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False Comfort Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Saturday, 09 February 2013

There are so many ways to derive false comfort from the situation of the Catholic Church today – in Canada, the USA, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Britain, etc. – that one becomes bewildered sometimes, trying to choose between them. Each is so easy to kick away.

False comfort may be found in circumstances that range from the small and local, to the historically vast; but there are also many pseudo-consolations to choose from at a more spiritual level.

Starting from the bottom, I derived great comfort recently from learning that, on the average Sunday in the Netherlands, there were now more Catholics than Protestants attending church. At the Orange heart of Orange, I think the proportions were now 5 and 3 percent of the population, respectively. Ive lost the link, but it isnt really needed. The numbers look plausible enough.

In the snow outside the nursing home where I visit my mama, I shared a cigarette the other day with a wheel-chaired old lady, age towards ninety, who derived comfort from learning that she had now outlived a lifelong enemy: someone she had hated since childhood. This struck me as somewhat similar to our victory in Holland.

Statistical consolations may be projected in many ways. It does not surprise me, for instance, to hear that the birthrate among “traditional,” in the sense of church-attending, Catholics is higher than that for lapsed Catholics; and ditto among Christians generally. In no time, or very little, we will be seeing the last of “them” off, by this happy reasoning.

Orthodox Jews have overtaken their variously “reformed” co-religionists in New York City, it was also reported somewhere. While not exactly Jewish myself, I took great pleasure from this news. For it seems to me the average Orthodox Jew is a lot more Catholic than most of the “cradle Catholics” I know. God give them strength, raising their children.

To my mind, the “population bomb” already exploded. The self-righteously childless may not live to see their dark visions realized, of huddled starving masses in an ecological catastrophe. They have better: versions of self-righteous childlessness have globally prevailed. We look forward now to crashing populations, throughout the West, and wherever Western bourgeois life is imitated  everywhere, when I last checked.

The consolation here is to imagine, say, a New York with a lot of unoccupied real estate, whose radically shrunken population consists almost entirely of Traditional Catholics and Orthodox Jews, with perhaps a few carriage-borne Mennonites for additional flavor, riding through the weeds along Fifth Avenue.

Ditto Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in a Netherlands partially re-flooded by the North Sea. It will be Catholic again, at least with respect to the Christian population. They will however be substantially outnumbered by strict-Shariah Muslims.


           St. Peter Preaching in the Presence of St. Luke by Fra Angelico, c. 1433

But perhaps the “population bombers” showed more foresight than we did. For in their brief moment under the sun, they successfully twisted the entire educational, cultural, legal, and administrative apparatus of every Western society – to be sure that lives like theirs would be considerably easier for the children of the future. Or more candidly: to be sure that the children of Christians would be systematically corrupted.

Thus may the “death spiral” continue through subsequent generations. In each, “the trads” lose the majority of their children to “the culture” – to Sodom and Gomorrah and the Nanny State. In each, those “trads” retain the empty consolation that they have supplied the children for the next diminishing round.

Larger false consolations build upon these. Let me point to the frequently stated belief that we are back to the challenge we faced in the first Christian centuries. The pagan world is once again collapsing around us, but a Christian remnant still carries the torch of the first Christians.

But “we” – faithful Catholics and other “backward-looking” Christians – are not anything like the first Christians. At best, we are compromised by unavoidable participation in a decadence now of our own making. We have behind us five centuries of bloodshed and division within our own camp. That, after all, is how paganism came to be restored.

From this we may derive the alternative “spiritual” false consolations. At the back of every “traditional Christian” mind is the longing for separation from the world we find around us: from Sodom and Gomorrah and the Nanny State. It is false where it is not accompanied by a specific, individual calling to the monastic life.

The attraction of retreat to Catholic hippie communes – or let us say, “Mennonitizing” ourselves – must be seen for what it is not. It is not Catholicism. It is communistic utopianism.

Moreover, even if it were attempted, the Feds would come after us. Neither in the United States, nor anywhere else in the contemporary Western world, does the State any longer leave citizens alone. All agencies of all States are now fully pro-active, and no one is exempted from regulatory command.

It is against this background – what I believe to be these realities – that I notice George Weigels new book, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church.

