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What I saw at the Abbey of the Genesee: The crisis in the Church and the universal call to holiness

My claim is that the fundamental crisis in the Church today is not rooted, primarily, in sexual perversion but, rather, in the idolatry of worldly comfort, which I take to be the very essence of the bourgeois spirit.

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I was reading an article the other day about an ongoing miracle in Italy that dates back to 1336.  In December of that year a young, pregnant woman named Egidia Mathis was walking home at night and feared for her life because of some unsavory characters who appeared to have evil intentions toward her.  So she ran to a nearby pillar that had on it an image of the Virgin Mary and pleaded with Mary to help her, whereupon, as the story goes, Mary appeared and scared off the bad guys and offered comfort to the young woman.  As if that wasn’t miracle enough, at that same moment a row of leafless, ice-covered, blackthorn bushes near the pillar suddenly broke out into full bloom, with flowers covering the bushes.  All of these events created so much stress and emotion in Egidia that she gave birth right there on the spot to a healthy baby.  A Church has since been erected at this location and is dedicated to “Our Lady of the Flowers”.  And every year since 1336 (with the exception of 1914 and 1939, on the eve of two World Wars) the blackthorn bushes at that location have broken out into full bloom out of season in the cold of December.  (You can read the entire story here.)

I begin my reflections with this story because the image of flowers miraculously blooming in the dead of winter seems like an apt description of the emotions I felt during my visit to the Abbey of the Genesee in upstate New York last year.  And not just because flowers are beautiful and can brighten up almost anything that is dreary, but because, as in the miracle, the wholly gratuitous, unexpected, and life-affirming eruption of the authentically supernatural into our lives is genuinely shocking and provocative.  I went to Genesee weighed down by the clerical sex scandals of the previous year expecting very little beyond a quiet period of reflection during this Christmas season.  I went, to be blunt about it, with a cynical and strangely attenuated heart, feeling metaphysically desiccated and fragile, hoping for a small, spiritual consolation of some kind in the midst of this agonistic winter in the Church.  I was expecting little more than the spiritual equivalent of a jolt of caffeine in the morning to get you going again, but what I found there instead, like a man on his way to debtor’s prison accidentally tripping over a pot of gold, was hope.  Not the trite and emotionally shallow hope that one gets from a “good trip” somewhere, where you meet “good people” and have a “good time”.  Here I mean hope in the sense of the theological virtue that one encounters very rarely in life, if at all.  You can read all about the theological virtue of hope in the theology books of course and you can “know” a great many things about it through such study.  But until one actually lives it or encounters it, it remains an abstraction offering nothing of real life-changing substance.  That is the value of the saints.  They are blackthorn bushes blooming out of season.  And I met them at Genesee.

But in order to map-out the topography of the concrete hope the monks and lay workers at Genesee gave me, and why I think the exact contour of this hope is important to anyone serious about living the Gospel radically, I think we first need to understand the nature of the “winter” we are currently in.  Because you cannot cure a disease unless you are accurate in your diagnosis of the pathology in question, and you may even end up in a worse state if you engage in radical forms of treatment for the wrong ailment.  Doctors can kill just as easily as they can heal if they are quacks.  And the Church, dadgummit, has enough of those.

Like many of my fellow Catholics, I have experienced the “winter” of the sex scandals as a period of sadness, pain, and a demoralization caused by disillusionment.  However, in my own case—a theologian and former seminarian, aged 62, who came of age in the post-Vatican II silly season—the sex scandals were not so much a shock as they were a confirmation of something my wise, seminary spiritual director (a German, Jewish convert who had fled Hitler with his family) told me all the way back in 1981: “Enter the Church’s ministry with eyes wide open.  Because let me tell you, the rot is very deep.”

In other words, I was not surprised by the scandals because I had been expecting them.  Anyone who has worked inside the Church over the past 50 or so years has known that some form of this day of reckoning was on the horizon.  A prescient and brave few were sounding the alarm bells but were ignored, as all such prophets get ignored by large institutions that are rotting from within even as they desperately cling to the status quo of the outward trappings of former glory.  And this decision to ignore the inward rot of the Church so long as her post-Tridentine integralist façade remained largely free of signs of putrefaction, is why many, if not most, of the bishops of the Church since Vatican II, far from being true pastors and shepherds of souls, were witless, managerial-class boors with an eye on that promotion to Rome and an apartment in Trastevere.  Their mandate was as simple as it was banal. Namely, to “save the appearances” of outward success even as everyone on the inside knew it was a sham and a scam.  Which is why their almost universal boilerplate model for dealing with sexual abuse by priests was to cover it all up.  The phrase “Do not air your dirty laundry in public” is certainly not peculiar to the Church, but the managerial-class bishops of the Church raised it into a criminal art form as they desperately tried to hide their weird and sketchy “Uncle Teds” from the neighbors.

