Thursday, November 8, 2012

How Many Divisions Does the Pope Have?

Since the election, I've offered Mass, signed checks, returned phone calls, given my dog his heart worm pill, and done laundry.  Life doesn't seem all that different than it did a few days ago.  But, it is different.  America is changing drastically.  Those who say that such thoughts are over the top should converse with the people with whom I converse.  During the past several months, I've debated and bantered with Catholics and former Catholics who advocate for and support a radical change in the cultural landscape.

These people--many of whom are my friends--didn't simply vote in particular ways because they thought that their candidate would help the poor more or would lead the country away from war.  They told me why they were voting for him.  They voted for abortion rights.  They voted in favor of gay marriage.  They voted in favor of the government compelling religious organizations to violate their consciences.  They voted against the Church's position on contraception.  Many of these folks attribute all of society's woes to the Catholic Church.  They want the Church silenced and to move on to a society governed by secularism and want religious believers to be compelled into silence in the public square.  Again, this is not my interpretation of how I think these people voted.  I am conveying what they've actually told me.  Some of my friends--had they been at the Democratic Convention--would have been among those who booed when they inserted the word, "God" back into the platform.

In Massachusetts where I live, some are rejoicing because a ballot initiative which would have legalized Physician Assisted Suicide failed.  But, I look at that too as a failure.  Yes, we held the line for today.  But the fact that almost half of the population of a very Catholic commonwealth could support the bill is disheartening.  We are changing as a culture. 

For me, the election was not so much about Obamacare and Libya.  It was not so much about jobs and the economy.  Reasonable people can and will always disagree about the most prudent course of action when it comes to those types of issues.  For me, the election was more about what kind of culture we are going to be.  The election was about changing fundamental understandings about the value of human life, fundamental definitions about what marriage and family are, fundamental understandings about human dignity and religious freedoms.  It was about whether religious freedom was going to be interpreted for the first time as merely the freedom to worship or whether it was going to continue to be something much bigger than that.

For me the election means that the voice of the Church has been shown to be feeble and diminished.  Yes, we won the assisted suicide battle this time.  I'm certain that its supporters are already ready for the next round.  The Church seems only capable of rallying to fight battles here and there, sometimes winning and sometimes losing.  But, in the greater scheme of things, the Church is losing ground at a dramatic and alarming pace. 

While it is sometimes necessary for the Armed Forces to invoke a draft and radically increase its numbers to fight a particular battle, this can never replace the value of a regular army.  The Church seems to have lost its ability to maintain a regular army.  We have forgotten about the day to day need to win souls for Christ.  If Catholics were being formed daily in the life of Faith and were growing daily in their friendship with Jesus Christ, then it would be unthinkable that legalized assisted suicide could ever get that many votes.  If Catholics in Massachusetts were being formed by the Gospel, there's no way that political candidates and political parties who support abortion would not do some serious reconsidering of their positions.

One thing I admire about my friends who advocate for a radical secularism in society (this is how they would describe it) is that they have a vision of society and they really pull out all of the stops to advance that vision.  Sadly, the Catholic Church does not do the same thing.  The greatest threat to the advancing of the Catholic vision in society is not society but is the weakness of the Church herself.  There are those who teach in her institutions, who write in her publications, who work in her various organizations, and who stand in her pulpits who do not not advance the Catholic vision but who weaken us by adopting the secularist language and model.  I'm sure some do this with the intention of working against the Church.  But I suspect that most do it because they simply and naively adopt the prevailing language and culture.  Either way, we have met the enemy and the enemy is us.

Pope Benedict XVI's Year of Faith and the renewed emphasis on the New Evangelization is my source of hope and encouragement.  For so long, the Catholic Church--at least where I live--has become anesthetized by the culture.  It often feels as though we are pathetic wimps who have nothing serious to offer.  But the New Evangelization is an opportunity to once again announce the Gospel in all of its radiant beauty and power.  We are the Bride of Christ and our Bridegroom poured out his blood for us on the Cross.  We can know Jesus Christ and experience the power of His love in our lives.  The Catholic vision of the human person, for human life, for the value and dignity of the weak, of marriage, and of civilization is truly beautiful and convincing.  We should be proclaiming it boldly from the rooftops.  When people hear the Gospel, they are often attracted to it.  When the Church simply adapts itself to the predominant culture, she becomes more and more obsolete.

If we adopt a more intense and evangelical approach to our life as the Church, we might be abandoned by the millionaires.  Often, it seems, that the wealthy donors tend to give towards those ecclesial institutions that are less faithful to the Church's mission.  That's okay.  Jesus didn't start his Church with the wealthy.  He started with a friendship.  The Year of Faith and the New Evangelization take as their starting point not any one particular moral issue and certainly not money.  They begin from an encounter with Jesus Christ.  We need to begin from this friendship and remain loyal to this friendship. 

It sometimes seems like we are trying to prove ourselves to the culture by watering down our Christian witness.  We've done that for several decades.  The inaction and silence of the Church on the issue of Catholic politcians supporting abortion has led us to where we are today.  For decades, those politicians basically said, "The Bishops have their view and I have mine."  Now, whenever the bishops speak on any moral issue, the general Catholic population says, "Well, the bishops have their view and I have mine."  Seriously, whoever designed the strategy for the Church in the United States' engagement on public policy matters has done an enormous disservice to the Church and to society. 

We actually have something to say to the culture and something to add to the culture.  Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth.  We should start acting like we believe that.  The culture is collapsing in on itself.  Pope Benedict XVI is a general who is worth his salt.  I'm going to follow his lead.


  1. Amen. And as a mother, I fear for what my children will encounter as adults. But my hope is that the Church has often grown stronger in times such as these. Yesterday I thought a lot about St. Thomas More, whose picture we have displayed prominently in our home for the courage he showed in the face of secular opposition, and the price he willingly paid. The Church needs to embark on a spiritual crusade to reclaim Her treasures, and I know this is what the Holy Father is encouraging us to do this year.

  2. I was born in 1957 and watched the West's slide into incoherence. I expect many will think I grossly oversimplify here, but I believe the whole mess is largely attributable to the Pill, and the contraceptive worldview it enabled.

  3. Too many Catholics have bought into the rationalization as articulated by so-called "Catholic" politicians that "my faith should have no effect on public policy," a position tha was first and most famously promoted by John F. Kennedy in order to win the Presidency in 1960.

    It is a tragic reality that people will bow to Caesar for "bread and circuses" and see no contradiction in their actions vs. their practice of the Faith. Self-interest has trumped the eternal truth in Massachusetts, especially.

    The Southern Evangelicals have shown more backbone in standing up for Christ than have the members of the Church, and that is why we see dwindling membership, while they seem more alive and growing.

    The Spirit of God will not move and work in a sinful or lukewarm community. The prophet Ezekial saw the glory of God leave the Temple. Jesus could not work miracles in his hometown because of the people's lack of faith. In a very real and concrete way, part of the New Envangelization is for us to spend time in repentance for the sins of the members of the Church in promoting sinful legislation and praying for their conversion. God's judgment always begins with His own people. We saw what happened in the sex-abuse scandal, and now it may be the laity's turn. Time will reveal God's sovereignty.