Noli impedire muisicam

 

Noli impedire musicam

Lenin – who gave the world the socialist murder machine formerly known as the Soviet Union – loved music when he was in exile. Once he returned to Russia, to spark the Bolshevik Revolution, he said he couldn’t much listen to music anymore: “It affects your nerves, makes you want to say stupid nice things and stroke the heads of people who could create such beauty while living in this vile hell.”

There was, is, and always will be a kind of radical Lover of Mankind who will sacrifice saying “stupid nice things” and even actual living people to some harebrained scheme that makes our fallen world still more vile. But there’s a lesson here, even for us in well-off, tolerant-to-a-fault societies, who may be tempted to think that our whole lives should be consumed by cultural, political, or spiritual wars.

People in a position like mine may be especially susceptible to this temptation, which is why active measures, in a different key, are necessary. I myself try to play the piano at least a half-hour every morning because it reminds me – if not necessarily people in the house who have to listen – that God’s Creation is a harmony, a discordant harmony to be sure, but a definite concord of creatures, not perpetual warfare.

Many people send me books, good books, about our current turmoil. I appreciate these, but as someone always engaged in heavy reading for several book-writing projects of my own, often can’t get to them or even acknowledge the favor. But a generous TCT supporter gave me a book at dinner this week that has captured my attention: Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers by Patrick Cavanaugh, a conductor who is also director of the Christian Performing Arts Fellowship.

It’s a succinct and clear account of the religious beliefs of twenty well-known classical composers, from Bach to Messiaen – and many greats in between, a wonderful record of how close music and spirit have been, until very recently, in Western culture.

The great Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, had no difficulty in seeing God and music intertwined. As he once said, “Music’s only purpose should be for the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.” A humble, if prodigious, musical worker (he famously walked 200 miles to hear then-celebrated organist Dieterich Buxtehude), he regularly put J.J. (Jesus Juva– “Jesus help”) on the page before composing.

There were similar examples in the same period. A servant stumbled in on Georg Friedrich Handel just as he finished writing the Hallelujah Chorus for the Messiah, and found him in tears: “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.” (Incredibly, if you discount divine inspiration, Handel had produced the 260-page score of this evangelization in sound in just twenty-four days.)

*

These musicians were quite at peace and confident in their Christian faith. Kavanaugh doesn’t much write about the times in which they lived. But it’s significant that they could attribute their works to God’s gifts, despite the fact that their lives overlapped with several of the major anti-Christian figures of the Enlightenment such as Diderot, Hume, and Voltaire. You won’t read that in most mainstream accounts of our roots in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

Bach and Handel were, of course, Protestants, but it’s striking and little known how many of the greatest classical composers have been Catholic (in varying degrees) over the centuries: Haydn (the most steady and orthodox of them all), but also Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt, Chopin, Bruckner, Gounod, Dvorak, Elgar, Messiaen. (Stravinsky, perhaps the greatest 20th-century composer – was Russian Orthodox – but wrote a Mass and other sacred music.) Despite their differences, they were virtually all united in believing that inspiration came from and returned praise to the Creator Himself.

The great modern Catholic poet Paul Claudel was fond of the phrase Noli impedire musicam (“Don’t impede the music”), a rather loose translation of Sirach 32:5 about not gabbing during a feast when there’s music playing. He suggested it had a larger meaning: that we often mar the natural music in the world with our self-important preoccupations.

There’s much talk these days about that mysterious phrase from Dostoyevsky, “Beauty will save the world.” St. John Paul II and Alexander Solzhenitsyn have given us some valuable reflections on that theme.  And there’s this from Benedict XVI:

The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes, so that later, from this experience, we take the criteria for judgement and can correctly evaluate the arguments. For me an unforgettable experience was the Bach concert that Leonard Bernstein conducted in Munich after the sudden death of Karl Richter. I was sitting next to the Lutheran Bishop Hanselmann. When the last note of one of the great Thomas-Kantor-Cantatas triumphantly faded away, we looked at each other spontaneously and right then we said: “Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true.”

I’m not entirely convinced. Bernstein and many modern musicians seem to make the music itself into an idol, and doubt the God behind the music in whom so many of the great composers believed.

