David Warren reflects on Archbishop Charles Chaput's recent speech at Notre Dame, and tells those of us who claim the faith that, though time marches on, in the end, it's not a numbers game.
Nothing changes. The Christians of the first centuries had to decide whether they would bow to the divinity of Caesar. They would pay taxes, but those with courage would not bow. The same choice confronts us today, when we are asked to bow before the State’s new ideological and “gender” gods, in rejection of Christian teaching. This is not a small matter, and we must show it is not small, by refusing to do it.
Let the Church shrink; let her become more “exclusive” to those who profess a genuine Christian faith. We are not in a contest for numbers. Our strength is rather in the living Christ; and him crucified.
Archbishop Chaput's speech to which Warren refers is worth a careful reading.While many of his themes touch on our current political and cultural malaise, and how we got to where we are, it's what he tells about where we must go from here that I want to discuss.
Optimism and pessimism are twin forms of self-deception. We need instead to be a people of hope, which means we don’t have the luxury of whining.
There’s too much beauty in people and in the world to let ourselves become bitter.
Serenity of heart comes from consciously trying to live on a daily basis the things we claim to believe. Acting on our faith increases our faith. And it serves as a magnet for other people. To reclaim the Church for the Catholic imagination, we should start by renewing in our people a sense that eternity is real, that together we have a mission the world depends on, and that our lives have consequences that transcend time. Francis radiated all these things during his time in Philadelphia.
If men and women are really made for heroism and glory, made to stand in the presence of the living God, they can never be satisfied with bourgeois, mediocre, feel-good religion. They’ll never be fed by ugly worship and shallow moralizing. But that’s what we too often give them. And the reason we do it is because too many of us have welcomed the good news of Vatican II without carving its demand for conversion onto the stone of our hearts. In opening ourselves to the world, we’ve forgotten our parts in the larger drama of our lives—salvation history, which always, in some way, involves walking past St. Cyril’s serpent.
The Church and American democracy are very different kinds of societies with very different structures and goals. They can never be fully integrated without eviscerating the Christian faith. An appropriate “separateness” for Catholics is already there in the New Testament. We’ve too often ignored it because Western civilization has such deep Christian roots. But we need to reclaim it, starting now.
Catholics today—and I’m one of them—feel a lot of unease about declining numbers and sacramental statistics. Obviously we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the Church. But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter Church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness. Making sure that happens is the job of those of us who are bishops.
Losing people who are members of the Church in name only is an imaginary loss. It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay. We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight. We have nothing to be afraid of as long as we act with faith and courage.
If we want to reclaim who we are as a Church, if we want to renew the Catholic imagination, we need to begin, in ourselves and in our local parishes, by unplugging our hearts from the assumptions of a culture that still seems familiar but is no longer really “ours.” It’s a moment for courage and candor, but it’s hardly the first moment of its kind.
There's so much more there that I would encourage any interested person to read it all. Personally, I have been struggling with Rod Dreher's "The Benedict Option," the name of which was taken from the book "After Virtue" by philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. Dreher once described it (in a Dallas Morning News editorial for which I have a hard, but not electronic, copy) as follows:
In his 1981 book "After Virtue," he [MacIntyre] noted the parallels between late Rome and our own time and wrote that "a crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium."
Those men and women decided that the survival of the moral community would not be possible under the old order – so they pioneered the nucleus of a new one. They became the Benedictine monks and nuns and their followers, who spread throughout the Europe of the Dark Ages, preserving the remnants of Christian and classical virtues and laying the groundwork for the rebirth of a new civilization.
I once strongly preferred the alternative "Cincinnatus Option," battling it out in the public square to preserve the traditional virtues as part of the our popular culture. While I'm not ready yet to throw in the towel, I now tend to agree with Dreher that the popular culture is lost, and with Archbishop Chaput that while we must be people of hope, we also must be realistic. Indeed, "we don't have the luxury of whining." Divorcing ("unplugging") ourselves from the popular culture, reconstituting ourselves in smaller but stronger groups, and preserving what is the best of the Judeo-Christian culture (with the cooperation of those small cadres of fellow "true believers" among other Christian and Jewish sects), upon the fumes of which which the godless, deracinated, secular humanist popular culture has been coasting for some time to what appears to be a grim end point: this seems to me to make sense. Perhaps that is the way to eventual rebirth.
Whatever happens, no one should look anywhere other than in the mirror for the culprit.
Don't bring me your tales of temptation and loss
The rags of your dreams, your shattered cross
You see, I've heard your confession, I know just who you blame
And if you had it all back you'd just lose it again
You can't think on redemption if you ain't saved
Don't tell me your tales of temptation and loss;
Don't bing me the pieces of your shattered cross