There is debate among some in Church, as I suppose there has been in every age, as to how to interpret the signs of the times. It was common in the 1970s and into the 80s for many to speak hopefully of a “Springtime for the Church” as they looked with confidence for the fruits of the Second Vatican Council to take off.

And there have indeed been many Spring fruits: a laity that is more engaged in daily Church life, a Liturgy that flourishes in very diverse ways from traditional Latin Masses, across the spectrum to more charismatic and vernacular expressions, the Catechism of the Catholic Church which has helped stabilize the content of catechesis, the bouncing back of vocations that is underway and the founding of new and reformed Orders along with the blossoming of many lay apostolates, these and other such things speak to the fruits of a kind of springtime.

And yet it is increasingly hard to argue that the temporal order is in anything but increasing disrepair, at least in what we call “The West.” The family is in crisis, shredded by sexual promiscuity, contraception, divorce, single motherhood, and the overall crisis of rebellion against authority and tradition. Sexual misbehavior and the contraceptive mentality that severed the relationship between sex and child bearing, between marriage and child bearing, has led to grave sexual confusion and the increasingly widespread acceptance of homosexual activity and same sex unions which some want to term “marriage.” Along with this crisis in the family and sexual confusion has come a falling away from the Catholic, Christian faith this is nothing less than astonishing, especially in Europe. Even in this country only 25% of Catholics go to Mass. There is also the rise not only of religious indifferentism and secularism, but also of a militant form of atheism that might better be termed “anti-theism.” There is increasingly, outright hostility for the faith, especially the Catholic faith and traditional, Bible-believing denominations. We discussed this last week here)

So there is light and darkness. I think there are many good signs that, in the Church, the Lord is working a reform and clarity that we are going to need going forward. For the lights in Western culture are going out, one by one. The crisis which we face is getting clearer, and the conflict between the Gospel and this culture grows ever sharper.

To some degree it has always been so that the Church is a “sign of contradiction” to this world. Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms outside the ancient temple. And in holding Jesus he held also the Church. Simeon said to Mary his Mother of Jesus (and by extension his body the Church):

This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too. (Luke 2:34-35)

And thus, the conflict between the gospel and this world, between the Church and this world has been from the start. Yet for us in the West the conflict, once, perhaps, more subtle, has now become much clearer as the premises of a post-Christian West become increasingly hostile to all we hold sacred.

Of these times Blessed Pope John Paul II remarked, prior to becoming Pope:

We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel and the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine providence. It is a trial which the whole Church… must take up” (Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (Bl. JOHN PAUL II) to the American bishops in 1976, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Nov. 9, 1978).

Perhaps, then Cardinal Wojtyla’s European experience, caused him to see Americans as less aware of the crisis of faith. For Europe, in the wake of the Second World War, had already seen an astonishing falling away from the faith. As early as 1953, CS Lewis spoke ominously of the waves of atheism sweeping Europe [1]. Eastern Europe too was still in the grip of Communism. And all this must have helped the future Pope see more clearly the growing crisis of which he thought too many Americans were unaware.

If we were unaware then, I think many of us now “get it.” Within the Church here there is growing consensus, especially among younger bishops and also younger priests that the crisis in our culture grows ever grave, and requires of us and increasing courage and clarity. Many lay people too, are learning to courageously and unambiguously witness to the faith, both to their family and to this culture.

And that is the key word: courage. For what may have been less obvious in the remnants of the more “Christian Culture” in which many of us grew up, is that that the normative state of the world in the presence of the Gospel is one of conflict.

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. But because you are not of the world, for I have called you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (Jn 15:19).

The normal Christian life is steeped in deep conflict with the world. To be sure we are to love all, yes, our enemies too. But it does not follow that they will love us, or the Lord and the truth we proclaim. Thus, though we do not seek it, conflict inevitably arises and finds us.

