When a teacher was challenged by his student for relying on the “crutch” of his Christian beliefs, he replied, “And a very good crutch it is. What is your crutch?”
Lately, this story has reminded me that if our faith isn’t rooted in Jesus, his Resurrection, the Sacraments, Scripture (all of it, not just the parts we like), and what the Church has proclaimed over 2,000 years, our crutch must be some ideology, drugs/alcohol, another lord (Satan, Hitler, some religious or political leader, or movie star), work, pleasure, prestige/adulation, power/authority—what am I forgetting?
The Church has needed reformation in every age: sometimes big, sometimes small; sometimes evident, sometimes obscure. There has never been a “no need for reform” age. Though we prefer to focus on saintly and heroic clergy in times of strife (and rightly so), by all accounts most of the clergy in Henry VIII’s time went over to him, and not a few went over to the atheistic Jacobins after the French Revolution. Plus ça change…
The world, the predominant culture and its directors, has been trying to destroy the Church from the start, from the outside and inside. The world has no interest in eradicating sexual promiscuity, including sexual promiscuity in the clergy, because unrestricted sexual expression is one of its sacraments. Christians—including priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes—are constantly tempted to be lionized by the world, a temptation we cannot resist without radical faith. The Palantir we keep on our desk or table, or in our hand—devices of all kinds, social media, the darkest corners of the web—tell us that faith is foolish, a waste of time; that the Church is doomed; to eat, drink, and be merry; to go with the consensus.
Catholics should be infiltrating—rather, storming—every corner of the culture with truth and beauty, and we must prepare and gird ourselves for this self-sacrificing mission. This isn’t the time to retreat or hunker down.
I’ve come to rely more on what I see, hear, and experience—the empirical evidence—than the cultural consensus, and media that take the consensus as the last word on the subject. I read that honeybees are dying off, but the new hives behind a house in the middle of my city have been swarming with bees all summer. In the 1960s and 70s, the consensus was the Church was in decent shape, when in reality—seminaries, priestly formation, lay formation—it was reeling. Ironically, priestly and lay formation in most places is much better now than then, though that’s not the consensus of the culture at large.
Only Jesus, what he did (and does) for us, what he tells us through Scripture and the Church, what he gives us in the Sacraments. That crutch. Day by day. Crisis by crisis. That’s what the scandal is (re) teaching me.
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