Go forth, anyway
The Church, to my mind, has a profound problem, which she has had from her beginning, & yet it could be mistaken for a modern problem. She aspires to convert & inspire all folk, & has within herself the means to reach into the heart of every human culture. But in practice, the pews are empty, & the people stay away. There may have been times when the pews were full, but possibly they were full only in practice. For in the testimony we receive from every generation, so many were, in spirit, not there. They would go off & act just as if they were really just a pack of angry & selfish heathen.
I have not written lately about my discouragement at several things said or done at or near the top of the Roman hierarchy. As an old Czech friend used to say, in the depths of the 1970s squalor, “Whatever they do in the Vatican, I’m staying Catholic.” Newman said as much on behalf of the faithful in the time of the Arian heresy, when the Church was apparently saved not by the big but by the little people. (See, On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine.)
Men are men, & they make very poor bishops indeed. And they are generally at their worst when they are playing to the gallery — when, for instance, perhaps out of a desire to bring in the numbers, they begin to display what I (& Theodore Dalrymple) like to condemn as “moral exhibitionism”; or otherwise adapt the message to the market; or in the old neo-conservative phrase, “define deviancy down” to make everyone more comfortable. In my view, for instance, sentences that begin, “Who am I to judge?” never end well, & oh could I go on.
It may even transpire, that men of high ecclesiastical station play at humility, waving a hairshirt about where all may see, when really they should wear it invisibly under their garments. An example would be a lord who disparages the outward trappings of his office. He may have forgotten that these trappings belong to the office, not to him, & that in the end “dressing down” is like defining deviancy down. It is to call attention to oneself, not the office.
Such things are discouraging, & yet we were instructed by our Founder, even from the Garden of Gethsemane, not to be discouraged.
For it cannot possibly do to give up the struggle, to fill the pews not only with warm bodies but with the genuinely reverent & faithful — not to some passing fashion of the times, but to Our Lord. This starts, of course, with asking God’s help with one’s own case, yet cannot end there, given the specific Christian instruction to “go forth among all nations.”
This, anyway, is my thought for the day.