But Benedict is certainly right about how important is the “wound” that beauty inflicts on the heart – and the importance of such wounds in opening us up to realities that our arguments and logic often deal with poorly or even overlook.

Whenever I write about subjects like this, usually in the summer or other times we can breathe a little more deeply and look to larger realms, someone inevitably writes to say that I should give up aery-faery things, because what we really need is a militant political party. True, of course, to a point. We also need a Church Militant.

But I also remember Lenin – and the value of saying “nice stupid things”  – and the dangers of letting the Bolsheviks impede the music and dictate the whole agenda.

 

*Image: Joseph Haydn playing in and conducting his string quartet by an anonymous 19thcentury artist [Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna]

Robert Royal

Robert Royal

Dr. Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century, published by Ignatius Press. The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, is now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

 

The Bitter Truth about Feminism – The Catholic Thing

The Bitter Truth about Feminism

When I tell people I’m an ex-feminist, some seem shocked and offended, as if I were suggesting the world isn’t round. Others get a look of joy upon their faces, as if they’re thinking, “Oh, how wonderful that someone else feels the same way I do!”

            I’m certainly not opposed to women going to college, nor do I think women should be prohibited from pursuing their dreams, whether that means motherhood, medicine, or meteorology. As someone who lived the feminist agenda for many years, however, I can attest that giving women more access to education and careers is the mere tip of the feminist iceberg. If you dig a bit deeper, you find a soul-numbing array of lies.

            The first lie took me years to see through. Although I’d been raised in a staid Catholic household, during my junior year in college I abandoned the Faith as well as my moral principles. By the time I was in graduate school, the Women’s Liberation Movement was rumbling through campus, and one of the rallying cries was “free love.” This saying had nothing to do with the reality of the behavior, which involved engaging in loveless sex with strangers, as if it were just another ordinary activity.

            As a budding feminist, I bought into the mistaken notion that casual sex caused no harm to men, and thus it should be perfectly fine for women as well. After all, feminists were intent on leveling the male/female playing field, which meant dismantling traditions like marriage and commitment, and, in the process, encouraging women to imitate masculine behavior.

            It was emotionally painful becoming intimate with men whom I hardly knew and trying to pretend I didn’t expect a relationship – or even another date – but I assured myself that my emotions would eventually change. Despite the fact that my female friends and I kept getting our hearts broken, we didn’t arrive at the obvious conclusion, which was that feminism had it all wrong.

            Women are created by God to connect sex with commitment and love, since we know in the deepest recesses of our hearts that a baby is the obvious purpose of sexual intimacy. Since I was too naïve to see through the lie, I concluded that I had to give the new experiment more time, and I would eventually achieve true “liberation.”

            I was also ensnared in the web of the second big lie of feminism, which proceeds directly from the first. Feminists are well aware that casual sex can lead to pregnancy, even when a couple is using contraception. There simply is no device or chemical that can completely guarantee a pregnancy won’t result from sex.

            Feminists, however, don’t see this obvious fact as a good reason to avoid pre-marital sex. Instead, in their continued attempt to break the God-ordained tie between sex and babies, they propose another “solution,” one that has led to the deaths of millions of innocents since abortion was legalized.

*

            Tragically, I was one of the women who bought into this deception. I truly thought that a woman’s freedom to pursue education or a career trumped an innocent baby’s right to be born. Thus, when I found myself pregnant but unmarried, I chose what I thought would be a simple solution. In all the feminist articles I pored over – and there were quite a few – no mention was made of the emotional repercussions that so often result when a woman ends a pregnancy.

            I made the appointment at a feminist clinic, walked in, and signed the paperwork. In my mind, what was about to happen was as matter of fact as a tooth extraction. What I didn’t realize was that I was about to experience the first chink in my feminist armor, because the “procedure,” as I referred to it, was horrifyingly painful, both physically and emotionally.

            In truth, as I left the clinic that day, I felt a rush of relief because the immediate “problem” was over. What I didn’t realize was that I would be facing many years of much more serious problems, as my womanly emotions reacted with horror and regret over what had really happened that day.