This explains why the bishops were not shocked by the allegations against some of their priests and why such allegations did not lead to swift and decisive action.  Why were they so insouciant and cavalier about it all? Why did they treat it all as a managerial and an actuarial problem rather than a criminal one? Why? Because they were expecting it.  They had known for years and had been explicitly warned that something rotten was festering.  But the knowledge of the extent of the abuse and the repeated warnings had the opposite effect on the bishops than what one would expect. It simply jaded the bishops, as it was slowly doing to the entire clerical caste and became just one more “problem” that the manager/bishop had to deal with as he struggled to save the appearances.

My point here is simple, but important, as we struggle to try and understand the genesis of the episcopal cover ups.  Anyone who lived in and through the clerical culture in the Catholic Church over the past 50 years could not help but be influenced by the pervasive nature of the perversion that was all around us.  Not that one was tempted to engage in the perversion oneself, but that one would become inoculated against how horrible it truly was.  In other words, there was a “dumbing down” of the episcopal response to clerical perversion because there was first a “numbing down”.

For example, when I was in the seminary in the 1980s, I remember that one of my fellow seminarians got the boot when a male prostitute he had written a check to waltzed into the seminary’s main office on a fine, sunny day to complain that the check had bounced.  The reaction of my fellow seminarians was to joke about whether the young man got kicked out for soliciting a prostitute or for his bad financial management.  The point, beyond all the joking around, is this:  after a while such incidents no longer shock.  You get used to it.  And when new events would arise of a similar genre, you would just shrug your shoulders, sigh, and quote David Byrne: “Same as it ever was”. Unfortunately, so did the bishops.  (Do not judge me for my David Byrne quote.  Yes, I am old, and do not know modern pop artists.  But it was the 80s after all and I liked The Talking Heads).

And so my larger point is that the bishops are/were not singularly evil men, but were rather the products of the ecclesiastical culture of their age.  And that culture is largely reflective of the culture that surrounds us.  But therein resides the true nature of the “winter” in which we find ourselves, and the true nature of the disease that afflicts us. In short, at some point in her history the Church in North America and Europe ceased to be culture-forming and came to be, instead, formed by the culture.

Granted, the Church has always been and should be influenced by the dominant culture.  How else could she evangelize?  How else could she enculturate her message in each new era? And of course, it is naïve, psychologically and sociologically, to think that anyone can ever fully overcome the formative effects of their culture and engage in a form of pure, objective “reason” devoid of subjective bias.  Nor should they want to. Only simpletons and fools want to be Mr. Spock.  But at some point, in order to gain wisdom, or even to just think critically, or to be able to “think outside the box”, or to gain a new vision of cultural possibilities, one has to be able to rise above the crowd, to row the boat upstream, and to dare to imagine things differently.  One has to be able to take the mental furniture your culture has given you and be able to rearrange it creatively, in order to avoid your soul becoming a static set on Downton Abbey. As Chesterton once famously said, usually it is only dead things that float downstream.  Only a living thing can swim against the current. And this is a truth that all the artists and the creative visionaries in our ranks know:  you must cultivate and then continue to nurture a lively and intuitive imagination in order to reach the only kind of critical “objectivity” that matters.

And how much more is this true then for people of Christian faith whose task in evangelizing the culture is in large part a task of imaginative reconstruction of possibilities.  To take the stuff of this world, and to be able to take its flat surface appearance as an “object”, and to reimagine it as an epiphanic eruption of a deeper, spiritual depth.  For our hope, rooted in our faith, is that there is a “new heavens and a new earth” that is in the making here and now, and whose full fruition will come in the future.  Our hope is for a new Kingdom, born in and through the stuff of this world, which is radically different from some kind of Gnostic Disneyworld in the sky disconnected from this world in any meaningful way.

The Kingdom of God is, rather, the indicator of a very real inward transformation of the entirety of creation.  As Christ says in Revelation:  “Behold, I make all things new”.  He didn’t say “Behold, as a reward for not doing naughty things with your naughty bits, I give you the ultimate Space Mountain.”  But the latter scenario befits the reduction of the faith to a moralizing, bourgeois “niceness”, where the Christian faith is poured into the Jell-O mold of secular, suburban life precisely to create a domesticated Christianity that lacks the imagination to think otherwise.  Because Christians who think like Christians might just rock the boat enough to lower the GDP.  Yikes.