We must overcome sheepish and fearful notions that shrink from the conflict that inevitably comes to us. That we are hated, reviled, ridiculed or dismissed, does not mean we have done anything wrong. It may merely mean that we have encountered the same conflict that our Lord endured. But endure he did, and he did not compromise to avoid the inevitable conflict. He was a sign of contradiction to this world. So he endured, he persevered. And so must we.

The gospel is currently out of season, especially that part of the gospel that speaks of chastity, of faith, of life and obedience. The “social gospel” may still be “in,” but even there, the Church is being told to get out, and/or to keep Christ out of charity.

Yes, it is winter for the gospel in our culture and it is going to require an inner fire of love and zeal by us to see this season, through to a better day. Courage and the acceptance of conflict are no longer an option for the true Christian. Only the strong and determined will have what it takes to endure. Clarity with charity, and charity with clarity, love and truth must march together and be fused together with great courage.

Perhaps George Weigel said it best last week when he wrote (and I excerpt):

Shallow, tribal, institutional-maintenance Catholicism is utterly incapable of meeting the challenges that will now come at the Catholic Church….Only a robustly, unapologetically evangelical Catholicism, winsomely proposing and nobly living the truths about the human condition the Church teaches, will see us through….Radically converted Christian disciples, not one-hour-a-week Catholics whipsawed by an ever more toxic culture, are what this hour of crisis….demands. [2]

Amen.

23 Responses

  1. Nate says:

    Great post Msgr.

    Mr. Weigel’s statement is particularly insightful. The old ethnic (tribal) parishes of America are all but gone. Unfortunately, many leaders in the Church mistakenly think that the pews formerly filled by Irishmen or Italians can be filled by people from Latin America. The Church there is disintegrating under the same forces that have done so much damage here in the States. I am willing to bet that, fifty years from now, there won’t be a single person in the world who practices the Catholic Faith merely because of their ethnicity or country of birth. Cultural Catholicism (or tribal Catholicism as Mr. Weigel calls it) is dead in the West and is dying in Latin America. The Church will look more like that of the Church Fathers in the Empire before Constantine…..for better or worse. Its probably worth noting the Church is growing in places in Asia and Africa where the Church has a stronger missionary zeal and doesn’t count on ethnicity and history to keep people going to Mass.

    • Anne Marie says:

      Good post Msgr.

      Look for the west to become more and more a new area for mission work by those who come from what is considered the “global south” nations which are filled with those who have zeal for the Lord.

  2. Bender says:

    it is increasingly hard to argue that the temporal order is in anything but increasing disrepair

    I think we had been lulled into a false sense of security, including a false sense that things were better before, the false sense of a prior “Golden Age,” such that we think that things are worse now than they used to be. In addition, there has been this prevailing idea the last hundred years or so, the idea of progressivism, of the perfectibility of man and the conceit that we can fix everything, with the consequent multiple and constant attempts to create a utopia, a heaven on earth, with the invariable result of failure after failure to do that.

    Under that mindset, we are forever on defense, forever trying to hold back attacks against life, family, Church, etc. But maybe the new normal we are now experiencing is actually the old normal, but now our eyes are opened to it. For many centuries, we referred to the Church Militant, recognizing that the faithful on earth were in a constant battle against evil and sin. But then for a few decades, the term “Church Militant” fell into disuse and, as a result, we thought we were at peace. People cried “peace, peace,” but there was no peace, the battle never ended. Things were not better in the 50s or 60s or 70s or 80s or 90s or 00s, we were at war then too, even if we refused to see it. But now our eyes are again open and we are no longer shy about understanding that we are still the Church Militant.

    But the battle waged by the Church Militant was never supposed to be a defensive affair, we were never supposed to hide behind fortifications; rather, we are meant to go on the offensive. Jesus did not say He came to be a shield, but a sword. For most of history, human life has been cheap, marriage and family disrespected, sexuality dragged into the gutter of lust, people putting material concerns before all else. The current situation is merely the latest outbreak of the same long-standing disease.