Mr. Weigel himself has developed through the last three decades into an ever more astute observer, not only of ecclesiastical affairs, but of the world situation. From what I can see his basic thesis is the correct one. We are not experiencing an historical repeat. There may be historical parallels in this feature or that, but the overall case is unprecedented. Yet it calls for the same old “game plan.”

There is no alternative to evangelizing. There never was. No rearguard defense of Catholic “tradition” or “values” can staunch all the bleeding. In crass Canadian ice hockey terms: we are going into the next period down five goals, and while better defensive play might be indicated, it is not going to win the game. More fundamentally: Christ did not send out his apostles to sit on their lead, either. 

 
David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: http://davidwarrenonline.com/
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (19)Add Comment
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written by Chris in Maryland, February 09, 2013
As Jesus said - the gates of Hell can not withstand The Church. Evangelizing, not hunkering down. On the march, not in retreat.
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written by Sue, February 09, 2013
Many points here hit home, however: there is one advantage the population bombers have in their favor: they hold control of the means of reproduction. One big exploding demographic is the number of (artificially conceived) children being raised by homosexual parents. This is win for the sodomites, win for the impoverished gestational mother in India, win for Big World Government. And China has set the standard to hold down reproduction amongst those deemed less fit by Big Gov. Look for this test tube reproduction to be the standard for the future and we Catholics, Mennonites, and Orthodox Jews will have to apply for parenting licenses to reproduce.
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written by Frank, February 09, 2013
Mr. Warren, the hockey analogy is anything but crass and all together very relevant and true to the mark. reminding me of a scene in the movie "Miracle." Coach Herb Brooks tells his young US hockey team that to play against the Soviets, you don't just defend against them but take their game and shove back into their face. The team that can do this has the best chance of taking them down. Accordingly, when the Church finally decides to go on offense beginning with the excommunication of Biden, Pelosi, Cuomo, Sibelius and other high visibility Catholic politician elected to office advocating the horrors of abortion and the evil of gay marriage, then and ONLY then do we being to reverse that five goal deficit. And let there be no doubt whatsoever, the political blowback will be as if we were playing hockey...it will be a full contact engagement with the powers of darkness. But do we NOT have Christ's eternal promise that the gates of Hell shall NOT prevail against the Church? Bring it on, let's "drop the puck!"
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written by deflated, February 09, 2013
Wow. That's hard hitting. And probably correct. It hits me right where I live. I have been debating whether to buy Weigel's new book. I think I had better. Maybe it will help pull me out of the slump I am in.
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written by Randall, February 09, 2013
In case any of us have forgotten, our current pope chose his name Benedict after St Benedict, who was a shining light in Europe's Dark Age. Like Mr Warren, the pope also understands the situation we find ourselves in.
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written by Manfred, February 09, 2013
Exactly which "Catholicism" would you suggest we use for evangelization? The "Catholicism" which elected Pres. Obama twice? The "Catholicism" which encourages contraception, abortion and aberrosexual "marriage"? The first order of business is for the Church hierarchy (yes, unforunately we still must rely on those feckless individuals WHO REALLY HAVE NOTHING TO SAY) to ENFORCE what the Church "has always and everywhere taught". Absent this, every one is responsible for their own salvation, as they have been for the last fifty years. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) was an attempt at a start in this direction.
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written by Other Joe, February 09, 2013
Excellent observations. One may look for irony in the play of history. At the very moment of their triumphal parade, the secular humanists are about to be made largely irrelevant by the ever wider applications of Shariah. If the 20th Century was the trial of materialism, the Twenty-First is shaping up to be about belief.
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written by Grump, February 09, 2013
What is "not exactly Jewish" ? That anything like not exactly pregnant?
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written by David Warren, February 09, 2013
I used the qualifier "trad" fairly loosely, above, to avoid sentence after sentence of legalistic contortions, but yes, Manfred, one must now specify. Challenged, more than once, on what kind of Catholic I think I am, I have learnt to fall back on the adjective, "Roman." And to the supplementary question, "Yes, but what faction?" I try, "The same one as the pope."

