Sunday, September 20, 2015

Kim Davis and the Future Church

By now most of you have heard about Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk violating federal law by refusing to hand out marriage licenses to homosexual couples, citing Scripture that homosexual behavior is a sin and that marriage can only be between one man and one woman. The Internet is aflutter with memes and articles condemning her actions, asking we ignorant Christians if we'd tolerate a Muslim refusing to sell us pork, a Jew forcing us to circumcise our boys, a Vegan refusing to sell us meat, or a Catholic refusing to sell us artificial birth control. The fact that the Western world has lost the ability to have honest and intelligent debate is encapsulated perfectly by these poor arguments, assuming that homosexual behavior is somehow morally equal to Muslim dietary laws, but that is how our pagan society sees religious laws. Atheists and secularists have been posting on Facebook ways in which they can debate Christians who "cherry-pick" parts of the Bible; in their eyes, if we want to follow the Ten Commandments, then why are we ignoring all the other Mosaic laws? As a Catholic, to try to explain to a pagan country - heavily influenced by Protestant theology - that you need an interpretive authority (the Church) in order to guide us through Biblical interpretation, it would pretty much end in failure. So, what can we expect from this episode?

I can see that Christians will continue to play less of a role in society, in general. We'll still have influence in particular circles, but to consider ourselves a Christian culture is obscene; we're no longer a Christian culture since we all disagree on what a Christian looks like and how a Christian is supposed to act. Case-in-point: the media is dragging out the fact that Kim Davis, defender of marriage, has been married four times. In a world that does not understand conversion or repentance, they are incapable of seeing Davis' change of heart as a conversion, and instead see it as hypocrisy - how sad that the world doesn't recognize redemption and ridicules people having a second chance. And the fact remains that the Christian West has disagreed about the definition of marriage ever since the Reformation, when the Reformers rejected marriage as a Sacrament, so until we can once again agree on what the "Biblical definition of marriage" is, then we can't even form a united front against the secular threat.

Homosexual activists rightfully so bring up the fact that many Christians who are defending "Biblical marriage" are themselves divorced and remarried, ignoring Jesus' own words that this is the sin of adultery. John Waters rightfully said that if Christians seriously wanted to defend marriage, we would make no-fault divorce illegal again. Most Christians, even many Catholics, would faint at the thought! So, to imagine the US (or any country) once again existing as a Christian culture is to live in a dream world; until Christians can decide what it means to live as a Christian (which is something we were *sort of* able to do until the mid-twentieth century), then we'll continue to have just as many Christians insisting that morality has nothing to do with the faith as we have Christians who believe that faith and morals go together.

The Catholic Church started building orphanages at the very beginning of its life, with written records going back to the 200s and 300s AD. However, not too long ago the US government started to enforce a law that stated an adoption agency could not "discriminate" against same-sex couples. However, there are many Catholic adoption agencies in the US who cannot abide by this law and several Catholic agencies have closed down as a result. The same goes for Catholic hospitals (which sprouted up throughout the Christian world around the same time as our orphanages). US healthcare laws demanding that Catholic hospitals conduct abortion have caused many to jeopardize their funding, which could result in hospital closures. This is all exacerbated by the current US Affordable Healthcare Act, which demands that all employers pay for an employee's contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients.

For most people, even some Catholics, the first thought that comes to mind is, "Who cares? It's none of our business what someone does in their private lives." But this is part of that faulty theology that permeates the Christian world today, where we share in Cain's indifference by asking, "Am I my brother's keeper?" But God tells us we are our brother's keeper and we can influence their decisions based on our input and our way of life. St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, not wanting to cause scandal - which he fears would harm the faith of his weaker brothers and sisters - says, "Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother’s falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall" (1 Cor 8:13). So, as Christians (especially Catholics) we have a teaching that we should be aware of how our actions may harm another. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which describes the official teachings of the faith, explains in 2480: Every word or attitude is forbidden which by flattery, adulation, or complaisance encourages and confirms another in malicious acts and perverse conduct. Adulation [excessive admiration or praise] is a grave fault if it makes one an accomplice in another's vices or grave sins. And, traditionally, the Church taught that we share in the guilt of a sinner if they've sinned due to our assistance (by our counsel, by our command, by our consent, by our concealment, by our defense of the evil that was done, by our partaking in the sin, by our provocation, by our praise, or by our silence). Therefore, we cannot contribute to the sinfulness of others, nor may we encourage it, because this is ultimately harmful to those who are engaged in these actions (and we should want what's best for them, which is a life of love in Christ, which leads to salvation and heaven). We cannot be forced to violate our properly-formed consciences, as well; as the Catechism states: Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.

Ultimately, the choice for faithful Christians is whether they want to live their lives for the city of man or the city of God. We see many Christians live for the city of God, choosing poverty and service to mankind over worldly goods and praise. We also see many Christians live for the city of man, even contributing to the suppression of the Church of which they claim to be faithful members. Jesus promised there would always be weeds among the crops and goats among the sheep - this won't end until Judgement Day.