    Hence, we should not look around now and think that we are “losing” and, thus, despair. Instead, we should gird up our loins and march forward. March forward and realize that this is a fight for the infantry, where you have to engage others hand-to-hand, one-on-one, converting hearts one person at a time, rather than calling in the big bombers to win the war in a single strike with some magic legislation that is suddenly convert all of society into a land of virtue. The Gospel cannot be won from the top down by passage of some government program; it can only be won from the bottom up, by the tiny seed scattered on the ground.

    And since it is a land war involving infantry, that means the battle is won or lost depending upon the efforts of the lowly soldiers, the everyday privates, that is, the laity, rather than demanding that our generals, our bishops, win the war themselves while we sit back and complain that they aren’t doing enough.

  3. John says:

    Every word in this post resonates with truth, Msgr! We are involved in a war to the death with a malignant culture, but we must fight with courage and above all love. I think this is a great time to be a christian and have no doubt we will triumph. I’ve long been hovering around the edges of the Catholic church but this week I’m off to see my priest about getting received. The US elections showed what is at stake and removed any remaining scales from the eyes of christians. The only force that can stop this is the Catholic church and our orthodox sister churches. I want to be in the battle and doing my humble best for the forces of good. Bring it on!

  4. workingclass artist says:

    100,000 Catholics peacefully protested “Gay Marriage” across France.

    Our cause is a just one and our pagan foe will not be victorious.

    • ThirstforTruth says:

      Yes! The march of tens of thousands of our fellow Catholics in France for traditional marriage was the best news of the week! If it happened in France, it can happen here and everywhere!

  5. Dismas says:

    Yeah, I ‘get it.’ I saw this link to a blog on the bigpulpit Friday. I love the idea of these little lapel pins and their message, gave me a boost of hope and courage, I sent an e-mail and ordered some:

    http://veritatisthecartoon.blogspot.com/2012/08/defy-tyranny-defend-faith-lapel-pin.html

    IN HOC SIGNO VINCES (In this sign you shall conquer) BE NOT AFRAID

  6. Maria says:

    Yes, it is Winter for the culture, but thanks to Pope Benedict it is most definitely Springtime for the Church. Thanks for your reflection, Monsignor.

  7. Blake Helgoth says:

    Msgr.,

    Great post! Lately the Lord has been reminding me that our apostolic efforts must come from a deep spiritual life. If we do not take the time for mental / contemplative prayer, we have already forfeited, for the battle is the Lord’s. Without the deep life of the Spirit, we have no weapons for which to win this battle. Eventhough it seems we mut take up arms and run forth into to battle at this moment, that we have wasted too much time already, I would suggest that this is the moment we should retreat into prayer, so that, strengthened by the Lord we will be able to sustain the long fight that is coming; that illumined by His light we may see clearly the way forward. As a side note, may I reccomend the ‘Soul of the Apostolate?’ An excellent book for these times.

  8. edracruz says:

    “Be not afraid” We must go down our knees to battle this epidemic of secularism and relativism. This is spiritual battle. The enemies are gaining ground but the Church is winning souls. This feminism that proclaiming their strength will crumble to Jerichal ruins. We must not be defensive in our passive stance thinking these things will go away rather continue our militancy of intercession and barrage of prayers for strength for the Church, its leaders and of laity. Cardinal Dolan tells us to go “first things first.” Go to confession first then evangelize and preach by going to the market place then use words if necessary. Pray and fast as if there is no tomorrow for we know not whence HE will come. GOD bless all. Thanks, Monsignor for this article.

  9. RichardC says:

    The most precise term might be “anti-theist”.–maybe that is what you are getting at with “anti-theism.” That is, for the these people, it is personal, and the attack on the theist is more important than issues of truth or falsity.

    “And in holding Jesus he held also the Church.”–neat image.

    I think we the main thing we need courage to do is to pray.

  10. Anne says:

    I am angry. Actually I am very, very angry. Fordham University, has invited Peter Singer, an infantacide proponent, to be a speaker at a conference at the school. Sadly, no one seems to be doing a thing about it.
    Why am I angry? Because this is a school my child visited this summer and applied to this Fall. Would someone please tell me why this is happening? It is one thing to talk about a remnant of faithful being left but if you have children we can not wait while they are devoured by the wolves in sheep clothing. Especially Catholic wolves in sheep clothing.

  11. Susan Perez says:

    ^ Bender… You were right on with that response! Gird up our loins… I love it!

  12. Don says:

    The battle for the culture (and hence for souls) will be won or lost in the media, in entertainment, and in academia. All three of these institutions are firmly in the hands of secularist / anti-theists. They are quite effectively defining traditional Christianity as bigoted, unenlightened, and anachronistic. Unless this changes, the immediate future for Western Civilization, and for the Church in the West, does indeed appear quite bleak.

    I fear the Church in the West must continue to shrink (perhaps dramatically so) in order to become stronger. Right now, the Church is filled with many people – also known as cafeteria Catholics – who reject portions of the Magisterium. Of course, picking and choosing which parts of the Magisterium you accept is by deifintion un-Catholic. Worse yet, we have leading theologians at Catholic universities and national Catholic polititians who openly mock the Church, its teachings, and its Bishops. Yet, our Bishops and priests continue to permit it. This creates grave scandal, leads many into confusion, and jeopardizes many souls. In the last year or so, we have seen encouraging signs, but in my view we need much firmer action. Yes, we may have emptier pews (and thus coffers) for a while, but in the end we will be stronger and more will be saved. Bit it will take great courage.

  13. D. Morgan says:

    Very good article Monsignor. And i would add that while there were cracks widening in The Church prior to Vatican Council II, the damage done by ambiguous documents and “wink-wink, nod-nod” permissions to play with liturgical rubrics have empowered the “Springtime” crowd to weaken the very weapons that are needed to fight this battle. We have a large population of “Catholic in name only” within the Church who have zero knowledge of the Faith. This did not start overnight nor will it be corrected by one or two “New Evangilization” campaigns. We desperately need Bishops and Priests who Live, exemplify, and Preach the Faith. Completely, without apologies or watered down theology. Just as H.E. Cardinal Dolan said at the USCCB conference.

  14. Don says:

    One of the keys to turning this thing around is to take back our Catholic univiersities. Catholic higher education is controlled by people who reject Church teachings on many issues. The sad fact is that they cheirsh their “academic freedom” and “academic reputation” more than they cheirish the Truth of the Catholic faith. Their faculties are filled with dissenting theologians advocating gay “marriage,” womens’ ordination, radical feminist theology, etc. Their humanities and social sciences departments are filled with non-Catholic professors who differ little, if at all, from their counterparts at secular universities – i.e., radical leftists. It is a diffucult problem, because due to the restrictions of tenure you can’t just get rid of them and start over. It is truly a shame that one may prefer sending his children to a secular state school instead of to ND, BC, or Georgetown because, on top of the typcal leftist nonsense they would get at State U, they will be inundated with dissenting Catholic theology. What a difference it would make of the great Catholic universities in America stood out as counter-cultural propoents of Truth enlightened by Reason. Our great Catholic universities should be leading the battle against the Culture of Death and the Dictatorship of Relativism. Instead, except for a few small colleges, they have been sucked into the mire with their secular brethren.

    • Anne says:

      Yes you are right. As a parent of a high school senior I feel no one “has my back” in the sense our kids are being thrown into a secular toxic brew even if one can afford the 40,000 dollar price tag for a Catholic college. I’ll consider it a miracle if my son will be a devout, believing, enthusiastic Catholic when the college years of faithless theology teachers, mayhem in the coed by floor dorms, irreverent liturgies etc. don’t wear him down.