            I began experiencing flashbacks and nightmares. I would see a baby in a mall and feel tears stinging my eyes. I also felt terribly alone because even my feminist friends, many of whom surely had undergone the same “procedure,” studiously avoided any mention of their own abortions.

            As the years passed, I was filled with a bitter, unending regret. No matter what the feminist pundits claimed in the scholarly articles they churned out, the truth of the matter became blatantly clear: I had taken a life and I would never quite get over it.

            When I returned to the Catholic Church in my forties, I finally freed myself from feminism’s many deceptions. I saw that it is impossible to claim to be pro-woman while also being anti-baby. I realized that in the feminist game plan, children are the big losers. And it was only through a mature understanding of Catholicism that I discovered what it means to be pro-woman in a sane and beautiful way.

            Looking at a figure of Mary gazing with love at the Christ Child in her arms reveals the truth that triumphs, once and for all, over the lies of feminism. There is a deep, abiding connection between mother and child – and taking babies away from their mothers leads to devastating results for both.

            I found forgiveness through the sacrament of Confession, and finally experienced emotional healing through a Catholic ministry called Post Abortion Treatment and Healing. The deep scars left from feminism, however, will never be completely gone.

            If I could turn back the hands of time, I would let that little baby thrive. Like millions of other women who regret their abortions, I’d give anything to gaze on the little face of my precious baby, who never saw the light of day.

 

*Image: Madonna and Child by Giovanni Bellini, 1510 [Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy] This was among Bellini’s last paintings, completed when he was 80.

Lorraine V. Murray

Lorraine V. Murray

Lorraine Murray, a new contributor to TCT, is a religion columnist with The Georgia Bulletin, the archdiocesan newspaper of Atlanta, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Mrs. Murray lives in Decatur, Ga and is the author of Confessions of an Ex-Feminist and The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey.

 

Vesting in Lavender

Vesting in Lavender

Do you remember a time, readers, when you could spend a whole day, actually a whole month, occasionally even a year, and not give one passing thought to the issue of sexual perversions?

Do you remember a time when not one liberal in a thousand would have thought it a good idea to have drag queens do story-hour for children in a public library? When people who fell into sexual perversion, or who are alleged to have done so, or who are alleged to have wanted to do so though they did not, or who are alleged to have been the sorts of people who would have wanted to do so if they had known What We Know Now, were not held up for the admiration of children, in their school textbooks?

Do you remember a time when not one liberal in a thousand would have thought that a man who said he was a woman or a woman who said she was a man was in touch with reality and not prey to a destructive fantasy or delusion?

Do you remember a time when liberals, precisely because they were liberals, held men and women up to high standards of sexual decency, and (wrongly) believed that they were capable of maintaining those standards without the ministrations of the Church?

Do you remember a time when it would not have occurred to you in a hundred years that your priest was anything other than an ordinary man, a real man, following the special call of the Lord? A man who in another life, with a different call, would have been married with a passel of children, a pillar of his community?

Do you remember a time when a priest could march alongside miners and auto workers and look like one of them, not like a breathless female reporter in the locker room of a football team? Do you remember when nobody, absolutely nobody, would have considered that a female reporter should even be in that locker room?

Do you remember a time when divorce was a scandal? I do. Do you remember a time when family-owned motels would not let unmarried people book one room instead of two? Do you remember a time when boys and girls actually dated, and when the vast territory between loneliness and going to bed as a married couple had not been strafed and scorched and left with not a single healthy custom standing – a cultural Nagasaki and Hiroshima, from sea to sea?

And now this, about Cardinal McCarrick. 
The cardinal, choosing his words precisely, says he has no memory of ever having engaged in the sexual abuse of the erstwhile young man who is now accusing him.

About that accusation I have no confident opinion, nor need I have. For when you have a gorilla in the living room, thrashing the furniture, chewing the upholstery, and defecating in plain sight and smell, you do not ask whether it was also the gorilla who smashed the light bulb.

