Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Second Things

From Catholic World News (Emphasis mine):
From the Baltimore Catechism (III), 1891:

Q. 491. What is the duty of the Teaching Church?

A.The duty of the Teaching Church is to continue the work Our Lord began upon earth, namely, to teach revealed truth, to administer the Sacraments and to labor for the salvation of souls.

Listening to "progressive" bishops lecture us on the use of condoms for reducing AIDS infection, I was struck by how far the model of the Church's teaching office has departed from the traditional one stated above. Note that the catechism said the Church's prime duty was to teach revealed truth - not psych, not medicine, not sociology. And the goal of such teaching was not improved hygiene or race relations, but the salvation of souls.

Since the Council we've watched "the salvation of souls" drop out of the vocabulary of the progressivist Catholic majority, while the duty to teach revealed truth has been shouldered aside in favor of efforts to engage contemporary secular problems in contemporary secular terms. The thinking behind this shift (fueled by a grotesquely sentimentalist misreading of certain passages in Gaudium et Spes) was to revitalize the Church by regaining the attention of the indifferent masses by showing interest in what the masses were interested in. Old liberals deny it today, but back then they gleefully announced from every podium the self-evident truth that, by accommodating herself to cultural and political fashions, the Church would see huge increases in Mass attendance and vocations, a reanimated parish life, and a groundswell of enthusiasm for religion on the part of young people. "Let's engage the Church's worldly mission," the thinking ran, "then we'll be in a stronger position to engage her supernatural one."

Wrong. When the Church tried her hand at psycho-drama and economics she dismayed those who loved her, amused those who hated her, and simply bored the rest. Churches, convents, and seminaries emptied, and the young people for whose sake the supernatural duties were abandoned resented being patronized even more than being scolded.

In a 1942 essay called First and Second Things, C.S. Lewis drew attention to the paradoxical nature of the blunder: "To sacrifice the greater good for the less and then not to get the lesser good after all -- that is the surprising folly." He went to generalize the law:

Every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made. Apparently the world is made that way. If Esau really got his pottage in return for his birthright, then Esau was a lucky exception. You can't get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.

The sight of a retired Jesuit archbishop reduced to coaching Africans in marital onanism is sorry enough, but it only recapitulates the trajectory of his own order. Precisely in the measure that it swapped faith for justice, it ended up with neither. And the same is true of post-Conciliar progressives in general: by putting secular prestige before spiritual duty and teaching human sciences instead of revealed truth, they gutted the Church Militant and lost contact with the Church Triumphant. Today, strutting in an empty church of their own design, they can neither bless nor heal.

The Catholic Church seems to be in a process of vigorous recovery from its flirtation with irrelevance – much to the chagrin of my aging generation of spoiled brats, and thanks both to the vibrant orthodoxy of many younger Catholics and to the influx of refugees from Mainline Protestantism. Well, I guess thanks should also be offered to the Holy Spirit in there somewhere…

Anyway, my point is that many of the old, established churches of Western Protestantism – including my own former denomination which I won’t mention by name because I pile on too much – have made the same choice to pursue the world instead of the spirit. In the absence of any central Magisterium, their path to the world gives all the appearance of being a one-way street. Founded on dissent, they have no response to further dissent except schism, and the orthodox find themselves fractured into smaller and smaller splinter groups.

Meanwhile, revisionist pastors look desperately for ever-changing ways to market their churches, sure that the unchurched will flock to them if they just tailor the message right. Scrapping the liturgy, losing their collars, inviting anyone who can breathe to the communion rail (if they still have one), all the while convinced that the world is interested in hearing about a Christ Who has no cross. They never seem to grasp that a church without the real gospel to preach is nothing more than a poor excuse for a sports bar, with bad food and cheap wine.

I don’t know how things will shake out; I expect the vertical divisions between denominations will start to fade as the horizontal divisions within denominations become more and more pronounced. Or perhaps not - I have the gift of stodginess, not prophecy. Whatever happens over the long haul, I don’t expect to live to see it. In the meantime, my family finds sanctuary in one of those splinters, and I get to look through the doors at a revived Catholicism and a resurgent Orthodoxy that portend glorious things for the years to come.

The Lord tells us in Matthew 16:18, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” On the other hand, He never told us that we would never get wounded in the struggle.