One wonders whether, when the Son of Man returns to Earth, He will still find faith.
This is a good question from many angles, here in the West, where we watch the Church continue an historical implosion that can be documented in the starkest terms. The churches have been emptying and closing, the seminaries ditto, and what is most alarming, the dwindling patient grasps neither the seriousness of her condition, nor its cause.
I gather this whenever I hear statements from Central – from the diocese, or from Rome – that employ the rhetoric of “renewal,” cast usually in rather uninspiring, mechanical, and bureaucratic language.
Yes, there are small places where genuine renewal is occurring, in the rediscovery of the Church’s ancient liturgy and teaching. Lex orandi, lex credendi: the two go together.
But that is not what Central is preaching. And here the media are not to be blamed, for if it were so preaching, we would most certainly hear about it. For the media would be attacking it furiously, and blackguarding the pope and bishops the way they currently attack the archbishop of San Francisco for making a Catholic stand.
There are, indeed, points of confrontation within the Church, sufficient to suggest the story is not over and the future is not set. I will mention the three largest of which I am aware:
1. The synod on the family, scheduled for October, promises a direct clash between those “traditionalists” wishing vigorously to uphold and encourage the human family as it has always been presented in Catholic teaching; and those “progressives” who wish to focus instead on supposedly new issues of sexuality, and permit what was never before permitted.
2. An unusual jubilee “year of mercy” has been declared, beginning just after, in which for the first time the focus is not on the life of Our Saviour, but on an abstract idea. Murmuring about the effect this has, in transferring Christian attention from Christ, to the “agenda” of a charismatic pope, is increasing.
3. More immediately, we will see the publication next week of an encyclical under the pre-announced title, Laudato Si. It will be on environmental as opposed to spiritual issues, and will be released in the company of United Nations officials with vested interests: worldly powers that have shown themselves in the past to be no friends to Holy Church. Controversy must follow.
Under each of these heads vastly more could be written. For instance, the encyclical will be released in several languages, but the definitive Latin must wait. This is not a minor matter for a Church that previously thought in Latin. Now it thinks in a babble of vernaculars, and the Holy See actually employs educated Lutherans to fix up an “official” version, after the fact – and thus after the various hack versions have been bandied about the blogosphere.
It is a further “sign of the times” that many even among the better educated see no problem in this. It is over their heads. They will not stop to consider the implications of a papacy progressively losing touch with the actual content of Church teaching through the centuries, and thus condemned to an increasingly frivolous “dialogue” with the Zeitgeist.
It is the sign of a Church losing her grounding, her continuity and consistency, her balance – in a world that is, if I may be so colloquial, full of alligators. She becomes a Church not merely retreating, but disappearing, one unreliable prelate at a time.
There are many proximate causes of the collapse we have seen – the objectively demonstrable collapse – that has been the major feature of her life in “the spirit of Vatican II.” And these are increasingly met, in Rome itself, with willful declarations to the effect that “we can’t go back, we can only go forward.” The generals who took this attitude through history all came to grief.
Let me give what I think the primary example, brought home to me last week attending Mass, while traveling. Granted I’ve been “spoilt” by practices in my own parish church, where the Vetus Ordo predominates.
I refer to the sacrilege of taking the Host in the hand. This is the “new normal,” even though the Church still formally teaches that only consecrated hands should touch it. Now the Body of Christ is itself being passed hand to hand, often from the unconsecrated to the unconsecrated – who would not think of kneeling.
This contributes to an environment in which other forms of reverence are neglected, or even where still practiced, deemed unimportant.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said that the sight of people taking Communion in the hand was “the saddest thing in the world.” She was deadly serious, and she had seen “sad,” living daily in the face of horrors, in the shadow of the valley of death. This was her walk, her calling: yet she had seen nothing more sorrowful than this.
Let me explain this, plainly. The person who takes Communion in the hand cannot possibly appreciate what that Host is. He is taking Christ lightly. The best you can say is that he is an ass. And the horrible truth is that we have bishops who encourage this practice.
Yet where bishops fail, Christ will not fail us. And as a soi-disant “traditional” Catholic – as if the faithful within the Church could be reduced to a party, or faction among other factions – I do earnestly believe that Christ will not abandon His Church.
Serious questions are now being raised about who is worthy to take Communion: whether it may be taken by those not absolved from mortal sins. But the questions are raised against a background wherein the Eucharist is already casually profaned.
Hope, divine, against glib worldly hopes: this is our calling.
I cannot know how genuine restoration will come; only that it must come at a time and by ways we were not expecting.