*

The cardinal has cautiously denied one sin, while not bothering to address the thousand others. For all these years, according to witnesses at last speaking out, he has been vesting in lavender, compromising young men in his charge, including those who he made sure would see his misdeeds though they did not participate in them, and exerting all the subtle pressure of power and prestige to keep those who demurred – who did not enjoy bunking with Uncle Ted – from speaking out.

He has pointedly not said, “I have never had sexual relations with a seminarian or a priest.”
 It was a perversion of the male protective brotherhood, whose noblest and purest manifestation is the apostolic band.

Unlike those brothers the apostles, who went forth into the world to lay down their lives for Christ and the Church, these bands in our day have used the Church as a cover, and a means of procurement. They have turned the Church inward upon themselves and their essentially narcissistic and childish desires and deeds.

We should not then be surprised that the Church, in their hands, becomes contentedly anti-apostolic and anti-evangelistic. The leaders make common cause with ambitious women against their enemies: ordinary, healthy, self-assured, masculine men and the women who love and esteem them.

The Mass itself is made soft and effeminate – neither masculine nor feminine. I have often noted that every single hymn in vast repertory of Christian hymnody that has anything to do with fighting for Christ, hymns going back all the way to Prudentius and Venantius Fortunatus, has been banished from the hymnals, except for For All the Saints.

That one exception we may attribute to the need to have something or other for All Saints’ Day, and even then, in many hymnals I have seen, the lyrics are made squishy, or the stanzas with the most fight in them are simply dropped.
 These leaders are simply not interested in taking on the world.

But that is the raison d’être of the brotherhood. Men who are friends, soldiers in the field, do not gaze into each other’s eyes, melting. Your drill sergeant does not call himself Uncle Ted. He does not write lovey letters to you, after he has snuggled you into a compromise. He does not engage in spiritual bribery and blackmail.

Men who stand shoulder to shoulder – you can picture them in your mind’s eye, leaning against a fence or a car or a tank – look out in the same direction, towards the world to conquer. That has been the orientation, the direction to take, of every true leader of men the Church has known, from Peter and Paul to Benedict, from Francis and Dominic to Ignatius, from John Bosco to Jose Maria Escriva.

We have the Lord’s own choice to follow, ordaining men to form that band of brothers. Men, not just anatomical males. They might get something done.

 

*Image: The Last General Absolution of the Munster Fusiliers at Rue du Bois by Fortunino Matania, 1916. It is assumed that the painting was destroyed during the German blitz of London in WWII. Certainly the original is missing.

Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest books are Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. He directs the Center for the Restoration of Catholic Culture at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts.

 

In light of faith: Don’t wait for the young adult group to get involved in your parish , Zac Davis

In light of faith: Don’t wait for the young adult group to get involved in your parish

(A series of columns focused on and written by millennials and young adults)

By Zac Davis
Catholic News Service

Young adults are tough to minister to. We’re on the move, our peers aren’t going to church with us, and we’re most likely to sneak out of the back of the church before someone can hand us a parish registration form.

But we desperately want community — and faith-based ones especially. As we move into new phases in life, we remember fondly the bonds that were formed in our high school youth groups and campus ministry service trips.

One of the things that has surprised me most about starting a new podcast for young Catholics is how many people write in to say that just knowing there are other young Catholics out there on the other end of their headphones is a consolation for them.

Unfortunately, so many of us suffer from this awful tendency to demand a Catholic Catch-22:

Me: Heck yeah I'm a pious Catholic who wants more community Also me: no I won't join any church groups

The preparatory document for the 2018 world Synod of Bishops on youth instructs the church to “give major importance to young people’s involvement in the structures of participation in diocesan and parish communities, starting with pastoral councils, inviting young people to make their creative contribution and accepting their ideas, even when they appear challenging.”

I think the document has it right. The onus is on parishes to open up spaces for young adults to serve. But so many young adults hold back from engaging in parish life because we’re waiting for the world’s most dynamic young adult group to form before we make any first moves toward committing to a parish or community.

That’s what it was like for me.

[RelatedIn light of faith: A new CNS column]

I was nervous when I filled out the information card for ARISE, a new small-group, faith-sharing program held once a week in the home of a parishioner. I had apprehensions about not knowing anyone in the group, about being the youngest person by far, and therefore not having enough life experience to have anything meaningful to contribute.

