Every once in a while, something comes across the desk or email and and it makes you aware of how quickly time goes by.
For instance, it seems like just yesterday, I was talking about debuting a new column in The Catholic Answer Magazine, and “holy smokes…a month has gone by!” and here is my second column, entitled “And They Will Set You Free”
Imagine a people, and the church in which they grow up — a church in which the people worshipped with fervor during adolescence and to which, perhaps for a season, they even imagined giving their lives, or their very blood. With age and its distractions, their fantasies fade, but the attachment lasts.
One day, the people — accustomed to material abundance and the nearly immediate gratification of their desires beyond anything in memory — become exposed to something new, full of ideas and possibilities that seem sweet, reasonable, kind and self-affirming; this new thing makes them feel so good about themselves that they must have it. They appeal to the church and say: “Give us this! It will make us happy, and we will thank God, who obviously wants us to have it.” And the church, this wise mother who is charged to teach Truth Eternal, in season and out, says: “This cannot be yours, because it is not within our power to authorize; this goes against the command of the One who is Truth. But if you will remain open, in obedience, you will come to understand these Truths, and they will set you free.”
The people remain, but always with an expectation that their personal truths will eventually prevail. Mindful that they have been denied, though, their resentment builds; they mark every sin within the church, all of its human faults and deep failings, and slowly they convince themselves that their ardent desiring is not objectionable, but the sin-riddled church clearly is. And so they break away. With astonishing speed, a new church is formed in authority, trained in tolerance, unified in purpose and installed within sacred structures confiscated by law, while the disgraced and rigid old church and her clergy are hounded underground.
If this schismatic fantasy sounds like improbable nonsense to you…
Well, you’ll have to read the rest to see where it’s going.
We are going to become a smaller church, of that I have no doubt, and I think Pope Benedict XVI was poignantly prophetic on this count:
“The Church will become small, and will to a great extent have to start over again. But after a time of testing, an internalized and simplified Church will radiate great power and influence; for the population of an entirely planned and controlled world are going to be inexpressibly lonely . . . and they will then discover the little community of believers as something quite new. As a hope that is there for them, as the answer they have secretly always been asking for.”
– God and the World
We’re going to become a smaller church because for some, the church will not move enough with the times. Aided by governmental moves like this one, meant to overpower the church and force it into conformity with the age, those folks will happily turn away from the difficult Roman church to embrace the easier progressiveness of the “American Catholic Church” — a government-approved, age-and-world conformist church that will not ask much of its adherents, other than that they all feel fine about everything. It will consider itself to be the “merciful” side of Catholicism, all “spirit of the law” and rather unconcerned about the letters.
But there will also, I think, be schism from the right, and it will be encouraged by those who (like the extreme progressives above) have over-identified their faith with their political activism and ideological instincts and lost sight of the fact that true Catholicism is too broad, too generous and too nuanced to exist comfortably within any one ideology. These folks — hellbent-for-purging and increasingly finding priests and bishops (and sometimes even the Pope, himself) to be insufficiently Catholic for their liking — will declare that they are drawn, as a matter of conscience, to the establishment of a “real” Catholic church — one that suits all of their concerns, and hews to a rigid enforcement of the Catechism, over intangible considerations. They will consider themselves the “Just” side of Catholicism, trusting that if you follow-the-law-to-the-letter, the Spirit will come.
And the poor old, unpopular, beleaguered, self-wounding, all-too-human and messily-flawed Church of Rome, and clumsy old Peter, they’ll keep trying to balance Justice and Mercy in the face of myriad illusions — as best they can upon the pointed reality of Original Sin — until the One who is All-Just and All-Merciful (in whose Name she struggles) returns to finally puts all things to right, at last.
The schismatics, though emerging from very different spheres, will share a few things in common, including a distaste for the Apostolic Catholic Church as it exists today and an inability to tolerate a different point of view, or argument of any kind. Both sorts will claim that they are either creating or preserving a “purity” that is in keeping with the Gospel or the Catechism, and is absent from the Roman Catholic church.
I look forward to this smaller church, and feel great excitement at its coming — not for the sad divisions we will see, but for the clarity and energy that will ensue. I expect we will be a much less-propertied church, and one full of martyrs, whose blood will sustain it, nourish it and keep it alive. And there will be new growth.
Already, in stories like this, you can see a choosing of sides, and get the sense that, for some — even if they disagree with the church on some issues — there is a realization that (as Una Kroll, the subject of that linked-to piece said) we are “. . . called by God to move to a Church where [we] could not exercise dominion of any sort, but where [we] could still learn what servant priesthood actually meant when put into practice.”
And there, in an excellent nutshell, is why I will stick with imperfect, struggling-to-maker-her-message-understood-Rome, regardless. I prefer not to hold Dominion over anyone or anything — not from my sentimental left, or from my rigid right — nor do I wish to belong to a church that does not challenge me with difficult teachings.
Someone wrote to me, today, “I don’t see biblical evidence for all male priesthood, but I do see value in obeying the Church . . . disagreement does not mean division.”
I concur. But many, many more do not. And so, schism there will be.
Wow. Hadn’t planned on writing that.
Who needs a drink?