Fr. Robert McTeigue is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, host of the radio show The Catholic Current on the Station of the Cross, and a member of the National Ethics Committee of the Catholic Medical Association. A philosopher by training, he regularly offers meditations and reflections on culture and how we live as Christians in the world. He is also author of the book Real Philosophy for Real People: Tools for Truthful Living (Ignatius Press, 2020).
His latest book is Christendom Lost and Found: Meditations for a Post-Post Christian Era (Ignatius Press, 2022). The book is a sort of “war journal”, written during the “COVID interruption” and the violence that erupted all across America in 2020 and 2021. Fr. McTeigue is responding to the cultural collapse he saw in every direction, and inspired by Saint Augustine’s City of God, he meditates on how to build Christ-centered cultures in our time.
Fr. McTeigue recently spoke with Catholic World Report about his latest book, the state of “Christendom”, and hope for the future.
Catholic World Report: How did the book come to be?
Fr. Robert McTeigue, SJ: The book was written between November of 2019 and February of 2021. I had been brooding over the downward trends I had seen over the past several years. I decided to “think out loud on paper” and to sort through my thoughts, to see if I could make connections, find matter for prayer, and finally come to some clarity.
After writing a book that was very tightly structured (Real Philosophy for Real People: Tools for Truthful Living), very much a textbook, I decided to write in a style that was more personal. Then COVID hit, the churches were closed, and I found myself with more time on my hands. I decided to put that time to good use.
CWR: Tell us about the book’s subtitle: “Meditations for a Post Post-Christian Era”. What do you mean by “a Post Post-Christian Era”?
Fr. McTeigue: In brief: Since the French Revolution in 1789, what has come to be known as “the West” (formerly known as “Christendom”) decided to live without Christ. Hence the “Post-Christian Era.” We ended up with lots of unfulfilled promises, lots of bad art and mounds of dead bodies. The 20th century was the inevitable outcome of the rejection of Christ and the rise of secularism.
In the 21st century, we can’t seem to admit that we made a mistake all those years ago. And no one can seriously say that we are doing just fine and don’t need to make a correction. My insight is that we can retrieve what was lost, forgotten, or rejected from Christendom and plant it in the soil of our place and time, with the added benefit of knowing that we can’t afford to reject Christ again.
Hence, the “Post Post-Christen Era”; we can no longer take for granted what was taken for granted in the past.
CWR: The book contrasts starkly in style with your previous book, Real Philosophy for Real People. Why take such a different approach this time?
Fr. McTeigue: Real Philosophy for Real People was written as a textbook meant to become a set of tools. It took me entirely too long to write that book because I fell into the trap of trying to work out each sentence perfectly before putting my hands to the keyboard. On the plus side of that approach, my fellow Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio said that “Not a single sentence is out of place.”
On the negative side of that approach, it took me much longer to write than it should have. I didn’t want to fall into that trap again.
For Christendom Lost and Found, I got a thick journal of very thin Japanese paper, I bought a fountain pen, and I wrote the whole book out by hand. I also resolved before I started that I wouldn’t review the journal until I filled it. That way, I wouldn’t succumb to “the paralysis of analysis” that hampered the writing of my previous book. I kept that promise.
CWR: Did these meditations and reflections help bring you to any insights about the state of the Church and the world?
Fr. McTeigue: This book was written as kind of a “war journal” and a spiritual diary. As my writing gathered momentum, the COVID Interruption began worldwide, and there were riots in American cities. I looked out the window, I looked at headlines, and I saw institutional failures and individual collapse.
As a spiritual journal, I recorded my thoughts and prayers as I continued to pray, preach, and broadcast during a time of crisis. God sustained His people in difficult times before; God would sustain me in this difficult time if I turned to Him. I took as a role model Saint Augustine writing his City of God as Rome collapsed and the barbarians lay siege to his own city. As a result of writing this book, I have more confidence in God and less confidence in man.
CWR: Is there anything very new about what we’re facing today? Or is it just another flavor, a variation on themes that have played out time and again throughout history?
Fr. McTeigue: A lot of ink gets spilled from time to time about whether this or that crisis, or era or event, is the most or the worst or some other kind of maximum. I’m not sure if those conversations bring about much good. I think that our present times of trial are especially challenging and that the challenges will multiply, deepen, increase and accelerate.
Through prayer and study, I know that God has made available to the world through His Church resources that can sustain us in our own times of trial.
CWR: Where do you see hope for Church? Hope for the world?
Fr. McTeigue: Christ crucified is Christ risen is Christ reigning is Christ returning. Christ will share His victory with His faithful.
CWR: What do you hope readers will get from this book?
Fr. McTeigue: I very much hope that this book will spark prayer, study, conversation, and action.
Individuals and communities great and small all have a part to play in retrieving and cultivating the perennial wisdom of Christendom. I would like to see people work together to achieve that retrieval and cultivation.
• Related at CWR: “Revitalizing Christian faith and culture in a post post-Christian era” (Nov 13, 2022): An interview with Fr. Robert McTeigue, S.J., by Sarah Cain
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We need more of this kind of teaching. Perspective is necessary. All of the modern popes from Pius IX (1846-1878) to Benedict XVI (2005-2013) have been guiding and leading the Church, and trying to protect the faithful from false teachings. The purpose of the Church is the salvation of souls, as it has been from the beginning. No matter how bleak the culture, we can all participate, by works of corporal and spiritual mercy, trusting that God’s plans and purposes. An Orthodox priest told me when I was a young professor, ‘save yourself, and others around you will be saved.’
I sense in you a man who is both brave and humble, we need more of both. May God bless you, father.
My mom described a few tsunamis that hit her hometown in Kihei, Maui when she was a kid: First the water would retreat for several miles over the course of an hour and lull people into a sense of calm then in the course of the next 6 hours it would gradually rise sometimes 25′ above mean sea-level and stay that way for another 12 hours before retreating. She said the speed of the water would start as a slow walk, 5 miles an hour and then increase to up to 20 miles an hour. When it was finally over everything in its path was washed out to sea, but the people who were wise enough to go to high ground early would at least still be alive. She said even with this type of slow tsunami there would be many casualties because many took the opportunity to forage seafood miles from the original shore, break into houses or have big drinking parties and then not have time to escape. Matt. 24:42-44.