And as I sat around George and Kathleen’s table for the first meeting, I realized those apprehensions that I had were accurate — but they weren’t at all limitations.

(CNS illustration/Nancy Wiechec)

(CNS illustration/Nancy Wiechec)

There are some things that you just can’t get at a Theology on Tap event with other 20-somethings: like being in the presence of two couples, one married for 25 years and the other more than 50, while I began a new relationship; hearing about the faith of parents and single adults; and learning that friendship can be just as much of a challenge later in life but remains fiercely as important.

Young adult Catholics suffer from lacking a community of other young adults, but we fundamentally suffer from a lack of a wider Catholic community. A parish can offer that — even without the hip young adult group.

If you’re nervous about going to a meeting or a program alone — that’s OK. See if you can find just one other person your age who would want to go with you. They could be a fellow parishioner or just someone who you Soul Cycle with and also happens to not think it’s totally crazy that you go to Mass on Sundays.

Now, this isn’t exactly a strategy for some of our peers who haven’t been active in the church for a long time, or ever. New modes of evangelization remain to be developed there.

But for those of us who have had recent experiences being a part of a church community, whether that was your Catholic high school or your college campus ministry center, we can take a courageous first step into welcoming the community that a parish can give us, imperfect as it may be.

– – –

Join the conversation. Email: inlightoffaith@catholicnews.com or comment on our Facebook page.

Zac Davis is an assistant editor for digital strategy at America magazine, where he co-hosts “Jesuitical,” a podcast for young Catholics. Find the podcast at http://apple.co/2vGECqB. He is a guest contributor for “In Light of Faith.”

 

 

 

De-homosexualizing the American Church

 

De-homosexualizing the American Church

Note: Professor Carlin makes an argument here about changing discipline on priestly celibacy that is not my own or, it hardly needs saying, that of The Catholic Thing (which takes no official positions). It’s an extreme remedy for what may soon be revealed to be an extreme problem. We publish it as a spur to conversation about the extent of homosexuality among Catholic clergy and what may be necessary to deal with it. – Robert Royal

For years I’ve been opposed to the proposal that the Catholic Church drop its priestly celibacy requirement.  I’ve opposed it for two reasons.  First, it was a proposal put forward by “liberal” Catholics. Since I believe that a drift toward liberalism is gradually ruining the Catholic Church in America, I fear that giving in to any liberal demands – even sensible ones – will further contribute to the ruination of the Church.  Second, I fear that an end to mandatory celibacy will be an awful shock to ordinary Catholic believers who want the Church to maintain its traditions.

The changes introduced by Vatican II were relatively minor, but these minor departures from tradition proved to be a tremendous shock for many Catholics, including many priests and nuns.

But I’ve changed my mind – thanks to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington DC, who was the other day exposed as a homosexual who on at least one occasion, fifty years ago, was guilty of sexually abusing a minor.  The best account of the McCarrick horror story that I have so far read was written by Rod Dreher under the title:Cardinal McCarrick: Everybody Knew.”

According to Dreher’s account, McCarrick’s sexual misbehavior was not limited to one case early in his priestly career.  Far from it.  Very far.  He engaged in homosexual seduction and conduct with young adult men – seminarians and young priests – when he was the bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey.  Dreher doesn’t tell us what happened when McCarrick rose higher in the ecclesiastical world, becoming the archbishop first of Newark and later of Washington.  I assume we’ll be hearing more of the story soon.

I don’t know how many Catholic priests are homosexual.  I doubt that anybody really knows.  I’ve read of estimates ranging from fifteen percent to fifty percent.  Everybody in a position to make an intelligent guess seems to agree that the percentage of gay priests greatly exceeds the percentage of gay adults in the general population (about 2 or 3 percent).  Of course, not every priest with a homosexual orientation is a practicing homosexual.  And since so many of our priests are elderly, it is likely that many who used to engage in homosexual conduct no longer do so.  Either the urge has waned, or they can no longer get a date.

And it’s not just that we have too many gay priests.  It’s that they form networks within the priesthood.  They stick together.  They protect one another.  They help one another advance.  The McCarrick case is a splendid example of this.