The long desert crossing ahead of us, seems all but inevitable to me. But look on the bright side. We're already a half-century in, & we have Christ for our guide.
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written by WSquared, February 09, 2013
Manfred, not the "Catholicism" you describe (that you correctly put in scare quotes), but Catholicism that is authentic: one that knows who Christ truly is; one that knows that the Church is founded and formed through, with, and in Christ, and one that knows that the individual finds his or her true identity in Christ. The thing is, the culture-- and any number of sundry hippie-commune utopian reactions to it-- likes to think in extremes. Catholicism is neither of those things. And speaking of the culture corrupting Christians and their children, here's a pertinent example: anyone notice how much our supposedly "Christian" culture likes talking a whole lot about Jesus, and even the cross, but also likes emptying that Cross of Christ's suffering? That's a "Christianism" that may well claim to love the Cross, but it arguably can't handle the Crucifix.

Catholic identity and tradition are important, but in so far as they tell us who we are and what we believe with clarity and without compromise. And not only does it convey what we believe without compromise, it also lovingly conveys to us what the Church provides us with that makes living the Way, the Truth, and the Life without compromise possible. In other words, we have to go back to the fundamentals of the Sacramental Life; what it actually means to be Catholic. Authentic Catholicism is willing to learn time and time again how to think with the Crucifix. One of my favorite quotes from G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy" is that the cross is the only symbol that can keep its essential shape while being extended in all directions. It breaks out. In other words, the Cross-- and the Crucifix in particular-- necessarily thinks outside of the box. ...whether that box be imposed upon us by others, or whether it be one of our own making.

And speaking of boxes of our own making, I do wonder if it can be difficult to think outside of those boxes when many Catholics in the United States come from families whose forefathers came from countries that had Catholic cultures. Thus, being Catholic can be wrongly construed as just a family tradition, or one's ethnic heritage (didn't the last essay on the Kennedys at TheCatholicThing refer to this?) rather easily. In other words, "Everybody Knows" that the Irish are Catholic, the Italians are Catholic, and that Poles and Hispanics are Catholic, but the proverbial "everybody" knows this only in a very superficial way. People within those ethnic groups themselves often know that they're Catholic only in a rather superficial way: that their parents were Catholic, their families were Catholic, their folks back in the old country were Catholic, they themselves were "born and raised Catholic, and went to Catholic school all their lives." They don't know why they're Catholic, they're just Catholic, they suppose. This is not to criticize or condemn anyone, only to point out that each and every Catholic, no matter his or her background, often has to learn how to be Catholic all over again as he or she learns how to embrace the faith and grow in it.

In the U.S., it's also not uncommon for someone who claims to have been "born and raised Catholic" and "been to Catholic school all their lives" to think they've had "more religion classes than the Pope" without knowing a jot about basic Catholic theology or even the basics of what Catholics profess to believe every Sunday Mass (or even to know that Joseph Ratzinger is one of the most formidable theological intellects of the 20th Century). The catch is that one doesn't just study the faith; one lives it, but more to the point, one also thinks with it. And the the fundamentals are all there in both forms of the Mass, if one knows where to look and how to focus (which is why I thank Benedict XVI for "Summorum Pontificum"). There's therefore also a sense of participatory knowledge that only comes from active practice and an active prayer life (that Brad Gregory actually refers to in "The Unintended Reformation") that needs to be recovered, not just among Catholics in name only who are really secularists for all intents and purposes, but also any "trads" who are tempted to think that the solution is not only to circle the wagons to keep the "barbarians" out, but to dig a rather deep moat around the whole thing.

Mr. Warren is spot on. Curiously, I'd been reading Fr. Dwight Longenecker on something similar: namely, the primitivism that is in the very bones and structure of American Protestantism. Google it; there are some very real parallels to be drawn.

Furthermore, Catholic identity and Catholic tradition are not to be hidden behind or approached as though "following all the rules" necessarily makes one "pure" and certainly a better Catholic and purer than everyone else (yet another reason why the Crucifix is a challenge and a provocation-- not just to those who aren't Catholic, but perhaps especially to those of us who profess to be Catholic). For, if we do not have love, we have nothing. But far from an emotion, love is an act of the will. And it is dogma, doctrine, and discipline that shows us what form "God is love" actually takes-- namely, the Incarnation.
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written by Maggie-Louise, February 09, 2013
"being Catholic can be wrongly construed as just a family tradition,"

