A Divided Church and a Movement with Momentum

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Over at Egregious Twaddle, Joanne McPort asks (and answers) whether the church can survive the times:

The received narrative paints a Church disproportionately and irreconcilably divided between The People, a vast international sea of those who reject doctrinal pronouncements, tradition, and authority in favor of relevance, inclusivity, and individual conscience, and The Bishops (among whom the Pope is just one of the boys), a tiny aged and withering cabal of whited sepulchers fanatically and fruitlessly clinging to the power to hate, oppress, abuse, and impoverish Christ’s true followers. It’s Jesus v Pharisees all over again, they want us to believe.

My two cents: if we humans could break the church, we’d have done so by now. God knows, we’ve tried our bumbling best to.

But I understand why Joanne is asking. It feels, right now, like division is everywhere — like our nation, our society, and yes our church, are on the verge of being irreparably ripped and divided.

Some of that sense, I think, comes from a certain conceit we Americans have; believing we’re “exceptional” or “indispensable” we sometimes act like there was no history before ours, and that there can be no future without us, and that we are only “us” when we are John Wayne and Gary Cooper and Rosie the Riveter and Apple Pie, and none of that seems so congruent with what appears to be our future, because the thrust of narrative is always forward, not backward.

I imagine that in any era of upheaval there is a wondering: how can there be (a France; a Russia; an England) if the nation we have been seems today so unsuited for our shared future? And yet, there is still an England; still a France, still a Russia.

One of the things I love about being Catholic is that as a church we are committed to taking the long-view of things: lots of time passed from Eden until the Resurrection; more time will pass before the Second Coming, and that helps to give perspective. When I was asked once, how I dealt with “the head of your church being a foreigner”, I realized it had never occurred to me that our pope was a “foreigner” because he and I were part of the same Body, and that this particular Body transcended history or nations, governments and ideas. Civilizations rise and pass; Governments are raised and tumbled; fashions and social trends ebb and flow; ideas mutate.

What is true is forever battling what is false, and some false ideas — because they are powerful, seductive ideas (or seductive ideas of power) — linger, like the weeds in wheat; they seem so very like what we call “good” (or even like “the best part” — the loin of the good) that we cannot resist them, or how they make us feel about ourselves.

A successfully socialized society is one of those delectable loins of the good. On paper it sounds great: the same of everything, for everyone, and what sort of person could object to that? The right sort of person — the better element, as it were — could not, of course.

Unfortunately, though, in human practice “successful” socialization has always ended up being a recipe for oppression and inequality, with determined and spoiled elites cheering on the proletariat who “keep it real” by letting go of the dreams that assist greatness, for a commonly-embraced mediocrity. It is all Party Princes and Peasants, with nothing in between.

Socialism only works when it is a voluntary denuding and not a compelled stripping, and that only happens within religion. Outside of religion, it is the stuff of gulags.

Currently the resilient and false idea — that powerfully seductive, (seductively powerful) idea — of a world of leveled-sameness is cresting a hill it has been climbing for a long time. When it reaches the top it will confront once again, the thing it so hates; the thing that consistently reveals the limiting ways of “sameness” and its untruths; the thing that tells people, “as tempting as this seems, it cannot sustain or nourish, because it is an illusion; weed, not wheat.”

When the socialist movement launches itself into full-on collision against its enemy, it will expect to succeed, because the momentum will be…momentus; its thrust will contain the energy of most of the Western world.

Very likely, it will seem to win, particularly among people who want to be fooled. But in the long-view, it will lose. Subjective truths — because they are subjective — make shaky foundations. Sentimentalism makes poor mortar.

At Vespers last night, we read from Psalm 11: “The Lord is in his holy temple/the Lord, whose throne is in heaven. His eyes look down on the world/his gaze tests mortal men.”

As you see, I’m taking the long-view.

Europe and the United States have long enjoyed a first-world conceit that their values, energies, and sensibilities would be forever-definitive. Their post-Christian progression has led to much hand-wringing by those who have bought into that mindset. They imagine that if the Church is no longer dominant in Paris or Dublin or Madrid, or even New York, that it is “dying out.” In truth, cultures are dying and changing, but the church is not.

Demographically, it seems native-born Europeans are no longer reproducing in numbers sufficient to continue, and among many ardently secular communities in American this is also true. It is possible that within a few decades we will see minarets and mosques where now stand spires and shrines. But in the history of the church, this is not unusual. The church began with a star, followed from the East, and with writings to the Hebrews and the Ephesians and the Galatians and Thessalonians. There were churches, back then, where there are none now.

Like the Magi, the Church has been traveling resolutely West, and it has nearly come full-circle; it is bringing new treasure from the East and up from Africa. There is almost a sense of completion to this.

That may be unsettling to some; it may hold promise to others. Completion — or wholeness — is what we have been taught is the objective to this long journey of mission and masses and mistakes. We anticipate that moment when all things are restored in Christ.

So, you know…be not afraid.

About Elizabeth Scalia