It was no secret to insiders that he was a practicing homosexual, yet this did not prevent him from climbing the ecclesiastical ladder, from ordinary priest to bishop of a minor diocese (Metuchen), and then to Archbishop of Newark, and then to Archbishop of Washington, and finally to prince of the Church.  And nobody stopped him along the way.  He was well protected.

A sub-group doesn’t have to represent 51 percent of the whole in order to dominate the entire group.  In big corporations, 10 percent ownership is often enough to win control of the whole corporation.  In the old days, a well-organized gang of fifteen train robbers could rob a thousand passengers.

The Catholic Church in the United States, it is evident, has a homosexual tilt.  If (like me) you had some doubts about this before today, the McCarrick horror story should be enough to remove these doubts.

No wonder it is a rare priest – a very rare priest – who denounces homosexuality or same-sex marriage from the pulpit.  No wonder bishops don’t fight back against the gay movement, even though this movement is every day persuading thousands of young Catholics that their religion is wrong, and has been wrong for 2,000 years, in teaching that sodomy is sinful and unnatural.

And no wonder that the Church in America puts up virtually no resistance to our culture of sexual freedom.  How can a homosexually tainted religion complain about fornication and unmarried cohabitation?  Can it even complain about adultery?

And can anybody be surprised that our Church in America is feeble in its opposition to abortion?  For if you fight against abortion, you will have to fight against sexual freedom; and if you fight against sexual freedom, you will, of course, have to fight against sodomy.  One domino after another.

And will a priest, even one who is quite definitely non-gay, be able to be a good sexual counselor – regardless of whether the person he is counseling is straight or gay – in a Church that has a “soft spot” for homosexuality?

The Church must be de-homosexualized as soon as possible.  The best way of doing this, maybe the only way, is to open the priesthood to married men, the way the priesthood has been open to married men for many centuries in the Orthodox churches.

This is risky.  It will be a shock to many old-fashioned Catholics.  It will encourage liberal Catholics to intensify their demand that the priesthood be open to women.  Ironically, it will encourage liberals to demand that the Church ordain openly homosexual men (and women) to the priesthood provided they sincerely take a vow of celibacy.

But the risk has to be run.  Not to do so would be madness.  Thanks to the exposure of McCarrick, the secret is out.  It will no longer be possible to fool the average parishioner.  We are moving in the direction of becoming a gay-dominated religion.  There are many factors, not just this one, tending to ruin the Catholic Church in America.  But this one is especially lethal.

Let us hope it is not too late.  Let us hope we still have in our midst a critical mass of courageous bishops who are untainted and uncompromised.

 

David Carlin

David Carlin

David Carlin is professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America.

 

World Over – 06-21-18 – The Papal Posse and the Latest Church News with Raymond Arroyo

The Papal Posse @ ETWN

Immigration  and Cardinal McCarrick topics for discussion and review.

The latest news from Rome, Pope Francis’ criticism of US immigration policy, and the removal of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from public ministry amid sex abuse allegations, with the Papal Posse, ROBERT ROYAL and FR. GERALD MURRAY

Why Be (or Continue to Be) Catholic? James V. Schall, S.J.

 

Why Be (or Continue to Be) Catholic?

On a recent book review TV interview program called Q/A, Ross Douthat, author of To Change the Church, was asked about his own beliefs. He responded quite frankly that he was a Catholic. When asked why, Douthat replied that, as far as he could see, a divine intervention did take place in this world around the time and appearance of Christ. He added that the essence of this intervention has been best preserved down the subsequent ages by the Catholic Church. This sensible view is one that many Catholics would also accept as valid. Indeed, probably the best way to see the divine intervention spelled out step by step is in Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth. After reviewing most of the scholarly literature on this topic, Benedict concluded that the evidence seems to show that Christ was “who He said He was.”