We used to say, "God has no grandchildren."
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written by Manfred, February 09, 2013
Post Script: FALSE COMFORT is an excellent and timely title.
Three retired businessmen of my acquaintance from various backgrounds died in the last nine months and none of them had a funeral. Drinks, finger foods, eulogies yes-no religious service. A friend of mine since 6th grade,a former altar boy who had not attended Mass in decades and forbade his wife to, just died rather suddenly from cancer. I urged his timid wife to have a priest come (he had waved a priest off in the hospital) and she did, but by the the time she called her husband was in his final coma. He could not confess and he could not receive the Eucharist. The priest could only apply Holy Oil and pray.
You see, when some Church leaders give the laity the impression that everyone might be saved (Hell and the truth that souls go there are de Fide), the laity takes FALSE COMFORT and drops its guard. The result is eternal punishment. BTW, it is reported by Saints who have received the vision of Hell that the lost curse the people who led them or enabled them to go there. Ideas have consequences as well as casualties. Each of us has to strive everyday to enter "through the Narrow Gate". Amen
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written by Bob Schwartz, February 10, 2013
I am new to this site, but am very impressed by the comments above. Please please can our bishops start acting like men, and clearly and forcefully articulate the basics of our faith, and jettison the politically correct nonsense that hangs like smog over our culture?
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written by Pilgrim, February 10, 2013
David:

I too have comforted myself with hope-bromides that were halfheartedly presented to myself and others. From our current vantage the view is grim. We are trapped between rabid secularists and fanatical Islamists in the culture war for Western and world dominance. Catholic baby-boomers left the Church, for all intents and purposes, in droves. Their children and grandchildren were never brought up in it (baptized at most). At least the younger generations have no anger against the Church like their parents, they are "just" totally ignorant and indifferent. True believers are a beleaguered remnant. Anyway, these generations are collapsing demographically. Islamic immigrants have more children. They may generally have smaller families than before but "the last man standing" wins the prize. Either way, believers are in for a rough ride.
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written by Armando Guerra, February 10, 2013
I totally agree and I think most of us fall into this false type of comfort once in a while. The blogger should have added something about real comfort, like the fact that the war was already won for us 2000 years ago and that no matter what state this world is on, the choice is there for us to follow Him.....all we have to do is pick up our crosses.
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written by Graham Combs, February 10, 2013
Was the Catholic ghetto really a ghetto? Recently I keep thinking of the first Catholics I ever met. I was an eight year old boy from Kentucky experiencing my first Detroit winter. Although woefully ill-equipped for the weather, the teachers forced me to shiver in the very long 15 minute outdoor recesses. Things did not look promising. The first family to invite us into their home were Italian Catholics. It was a First Communion party. I can't imagine what they thought of my three sisters and I -- at that time attending our mother's Southern Baptist church. But I've never forgotten them. I hope the new evangelization or whatever one want's to call it is about more than RCIA recruiting. If it's about numbers or demographics it won't work. If it is about example then we have a chance. Again I'm not only talking about good works. My impression remains that the Church, or at least many archdioceses (it seems that the bishops are more orthodox and outspoken in the smaller dioceses) are far more interested in being accepted by, even allied with, the institutional establishment whatever its character or values. If I were a member of the small Diocese of Marquette for example, I would wonder just what the Archiocese of Detroit was doing for decades as the City of Detroit buckled under corruption, dysfunctional, ignorance, disease, and the end of the family into its current accelerating crisis today. I see and hear little that is encouraging.
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written by Blake Helgoth, February 10, 2013
We must turn to deep prayer (mental prayer - as St. Theresa of Avila would call it). Only then will we be the apostles of the Lord. We can learn all the doctrine and study all the rubrics we want, but if we are spending time on our knees, it is all for not. Our Lord has a plan and it is much better than whatever we can concoct via committee. If we turn to Him he will transform us so He can send us forth on that mission. If, however, our Catholicism remains largely an intellectual pursuit, or just a matter of some pius devotions, then woe to us - for apart from Christ we can do nothing.
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written by Matt, February 10, 2013
Mr. Warren states that “there is no alternative to evangelizing.”. I would argue that there is an alternative already underway for some time.

It is the false hope of pursuing an “Agreeable Evangelization”; to talk around, minimize and even ignore the hard truths of the faith while attempting to make a case for it.

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written by anthonymixan, February 11, 2013
I wonder,has ecuminical movement contibuted to religious indifference;I think it has,alas.

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