Desiderata for 2012

Way back in 1989 (my, how the years fly by), I wrote an an article for the Christmas edition of the old Crisis magazine entitled “Good Guys Finish First: Ten Reasons to Smile This Christmas.” Over two decades later, I remain bullish on the Catholic Church in America for the New Year of 2012, especially if the year includes persecution and further societal decline.

That’s because the Church flourishes in bad times. Why? Because it is the answer to humanity’s problems, which are in their roots moral. No country can flourish or perhaps even survive if it kills its babies, indulges in pornography as its favorite entertainment, and neglects to protect the institution of marriage.

But, “bullish” as I am, my optimism needs some elaboration. The good news for the Church in America and, indeed, in the world is that the sequential pontificates of Blessed John Paul and Pope Benedict have dealt a death blow to the Long Purgatory afflicting the Church from the close of Vatican II. 

In another piece written some years ago, I suggested 2030 as the target year for a generally healthy Church running on all spiritual cylinders in our country. I projected this recovery because the authentic teaching of the Second Vatican Council is gradually being revealed, enforced, and practiced.

Bl. John Paul saw a “new spring time for the Church” and a new civilization of love and truth in the new millennium. Pope Benedict on the other hand has posited “a small creative minority” of members of the Church, at least in Europe and what was known as the West. Which prophetic view will be correct (or whether in fact they are both aspects of the same reality) will become apparent in the decades ahead.

America’s first Mass in St. Augustine, Florida, 1565

So what does the Church in the United States need right now, in 2012? Here are some suggestions, in no particular order:

1. Large numbers of new priests who will celebrate the Holy Mass reverently, spend hours in the confessional, preach the evangelizing and life-giving truth to the faithful, and strive in their prayer and ascetical life to imitate the Holy Cure of Ars.

2. Thousands of men and women religious who will bear witness to the eschatological life by their poverty, chastity, and obedience and – by the habits they wear in public – will give glory to God and attract additional vocations. This includes those in monasteries who spend their lives in prayer.

3.  More bishops who put their interior and ascetical life before anything else (including meetings and dinners), so that they can be true spiritual fathers to their priests, shepherds to their flocks, and examples of holiness and sound preaching. These bishops should also be willing to firmly discipline those Catholics-in-name-only, who operate in the public square and give scandal to the faithful and our fellow citizens.

4. A laity that takes seriously Vatican II’s universal call to holiness and evangelization through their family lives, friendships, and presence in workplaces and public affairs. The local parish is very much in last place. It exists to provide opportunity for worship and reception of the sacraments, Catholic formation and catechetical education. Ideally it should be a launching pad to change the world, not a place to hide from it.

5. Truly Catholic colleges and universities. In fact, I hope by this time next year that they all qualify for favorable mention in the list of Catholic colleges maintained by the Cardinal Newman Society, even if their average SAT scores and college athletic rankings decline. (As it happens, the Angelic Doctor does not mention these in his Summa theologiae as necessary for salvation.)

6. A Catholic laity prepared to be confessors and/or martyrs for the faith in the decades ahead in our country. Ah, you say, it can’t happen here! I reply: You bet it can!  For the vast majority of us it would be the quickest if not the most comfortable route to canonization. The best way, however, is to live your family, professional, and spiritual lives so faithfully and attractively that the many hundreds of people you know are drawn to wonder what you have that they don’t, and then to receive from you the reply, “I am a Catholic.” That should generate the response, “How can I become one too?”  And then you can bring them to Christ and his Church through your local parish. That is how the Church spread from 64 to 312 A.D. among the first Christians, who exercised a one-to-one, family-to-family apostolate to the pagans around them, and gradually converted the Empire. It is due to their perseverance that we are here.
7. As long as we are wishing boldly, a newly elected, well-formed devout Catholic president would help, as would Catholic voters, judges, and legislators who strive to live both their public and private lives according to the moral and social teaching of the Church. If that were to happen . . . well, we might find ourselves in a truly exceptional country of citizens attempting to order their lives according to the natural law and divine revelation, and respecting human dignity from conception until natural death. We might, in fact, become what our American founders intended, “a shining city on a hill.”

Happy New Year!

Fr. C. John McCloskey (1953-2023) was a Church historian and Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute.