Sorry folks. I have two articles coming that I referenced on monetary systems and the shape of the world during the Storm…and then I had an unexpectedly rough day yesterday. Believe it or not, when I was in media – both newspapers and radio – I never missed a deadline. Somehow, this is different. Maybe it is because I’m older and have the neurological problem that demands attention every now and again…or maybe it is just that God insists on a different rhythm now. Whatever, the articles are still coming…just didn’t get here when I planned them.
At Easter of 2007 I was right on time for Mass – which means, actually, a little late to hope to get a seat in the crush of an Easter crowd. I rather dreaded it because after my neurological damage, I can walk pretty good and I can sit pretty good, but standing still is absolutely killer for me. I figured I would have to stand at the back. I reconciled myself that the agony I would endure would be a good little extra penance.
To my surprise, since I was alone, the usher took me to one remaining spot in the front. It was literally one of the best seats in the house – like sitting on the bench on the 50-yard-line at a football game. It was to be the first in a series of brief visitations I have had nearly every Easter since – and in each, it has been Christ, Himself, who appears. I had thought about editing His brief comment lest people misunderstand. It was the sternest rebuke I have ever gotten from Him, but it might look, without comment, to be an affirmation. Instead, I have decided to quote Him exactly (He used language) and then to explain what it signified, as that might be helpful for others in discerning these things.
The Mass started off okay, but irritated me that the priest seemed intent on doing some little, showy things that were not part of the Mass. When he went into his homily, my blood began to boil…for he made it clear there was no real resurrection, but that Jesus was merely resurrected “in our hearts.” (Chicago priests seem particularly prone to this ‘no real resurrection’ heresy, thinking Christ merely a soothing fairy tale. Something they and atheists have in common, only disagreeing about whether or not it is soothing). Bad enough he should teach this any time, but it seemed a downright sucker punch to do it on Easter. I thought of getting up and walking out, but I was right up front and it was Easter, and I was unsure of what message it would send to those who rarely show up.
When communion began, I went into white heat. I was right in front of one of the extraordinary ministers and saw all manner of desecration, some deeply offensive. To give you a flavor of it, I will just give a mildly amusing one. A fellow in his 30s with a long brown pony tail came up with a great grin. When the minister said, “The Body of Christ,” he responded with a thumbs up and a “Cool, dude,” then grabbed the wafer, popped it into his mouth and started crunching it like a potato chip. Some of the encounters got so offensive I could not take it any more. I had determined to get up and leave. I would participate no more in this desecration.
Then the Lord appeared to me and said, “Behold my people, given into your care. Guard them well.” That’s all. However you may interpret it, it was a stern rebuke. You cannot properly interpret anything unless you put it in the context of all the Master has to say.
From the earliest days, the central prophetic message I bear is, “Be not afraid: God calls all men to salvation.” My three prime duties are to defend the faith, hearten the faithful and defend the faithful. For the period of the Storm I am sent as a sort of bodyguard and ambassador to God’s people. I am not the captain of the ship, not even part of the crew. I am subordinate to the captain. But I am responsible to Christ, Himself, for living those three duties to all, including the crew even as I am subordinate to them. It is a particular and unique job fitted to this unique time in salvation history. I had begun to judge God’s people, to decide who was fit for that healing ministry. Christ was telling me quite pointedly that ALL are His people – and reminding me of my calling, demanding that I be faithful and relentless in trying to effectively reclaim them to the safety which is in Him. And there was an edge on it, gently threatening to dismiss me if I insisted on abandoning instead of living the witness I was commanded both to His sheep who were safe and those who were lost. I can get a little testy at times (as those who comment here know) but I have since taken great pains not to cast anyone into outer darkness. If they go there, it is only because they insist.
