Friday, September 30, 2016

'You can't fight it'

An act of evangelisation: the LMS Pilgrimage to Walsingham
I have to confess that developments over the last few years in the Church and the world have left me a little dispirited. Not all the news has been bad--far from it--but on a series of issues fundamental to the continued possibility of civilised life, the forces ranged against sanity have, at present, considerable momentum. Not only is it difficult to see how they can be defeated on the current balance of forces, but the balance of forces is becoming progressively less favourable as time goes on.

To give an example from secular politics, here in the UK we have no serious political party which supports anything recognisable as social conservatism. To give an example from the Church, although numbers attending Mass have been bolstered by immigration, the decline in marriages celebrated in church continues. On previous occasions when, after all kinds of difficulties, the Church has experienced a great revival, it has been because Catholic families survived the crisis in sufficient numbers to provide the priests, lay leaders, reformers, and above all the foot-soldiers of a revived Church in the new situation. How many faithful Catholic families are there going to be, in England and Wales or indeed anywhere in the West, in 20 or 30 years' time?

Come to that, how many are there now? How many nominal Catholics have any serious formation in the Faith, as would have been taken for granted sixty years ago? How many believe the less popular doctrines? How many seriously aspire to a morally well-ordered lifestyle? And how many are free from intense pressure to conform to the false maxims of the World?

The work we can do in the Vineyard of the Lord is, for each of us, of negligible overall effect, in relation to the huge trends which I been noting. I rather think this is even true for Bishops, perhaps even for the Pope. A good Pope with good ideas applied with vigour would, of course, do good, but he won't necessarily change the course of history. I think of Pope Leo XIII, for example, or Pius IX, or St Pius X. These weren't just good Popes, they were men of great intelligence and education, acutely attuned to the problems of their day, who furthermore wielded considerable power with great energy, for a long term of office. One can hardly say that they lived in vain, but nor did they turn the tide. It is given to few human beings to do such a thing.

A great many Catholics, or nominal Catholics, have taken the obvious conclusion: you can't fight it. The particular thing right now they are declining to fight is gender ideology, despite the repeated and powerful protests of Pope Francis on this issue--protests many of his self-described supporters would rather not hear. But they have been failing to fight the secularisation of Catholic education, the culture of death, liturgical anarchy of all kinds, and a host of other things, for a long time now. It is tiring to keep up the fight. And if you show a bit of enthusiasm for the other side of the argument, the world will often reward you well.

To avoid despair, I want to make two distinctions. The first is between our duty as Catholics and worldly success. Our duty as Catholics is to live in accordance with God's (and the Church's) law, and give witness to the Gospel according to our abilities and opportunities. It is not to convert X number of heathens, or be part of an expanding parish, or even to knock on a certain number of doors like the Jehovah's Witnesses. It can be very hard work doing what we are obliged to do, and it is made harder by all kinds of trends and developments, but it is not something which will ever become impossible. The task we have been given to do--to cooperate in our own salvation--is not only not impossible, but we are actually guaranteed the necessary graces, and told that this burden is light, this yoke easy, in the sense that with that grace we will be able to do it without regrets, with joy, knowing that life in God's friendship is preferable to life without God's friendship, regardless of the possible worldly disadvantages of the former over the latter. We aim make a success of our particular projects, but that success, at least by any tangible measure, is not necessary to the success of our lives as Catholics.

The other distinction is between trends in the world and developments in the Church. It is possible that the governments of the world will adopt the most pernicious principles and remain wedded to them for centuries to come. That is not possible in the Church. Catholics and their allies can be comprehensively defeated in the political arena--and this has indeed often happened--but it is not possible that Christ will allow his bride to be taken from him.

Throughout history there have been those who have wanted to efface the teaching of the Church and replace it with falsehood, and right now we are facing a particularly powerful and concerted effort to do this. It will not succeed. In past crises there have been mass defections to heresy by members of the clergy, by bishops, and by whole national populations of the laity (as happened with Protestantism), but when the dust settles the Church, and her teachings, remains. Even if the Pope falls silent, even if he allows himself to pronounce ambiguous formulations or indeed outright error (I'm thinking, of course, of Pope Honorius and Pope John XXII), the teaching of the Church does not change, the Church remains, and the visible, human aspect of the Church recovers from the crisis.

So in these two senses, it is not at all true that 'you can't fight it': as far as our own lives are concerned, our own living according to the truth, and insofar as the fate of the Church as an institution is concerned, the opposite is true. For ourselves, the battle can go either way: there is everything to fight for. For the Church, victory for the truth is actually guaranteed.

Indeed, the frustration of the opponents of the Church's teaching not infrequently breaks through the facade of optimism. They think the Church must be conformed to the world, and it just won't. They can't control all of the people, not even all of the bishops and cardinals, and they can't erase the historical record of the Church's teaching, and if the people were silent the stones themselves would proclaim the kingship of Christ.

In the meantime of course they do great harm to souls, and it is our obligation to oppose them with every lawful means available. If they want to win, though, they need to give up on the Church and join a political party.

I've recently read two helpful articles on related matters, which I recommend. Pat Archbold on 'The Most Radical of Traditionalists', and Fr David Nix on 'The Birth Pangs of the Church'.

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  1. I had not been too familiar with the prophecy of Our Lady of Good Success until I read it just now in the linked article by Fr. David Nix. What a consolation!

  2. Anonymous9:09 pm

    Thanks for this piece & the two articles. The lifting up of the Son of Man, and now also his mystical Body, is simultaneous with the destruction of the power of Satan. But one needs a lot of grace to keep believing & to persevere until it is made plain.

  3. We are all a bit dispirited at present.

    The Barque seems seems lower in the water than ever and still settling.

    But fight we must. We individually can do no else.

    Heterodoxy is and always has been there. In a real sense it is not our business. It is Christ's.

    Our business is to carry on operating the pumps, particularly young people like you Dr Shaw who still have lots of energy.