My claim, therefore, is that the fundamental crisis in the Church today is not rooted, primarily, in sexual perversion.  It is rooted, rather, in the idolatry of worldly comfort, which I take to be the very essence of the bourgeois spirit.

It is an idolatry made respectable (and therefore unrecognized as idolatry) by the Church’s modern acceptance of the Enlightenment’s co-optation of the Kingdom of God by politics and economics.  This entails as well the de facto, practical atheism that ensues when God’s Transcendence comes to be viewed competitively over and against our worldly fulfillment.  In such a bourgeois regime, where Christianity has been tamed and has become just one more aid or help to our self-improvement in this life (Alexander Schmemann’s genius insight), the Kingdom of God has to be gutted of its true supernaturally transformative power and replaced with either the ridiculous Gospel of prosperity or the totalizing social/political Gospel of the Left.  And, as Schmemann further points out, our status as homo adorans, as primarily in our essence “worshipers of the true God”, is thus replaced by homo faber, or humanity viewed as a mere economic commodity, either as a producer or as a consumer, and as a forger of brave new worlds in the here and now.

Thus does it come to pass that nobody believes in the God of Jesus Christ anymore.  Thus does it come to pass that the Church has morphed into a worldly simulacrum of the Kingdom—a counterfeit idolatry riddled with the lies and deceptions of suburban, bourgeois fulfillment, to such an extent that the Church even remains silent about America’s clearly evil, and “gravely disordered” military industrial complex whose sole purpose is the preservation of late capitalist bourgeois wealth.  My goodness, look and see how Catholics—liberal and conservative—strain at a gnat yet swallow a camel.  We strain over our endless debates on human sexuality, while swallowing in one gulp the very capitalist, militarist, and hedonistic false anthropology that undergirds the entire modern American enterprise of “value neutral inclusion”.

I have long believed, therefore, that the laity play a much larger role in the current crisis than we are often willing to admit.  (Don’t kill me for saying that. I am not exonerating the clergy here).  Because the clergy in any era are formed by the lay world in which they were raised.  And post-World War II Catholics have lived largely affluent lives of material comfort, taught their children that such comforts were the point to existence and, therefore, a kind of birthright, and indulged in the fruits of the sexual revolution.

Some might see my comments here as an unfair rant, filled with judgmental and harsh generalizations.  I can only say two things to this.  First, I stand by these observations because I too am a product of such a culture.  I feel it in my bones, in my marrow, in the depths of my soul.  And if you are honest you will admit that you too are deeply affected by this same ethos.  I adopt no Archimedean stance of “holiness”.  I am not a sheep among a herd of goats.  I too am a zombie-child of my age.  I am a compromised scoundrel who can barely scrape together a single honest prayer during the course of my day.

Second, for evidence of my thesis look no further than the total collapse of the Catholic façade after Vatican II’s spin doctors lifted the lid on the Church’s cultural libido.  In other words, if pre-Vatican II Catholicism was so strong, why was its collapse so swift? Perhaps the answer to that question gives us a clue as to our current crisis:  we as a Church have been ill for quite some time, and that illness is not perversion or clericalism, although both of those things exist in the Church.  No, the illness is the cult of “well-being” as Berdyaev puts it, or put another way, it is the cult of worldliness.  And this illness afflicts the laity as much as, if not more than, the clergy.

This is why I say it is important to diagnose the disease properly before a remedy is recommended.  For if we focus solely on priestly sexual predation, and episcopal cover-up, and the “lavender mafia”, we will miss the role the laity have played in all of this.  We will be engaging in a kind of Girardian scapegoating—even if those we are blaming are, in fact, guilty as charged (which they are).  I am friends with a growing legion of parish priests who entered parish ministry full of vigor and idealism, but who are now on the verge of psychological and emotional collapse.  They know priests who have turned to booze or porn or women or dudes or expensive trips or lots of fancy restaurants (or all of the above) to anesthetize themselves against the crushing pain of meaninglessness that the “beige Catholicism” of modernity has become.  And when you add in the fact that many of their fellow priests were already immature and broken human beings when they entered the priesthood—celibacy being the great attractant for both saints and the weird and immature—you will soon see why all of this was so utterly predictable.

Please understand I am not here offering an apologia for clerical malfeasance.  I am very much on public record, in front of millions of TV viewers on The O’Reilly Factor, condemning such corruption in no uncertain terms.  Any priest or bishop involved in sexual abuse and/or its cover up should be immediately laicized and turned over to the proper civil authorities.  And if canon law stands in the way, then either change canon law or to hell with it.  Furthermore, the Church should indeed pay through the nose, to the point of severe financial hardship, to compensate in some small way the victims of such abuse.  Simple justice demands all of this.  And insofar as the bishops can alter Church policies in a manner that fosters real procedural transparency I am for it.  Better late than never.

