Wednesday, 6 June 2012

From the Deer Hunter to Franz Jägerstätter. Why do so many working class men feel alienated from the Church?

From the Deer Hunter to Franz Jägerstätter. Why do so many working class men feel alienated from the Church?

 One of my all time favourite films is the Deer Hunter, my mates all complain that it’s too long but I like to think of it as a few different films all rolled into one big long movie. (Sometimes I watch The Deer Hunter and Godfather 2 over a week like a mini series).  I actually enjoy the first hour more than the Vietnam War scenes. If you’ve never seen the Deer Hunter it’s about three 2nd (or 3rd generation?) Rusyn-Ameircan steel worker friends living in a small Working Class town in Pennsylvania who end up fighting in the Vietnam War. The film stars Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken.  What I love about this film is the depiction of life in this small Industrial town; it’s almost like a documentary at some points and what I find especially interesting is the Russian Orthodox Wedding Scene. (It’s been suggested that they are in actual fact Lemko people not Russians and the wedding scene is not Orthodox but in fact Byzantine Catholic). The characters appear to be wreckless and wild young men. They work hard, drink lots of beer (mostly Rolling Rock) they fight and still have time to shoot some pool in the pub and shoot some deer in the Mountains! Great stuff! Yet, we get the impression that they still maintain an air of respect for the Church and its traditions, the church appears to be at the heart of the community in this movie.

 The day in day out lives of the main characters presented in this film are distinctly American, yet, it also feels as if they still have one foot in Europe.  The small town steel works set in the middle of a rural landscapes could be Wales, Motherwell, Yorkshire or Greenock. To me, the culture shown in this movie has especially strong similarities to the culture of places like Gelsenkirchen in the Ruhr valley and the Industrial towns around the Cologne area of Germany in the 50’s. (Gelsenkirchen being the place where our own Father Hilgers at St. Ninian’s came from) These are areas which were known for three main things…

1. Catholicism

2. Heavy Industry from Mining to Steel Works.

3. Beer (See blog on Kolsch)

As such, many different Catholic working men’s associations and guilds rose up around this area (See blog on Kopling) the point is that their identity and social life was defined by many different things including the Church, it was not a choice between one and the other. Men could still be men without feeling out of place at Mass. So the question has to be, when did this all change? When did so many working class men stop going to Mass?

One theory I’ve heard suggests that the reforms of the Vatican II meant that more women rightly took on more roles within the Church.  From Parish council members to altar servers, from readers to children’s liturgy leaders and Eucharistic ministers etc…As is they way of things, these tasks fell mostly to women. Another theory suggests that women felt compelled to take on these roles since they could not become Priests? Regardless of how it happened, you sometimes hear a wild claim that "some Sanctuaries look like a meeting of the Women’s Guild". Certainly, if you go to some Churches now you’ll find that it is mostly ladies who continue to occupy many of these roles today. Again, nothing wrong with this you might say, and you’d be right as these wonderful women do a great job keeping the place going, nobody else is going to serve God and the community in this way? Indeed, they are literally the salt of the earth and the light of world. That is unless you hold to the theory that such female dominance over Parish life has subsequently driven men away from Mass? You might say, well these men who left over such issues are lazy and  chauvinistic. The theory goes on to ask, subconsciously or consciously, what males in adult life really want to continue to be bossed about the Church by their Mums and former high school Home Economics teachers?  (Especially if you hated Home Economics) Personally, I don't agree with this idea, I think it is truly a sexist idea. There are only women running the church if you are looking for women and not identifying such people as individual Catholics. To make such a claim is to defy personalism.  It's like a racist identifying Black and Asian Catholics as somehow different. Plus, plenty of my former teachers, both male and female now perform various roles within the church. They are wonderful people who serve us well, so that theory can be ignored too. Rather I think the reason for the male exdous can be found in outside societal pressures and the lack of a strong male catholic cultural identity.  