Otto von Bismarck's Kulturkampf took away much of the Catholic Church's freedoms and influence in Prussia, Bavaria, and other parts of Germany, putting hospitals, orphanages, and other social services in the hands of the State, while also silencing (even ridiculing) the Church's teaching on a variety of issues. This movement spread through Switzerland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain, Spain, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Mexico, and Brazil, creating in those countries the same anti-Church laws and opinions, greatly helping to secularize those nations.

I see the Kulturkampf and its copies as extensions of the French Revolution, which put the State as the final arbiter in all things public, forcing the Church to submit to its power, and forcing the secularization of the culture. Priests who refused to take oaths to the new French Republic (which demanded that priests be more loyal to France than to Rome) were either imprisoned, expelled from the country, or executed (as well as nuns, monks, and laypeople). Post-Reformation England went through a similar episode, seeing any Catholic priest as an enemy of the state, making the practice of Catholicism illegal in all British lands throughout the world and condemning all priests caught saying Mass (and all laypeople caught hiding priests) to a lengthy, torturous death. In Post-Reformation England, just like in post-Revolutionary France, all citizens were required to take an oath; in England, this "Oath of Supremacy" meant that everyone (including Catholics), in order to own property, to vote, to hold public office, or to work as a professional, would have to condemn the pope and Catholic teaching while professing that the king (or queen) of England was the head of the Church. As a result, Catholics worked "dirty" jobs, many were very poor and had virtually no rights, and many chose to emigrate to the New World for a chance to start a new life (although the same unjust laws followed them overseas and wouldn't be fully repealed until 1829).

So, what's a faithful Christian to do? Many believe that, like the Catholic adoption agencies and Catholic hospitals, we must slowly remove ourselves from certain occupations which endanger our souls by putting us in this sort of predicament. Many faithful Christians support forming a sort of "Catholic ghetto" where we can freely practice our faith and let the world burn, sort of the relationship we had with the secular world of the Roman Empire; we lived our faith, we worshiped in secret, and we evangelized through our lifestyle....and our martyrdoms at the hands of the Empire. I don't see today's world killing us like in the past, but perhaps we'll have a secular version of a martyrdom, a bloodless martyrdom - that's what I think will happen to us, because it's happened before. The culture - through its leaders, the elite, the press, movies, music, television, and social media - will continue to secularize, as its done throughout history. Christians will be marginalized and many will be forced to either betray their faith on the job, be punished for following their conscience, or (like in the old days of England) not be able to perform certain jobs. The State, always jealous of the Church, will continue to encroach on issues of faith and morals which have always been under the jurisdiction of the Church. There will be countless Christians who will be willing to play along, just like in China where you have the state-approved churches versus the underground churches who refuse to compromise their faith.

It'll get worse before it gets better, but Our Lady - being a good mother - has assured us that it will get better. Choose the City of God instead of the city of man. We'll go through a lot of grief for this, but Our Lady told us that we please the Lord by accepting this suffering from him, that this is our penance that we offer him - to patiently suffer with him and do his will by keeping his commandments; this is what pleases Our Lord, which is a statement right from the mouth of his own Mother. America is going through its own Kulturkampf, one in which some Christians are encouraging its success. Pope Benedict, way back in the 70s, foresaw this happening, when the Church would lose her prestige, her hospitals, her orphanages. I've routinely heard this passage of Benedict quoted, but never in context; as it turns out, I have the book Father & the Future and read the chapter where this originated. I think this is important enough to quote a much larger section than is quoted usually and we will close with Pope Benedict's thoughts:

...the thing that outlived the ruins of the declining 18th century and was reborn as the future was something very different from that of the Rationalists. It was a Church, reduced in size, diminished in social prestige, but a Church that had become fruitful from a new interior power, which released new formative and social forces, manifested both in great lay movements and in the founding of numerous religious congregations, all of which are very much part and parcel of the church's most recent history.

We have arrived, then, at the present day and find ourselves looking towards tomorrow. Today, likewise, the future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannus and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves. To put this more positively: the future of the church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by man, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality. Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self denial. By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone, man's eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered. If today we are scarcely able any longer to become aware of God, that is because we find it so easy to evade ourselves, to flee from the depths of our being by means of the narcotic of some pleasure or other. Thus our own interior depths remain closed to us. If it is true that a man can see only with his heart, then how blind we all are!

How does all of this affect the problem we are examining? It means that the big talk of those who prophesied a Church without God and without faith is all empty chatter. We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous. Therefore, it will destroy itself. What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists; but the priest who is no specialist, who does not stand on the sidelines watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal of men, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope, and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future.

Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge, a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center, faith in the Triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, and the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution, when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain, to the renewal of the 19th century. But when the trial of this shifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, it will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult...but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently, but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as a man's home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.