My larger point, however,  is more practical with regard to where we go from here.  We keep expecting the Pope and the bishops to “do something”.  We keep waiting for “new policies from Rome” and are waiting with high expectation for some upcoming meeting of bishops in Rome to develop new “programs and strategies”. We wonder out loud why the 2002 Dallas Charter didn’t change human nature from the ground-up and create a new springtime of clerical holiness.  We keep arguing about married priests or women priests or female deacons—as if tweaking the clerical “structure”, as Pope Francis notes, will change the Church’s idolatrous commitment to a shallow worldliness.  The Anglican Church—the relatively few of them that are left in Europe and North America—says hello.

The desire for a quick and simple solution on the level of a policy change is understandable.  As C.S. Lewis noted, the modern world is made up of “men without chests” who seek solutions in the world on the level of technocratic and managerial control rather than in a renewal of virtue.  Therefore, placing our hope for change in an ecclesiastical committee tasked with altering procedures is just business-as-usual thinking.  I make no pretense, furthermore, to knowing the answer to this problem.  But I think I can confidently state that there never has been in the history of the Church, nor will there ever be, a bureaucratic solution to what is, in its essence, a problem associated with spiritual failure:  Nemo dat quod non habet.

I can’t say when this process of cultural accommodation to the modern bourgeois spirit began. Intellectual genealogies are always dicey.  They always seem to fit the ideological filter of the historian in question.  For example, I once knew a Greek Orthodox theologian who said he could trace, in five historical steps, the path from the filioque to the Holocaust.  Or the Catholic version of this in a prominent moral theologian who I once heard give a talk tracing the causative line from the acceptance of condoms to the rise in urban street crime.  It reminds me of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” where King Arthur says to Sir Bedivere:  “This new learning amazes me. Explain to me again how one can use Ram’s bladders to prevent earthquakes.”  The problem with modern intellectual genealogies is the same as the problem with medieval science:  they are deductive attempts to start from a settled first principle or seminal historical event (e.g. the rise of nominalism) to concrete empirical conclusions or sweeping historical claims about the present crisis.  Therefore, in trying to adjudicate the causes of the modern crisis in the Church, it is better, I think, to begin inductively, via a “thick description” of multi-focal cultural trends, rather than deductively with a set of dogmatic presuppositions.

Now is not the time or place to engage in such a multi-focal analysis.  Others have already done so admirably and with much greater scholarly vigor than I could muster.  However, what needs to be pointed out is that if the crisis (the Church’s idolatrous acceptance of the bourgeois spirit as normative) has a complicated and somewhat opaque set of historical causes that played out synergistically over several centuries, so too then will its “solution” require a multi-focal and long-term commitment to a reform of the Church that will involve all of us.  The clergy are indispensable in a liturgical, sacramental and hierarchical Church that is rooted in the doctrine of apostolic succession.  Therefore, the laity must seek out and align themselves with those members of the clergy who understand the nature of the current crisis of faith and who are therefore serious about the kinds of reforms that are needed.

But the nature of the crisis requires a true revolution, radical in its scope, of the manner in which lay people live the faith in the “worldly world”.  And in this regard leadership of this movement must be largely lay driven and directed, even as it seeks guidance and sacramental presence from the clergy.  Vatican II famously championed the “universal call to holiness” and was viewed, correctly, as calling for an empowered laity and a less clerical Church.  Sadly, what happened instead was the clericalization of the laity as we crammed as many eucharistic ministers and lectors and music ministers into the sanctuary as we could.  Meanwhile, the true empowerment of the laity to live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience in a modality consonant with their state in life (the only path to holiness given by the Gospel) was eclipsed by the powerful movement of sexual liberation of the 60s, and effectively derailed, and then subsequently redefined as the Gospel of therapeutic “self-improvement”.

The need, therefore, is to once again take up the truly revolutionary message of Vatican II—that the bourgeois spirit of modernity can only be overcome by a renewed Church rooted in the evangelical counsels—and to imaginatively rethink, in the light of this call, how lay people need to structure their lives in the world.  We also need a renewed sense of how serious this all is.  This is not a spiritual game we are playing, or an extension of that very same bourgeois sense of self in some kind of self-conscious role playing and posturing as a “spiritual person”. In its own way, such dabbling in even “rad trad” liturgy and forms of spirituality is just another form of accommodation with the therapeutic spirit of the bourgeois self.  And the same goes for Christian homesteading and back to the land romanticisms that are just a kind of hip “prepping” with a biblical veneer.  Spare me the Whole Foods crunchy cons who want to champion alternative ways of living so long as the creature comforts remain.

