Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Crisis Inside the Church

Rod Dreher at The American Conservative has written about the Scandal in St. Louis and mentions me and some of the things I've posted recently here.

Rod's concluding sentences speak directly to the spiritual turmoil I now find myself in ...

It is very, very hard to walk the tightrope between cynicism and credulity; I struggle with this every day. The problem is when you don’t struggle at all. Hardcore cynicism is a different kind of Big Lie.

Rod says this, speaking as a man whose faith took a direct hit from the horrors he discovered when investigating the Sex Scandal in the Catholic Church - which is something he did as a journalist, in depth and at length.  Learning the truth that he learned - a truth that most of us are unwilling to face - separated him from the true-believers who commit themselves to clericalism at all costs (a Big Lie), but also put him in the dangerous position of giving in to something that was cynical and bitter - "a different kind of Big Lie".

In fact, one of the commenters in Rod's post makes the very natural Protestant claim that if Catholic Bishops are, in most cases, either cowards or scoundrels, and if the people they shepherd are generally no better, then why would any Catholic believe anything the Church teaches?  How can a Christian leader - a successor to the Apostles - teach infallibly on Faith and Morals if he's buggering the altar boy or covering up for priests who do?  Or - even worse - if he's complicit in such crimes, and then cooperating with lay Catholics who shame and ostracize the victims when the victims come forward, sacrificing children and families for personal status and position.  (Which may or may not be happening in the Fr. Jiang case, but which has certainly happened again and again in the Church during the course of this past decade.)

We as Catholics know that Christians Behaving Badly is in fact part of what the Church tells us to expect.   And, if we're honest, we'll admit that we're very much a part of that problem - each one of us.  But the Church also tells us, quite emphatically, that the whole point of it all is for Christians to Become Like Christ.  Yes, we're sinners and we need a savior.  No, that savior will not be content to leave us steeped in sin.  In fact, the whole point of it all is personal sanctification (becoming holy - which, in a sense, is the Kingdom), both for our own sake and as a witness for the sake of our neighbors.

Elsewhere Rod compares the temptation to cynicism for post-Scandal Catholics to what Europeans went through after the Great War ...

The point to grasp here is not that “glory,” “honor,” “courage,” and “hallow” have no meaning. The point is that the experience of the Great War was so horrific and so searing that in its wake, many people could not hear those words un-ironically. That is, those words had been used to conceal so much horror that their very invocation was not only hollow, it was almost a taunt.

Dreher says that, in the same way that shell-shocked Europeans in 1918 began to think that "glory" "honor" and "courage" were fancy words used to excuse and cover for the horrors that had been unleashed from the human heart, so someone who squarely confronts the Abuse Scandal can suspect that "holiness" "priesthood" and "sacraments" can serve as lies that distract us from the depravity that's all around us, the stench of which is merely masked by incense.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying that concepts like “holiness,” “priesthood,” “sacrament,” “bishops,” and so forth are empty. I don’t believe they are, any more than I disbelieve in the existence of glory and honor. It’s just that whenever these things are talked about and invoked, I reflexively become skeptical, fearful, and guarded, and I hold back. I hold back a lot.

And the problem is that, although we can keep reminding ourselves that what the clergy willfully does does not invalidate what the clergy (seeming against its will) teaches, nevertheless this is an incarnational Faith, sacramentally conferred not by word alone but by living fleshed-out examples, taught primarily by the witnesses to the Faith, the living lay and clerical Christians around us.  Dreher quotes Pope Benedict ...

The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb.

What a beautiful quote!

And yet how many saints do we see around us, say, in the typical suburban parish?  We may see parents and grandparents making supreme sacrifices of love in their personal lives; we may see soldiers and businessmen doing the same - but generally not for Christian reasons, and not as a conscious expression of their Faith.  And if we happen to have a pastor who pushes a kind of benign pagansim (as many of them do), or who secretly is into a kind of perversion and depravity that is - even today - difficult to imagine and impossible to describe, then it may be that we find ourselves surrounded by Catholics who don't know their Faith, who don't read the Bible, who would resist what the Church teaches if they ever heard what that actually is, and who have chosen a pop culture Barabbas over the Son of Man crucified for their sakes - and who all might be led by a man whose perversion is unimaginable and who is kept complacent in his sins by a clerical culture that condones and enables it.

So the witness of sanctity is scanty.  As to Catholic or even Protestant art - well, where is it?  It's certainly not in architecture, music or literature these days.

Of course it once was.  Shakespeare, the greatest writer of all time, created masterpieces that were profoundly Christian and indeed quite Catholic.  And there are plenty of saints of the past, even the not too distant past.  And plenty who are still living - though they are usually not where we would expect to find them.

In brief - we're in a crisis the extent and depth of which we cannot imagine.

The only solution to this crisis are the two things Pope Benedict mentioned - personal sanctity and the restoration of Christian culture.

And neither can happen without death to sin and rebirth in Christ - even when all the world and almost the whole Church counsels against that very jarring and radical concept.

But without Him we can do nothing.  (John 15:5)

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