  15. Zuzana Malavasic says:

    In October I celebrated ten years of being Catholic, after converting from Methodism/Lutheranism. The Holy Spirit was the author of my conversion and I can say that, while I knew the Bible better than most Catholics, I could not have known the Faith, nor could I have been a true servant of the Gospel, without ‘eating the flesh and drinking the blood’ of Jesus Christ. Those words are as dismissing to Protestant sensibilities (and sadly many modern Catholics) as they were to those who turned away from following Jesus when He spoke them in John 6. Yet, it is a fundamental Truth of our Faith, that it is not about us or about what we do or believe, BUT rather it is all about Him. We must remember that Jesus Christ emphatically declares in Matthew 18 that He will build His Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. We do not have life… or power… or understanding without receiving Him on His terms. When I came to understand this both intellectually and existentially, I began to understand the will of the Heavenly Father for my own life was predicated upon the the very life of Christ; ‘Not my will but thy will be done.”
    Thus it was that in 2008 I traveled to Nigeria to serve as a lay missionary in the Diocese of Nnewi, among the Igbo Tribe. AND thus it is that I was challenged by the statement made by George Weigel regarding tribal Catholicism (and I know that he refers to those European tribes which brought Catholicism to the Americas). However, because of my experience among the Igbo I have a very different perspective about the dilemma of the Church Militant, in the face of 21st century Hedonism and Neo-paganism in the US and Western Europe. In fact I think it is precisely because of the loss of the tribal cult, which for the irish, Italians, Germans and the Slavic tribes of Eastern Europe was definitively Catholic, that we are seeing the assault on what we believe. Eighty percent of the 40 million strong Igbo tribe are Catholic. When you are living among them you are experiencing the all encompassing practice of the Faith, very much like it was in the US prior to Vatican II. You live, eat and breathe Catholicism. There is a true peace and joy in the unity that is both Igbo and Catholic. Prior to the radical revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, Western Civilization (the product of the Catholic Church) was the predominant culture of the United States and Western Europe… AND because this culture was sustained primarily by European tribal cults (also primarily Catholic) the Christian Faith and its values and traditions controlled the public square. However, when the revolutionary ideas (mostly Leftist and/or Eastern) became the focus of Academia and the Arts, young people were encouraged to abandon their European tribal cult. As GK Chesterton foresaw when he said, “It ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people.” That is the life blood of Tribal societies. That is what the Igbo do to maintain their strong Catholicism. That is what Poland did during the onslaught of Naziism and the oppression of Communism. BUT sadly that is not what we did in the United States. I hear you when you say that we are a melting pot. BUT there are few, if any countries in Europe that are made up of a single tribe… they had their own way of merging into a single nation united by a single Faith. I believe that the climate of crisis and conflict which we face today, that which Msgr Pope writes about, is because we did not maintain the cult… we did not take the stand against the radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s. We did not defend the tribal cult that insisted that the ultimate Truth subsists in the Christian Faith and in particular, the Catholic Church. We did not take seriously the words of Christ the King that He alone builds His Church, but instead accepted the inculturation of postmodern constructs into the Catholic Church. Some might trivialize the stubborn adherence to traditions and practices of those generations of tribal Catholics prior to the 1960s, as simply the product of ‘blind faith” and as superficial. I do not. For all of us are to have the Faith of a child. It is not, after all, a Church that we build, but rather One that we inherit in our baptism and are privileged to pass on, as is the practice of the Tribe. Even this is not of our own doing, but is in the gift of Faith that tells us to believe that when we eat this bread and drink this cup, we are made one in the Body of Christ. Until the majority of Catholics in the United States and Western Europe regain belief in the Creed and profess that we are One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church… we will exist in a climate of crisis and conflict.

  16. Zuzana Malavasic says:

    correction on my previous entry: Change Matthew 18 to Matthew 16… didn’t proof read!

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