To Be the Balm

Over at Patheos, the Future of Catholicism Week continues. Today I was struck by the enthusiasm and optimism of Word on Fire’s Fr. Robert Barron, as he offers some advice to young priests:

Who, after all, would want to sign up for a form of life that was regularly subjected to bitter critique and that seemed, in the eyes of many, to be dysfunctional? And yet you came, and you stayed.

No one could possibly accuse you of seeking an easy life or hiding from your problems. Your very presence and perseverance in the seminary constituted, therefore, a vivid sign that God stubbornly, in season and out, calls people to the priesthood. Don’t lose the love that brought you to the seminary, or the grace that saw you through it during a remarkably dark time; instead, deepen the love, broaden it, strengthen it through that grace.
Your priesthood has a great assist in the accessibility of communications technology that men like Billy Graham or Fulton Sheen would have embraced and quickly mastered, to powerful effect. Take advantage of all of this; seize it for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus told us to preach to “all the nations,” and Vatican II specified that that the primum officium (first duty) of the priest is to proclaim the Word. Today the average parish priest has the capacity to get the message out 24/7, all around the world. Use new media pro-actively; let the Holy Spirit guide you to the allurement of God’s people — as in Hosea 2:14 — in bold and sanctifying contrast to the vast wasteland that clutters the mind and warps the soul.

You’ll want to read the whole thing, and check out the other essays, if you haven’t yet.

And don’t forget the symposium; some internet folk you’ll recognize there, each day. Here are today’s blurb-sized musings.

Related: Since the abysmal scandals of the church loom large through much of these essays, you might also want to read R. R. Reno’s piece at First Things: After the Scandals. He is, sadly, not as optimistic as others:

I don’t think, however, that the Catholic hierarchy has grasped the sociological and institutional consequences of counter-cultural status. If you’re not a player, you’re much more vulnerable: more vulnerable to being flayed by public opinion, more vulnerable to journalistic Jihads, more vulnerable to politically aware governmental officials who see that skewering bishops can advance careers, more vulnerable to angry protesters and bitter victims.

So, yes, of course the Catholic Church has brought the current scandals upon herself, with a great deal of blame going to the hierarchy. But the social impact, the lasting consequences, the feeling that a great deal it in peril? No, it’s not a function of sin within the Church, however horrifying the sexual abuse might be on its own terms. Instead, the scandals reveals a change that is part of a realignment within European societies.

Put simply: the Church has become largely disestablished on the ground, with few going to church (a social reality the consequences of which were masked, perhaps, by the remarkable charisma of John Paul II), and therefore it can no longer retain the privileges of social establishment, one of the most important of which is protection from debilitating criticism.

If I’m right about the larger dynamics at work in the current round of scandals, the Church is in for a tough season. The expulsion from the elite makes her leaders supremely vulnerable.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • P. Buchta

    From another perspective with world technology and science moving faster and faster the church is having a really hard time explaining its philosophical reasoning on major scientific discoveries and medical procedures. It has lost all credibility in this respect. Difficult times ahead indeed.

    [You're quite wrong. The church has excellent philosophical reasoning on major scientific discoveries. But if one depends upon the mainstream press and blogs to reflect them--rather than accessing primary source documents and reading them for oneself--then one would think as you do -admin]

  • Cherie

    The other day Rush was talking about elites and their need to be a part of the ruling class. I have never thought of the Church as a place for the elite only and I have not thought of the Church as being led by people with the burning desire to rule the lives of others since I became an adult. Therefore, I think it would not be a bad thing for the Church leaders not to be a part of the elite who desire to rule others by rules, laws and social connection. Rather the Church could be common, grass roots and lead by Holy example.
    And life at the top is safer, but Jesus never asked us to do what was safe or comfortable. I’m not looking forward to suffering for my faith, but if that is what God calls us to, that is where I will go.

  • Bender

    Folks were running for the exits long before news of the scandals broke. And it is disingenuous to suggest that the Church’s response is to blame. They might be an excuse, they might be a pretense, but they are not the cause.

    But aren’t we accomplishing a lot by this constant poking of our fingers into this wound, which, far from helping it to heal, only serves to make the wound fester.

  • DWiss

    With regard to R.R. Reno’s comments, I seem to remember that when Benedict XVl became pope he remarked that he envisioned a smaller Catholic Church. (I have not researched my memory to get the full context, but I remember feeling that the statement seemed ominous.) Also, I attend a weekly men’s bible study, and the very holy priest who keeps our little group from going into the scriptural ditch sometimes refers to us as “the remnant”.

