Monday, April 2, 2012

Church Survival Skills

Christianity can take a punch but it can also be sent to its deathbed in any given region.

The Orthodox Churches know this phenomenon to be true. Modern day Turkey is where the seven churches in the book of Revelation were located. That region used to be called Asia-minor. For several hundred years Asia-minor was the epicenter of Christianity. According to Dr. Phil Jenkins, in the year 1050 A.D. there were 373 bishoprics with over 21 million Christians living there. However, with the spread and conquest of militant Islam in the eighth and ninth centuries, Muslim rule came into effect. “Four hundred years later, that Christian proportion had fallen to 10 to 15 percent of the population, and we can find just three bishops. According to one estimate, the number of Asian Christians fell, between 1200 and 1500, from 21 million to 3.4 million.”

Fast forward to the twentieth century. In 1917 Russia had its Communist revolution courtesy of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Nicholas II, the Czar of Russia, and his royal family were dethroned and then killed. Soon thereafter the Russian Orthodox Church was the target of this Godless revolution. In 1917, it had 66,140 clergy members. By 1940, that number dwindled to 6,376. And as for the churches, there were 39,530 of them in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution. In 1940, however, only 950 of them remained functional.

Here in America, we know the impact the Sexual Revolution had on the Catholic Church in its infancy; that is, in the late 1960’s. Now, many of its champions are leaders in government, in the classrooms, in the newsrooms, and even in the courtrooms. As time passes and as they accrue more power and influence in the public square, they will become less and less tolerant of us Christians. No need to guess on this; we have history to tell the story.

But should we be surprised? No, we should not! If we know our Faith, we should also know that what Christ said is true. There is no neutrality with respect to Him. People are either for Him or against Him. And if they are against Christ, they will become intolerant of His Light. As our Lord said, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.” As we know- or should know -this hatred represses and seeks to extinguish that light.

Hilaire Belloc, the Catholic historian who predicted the rise of Islam when Islam was at its political all time low (in the 1930’s), also cautioned Catholics about the "modern attack." The Modern attack is the Godless ideology of Communism, Socialism and Secular-liberalism that seeks to destroy the Christian religion. Here, in this passage, he warns us about something many Catholics have lost sight of. In any given region, either the Godless or the God-fearing will win; not both. Either we speak the Word of God, the sword of God's mouth, or the world will use the sword of political oppression. It is either us or them! It's that simple. To this effect, Belloc said the following:

“The modern attack will not tolerate us. It will attempt to destroy us. Nor can we tolerate it. We must attempt to destroy it as being the fully equipped and ardent enemy of the Truth by which men live. The duel is to the death.”

The duel is to the death! Fulton Sheen confirmed this by saying that either Christianity interferes with secularism or secularism will interfere with Christianity. It is not by violence that the Church seeks to interfere and disrupt secular-liberalism, but rather it is by using her moral authority. However, when she is reluctant to draw from her arsenal of spiritual weapons, secular-liberalism will advance and menace the Church.

No doubt, secular-liberalism is interfering with the Church in America. Why? Because Catholics have not interfered with it. We have not repressed that false sense of liberty known as license. As Pope Leo XIII said, “[L]icense will gain what liberty loses; for liberty will ever be more free and secure in proportion as license is kept in fuller restraint.” Furthermore, we have not called either sins or the wolves by their proper and specific names. You see, it is not enough to affirm truth; we also have to denounce error. It is not enough love virtue; we also have to hate sin. This is what Christ did; this is what the Apostles did; this is what the Church Fathers did; and it is what the Saints did. It is also something we must do.

Nevertheless, we have learned to be tolerant of the Modern Attack just as Christians were in Asia-minor before Muslims came to rule and just as the Russian Orthodox Christians did on the eve of the Communist revolution in 1917.

No doubt, as the Catholic Church in America seeks to remedy the challenges to her liberty in 2012, there are signs of hope and signs of serious weaknesses. As for the latter, we have yet to fully acknowledge how we contributed to the endangerment of religious liberty. The fact that the H.H.S. mandate was reaffirmed in January of 2012, exactly ten years after the priestly scandals broke out, might suggest that the Lord’s chastening hand is at work here.

I said it before but it bears repeating here: The failure of the Church to protect children from sexual predators prior to 2002 was but a symptom of a much more serious problem; and that is the failure to protect souls from sin and evil. The tolerance of evil by Christians always leads to the intolerance of good (i.e. the right to life and religious liberty) by the world.

The Church is the hope and despair of mankind. When her members are holy and world-renouncing, society prospers. But when her members are worldly and tolerant of sin, the children of the world are unruly. Indeed, in 2012 the children of the world know not their place. They are venturing into sacred spaces and telling the children of God how to behave. This is beginning to happen in America because we have not told them how to act according to God's laws. Chief among them is Christ's teaching on contraception.


Postscript: Can contraception really be that important when Catholics never talk about it in public venues, especially from the pulpit on Sundays? We dare not interfere with this sin; not publicly anyways. Indeed, pastorally holding couples accountable over the use of birth control is virtually non-existent. If I, as a father, were to give a booklet of rules to my children but never talk about them or enforce them, can I expect them to observe these rules or even consider them as important? No! The same applies to the House of God. The world sees that we as Catholics are ashamed of Christ's teaching on the sanctity of sex. So they reason as follows: "Why the fuss? Why the big stink over the H.H.S. mandate on contraceptive? They have ceased preaching to us about it, so why can't we preach to them about it? Even more so, why not exploit their timidity and make them conform to our ways?"

Of course, contraception is only one sin that has been tolerated and not interfered with by Catholics. It does, however, serve as a general illustration as where the Church's survival skills are at today.