Don’t get me wrong … in their own way all of the things I just mentioned can be positive signs of something truly holy going on.  My wife and I ourselves attend a high Church Anglican Ordinariate liturgy (thank you, Pope Benedict!) since we are in search of a true experience of homo adorans, and we raise organic food on our “back to the land” Catholic homestead!  But it is precisely, once again, because I sense the narcissism in my own soul that I can see the dangers inherent in even things that appear as positive reform movements.  The finger of accusation I am pointing is at myself before it is at anyone else.  It is precisely because I know for a fact that I need this reform in my own soul that I suspect lots of other people do as well.  And so my only point is that all such attempts at restructured lay living must be seen explicitly, and lived accordingly, as a repudiation of the imperial, consumeristic, self and as an attempt at putting on instead the renewed humanity of Jesus Christ. And not the sanitized Christ of the modern settlement, but rather, the bruised and bloody Christ of the cross, the lamb who was slain, the savior born in anonymity, raised in anonymity, and who died in ignominy.  That Christ.

All of this (finally!) brings me back to the Abbey of the Genesee, what I saw there, and how I think it relates to the crisis we face.  I went to the Abbey for two reasons.  First, for a short two-day retreat that I hoped, as I mentioned above, would give me a small spiritual booster shot.  But my wife and I also went up because we were invited there by a lay person who runs the retreat center associated with the Abbey (Mike Sauter).  We got to know him through a mutual priest friend who is a frequent guest of the Abbey and who is contemplating a monastic vocation there (Fr. John Gribowich).  We were invited there because the monks of the Abbey, as well as the lay workers we met, are all interested in the universal call to holiness and who share our view that the current crisis in the Church is a spiritual one requiring a spiritual response.  My wife and I met with the lay worker, our priest friend, and two priests from the monastery, one of whom was the abbot.  We had an amazing two-hour conversation that centered on the nature of the current crisis in the Church and how some form of the universal call to holiness for lay people is absolutely necessary for the renewal of the Church.

The point I am trying to make is that those of us who buy into this vision are not an idiosyncratic gaggle of latter-day Essenes awaiting our own vindication at the approaching doomsday “for those others”.  The vision is a positive one, espousing a life centered on the evangelical counsels for the sake of, and out of love for, the world.  Our world.  The only world that is given to us to inhabit.

But beyond all of this talk, and beyond the discursive and rational elements of the conversation concerning all of these “issues”, is the simple witness and example of the monks in all of its power.  We must never lose sight of the fact that it is not the Church that attracts and speaks to the soul, but God.  The human soul is made for God and is ever restless until it rests in the divine heart.  The first pagan converts to Christianity did so because they felt liberated from the despairing and brutal world of the pagan divinities as they encountered the rejuvenating purity of the God of Jesus Christ.  They felt the power of this God in a concrete and tangible way.

And this encounter gave them new eyes for reimagining reality, for reimagining the manner in which society could be different.  How people could live differently and treat each other differently.  And that latter point is important.  For what Christianity preached was not a private spirituality of enlightenment and flight from the world.  That was the gnostic perversion.  It preached instead the conversion and transformation of the world along the lines of the cruciform God of unlimited love.  This new faith in the cruciform God created entirely new pathways for reimagining what the love of neighbor entails.

Because true empathy is only possible where the imaginative powers have been engraced and transformed precisely in order to place oneself into the condition of the “other”.  Christological forms of empathy are only possible in a world where the human imagination is now placed in the service of charity rather than the service of the libido dominandi.

Human beings will only pursue a revolution of the spirit if they think it is concretely possible, if they can imagine it actually happening.  Otherwise all such visions will remain locked up in fantasyland along with unicorns and pixie dust.  When I witnessed the monks of Genesee at prayer, I saw men whose entire lives are defined by the divestment of self which is rooted in a concrete hope for the coming Kingdom.  I saw men whose imaginative vision of what is real, and therefore, of what is possible, was so transformed by their lives of worship and adoration that they became witnesses to others of the reality of that same world.  The simplicity of their chants was gripping in its authenticity and unpretentious humility.

And I felt my cynicism and negativity melt away because I sensed a most elemental liberation of my “concerns” (of my slavery to our current principalities and powers) in the face of the power of the God of Jesus Christ.  The monks live, and therefore model, the Gospel truth that one can find one’s life only if one first loses it.  That love is not a zero-sum game wherein the more I give of myself the “less of me” there is.  The paradox of the Gospel is that the more I love, the more I give myself away, the more it, and I, grow.  The monks show us that the path to God, and therefore, deep happiness, is the path of divestment.

