Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hoping without reason

Officially, Lent doesn’t begin this year until March 9. But for Catholics in America, especially in Philadelphia, it’s already started.

The release on Thursday of the grand jury’s findings in re the investigation into the handling of sexually abusive priests has the usual gang of idiots shouting the usual irrelevant “solutions”: end celibacy, throw away the Novus Ordo Mass, ordain married/women/gay priests, jettison Vatican II … yadda, yadda, yadda. No doubt that ambulance chaser Jeff Anderson and his journalistic sock puppet Laurie Goodstein will reveal that Pope Benedict XVI was behind the whole thing, their conspiracy theory based on some innocuous letter that mentions him in passing. We also have the über-Evangelicals crying that the whole mess proves the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon, atheists chortling over another bit of evidence towards religious hypocrisy, the professional victims of SNAP spending more time venting their righteous rage than actually helping anyone recover … in sum, a lot of people talking to hear their heads roar, as my father (God rest his soul) used to say.

Meanwhile, the decent, churchgoing faithful in the City of Brotherly Love stumble around, frightened, fearful, anguished, angry—betrayed. Dear God, please wrap them in Your loving embrace, and give them healing with Your Spirit.

I’m angry, too. Again. I’m especially disappointed at Cdl. Justin Rigali, whom I had thought was one of the new breed of bishops we’ve needed for so many years, but who placed too much trust in a Secretary of the Clergy who was too damned dumb to realize the game has changed. (+Rigali turns seventy-five this year, and will be required to submit his resignation as Archbishop … just one more bishop leaving under a cloud.)

Dear Lord, forgive my impatience; for in railing against fools, I become a fool myself.

Every time we turn around, it seems, some new thing is popping up to give the Church a black eye or a fat lip. Besides the predator priest scandals, we hardly portray the “society with a single religious feeling” Tertullian called us at the end of the second century; the internal dissention is not only public but another source of scandal, one which puts the lie to any claim we have that the Pope and bishops promote unity, one which allows unbelievers to say, “Even Catholics don’t agree on what they believe!”

Meanwhile, as the West rots from within, and the first few bricks that signal its eventual collapse come tumbling down, the Church in the West is leaking members … mostly from the many who haven’t occupied a pew on a weekly basis for some time. Some have wandered over to Protestant churches, but even more have left church altogether, seduced by the culture of sex and death.

Fair to say, things look pretty bleak.

G. K. Chesterton, in Heretics, reminds us that the three theological virtues—faith, hope and charity—are most useful and most needed when there seems to be the least reason for them.

It’s no great feat of mental strength to believe that for which there’s evidence in abundance. To believe only that for which there’s adequate proof speaks of a weakness of imagination and an ungracious, unfounded willingness to assume the worst of our neighbor … even one who lives 2,000 years in the past. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believed; cursed are they who, like Emile Zola, have seen and not believed.

Our Lord himself pointed out that no great merit attaches to loving only family, friends and so forth; even Gentiles do as much. (There’s an old Yiddish expression, goyisher kop, which roughly means “Gentile brains”—not a compliment.) Forgiving only the love-worthy is emotionally stingy; forgiving when we’re only slightly stung is no great exercise of charity. Charity only gets a real workout when we forgive our enemies, when we hold in loving embrace the people who hurt us past all bearing, when we love those whose sins cry out to Heaven for vengeance.

In the same way, hope is most needed when things are at their worst, not when things are going swimmingly. The person who hopes only when the grounds for hope are undeniable suffers from too much fearful caution; where a man with hope would lead a platoon against a reinforced battalion, the man without hope would let it be pinned down by a boy with a BB gun.

Only hope looks for the weapon, the tool, or the plan that will snatch life from the grasping claws of Death. Only hope looks for victory against overwhelming numbers in the grim mathematics of war. Only hope looks for signs of order amidst disorder and decay. It is despair which makes suicides; it is hope which makes martyrs.

Our first order of business, then, is to offer our prayers in union with the faithful of Philadelphia for the victims to be healed and for the predators to find true repentance. We must also lift up the clergy of Philadelphia, and offer prayers for the Archdiocese, that they may act swiftly and certainly to cleanse the presbyterate of its filth.

Our second order of business is to search our own souls, and begin the process of repentance for ourselves. Ironically, in the electronic age, there’s an app for that. (Or, at least, there is until the gay-rights crowd pressures Apple to take it out of their lineup, like they did with the Manhattan Declaration app.)

Most importantly, we must look at the ongoing struggles not as the last shudders of a dying body but as the labor pains of spiritual rebirth. The Church has been on the verge of dissolution and dying many times since its Founder hung on the terrible tree. And no sooner had its enemies poured the last spade of earth on its grave than it reappeared, every time.

The gates of Hell may hold us under siege, but they shall not prevail.

Update: February 16, 2011
I added a link to John Mullane's blog in PhillyBurbs.com. Mullane, a weekly communicant, has the best line about the whole situation: "... [B]efore heading to the exits, Catholics should consider this: Judas was an apostle."