Crisis, Church Reform, and the Lay Vocation, by Francis X. Maier

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A procession of the Blessed Sacrament via Wikimedia Commons*

By Francis X. Maier, Crisis Magazine, October 1, 2019

Francis X. MaierA dozen or so years ago, a colleague gave me a little wooden plaque for my office. I’ve had it on my bookshelf ever since. On it are carved these words: “It is as bad as you think, and they are out to get you.” The colleague who gave it to me is a Capuchin named Charles Chaput. The archbishop got it from a friend as a joke. He gave it to me as a joke. And, of course, it is a joke. But there are days when it’s not so funny anymore.

This is a complicated time for American Catholics, and our problems as a Church come in two different categories: external and internal. Our main external problem is the canyon that exists between the abstract, ideal America we picture in our heads, and the real America we actually live in every day. America is, in a sense, a legal fiction. We have no common ethnicity. We have no long national history. We were created ex nihilo as a rational experiment in ordered liberty. And we’re held together by a common commitment to the law—law that we sustain (or, at least, that we were intended to sustain) by a common biblical morality.

To make that new kind of a country work, as Tocqueville said 200 years ago, takes some very special ingredients. It needs a literate, mature, self-disciplined, and moral citizenry. Look around today and ask yourselves if that’s what we’ve got. The last 60 years have seen massive changes in our demography, science and technology, mass media, religious practice, education, wealth distribution, and legal theory. Much of it is wonderful and life-giving. Some of it is really dangerous, and here’s an example: the presumption of innocence is a basic principle of our legal and political system. See how that works for you today if someone accuses you falsely of a sex crime, especially if you’re a priest. ….

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