Why are so many Catholics disturbed, annoyed, restless, frightened and angry?
It’s because we are going through a time of Catholic realignment.
In the United States and the rest of the developed world we are experiencing a breakdown of the old Catholic tribalism that we have got used to over the last fifty years since the close of the second Vatican Council.
During that time period we have seen the Catholic Church Europe and North America divide into “Liberal” and “Conservative.” The liberal Catholics have their publishing houses, colleges, religious orders and members of the hierarchy. Likewise the conservative Catholics.
The fact is, we have been living with two churches under the same roof. To paint with a broad brush, the liberals believe the Christian faith is a human construct which is the product of certain historical circumstances and that it must adapt to each age and culture in order to thrive and survive–indeed, to accomplish her mission.
The conservatives believe that the Christian faith is a revealed religion–unfolded to humanity in a particular way at a particular time for a providential reason. Consequently the faith cannot, at its core, be changed. Instead of adapting to the culture in which it lives, conservatives say Christ and his church must challenge the culture and historical era in which it finds herself.
These two underlying assumptions about what the church and the Christian faith is at its very heart, have produced two kinds of Catholics. This is why so called “Cafeteria, Kennedy Catholics” don’t feel embarrassed in the least in their open support for abortion, same sex marriage, women’s ordination etc. That’s because they believe it is the church’s duty to adapt and get with the times and it is their duty as lay Catholics to lead the charge, be the pioneers and challenge the hidebound old Catholic Church hierarchy to adapt or die.
This is also the reason why conservatives get so upset–because they see the very foundations of their faith being attacked and undermined. They see the age old traditions, worship, beliefs and behaviors being destroyed by the very people who should defend them: their Catholic brothers and sisters.
The reason so many Catholics are restless in these times is that these fifty year old ways of being Catholics are worn out. They don’t work anymore. The Catholic culture warriors from both tribes are getting old and dying out. Furthermore, the younger generation of Catholics don’t really have a clue what the fuss was about. The young people who have kept the faith are, for the most part, simple, by the book, faithful Catholics. They view the church differently and don’t see it in such stark “liberal” and “conservative” terms. What are people doing in response to this breakdown of the old tribalism? Some are retreating ever further into their tribe. The extreme conservatives are retreating into ever more angry fundamentalism. They’re pulling up the drawbridges, making enemies of the people who are really their friends and feeling increasingly isolated and paranoid. The old school liberals, on the other side, are simply dying out.
The young priests aren’t liberal. The young nuns and sisters aren’t liberal. The young seminarians aren’t liberal. Catholic liberalism is simply a lost cause. It has no staying power, no battles to fight and no one is listening. To be a liberal now is to take the side of the abortionists, the feminist-homosexualist activists etc. etc. These causes are so clearly anti-Catholic that for a “Catholic” to espouse them is increasingly absurd.
The reason we are restless is because we are being led into something new and we have not seen it quite yet and we’re not sure what it is and whether we will like it.
I can tell you, however, that it is fantastic because God does not forsake his church.
I can tell you that it is dynamic because the Holy Spirit is with us. I can tell you not to be afraid because Christ is beside us and with us and he is leading the church into a wonderful future.
I have seen this future, not because I am a visionary or prophet, but because I have read Pope Benedict and absorbed his vision.
In five little known radio speeches made in 1969 and published again by Ignatius Press in the volume “Faith and the Future”, the future Pope gave his vision of the future of man and the Church. His last teaching, which he read out on “Hessian Rundfunk” radio on Christmas day, had a distinctly prophetic tone.
Ratzinger said he was convinced the Church was going through an era similar to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. “We are at a huge turning point – he explained – in the evolution of mankind. This moment makes the move from Medieval to modern times seem insignificant.” Professor Ratzinger compared the current era to that of Pope Pius VI who was abducted by troops of the French Republic and died in prison in 1799. The Church was fighting against a force which intended to annihilate it definitively, confiscating its property and dissolving religious orders.
Today’s Church could be faced with a similar situation, undermined, according to Ratzinger, by the temptation to reduce priests to “social workers” and it and all its work reduced to a mere political presence. “From today’s crisis, will emerge a Church that has lost a great deal,” he affirmed.
“It will become small and will have to start pretty much all over again. It will no longer have use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity. The reduction in the number of faithful will lead to it losing an important part of its social privileges.” It will start off with small groups and movements and a minority that will make faith central to experience again. “It will be a more spiritual Church, and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.”
This is the re-alignment. We should not fight it.