    So it may be that until something happens that brings the truth of church teaching into the mainstream (again?), we’re going to spend some time on the sidelines.

  • archangel

    Not to echo DWiss, but the church will always be a remant of the overall population in the world. It will be rejected and scorned just as Jesus was. The “abuse” scandals are as old as dirt and were the bane (among other heresies)of the early saints. Remember that it took a monastic rebirth to cleanse the medieval church after 1000 AD.

    The church will survive. Jesus said so. The gates of Hell will not prevail.

  • Last Sphere

    “… in the modern world, the Catholic Church is in fact the enemy of many influential fashions; most of which still claim to be new, though many of them are beginning to be a little stale…..The Church does often set herself against the fashion of this world that passes away; and she has experience enough to know how very rapidly it does pass away. But to understand exactly what is involved, it is necessary to take a rather larger view and consider the ultimate nature of the ideas in question, to consider, so to speak, the idea of the idea. Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes. The Catholic Church has for one of her chief duties that of preventing people from making those old mistakes; from making them over and over again forever, as people always do if they are left to themselves.” – G.K.Chesterton

  • archangel

    Last Sphere…

    Which is why people who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The world is ill-advised to bet against the church; ie the Body of Christ.

    Nice quote

  • Last Sphere

    Thank you archangel.

    Chesterton specifically speaks to what I consider the heart of most of the Church’s problems today:

    The modern Catholics who seem intent on “reforming” things in the Church, whether it be the liturgy, the moral teachings, or the fundamental doctrines of the faith.

    “In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them,” says Chesterton, there are two kinds of reformers. “Let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’ …..”

  • Deacon David

    Last Sphere’s quote from Chesterton echoes my own response to Reno’s article. The Church’s privilege ought not be based on social status (though too often it has been), but on her relationship to Truth. The Church is, as it were, the world’s fool, and has the fearful privilege of speaking undesirable truth without suffering for it. Even the most hateful tyrants need this good office, if nothing else to preserve the illusion of legitimacy.

  • archangel

    To P. Buchta

    Echoing Anchoress, the church actually has a great scientific record. Many, if not most, astronomical discoveries during the time of Galileo were made by priests and religious. The issue of Galileo (which I am sure you are implying) had more to do with his dealings with the pope than with his science. That part of the story is actually more fascinating. The pope was actually willing to sanction Galileo’s findings. Galileo, for his part, was too arogant and challenged papal authority. He was excommunicated for his challenge… not the science.

    The church’s approach to science/nature has always been at the forefront while NOT making science an idol of worship. Science is used to explain the mechanisms by which God operates. That is why the THEORY of evolution poses no threat to the church. It simply is an explanation of God’s mechanism for His creation.

    Much of the discoveries regarding stem cells have also come from church sanctioned research. The church draws the moral distinction between ADULT vs embryonic stem cells taken from aborted children. That doesn’t make the church backwards.

    There’s many other examples. I will leave you to do your own leg work.

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  • Last Sphere

    To add to archangel’s point of the Church and scientific discovery, if I may:

    The primary author of The Big Bang Theory (who actually corrected Einstein’s assumption that the universe was static and not expanding) was one Monsignor Georges Lemaître. A Roman Catholic priest, a professor of physics, and an astronomer at the Catholic University of Leuven.

    Fr. Lemaître called his “Big Bang Theory” his “hypothesis of the primeval atom.”

    In this theory “time” was created during the inception of the universe. Therefore, the “intelligence” that created the universe, did so outside of time. In other words an “intelligence” known as- God.

  • Kris

    I have long feared that the Church will not lose the status she has in the world. I am shocked to say that. Yet, as I say this I realize I want the Church to return to a clear view of what she is here on earth to accomplish. We are not here to build great dynasties of real estate, social justice agencies that take tax dollars to accomplish great agendas. We are here to save souls. We want every person to arrive at eternal life ready to enter into the divine vision of God. If we have to give up everything to do this then let it be so. Do i want to live without anything and suffer, no not really. But if I have to chose between safety in the world and the state of a soul, then I pray I will have the strength that only God himself can give me, to chose the soul and give up all else. I fear we have become very worldly. We have forgotten that God makes things happen and he only uses us a instruments. If we could only remember this, we might avoid falling into worldly goals and chosing safe methods that will not put us in challenging situations. Let us be bold and preach Christ and let Him lead us.