But few are much concerned with an intellectual understanding of the facts of the matter. Something else is going on today. Not many really seem to worry about the truth of these issues, though that is where the real drama lies. Freely to assent to truth is the heart of what it means to be civilized. In a way, however, our culture is beyond truth. We make up our own universe; the Supreme Court tells us this is our “right.” Such a development, wherein we impose our ideas on reality rather than let reality instruct us about what it is, usually means to opt for one or other current fantasy or ideology that is custom-designed to explain away things that we choose not to accept, no matter what the evidence.

Many millions of words have now been written about the meaning of the Irish abortion vote, one foreshadowed by a similar change in Quebec decades ago. In both cases, areas that had been proudly Catholic for centuries, suddenly decided to ditch its tradition in order to join the secular world, with its principles and practices. A radical change in these cultures had already taken place, as Plato would say, in the souls of the citizens of these areas. From this viewpoint, the change was not so surprising. Human order is built on fidelity to tradition and principle. It is not immune to change as if it were a material object. Indeed, reasonable change is part of its stability.

Likewise, many Catholic churches, orphanages, hospitals, and schools in Europe and America have closed. Muslims are willing to move into these edifices if allowed to do so. Many famous churches have long been national monuments or museums under government support. I read somewhere that, regarding the visiting of churches in Dublin, that the only people there were American tourists, often looking for their ancestors. While there are signs of life in various areas of the Church, a survey of the whole, to be frank, is rather bleak. Whether Scripture or tradition gives us many grounds for expecting anything too different is doubtful. Christ himself asked the disciples whether, on his return, they thought there would be faith on earth (Luke 18, 7-8). This passage is always a testimonial to the powers that are in constant opposition to what Christ put into the world.

In the past several years, I have perceived a noticeable loss of intellectual acumen that the Church had gained with John Paul II and Benedict. Many are upset by this lack of depth, especially more recent converts who came into the Church with the help of the vigorous thinking we still see from these two popes. But the main reason for the decline of Church membership is the desire to be like the rest of modern society. Many want Catholic teaching to be viewed and interpreted through a modern lens.

We no longer speak of “heretics” today. Instead, everybody is nice, with a “right” to his own opinion. Nothing is held as definite, precisely so that nothing binds. This freedom of opinion leads to everyone having mostly the same opinions, increasingly enforced by authority. Things that once seemed unchangeable are now changed or expected to change in the near future. The clergy and the bishops are not much help, as they seem—to many at least—to betray the same symptoms.

II.

In the light of these comments, and in spite of scandals and confusion in Rome, we still need to ask: “Why should we continue to be Catholic?” Much of the controversy that swirls around the Holy Father has, at its origin, the feeling that certain basic—once thought non-negotiable—principles and practices have been revoked or at least implicitly allowed to pass away. Under the aegis of finely-tuned “mercy” and “discernment,” a method has been developed that was hoped would justify this accommodation of the Church to that modernity and those of its principles that everyone seems eager to embrace.

Recent remarks and decisions, often coming from Archbishop Luis Ladaria, the current Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, however, have been more careful. We have seen a firm statement that women cannot be priests. The German formula for interfaith communion at a wedding is set aside. A renewed interest in the centrality of doctrine appears in CDF documents. These are welcome signs. However, the dubia are still not answered. Good Catholics are still seen as rigid. The papacy often appears to act in the public eye like a political party of the left. Christianity is seen mainly as a force to lead sundry crusades over ecology, poverty, and immigration, yet such initiatives are difficult to square with good economics, science, and politics.

Not a few have also pointed out that an indirect papal input in the various pro-abortion and gay marriage votes in Ireland and Portugal occurred with Catholics being advised to deal with more “important” things. Their enemies, to give them credit, do not think these issues are among the lesser important things. Many wonder whether the Church does not now see itself as simply a socio-political movement instrumental primarily in curing our temporal ills. The irony is that the methods recommended in these areas have almost invariably, when tried, made things worse. We do find considerable talk of sanctity and holiness, but again, this is often of an activist kind. The contemplative life, the life that is needed to keep our souls in touch with the transcendent, seems to be minimized.

III.

Let us ask again: “Why be, or continue to be, Catholic today?” The only sensible reason is that what the Church teaches is true to its immediate origin in divinity itself. Has the Church on any major issue contradicted its own mandate? This is a delicate point, as only the Church believes that it is the sole depository of this mandate.

