In conversation with a young seminarian last week we were discussing the problems within the Catholic Church. My own opinion is that the problems have little to do with all the external things we focus on: choice of hymns, type of liturgy, church architecture, preaching styles, etc. etc. etc.
All these things are important, but more often than not they are symptoms, not causes. The real underlying problem in the Catholic Church (and Western Christianity) is that it has lost the reason for it’s whole existence. It can be summed up like this: too much of the Christian Church in the West has followed the secular American creed that life is about the pursuit of happiness. We want happiness in this life. We think happiness in this life is possible. We expect happiness in this life. We want to make everyone happy in this life. If this is the basic underlying belief, then it follows that we spend our lives trying to be happy and make everyone else happy.
Far be it from me to rain on anyone’s parade. I like being happy as much as the next person, and despite my curmudgeonly moments, I think I am a pretty happy and contented person. However, to put human happiness in this world as our main raison d’etre is a flawed and fatal basic assumption.
When it translates to religion we have a religion that has, as its main purpose, solving people’s problems and making people happy. So religion becomes a kind of therapy. Religion becomes a form of social work. Religion becomes a political or social campaign. Liturgy becomes a time for hugs and feel good sentiment. Church buildings become meeting halls where the hugs and feel good sentiment can be dispensed. Prayer becomes a therapeutic tool and worship becomes a time to prod and poke ourselves to see if we are happy enough, and if not, to apply yet another soothing song or listen to another humorous, warm hearted sermon.
What happens if we change the basic assumption? First of all, what if we were to accept as the most foundational premise that the supernatural exists, and that the faith is the way we engage with the supernatural world in battle? What if we were to assume that the main reason for this life is not necessarily to be happy in this world, but to prepare for the next? What if we perceive this world, not as a playground, but a battleground? What if we perceived this life as a battle between good and evil in which every decision of every day mattered? What if we were to perceive ourselves not as puppies to be pampered, but troops to be disciplined and trained for warfare? What if we were to regard this world as a place of conflict and ourselves as front line troops? What if we regarded the confessional as the field hospital where we get healed after being wounded in battle, and the liturgy as the light of a letter or a food parcel from home?
Everything would change. Seminaries would become boot camps. Sermons would focus on the strategies for battle, the seriousness of the enemy and the need for constant vigilance. Confessionals would be full with the wounded needing healing. Liturgy would be a poignant and beautiful glimpse of our heavenly home–enough to refresh us and remind us why we are fighting.
When we talk of the Church Militant this is what it means–not necessarily that we’re arming ourselves for battle against the heretics or the infidels–but that we are putting on the whole armor of God, to fight against the powers of darkness in this world.