 The other downside caused by this trend is that some of the working class men who drink in the various social clubs which are vaguely affiliated to the Church (and sometimes attached to Parish Churches) no longer go to Mass or have any link with Parish life. As such they no longer feel bound by any sense of moral code or standards of behavior associated the Church. This in turn then leads to a situation where one of my best friends was recently verbally abused by a guest, at a christening no less, in a Church related club. Similarly, a few weeks back, two wee drunk neds rolled out of another Church related social club and spent the next 20 minutes effing and jeffing at various parents picking their kids up from Scouts. But it seems that Christenings attract the most trouble. Indeed, Gourock can be a bit of a no go area on a Sunday night if there have been a few christening on. Imagine a situation where Pubs are declining entry to Christening parties, could this then be rolled out to First Holy Communions too? We may soon be "persona non grata", judging by how hard it was to book a venue for our own kids First Communion. Think of the polite declines dished out on a weekly basis on the TV show known as “Big Fat Gypsy (Lapsed Catholic) Wedding” and you get the idea.  

So what is the answer? Well there are a few (tongue firmly in cheek) options…

2.      We could ignore the Temperance movement within the Church. Leave this to the Puritans; our monks have been brewing beer for a thousand years. Beer is a gift from God and drunkenness is a gift from Satan
 3.      Just along the road from most Churches you’ll find a Masonic lodge where men only, act out a set of fictional rituals and rites which are a parody of Holy Mass, then get together for a beer afterwards. All sounds good, but the heirarchy are not fans of these guys and they are not so keen on us either, so sadly it’s not an option.     
4.      The one exception to this trend is the great body of fine parish men within the St. Vincent De Paul and the Knights of Saint Columba (Not sure AOH, perhaps more interested in Irish republicanism than anything else) Join them?
5.     What would also be good would be a male pilgrimage to Carfin rather than the retreats which are normally offered. Again, diocesan pilgrimages to Carfin are generally all female affairs.   

6.   Support our Priests when they gentley challenge our lapsed Brethren who think it’s okay to just turn up for Weddings and Christenings then behave however they like outside (and even sometimes inside) the Church. This is cultural Christianity at its worst. Yes it may mean that we are a smaller community but we would be a more faithful and sanctified one 

Also, interesting to note that the decline of working class Christian identity is not just an issue in our own Catholic Community. I read recently that Church of Scotland are making cuts (who isnae) and sadly closing a few local Parishes. The suggestion is that they are making them in the poorer areas leaving the posh areas like the west end alone. From the outside it all looks pretty blatant unless someone inside this community can tell me otherwise? This is the last thing the Kirk should be doing, it's most important work must ALWAYS be in the heart of the community with the biggest problems.  There was even a great quote from local Rev in the Greenock Telegraph protesting about the favouring of rich parishes over poorer ones ..."Meanwhile, the rich parishes will continue on their sweet way". 

So let us pray that upstanding working class lay men will once again return to the fold.  And perhaps, if we are looking for a lay patron then we could do worse than the great Austrian Conscientious objector blessed Franz Jägerstätter. In his youth, Franz gained a reputation for being a wild fellow, but, in general, his daily life was like that of most Austrian peasants. He worked as a farmhand and also as a miner. Later he got married and joined the Third Order of Saint Francis and worked as a sacristan at the local parish church, Jägerstätter was sentenced to death and executed by the Nazis. He was later declared a martyr and beatified by the Church.

Come back to me with all your heart. Don't let fear keep us apart


1 comment:

  1. "I do not know the names of the members of the Consilium or, even more important, the names of their consultors. But after studying the so called Normative Mass it was clear to me that few of them can have been parish priests... At home it is not only women and children but also fathers of families and young men who come regularly to Mass. If we were to offer them the kind of ceremony we saw yesterday in the Sistine Chapel ... we would soon be left with a congregation mostly of women and children." Cardinal Heenan