In thinking about these things, I again take my cue from the “heretics” who refuse to leave the Church but stay in it to transform it, as they say, into their image of modernity. In the end, they can find no place else to go. They are already wrapped within modernity’s orbit. The effort from within to transform Christianity into modernity, to align its basic premises with those of the modern world, may seem like a plausible, shrewd tactic, and many have already made this transition.

Catholics who remain in the Church and see the Church no longer consistent with its founding purpose often find themselves perplexed. Practically no one is excommunicated for holding any position associated with modernity. They see people, in apparent good standing, in the Church, who accept and practice most of the aberrations of modern social living. Indeed, it seems like we have two Churches holding contradictory views within the same Church. The usual division between liberal and conservative is practically useless as a way to understand the difference. The issue is a matter of truth, not interpretation.

To many, both inside and outside the Church, there seems to be much ecclesiastical confusion. Upsetting new interpretations constantly appear. Previously, many considered the Church wrong, but no one thought it did not hold or articulate what it affirmed on basic points of practice and doctrine. The primary argument that the Church teaches the same things over time does not seem valid for many any longer. The same things are no longer being taught and affirmed in all dioceses, schools, seminaries, and institutions. Various attempts have been made to explain how the Church can be both loyal to its tradition and, without contradiction, accept the basic premises of modernity.

For instance, Jesus was said to look at current events and see what needed to be changed, and so he changed things according to what was needed at the time. “Loyalty” to tradition thus means doing the same for our time. First we do what needs to be done; then we develop a theory to justify it. The word “discernment” has come to mean the ability to read almost directly into temporary things or situations the action of the Holy Spirit. On the basis of what we think we discern, we can act with confidence that we are not following our own wills but that of the Holy Spirit.

Or we can say that we do not know exactly what Jesus said or did, and that he really did not lay down basic principles that needed to be maintained over time to protect the authenticity of his teaching and revelation. He was merciful and compassionate, and the best we can do is to read the “signs of the times” and accommodate ourselves to where the Spirit, in mercy and compassion, is leading us. This approach would allow us to put aside our “absolutes” and embrace the pastoral changes that the culture has already put into place.

However plausible these positions may seem, if indeed they do seem plausible, they clearly avoid facing the central issue of whether a definite revelation in Christ was to be maintained for the good of man down the ages in spite of persecution, disagreement, and other cultural conditions in other eras.

Can we continue to be Catholic today? Only if one thing remains true and upheld. Only if the same teachings and practices that were handed down and guaranteed down the ages remain the foundation of the Church. This revelation in all its ramifications is what best explains human meaning and destiny. If the substance of this revelation is not upheld, the question is no longer a merely human problem of whether or not to be loyal to a tradition. It is the breakdown of revelation itself since it is no longer credible on its own terms. The guarantee of Christ is to be with us till the end, with the central teachings and practices of his life at the center. If this content and sequence is not maintained in a living way, i.e., in a thoroughly nuanced but plain way, we have no reason still to be Catholic.

What is unusual about our time is not its opposition to or rejection of the truth of this revelation. Adversaries have been found in every era. What is new is the worry that radical changes have been made in an official way that would cause us to doubt the integrity of the original revelation. At least some of us can still affirm with Douthat that a divine intervention did take place in Christ and that it is best preserved in the Catholic Church. The same intervention also gives us the criterion for judging when the latter is not credible—namely when the Church, as guardian of revelation, clearly changes its own truths instead of uphold them before the nations down the ages. This is why contemporary writers like Douthat carefully watch for changes that take place in Rome.

(Photo credit: CNA / L’Osservatore Romano)

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Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.

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Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., taught political science at Georgetown University for many years. He is the author of The Mind That Is Catholic from Catholic University of America Press; Remembering Belloc from St. Augustine Press; and Reasonable Pleasures from Ignatius Press. His newest books include A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning and Being Forgiven (2016) and On the Principles of Taxing Beer and Other Brief Philosophical Essays (2017). His most recent books are Catholicism and Intelligence (Emmaus Road, 2017) and The Universe We Think In (CUA Press, 2018).