Thursday, December 18, 2008

On religion and the church today
Anonymous contributions from two friends of the blog
Cardinal Newman wrote that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant. This Newman aphorism is of course the favorite of Catholic apologetics culture in this country, one that feels continually besieged by the predominant crypto-Protestant agnosticism around it. Long ago, however, I have concluded that the only thing worse than an attack on your cause is an inadequate defense.

To cut to the chase, I will just put up some rather obvious examples:

If we took St. John Bosco and put him in a contemporary
[Roman] Catholic church down the road from where I am typing this, would he recognize it as the same church? While we Catholics like to believe in continuity, such naive beliefs are often accompanied by amnesia regarding the changes of the last two generations. All of the appeals to the fourth century will not make up for the fundamental changes of the RC ethos in the twentieth. Indeed, it is more likely that the rural peasant of the 1950s would be more familiar or closer to the faith of Hippolytus than the priest uttering his supposed words in the concocted Eucharistic prayer of the contemporary Mass.

Protestants, of course, will probably share this characteristic. Take Calvin and Zwingli and put them in a contemporary church today, and they would be equally alienated. There is a deep loss of any real sense of the “beyond” within the contemporary soul. When discussing this with
[my fiancée], it becomes clear that our grandparents’ generation saw the Faith in very different terms. For them, wearing a psalm on your person to stop a bullet or using roots and leaves to cure an illness were just part of reality, and it was just as much a doctrine of the Faith as the Nicene Creed.

For these reasons, I have reached the point in my life where I have concluded that communion is a very lonely thing. I have the feeling that I belong to a church... scratch that, a religion... that is given to talking only to itself; its voice is mute to the rest of the world. And in relation to the past, it seems that we are uttering a sonnet with all of the consonants taken out of it: it may sound like the same poem in a muffled, distorted way, but the obsessions of all of us, including the orthodox, have little to do with our lived reality.

Does this mean that I am finally to become a Rosicrucian, or start my own cult? The thought has crossed my mind, and of course it could be a means to stabilize my shaky future employment prospects. But the only problem with that is that it wouldn’t be the truth, and even I am not that much of a shameless bastard. If I still have one dream for Catholicism, it is the dream that de Lubac outlines on its universality. It doesn’t help that the neo-Caths and traditionalists
[and the online Orthodicks] seem to be waging a war against this universality in the name of unity, and the liberals (agnostics with the “Catholic” label) use it to do whatever the hell they want.

What is to be done?

All I know that people need to spare me the rhetoric of the
[Roman] Catholic Church being the church of tradition. One hundred years ago, the thought of an old woman in a track suit handing out Communion in church would have been enough in the Catholic mind to blow up the universe.
The second person writes:
Just keep on keepin’ on. Find some sane little corner of Christendom where you’re least likely to go crazy, say your prayers, try not to sin too much, and hopefully get into purgatory (or whatever one wants to call it). That’s pretty much the extent of my life plan. Now, if only I can practice what I preach ...
My plan too.

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