if one started it and lost? On the other hand, is the Chamberlain Option an option at all? Was it not plainly a mistake, rather, allowing the Nazi tyrant to grow bolder, instead of stopping his criminal ambitions? What other options do we have? Preparing for the end? New Age gurus and other impostors frighten gullible crowds, assuring that the end of the world is for... very soon – regularly updating their failed prophecies. We should pity Paco Rabanne and the likes, while laughing at their predictions. On the other hand, St John’s Apocalypse describes a distressing future awaiting the world before Judgment. But this seems too far ahead. In between, could it really be that in our own times and country, persecution is imminent?

It was neither a guru nor an extremist who spoke those words: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” It was the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, barely a few years ago. He added:
His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history” [original quote confirmed by Tim Drake, National Catholic Register, April 17, 2015].
Since then, Cardinal George died, in bed indeed. May he rest in peace. Pope Francis himself praised several times Robert Hugh Benson’s dystopian novel Lord of the World (1907), depicting an apocalyptic conflict between secular humanism and Catholicism, which fittingly applies to our modern world. What is there for us to do then? No simple solution springs to mind, but the increasing threat is now more publicly acknowledged in acclaimed books such as The Benedict Option, The Marian Option and Gabriele Kuby’s masterpiece: The Global Sexual Revolution – Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom. In this Fatima Centenary Year, how can we not heed to Our Lady’s command to pray our Rosary, do penance and receive the Eucharistic Lord in a spirit of reparation?

This is our best preparation for whatever looms ahead.

Sacrificial souls may obtain from God that we be spared His wrath, if more profitable to us and to the world. But even if we don’t escape this storm, provided we are faithful, assuredly a bright future lies ahead – at least after judgement.

Rebuild villages

Meanwhile, at a local level and modestly, the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter offers assistance. Our strongest means is this: every day without exception, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered to God on behalf of all of us sinners in the South (Reading), in the North (Warrington) and in Scotland (Edinburgh) – plus every Sunday in Chesham Bois and Bedford, fortnightly in Dundee and monthly in Stirling, Cork, Barntown and London (one Friday a month at St Mary Moorfields).

In addition, confessions are heard daily, e.g. in Warrington and Reading. We also provide the whole range of pastoral means of formation and sanctification, all based upon the Roman traditions of the Church.

While it is wise to avoid a ghetto mentality, one should also recognise that the sheer existence of the social order is at stake when families are undermined. Catholic families will be less vulnerable if they gather together.

This may happen on yearly occasions such as pilgrimages and holidays. It also takes place more frequently via the internet, where forums foster the exchanging of information and provide some relational support to the more isolated families. However, since we are souls within bodies, we live where our bodies are. As an example, when the family van is kept for yet another repair at the local garage, and after dusk Mummy runs out of nappies for her youngest one, those will be obtained much quicker from the next door friend family than online. Practically, nothing will strengthen families more than living stably within walking distance from each other and from their church.

We therefore advocate the ‘village option’ as the safest in our troubled times. We should come and dwell close to each other as in a village. Families will draw a lot of strength from the geographical proximity with other likeminded families. This network of relationships will have the church as its centre, that is, the actual building where families and individuals will meet every Sunday and feast days, and even every day for Low Masses and devotions.

For many Catholic parents, arriving on time to church on Sunday with all their children washed and dressed up as traffic builds up is challenging enough. While in principle approving of a daily visit to their chosen Catholic church, they consider it a sheer dream.

And yet, how wise, simple and rewarding it used to be when families could simply walk to their local church, assured of finding it open, with their favourite Saint awaiting them on his or her altar where they could light a candle; with their trusted priest sitting daily in the confessional before daily Mass offered with reverence; with quiet and recollection guaranteed, unless one wished to join other faithful to chat in the adjacent hall.

How encouraging for families to meet up easily, whenever they wish, for educational and social activities,catechism, games, etc. How helpful to parents when their children and adolescents can walk or cycle to their friends for entertainment, or to the church for devotions, youth groups, liturgy and singing practices, etc.

It will get worse

Within our readership, many families have more children than average and live far away from a church such as described above. With fewer and fewer clergy in the dioceses, and with more and more intrusive laws passed, the situation is going to get worse in the coming years.

The more isolated families are, the more vulnerable they will become. The strain on them is great and their social and spiritual needs cannot be properly met in their current circumstances. Ignoring this bitter truth will not solve the problem.

Recently, such a family from greater London visited us in Warrington (Cheshire), considering moving North. We discussed these difficulties. The father admitted that he and his wife were so absorbed by mere survival in a hostile work environment, as well as at home with nearly no family support, that they had not realised how damaging their current setting was to their family. One ends up lowering one’s family expectations, whether social, spiritual or liturgical.

One will say: ‘That’s the way things are – we can’t help it.’ Meanwhile, the pressure increases to conform to the world, and resisting it without giving in to anger or even to despair – with no like-minded families and clergy within reach – becomes less and less possible.

The Priestly Fraternity of St Peter invites single professionals, young couples, families and grandparents to relocate to places where the support just described is available. Among other places, our apostolates of Reading and Warrington offer just this. If more families move there together, what now seems an ideal will become normal. Up to now in England, families ruled out relocating. It is something American Catholics could do, one assumed, as part as their pioneer mentality, whereas we in England are more settled and attached to our local neighbourhood. But this view seems contradicted by the great distances travelled in the past by British civil servants and settlers to Australia, India and Canada. And what about British students spending years in universities distant from home? In reality, the British are capable of going to live in a different environment, when they see the interest.

Nowadays, more and more families understand that the issue is survival. They realise that moving close to each other, near one of our traditional Mass centres, will make parents, children and adolescents stronger and happier, humanly and spiritually. They sense that instead of trying to resist the assaults of secularism in isolation, they can pool together their legitimate ambitions as Catholic families and build up dynamic communities where embracing the fullness of Catholic life will not be an oddity or a crime, but an expectation and an incentive.

Roots and mission

Is this Christian though? Does not Our Lord invite us to mix with the world like yeast in the flour (Matt 13:33)? How will the dough ever leaven if we, the yeast, keep apart? This is a valid concern – as long as the yeast retains its identity. But when the ‘yeast’ is ground so thin that its core capacities are hindered, or perhaps left to damp until its integrity is lost, it can no longer interact with the ‘flour’. It would be like mixing sand with flour: at best one might expect plaster – not bread.

When you are too small and weak, you can’t act as yeast any longer. There is a minimum size to a human group and a level of vitality below which our Catholicism will not affect the world – but the world will water down our Catholicism. This has accelerated in the past decades, and spectacularly in the past few years. Nowadays, isolated families and single people wishing to lead thoroughly Catholic lives are like sparse raisins in low quality muesli: a brief entertainment for secularist teeth.

A prerequisite for us Catholics to help evangelise is to be spiritually alive and strong. Isolation prevents this. Gathering together in times of adversity does not mean withdrawing from the world, but restarting evangelisation on safe grounds. Within ethnic and religious minorities such as Hindus, Chinese and of course, Muslims, members settle close to each other. Our challenge is to recognise that no less than them – and in fact more than them – we Catholics have become a fragile minority within our once Christian country. We, non-selective Catholics, we who embrace the fullness of the commandments of God and His Church, must admit that we are under threat here in England (and in the Western world at large). We must act upon this now, or become diluted. We must regroup, or be slurped.

Perhaps some wonder if, as celibate priests, we in the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter are qualified to advise on these matters. First of all, many of us grew up in families confronted with those very problems. As young adults, most of us had little support from schools, universities and professional environment, all expecting us to endorse their worldly agenda. How we would have loved to rely on strong Catholic communities!

Furthermore, during our seven-year formation to the priesthood, we choose to live apart in an environment designed to protect and nurture in us God’s calling as His future priests. Yearly we spend nine months out of twelve among our fellow seminarians and our priests, in our self contained seminaries in Bavaria and Nebraska.

We do not become recluses, but we let ourselves be configured to Christ, so as to better communicate Him, once sent into the world.

Those who meet us can see that we are happy, and eager to interact with souls. This model of strategic gathering seems successful, since from twelve founders twenty nine years ago, our clerical family has increased by over fourteen new members each year, now numbering 437 worldwide. Most of them are already priests, serving families on four continents in 239 Mass centres. There, we see new families being founded and flourishing. We see children nourished with healthy doctrine and piety, and youngsters growing into strong and helpful men and women. We see dads comforted in their authority as heads of their domestic church – their household – and mums encouraged in their mission as hearts of the family.

We see the elderly respected and taken care of, also actively involved in the life of devotion at our churches.

To work

Dear Friends, in Great Britain today (as all across the Western world) the risk of losing our Catholic identity and purpose is real, as Our Lord warns: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.” (Matt 5:13).

Instead, we invite you to choose the Village Option. Add your skills, your good will and your virtues to our budding Catholic communities. By doing so, you are more likely to secure the sanctification of your families and to make a difference in the conversion of England.

As we already witness here in Our Lady’s Dowry, such local communities also inspire people who are lapsed, pagan or don’t know Catholicism.

A sign of the times? – at our three main apostolates of Reading, Bedford and Warrington, we are now actively seeking to help parents educate their children. Since at this stage founding actual schools is fraught with difficulties, instead, academies, cooperative structures and substantial part-time curriculums are being envisaged.

Please do make contact with us. If you are parents, do express interest. If you have experience in teaching or education, do share it with us. If you have any money to invest in the Church of tomorrow, sponsor our educational endeavours. If you only have your hands and knees, please pray to God for us to be guided and protected in this undertaking. He will reward you at least in Heaven, and here below with our poor prayers in return, and with the smile of our children!

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