But the path of divestment is the opposite of the path of acquisition.  Divestment allows us to open a space for the reception of the “gift” of the other and of God.  Acquisition is, by contrast, a spirit of “grasping” and of domination.  This is what the monks of the Abbey of the Genesee show clearly. Namely, that the power of voluntary poverty resides not in the realm of ascetic negation, but in the more positive domain of the transformation of the human lust for domination into the quiet openness that Elijah felt at the mouth of his cave, straining to hear that still small voice.

I know this might all sound like a romanticizing exaggeration, but it is not.  These men are the real deal and when you encounter such blackthorns in bloom out of season it leaves an impression.  And the takeaway from all of this, if you want to put it that way, for those of us trying to live the counsels as Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin did, is that we must never lose sight of why we are seeking alternative forms of living in the midst of the new barbarity that surrounds us.  For whatever form this renewed way of living takes the one common denominator has to be the imitation of Christ.  Everything else is a vanity, an ideology, a subtle form of the spirit of acquisition.

In other words, we cannot allow our faith communities to be defined by what we are against.  There has to be a positive proposal that is rooted in an authentic alternative.  And if we are able to live that alternative, we will become powerful witnesses to the fact that a different way of living is indeed possible, that it isn’t a fantasy like unicorns and pixie dust.  We will have won half the battle if we can just give people the hope required to reimagine the deeper contours of reality beyond the drab and pinched confines of bourgeois modernity and into the deep pool of God’s profligate love.

(Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in slightly different form on the “Gaudium et Spes 22” site and is reprinted here by kind permission of the author. The opinions expressed here are the author’s alone.)


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About Larry Chapp 8 Articles
Dr. Larry Chapp is a retired professor of theology. He taught for twenty years at DeSales University near Allentown, Pennsylvania. He now owns and manages, with his wife, the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm in Harveys Lake, Pennsylvania.

20 Comments

  1. I think I got it. After excessive wordiness, the last paragraph lets the cat out of the bag::. Shame on you Catholics who are single issue “against abortion” voters. And congrats to us enlightened ones who vote for “authentic alternatives,” like for late term abortions, for suing the Little Sisters of the Poor and for disqualifying Catholics to serve on the courts. Got it. Knew that was coming. Maybe stealing elections is part of that “transformed world.”

    • Thanks for identifying my uneasiness with this article, John P. I labored through the wordiness of the article because I was intrigued by the association of a Cistercian monastery in NY with orthodoxy. But all became clear when at the end I read reference to Saint Dorothy Day.

  2. The “universal call to holiness”, hints at the real crisis. Holiness is loving God as near as possible in this life as totally as God loves us, whereby we can even love others as much as we love ourselves. Jesus gave the commandments as did Moses….ALL one’s heart, strength, mind, soul, above any thing of this world.

    How many Christians does anyone know who achieves this, even partially? How many Christians does anyone know who even TRY?

    The entire point of the religion is that uinion in total love with God as much as possible in this life, so that it continues on into the next, eternity the gift of the beloved who shares all he is as a true lover, holding back nothing, not even eternity, if only we return that love.

    All the Sacraments are ordered to foster this loving union of the soul with God, this union making a life a prayer of returned love.

    Without this interior life of love nourished by Holy Church, it is all a sham of the sort our Master so strenuously preached against.

    THIS is the true crisis….ZERO true spiritual education and practice.

  3. A Church domestic, at home in the world deathly bland. Chapp’s lamentation courses Gnostic flight from the world to living within and Cruciform transformation. The latter anomalously experienced at Our Lady of the Genesee Abbey. A contemplative enclosure distanced from the world now called Genesee Abbey. That change an analogy with his Dorothy Day Catholic Workers Farm. Both are farms at least the Abbey once was a Black Angus cattle farm low slung austere brightly colored totally different from the more traditional now. Dorothy Day’s “Cruciform” life with the dispossessed and poor, and the early community then Our Lady of the Genesee had a rare spiritual simplicity. I know little of her compared to Chapp, though the few letters, excerpts spoke to what is missing in most of us, and the Church at large. Thus its woes and Chapp’s lamentation. A sort of capture within of that same Spirit experienced in the Abbey community.

  4. Genesee Abbey is the real deal. I’ve gone on many retreats there. They practice a simple and genuine monastic life. Nothing fancy. Their way of life is simple and real. Good monks there. I would highly recommend them for a retreat or even a vocation.

