You know this line from the Letter to the Ephesians: “our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”
In this election season, there are many intelligent well-meaning people doing their all for their party, but the arguing and reasoning is getting drowned out by venom and untruths, a sure sign that there is more going on than meets the eye.
We might start out with the inability of the U.S. Church to respond authentically and maturely to the culture of the Enlightenment. Then there is the culture of modernism that dislikes anything from the past to such an extent that people can be regarded as cultured without even knowing what they reject.
Underlying the weakness of institutions to function is the sinfulness of individual human beings, of course, and the effects of their sin, which fog minds and retard authentic actions. The struggle of people who desire and work for the good, not an imagined good but the good that can be argued for from divine revelation, has to be seriously grounded in prayer and fasting. As the Holy Father said to the Catholics in Ireland – in what is, after all, a parallel situation with the Church in the United States:
I ask you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal . . . I encourage you to discover anew the sacrament of Reconciliation and to avail yourselves more frequently of the transforming power of its grace.
Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, and in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted to this purpose. I ask parishes, seminaries, religious houses and monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that all have an opportunity to take part. Through intense prayer before the real presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for . . . sins . . . that have done so much harm, at the same time imploring the grace of renewed strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful.
Two or Three Gathered in My Name by James Tissot, c. 1890
I say that our situation is parallel in some ways to the Irish Church because many U.S. Catholics have willingly hived off into what I might call the U.S. Cultural Catholic Church. Even if they still call themselves Catholics – and to some extent still are – they have weakened the Body, just as abusing Catholics, lay and ordained, in Ireland brought the Irish Church low.
Let’s not fool ourselves that abuse is only done by clergy. Many people in Ireland as here have allowed abuses to happen or actively supported them. If we expand the notion of abuse, then likewise the Cultural Church in America simply follows the most decadent aspects of American culture (which are denials of Catholic truth), while retaining the sacraments and holding the bishops mute and ineffectual.
The U.S. Cultural Catholic Church has condoned or actively participated in a myriad of intrinsically evil actions while less than half of American Catholics work hard at leading good lives and avoiding sin. The U.S. Catholic Cultural Church exists as a kind of metastasis of the Catholic Church in America and has paralyzed the Catholic Church and hindered its ability to speak to the nations.
The U.S. Catholic Church is being shown, day in and day out, just how much it depends on the grace of God for its mere existence, paralyzed as it is by the sins of so many of its members, both lay and ordained. The only response to sin is prayer, fasting, and the sacraments so that perhaps God will restore his Church.
All of this reasoning is founded on the special kind of unity that Christ constituted in the Church. Vatican II explains: “if one member endures anything, all the members co-endure it, and if one member is honored, all the members together rejoice.” But then too: “the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal.”
So by baptism we are very much obliged to carry the burdens of our brothers and sisters, and to be carried by them in our turn. And for the good of society we must repent for them and for ourselves.
So as the psalmist sang about the First People of God: “O LORD, our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, though you punished their offenses. Exalt the LORD, our God; bow down before his holy mountain; holy is the LORD, our God.” Then perhaps we can win this struggle that is not simply against flesh and blood!