Summer is here, and the mild early heat of the season is blanketing Washington today. Here are two vignettes from Roger Scruton’s “Gentle Regrets”:
On 1 August 1985, I had dinner with Alfred Gilbey in the Oxford and Cambridge Club (the kitchens in the Travellers’ being closed for the summer holiday). …
He referred to a recent letter of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales to the Pope in Rome, lamenting the decline in their congregations, and calling for a teaching and a practice that would be more ‘relevant’ to the needs of today.
“What an absurd demand — to be relevant! Was Christ relevant? To be relevant means to accept the standard of the world in which you are, and therefore to cease to aspire beyond it. Relevance is not merely an un-Christian but an anti-Christian ambition.”
It is hard to fault that argument; but also difficult to welcome its corollary, which is the vision of a Church enduring forever, but acknowledged only by a few old priests living in spiritual catacombs of their own devising, celebrating the rituals of a Church so truly universal that it has no living members. But that was another of his sayings, that all the best people are dead. Alfred went on to add that Christian charity is now entirely misunderstood, as a kind of collective effort to improve the world.
“We are not asked to undo the work of creation or to rectify the Fall. The duty of a Christian is not to leave this world a better place. His duty is to leave this world a better man.”
And the second:
And she brought home to me, then and subsequently, what is perhaps the most important truth conveyed by religion, and one that Monsignor Gilbey, incidentally, had built onto the foundations of his life — the truth that sex is either consecration or desecration, with no neutral territory between, and that nothing matters more than customs, ceremonies and rites with which we lift the body above its material need and reshape it as soul.