I think of this again as the preliminary session of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family goes forward. I see wild dissension among the ranks of the Bishops there and among the ranks of the faithful who are watching. I will offer a few useful columns on the matter, but first a few thoughts:
1) This preliminary session is not legislative in any sense. It is the equivalent of a brainstorming session to explore areas that should be addressed in next year’s formal session – when real recommendations will be adopted. Brainstorming sessions are largely efforts to break out of mental ruts in order to address ongoing problems with fresh eyes. By their very nature, successful brainstorming sessions float some truly cockamamie notions. If it doesn’t, it usually was not a successful session for it did not examine matters from enough angles. But ALL that is to be accomplished here is to brainstorm and set an agenda for the real session next year. Let’s calm down a bit.
2) Some people are out to undermine the faith. That has ever been true. But, some of the problems are simply a matter of emphasis. Some who are deeply sincere in their compassion for others would throw out the doctrinal foundation in order to give that compassion. They think it the height of compassion to tell people they are “okay just as they are” in order to soothe them. Of course, if a doctor told a patient suffering from two broken ribs, a punctured lung and a gunshot wound that he was “okay just as he is” with a comforting smile and then released him, the doctor would be fired and probably sued when the man died shortly thereafter needing care. Progressive nostrums have been a form of spiritual ebola – and assurances to people suffering from it that they are “fine as they are” will result in spiritual death. There will be an accounting. Our care must lead back to life, not merely make people comfortable on the path to death.
3) Others seek to shut the doors of mercy against those who suffer, content to let the Church be an ever-diminishing public scold. But again, sometimes it is just a matter of emphasis. Some who are deeply sincere in preserving the purity of doctrine would shut the gates against the lepers rather than risk going out among them. With every age comes new problems…and a Church that only fights the problems of the former age is one that is dying. Many worry that the Church is going to dilute Christ’s commands concerning the covenant of marriage. It is a reasonable concern. But we have several huge new problems which have grown up in the past few generations. There are those who cohabit in order to avoid the problems with the Church that divorced and remarried people have. The way we have administered things has led some to avoid the sacrament altogether rather than risk failing it. A whole generation has lost the sense of marriage as a covenant, treating it instead as any other contract. The point is to acknowledge that we need to approach the problems with fresh eyes, then adopt administrative procedures that help bring people back to the safety and joy of the faith – to regularize lives and relationships which have become more tangled than last year’s Christmas lights. Our efforts must be calibrated to gently reconcile them back into the fulness of the faith; NOT to reconcile the faith to the vicissitudes of the world which raised up most of these problems.
4) A full and frank grappling with the problems will inevitably give rise to some real clunkers of ideas – and some panicked defenses of what is fundamental. This is not – and should not be – surprising to anyone. It is also useful. Some Bishops have risen in my estimation because of their steady and candid approach to the matter. Some have dropped because of their panic or jubilant over-reach. It is useful to know who is who as we go deeper into the Storm. But do not let yourself panic. These things must come. Above all, do not fall prey to the new reformers who want you to follow them away from the faith rather than weather the Storm in Christ’s Church.
Now, a few useful observations on the Synod. First is George Weigel, perhaps the most prominent and incisive of public Catholic intellectuals at the dawn of the 21st Century. Weigel wrote the definitive biography of Pope St. John Paul II, Witness to Hope. He writes a weekly column that is syndicated from the Denver Catholic Register, the Catholic newsletter of my own Archdiocese.
Next up is Elizabeth Scalia, the Anchoress, who writes with her usual calm, insightful clarity on the matter.
Finally, I can’t help but feel we are straining mightily at gnats while swallowing a few camels. Todd Starnes has made a career in the last few years of writing about government assaults on the ability to practice faith at all. The latest outrage in Houston, where the Mayor and Council are demanding in a lawsuit that pastors hand over their sermons and notes to determine whether they are ‘hostile’ to gay rights should have people from around the country storming the barricades of city hall and the idiot court that accepted such a noxious suit in the first place. The greatest threat to the faith comes not from any synod or conference, but from Caesar’s latest iteration.