It’s like this (chronicles)

Yes, yes, gentle reader, there are subtexts everywhere. Sometimes I am answering voices offscreen. There are lines, lines between lines, and lines between those. Just now, an email has accused me of “talking to myself.” Add that to my private conversation. More than one has told me I am batfeathers insane. Always a possibility.

A couple of weeks ago Elizabeth Scalia, pretty much my favourite Benedictine Oblate, set a challenge for all her fellow Catlicks on the Internet. It was to explain why we are staying in the Church — in light of a recent, discouragingly thorough, Pew poll, that showed a general evacuation. There seems to be a symposium on the topic over at Patheos, and a hashtag over at Twitter, and other evidence of a bandwagon. I have cast my eyes over many of the short essays this request has elicited; let me take my turn, speaking to myself.

There are any number of “subjective” criteria, and they change with the hours and seasons. It is still possible to “feel good” about being Catholic, and I have no serious objection to most of the ways, at least “in principle.” But these are decorations, and at the present time, in the present place, I find many of the decorations the opposite of inspiring.

Let me give just one example: “How I would like a Church that is poor and for the poor.” Whoever said that put his finger on something that revolts me about the contemporary Catholic Church: the puffball posturing.

I am poor myself, and I live among the poor of Parkdale, by the undemanding standards of urban, bourgeois Canada; I have travelled among the actually poor, in poor countries. I have no sentimental feelings about them, as a class. The poor are as bad and irritating as the rich, and both are, if possible, as bad and irritating as the “middle class.”

Rather, I would like a Church that is for sinners. I would prefer it to be spiritually rich, and even materially rich for the sake of the poor — who, in the Mass, can enter into splendour. I am with Mary and against Martha on this point: our churches should pour out the nard to anoint Christ’s feet. And let the widow’s mite help to pay for this. Let Judas be embarrassed.

Yet I will not disparage Martha, and the life of action in addition to the life of contemplation. I would like a Church that embraces poverty — a holy poverty — not only for prayer in its most direct form, but to the end of serving those in need, of all denominations and of none, and whether or not they are charming. We surrendered all of our schools and hospitals and shelters (et cetera) to the Nanny State, which can’t afford to run them at full union wages. None can flourish without volunteer and underpaid labour, and the motivation of Christian Love. The State does not like competition. But to Hell with it: let us resume the competition, underground if necessary.

Such points pertain, however, only to some lower-case “church.” Protestants and Pentecostals and Muslims and Atheists may do all these charitable things, if they have the enterprise; more power to them when they try. But the upper-case Church is not defined by such material schemes. They simply follow from what the Church is, and was designed to be, by her Founder: everything, for everybody.

I understand perfectly why people like me (the sort of people I can speak for most authoritatively) might go, or remain, outside the Church — because even after becoming a Christian, I stayed out for more than twenty-seven years.

My original intention, upon conversion, was to become a Catholic. My first attempts to join were repelled. I encountered, in England in 1976, a Church that was in the hands of “progressive” showmen. That is to say, they worshipped “progress” and not Christ. They used Christ as their excuse, and used the Church, to give themselves a pulpit. Their liturgy was intentionally ugly, and their doctrine vacuous. The hypocrisy in their lives was garish. Longing instead for the Sacraments, for Absolution, and for some theological depth, I blundered my way into High Anglicanism.

It was a mistake, a grave mistake, on my part. (Augustine and Thomas Aquinas were not Anglicans.) I was looking at the Church at one point in space and time — at a Church of which faithful Catholics could reasonably say, “I did not leave the Church, the Church left me.” I was not looking at the Church in herself, through all her extent and history. Gradually I came to understand my mistake, but remained an Anglican from the fear that defection would wreck my rather Anglican marriage. This was also a mistake. When my marriage disintegrated anyway, I was free to think again.

On the cusp of age fifty, I gave up clinging to my own mistakes.

Christ founded a Church, and for all the human flaws of her inmates, here she still is. The heritage of twenty centuries is also still in play: of a civilization now passing beyond The West, which she created — to my mind unquestionably the greatest of all the world’s great civilizations. And yet she created it merely as a by-product of Catholic attempts at Christian life; and through an intellectual order (theological, philosophical, scientific, artistic) of extraordinary, or let me say miraculous self-consistency, that follows naturally from orthodox Christian teaching.

The question then comes back to Jesus Christ. Either He was, or was not, as He claimed. Either He is, or is not, now and forever. If so, the Church follows, by His own Word, and there can be no reasonable doubt which “church” was founded by Him, and not by another.

I am thus boxed in.

A Jewish friend once told me that he was among God’s chosen people. “But if in some apocalyptic moment He told us we were no longer chosen, we would all walk.”

There are days when I remember this, and laugh. It is a fairly good description of why I remain a Catholic — not only on the good days, but on the bad, when I would love to walk. But as the late John Muggeridge used to say (my sponsor when I finally signed up), “Don’t let the bastards drive you out of the Church.”

It just isn’t an option.