  5. CHAPP writes that “many, if not most, of the bishops of the Church since Vatican II, far from being true pastors and shepherds of souls, were witless, managerial-class boors…”

    Balderdash! A friend and JESUIT priest—who was also still Catholic!—fumed to me that they were not even good managers! And, of the ordained camp-followers, they stayed in the Church for nothing more that “three squares and a flop!” Or, as my also-still-Catholic PASTOR snorted: the letterhead-addicted clerical infestation in the chancery office were not complicated eggheads at all; they were simply “children!”

    Some 35 years ago, Cardinal RATZINGER summarized: “And the Church, I shall never tire of repeating it, needs saints more than functionaries” (The Ratzinger Report, 1985, p. 67).

    And fully 40 years before that—on Chapp’s general theme—the historian/ sociologist CHRISTOPHER DAWSON concluded an essay on the Bourgeoisie Mind with this: “There is always a temptation for religion to ally itself with the existing order [….] The Christian Church is the organ of the spirit, the predestined channel through which the salvific energy of divine love flows out and transforms humanity [….] [W]e can choose the difficult and hazardous way of creative spiritual activity, which is the way of the saints. If the age of the martyrs has not yet come [writing in 1935] the age of a limited, self-protective, bourgeois religion is over. For the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force” (in The Dynamics of World History, 1962).

    The salt of the earth??? As ST. JOHN recorded two millennia past, and so tastefully: “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:16).

    • I am baffled by the author’s apparent presumption that bishops somehow became “managerial” sometime after Vatican 2 – or perhaps because of it. Many of the abusers were either ordained prior to, or entered seminay prior to V2.

  6. Thanks for a thoughtful article. We are in the midst of a massive crisis of faith from the current Pope to the people in the pews. It is a frightening situation. God help us all!!

  7. “In its own way, such dabbling in even ‘rad trad’ liturgy and forms of spirituality is just another form of accommodation with the therapeutic spirit of the bourgeois self.”

    Can be… every good thing can be abused. But let’s not forget the obverse: there will not be victory over the therapeutic spirit of the bourgeois self without earnest liturgical worship in substantial continuity with Catholic tradition. And it should be obvious that the liturgical reform bears a great deal of blame for the “beige Catholicism” in which we suffocate.

  8. This was placed on my heart this morning…

    Please correct me if my reasoning is in error.

    Do we not find ourselves in a time where the majority of the hierarchy of
    the Church is in grave sin? It gives to good reason that Pope Francis is
    in a continual state of grave sin of scandal due to his many statements
    that are ambiguous at best or contradict Church teaching for which he
    never corrects. Given that he has never corrected one statement publicly
    it would not be a stretch to guess he is unrepentant of these errors.
    Furthermore being in this constant state of scandal he then receives
    communion willingly which further blasphemes against our Lord Jesus
    Christ.

    If we find Pope Francis in these grave
    circumstances, does it not further reason, that every cardinal who
    remains silent against these grave sins gives assent and causes further
    scandal? These sins are then multiplied when the cardinals make further
    statements against the faith. If the bishops remain silent against the
    cardinals now they are complicit and commit grave scandal as well, down
    to the priests who remain silent, which in turn only scandalizes the
    faithful.

    Then if we remain silent in admonishing our
    priests to speak do we not bear this sin although to a lesser degree as
    the poison comes from the top?

    If this reasoning is true and sound then it is no wonder Jesus asked if He will find anyone of faith when He returns. At the moment it would seem He has been
    abandoned once again by His Church and truly only a remnant remains.

  9. Thank you for this robust article, so unlike so much that I read in our Catholic world today. I particularly appreciate your willingness to see and admit your own part in the structural, cultural sin of our day. The truth is we all, always, speak from the midst of the fray but it is refreshing to see it acknowledged. I do too, albeit without your immense learning and knowledge. I was struck by many things you said, and the engaging way you said them. But I just want to make two observations, well one question and one observation. First the question. I do not understand what you mean when you say “ Meanwhile, the true empowerment of the laity to live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience in a modality consonant with their state in life (the only path to holiness given by the Gospel) was eclipsed by the powerful movement of sexual liberation of the 60s, and effectively derailed”. I see how sexual liberation is problematic but it’s a stretch to blame this more than the church’s own, much more damaging in my view, tendency to clericalise lay people. And the observation: I am glad that you found a renewed sense of the true hope of the Gospel at your time in the abbey. I do wonder though about whether the life of people in abbeys, convents and other retreats can ever be more than a pipe dream of poverty, chastity and obedience for most of us. We who live in the usual rough and tumble, the real struggle with life and death, outside the walls of the monastery, or cathedral, are where we need to look to find Christ incarnate in His people; in hope of new parents, the upstream struggle of all life. Marriage is as much a place of poverty, chastity and obedience as anywhere. Economic necessity finds poverty, chastity and obedience in the homeless and the despairing. I know that people who live in monasteries speak of the rough realities of life, coping with all the mundanity of any human community. But those communities are rich in every way that we lay married workers can only dream of. There are many words of justifiable anger and frustration in your article and I wonder at last that you refrained from likening the church to the scribes and pharisees who so embraced Jesus. (Sorry that was another observation that just slipped in there.). Thanks again.