  • IAmDagny

    Nothing will improve in any significant way unless and until the horror that is the novus ordo liturgy is consigned to the dustbin of history. It is completely at odds with the ascending (sursum corda) of humanity. You can’t improve a culture that is too lazy to lift even a single finger to heaven, but rather demands that God descend into the rockband, interpretive dance and improvisational gutter. So long as we shun beauty, we’re doomed to stagnation at the very best.

  • archangel

    Kris… you state “we are here to save souls”. That is a bit of a falacy.

    We can not save another’s soul. Only God can do that and he does that through His church. We have a moral obligation to take care of our own souls by living in harmony with God’s laws. We accomplish this through the sacraments made available to us through the church.

    If a member chooses to become a ordained, the responsibility shifts for that person and they are to lead the flock through the administration of those sacraments. But that ordained individual must also care for their own soul.

    The church stands alone in the world as the Body of Christ in that it is the collection of sinners striving to have their souls saved and redeemed. That is the crucial point that seems to be missed. The church is essentially a collective of sinners… but for the grace of God and the sacraments provided us by Him are our souls saved.

  • Robb76

    And the gates of hell….. well you all know the rest.
    The bride of Christ is here to stay.

  • Bender

    Yawn. Really Dagny — Yawn. You cranks are so very tiresome. How long do you all intend to go on like this?

    By the way, that which you denigrate with such contempt is the Holy Mass, in which the Lord Himself is made present, in communion with all the faithful on earth and in heaven. When you spit on the Mass, as you have, you spit on Him.

    For your sake, and the sake of everyone else who is weary of hearing you and those like you railing against the Holy Mass, I do wish you would please stop. Stop, and try to find some love, even if only a tiny, flickering ember in your heart, for the joy that is the Mass, so as to be one in communion with the Church and Christ.

  • IAmDagny

    Dear Mr. Bender,



    Your argument is laughable. According to you, defending the liturgical slop and abuse which is prevalent in the novus ordo is “contempt” for that which I defend, namely the Mass. Dude, you should join Cirque du Soleil with that contortionistic talent.

    So, if you and I are walking down the street together and a four year old girl starts beating the crap out of you, instead of defending you, I should just let the four year old girl continue to pummel you, because, you know, you’re not dead yet, and I don’t want to be perceived as a “complainer”. And, other people are actually entertained by watching you being beaten up by a little girl, and so I wouldn’t want to deprive them of their shallow, uncharitable, amoral “joy” at your expense. So I’ll just let the four year old girl continue in her savage attack, ’cause it’s all about the love.

    Alas, no, dear Bender. I would defend you to the death against the four year old girl, because it is my job as your friend to do so. And because I love you and I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s how that love thing works. I think this concept MIGHT be mentioned once or twice in scripture. Maybe.


  • Brendan McGrath

    Archangel — was Galileo excommunicated? I don’t remember that part. As you were saying, though, the whole Galileo thing is so often misunderstood, with lots of inaccuracies bandied about.

  • archangel

    Effectively, yes… maybe not “officially”

    He was found “suspect of heresy” and was required to renounce his scientific views. He was placed under house arrest via the inquistion where he remained for the rest of his life.

    A truly sorry affair for all concerned, with plenty of arrogance to go around. Pope Urban VIII (a Medici ally) was the immovable object that got hit by the unstoppable force in Galileo. He was never “excommunicated” per se.

    However, it was a big deal a while ago when the Vatican as a whole felt compelled to “apologize” for the affair. Galileo wasn’t available for comment. :)

  • JuliB

    LS, In comment 8 you wrote (or paraphrased):

    “The modern Catholics who seem intent on “reforming” things in the Church, whether it be the liturgy, the moral teachings, or the fundamental doctrines of the faith.”

    This has puzzled me for some time, but reading a book assigned this summer for a Scripture class has given me some insight. (This is a 4 year class, with summers off.) I don’t have it with me, but it’s about how to approach Jesus as we read the NT (we read about 1/2 of the OT last year). It was written by someone associated with the CTU which set off alarms bells in my head.

    For the most part, my caution was unwarranted, but I did have issues. However, one thing that stood out was the author’s emphasis on Jesus as a reformer unafraid to take on the PTB of the day (Pharisees and Scribes) and push away meaningless ritual and tradition.

    It was written in such an admiring tone that I started to see the reformers today as they see themselves – as playing a part in the Counter-Reformation, and actually imitating Jesus.

    While I think they are completely wrong, it has given me a little bit more charity in my thinking. They are fooling themselves, but it comes from Pride.