Saturday, September 15, 2012

Church and Inn (or, the Pub-lic Nature of Religion)

The connection between the liturgy and cheerful earthiness (“Church and inn”) has always been regarded as typically Catholic, and so it is still.

Spirit of the Liturgy, 200

Reflection – Well, the past couple days on the blog have been a bit serious, as I’ve been grappling with what all of us paying attention to the world right now have been grappling with—the waves of violent protest sweeping the Middle East and elsewhere, and the very serious threat these pose to peace and security, and what our individual and collective response is to be to this new crisis.

All very serious… so perhaps this more light-hearted quote from Ratzinger is well-timed. Personally, I have always been in favour of the most cordial relationships between Church and inn, Church and pub. The idea that there is something disreputable or shady or scandalous about going out and having a grand good time with friends and family in a respectable drinking establishment is completely foreign to me (those reading this who know me: “Uh, yeah, we know this, Father…”).

Religion is damaged, in my view, by the Puritanical attitude that sees earthly pleasures as somehow outside it and generally opposed to it. At the same time, ‘cheerful earthiness’ (lovely turn of phrase!) is damaged, perhaps even more so, by its divorce in our days, at least in most quarters, from God and religion.

With religion, as long as genuine prayer and a real connection with God is happening, joy has a way of breaking through, even if the person has some degree of Puritanism to contend with. The Church without the inn may be impoverished, but is still the Church.

The inn without the Church doesn’t fare as well, in my opinion. Genuine human celebration, earthy joy, raising a pint or two with the lads or the lasses—all of this is strengthened, secured, undergirded, upheld, and frankly made much more fun by its being grounded in a lively religious faith.

This may seem paradoxical, but that’s only because we are so far removed in our day from a real Christian culture. When we celebrate in any fashion, in any regard, what we are doing really is proclaiming that life is good. To go out with friends and have an enjoyable evening, to laugh and sing and kick up one’s heels, is to say in a most natural and spontaneous way that the world is a good place, in spite of all our troubles, and so we can rejoice even in the midst of them.

Well, if we don’t really believe that, our celebration tends to become a bit frantic, doesn’t it? If cynicism or nihilism or deep unhappiness is the bigger picture in our life, if the little brightly lit inn is surrounded by a vast ocean of inky darkness and despair, then suddenly it’s not such a good time, right?

One or two pints becomes eight or nine… and things get a bit blurry after that. Laughter and song becomes raucous noise and excess… and perhaps we don’t (ahem) feel quite so good the next day. The evening starts out happy and fine… but somehow fights always break out in the small hours.

Our culture in its secularized state is not (hic!) having such a good time any more, despite its increasingly loud and somewhat incoherent protests to the contrary. The road from the inn to the Church and the Church to the inn has been barricaded and blocked off. This is wrong. The fact is, the truth of Christianity, the deep spiritual and mystical revelation of God that opens up the heart of reality to us, the mystery of the Cross and resurrection, of sacrament and salvation, of prayer and devotion—all of this makes the world such a very good place, such a place of light and sunshine and beauty and delight, that the natural and normal attitude of the Christian both can and should be rollicking good humor, a readiness to dance and sing and laugh, conviviality and plain simple joy.

Life is good. The world is blowing up, yes. We have deep problems in our lives, yes. Suffering and death are real, yes.
But please, please, please, may we never lose sight of, never for a moment forget that life is good, that the whole universe is permeated with the love and mercy of God, that in Christ all creation is renewed, reborn, remade continually, that the victory of light and love is secured, and that the Great Inn which is also and utterly the Great Church awaits us on the other side of the veil. So we can laugh, dance, raise a pint or two, and have a grand good time today, in the midst of the battle and sweat of life, as we say our prayers and put all our hope and trust in God to see us through.


  1. I think I might call some friends, for a fire in the back yard tonight. The kids can roast some marshmallows and we can warm each other up.... Ummm. There must be a beer around here somewhere....

    1. You are, and remain, a woman after my own heart - raise a glass to me!


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