  10. Is it me or do this article say everything and nothing at the same time? There are many broad generalizations, claims of knowing the ‘real reason’ of why this or that happened, and a number of awkward statements that make it hardly palatable.
    It starts out with claiming that hope is rarely if ever found in the world and in the 2nd paragraph it undermines ‘taking a trip’, ‘meeting good people’ and ‘having a good time’ as being some kind of fools gold for hope. Last time I checked, hope is precisely found in the little sparks of life that are contained in all of the above. A wink, a smile, a cold beer with a friend who understands you, etc… are all evidence that hope floats on the normal affairs of life, not the radicality that the author so hungers for and is the true fools gold.
    Next, its language is definitely ‘high brow’ full of little Latin sayings, and heady phrases that the normal reader who doesn’t live in the high tower of history and theological/philosophical speculation would find somewhat off-putting, such as ‘Girardian scapegoating’ for instance. Any article I have to spend serious time looking up phrases is already speaking to a limited audience.
    The insistent use of the word ‘bourgeois’ also puts it in the category of making the average reader feel average and not in the inspiring sense of the word. The evangelical counsels are ‘counsels’ not precepts. Just getting to the precepts would be a breakthrough let alone getting the average Joe to take on more than the Lord asks of him.
    Phrases such as ‘post tridentine integralist facade’ strike me as grossly inaccurate. The post tridentine lay movements, guilds, prayer apostolates, charitable activities, Marian movements were rich in fecundity. To claim that the universal call to holiness is some break through of the last 50 years is not only inaccurate but offensive. What of the third orders of the medieval period, Catholic schooling in America via Bishops such as St John Neumann in the 19th century, and others? We have lived with huge ‘lay movements’ in the last 50 years and yet we are still in a mess. Have they not already tried to do what the author proposes as not being attempted?

    Also, ‘the God of Jesus Christ’ is that awkward title from Kasper, one of the architects of modernism in the current Church, that is unscriptural and untraditional.
    The God Who is Jesus Christ is our Faith. The God of Jesus Christ smacks of that low christology which has plagued the Church along with faddish titles such as the ‘cruciform God’, which only the ‘initiates’ understand. Why not just say Christ Crucified? Why not use simple traditional titles that are ever ancient, ever new. Are we trying to impress Cardinal Ratzinger with our erudition or are we trying to make our language simple, traditional and understandable or is that too ‘bourgeois’?

    For myself, the article offers little in the way of a solution or understanding better a very complex situation but rather strikes me as haranguing, overly simplistic and ivory towered at the same time, and impractical. The laity don’t want to hear that their struggles to maintain Faith, Hope and Charity in their simple way are somehow partly responsible for heterodoxy and perversity in the seminaries. The cause of the crisis is not ‘bourgeois’ spirituality because we are ‘consumers’ and have failed our calling but a bloated droning of themes from mid 20th century enthusiasm that have failed the test though sounding ‘evangelical’ while lacking simplicity and orthodoxy (I’m definitely thinking of the great failed project of ‘ecumenism’ that has weakened fidelity to Sacred Tradition). I’m happy the author discovered some insight, but next time, keep the vision you saw on the mountain to yourself if this is the result!

    • You’re absolutely right. The “universal call to holiness” was infinitely more lived in the pre-V2 Church than in what has come after in the last 60 years.

  11. Mr. Chapp I too attend ‘Divine Worship: The Mass’, but please, it is NOT the Anglican Ordinariate, it is simply the ORDINARIATE! And yes, thanks Pope Benedict!
    Gordon Carter. Adelaide. South Australia.

      • Because we are not Anglican but Catholic. Most members of the Ordinariate WERE previously Anglican (or Episcopalian in the USA) before being received into the Catholic Church. As Mr.Chapp implied Pope Benedict graciously permitted them to bring the best of their religious heritage into the Catholic Church.

  12. Thanks to Cameron above.
    You’ve confirmed my suspicion that when an article is this long and this convoluted, it’s not worth my time.

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