Monday, April 29, 2013

Not far from Caesar

AMERICAN CHURCH - The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America
Foreword by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O. F. M. Cap.

(Kindle Edition, 2013)

My vacations allow me the luxury of reading almost in binge fashion and that's what has happened with this book which seems to be drawing some attention (at least in the blogosphere and twitterdom). I really had a hard time putting it down; it reads well and is very insightful. I think it helps sort out some of the pieces in the puzzle of our presently dysfunctional Catholic Church. I don't think Russell Shaw pretends to have a solution for our decline, but his counsel is reasonable and constructive. 

I'm very glad I bought and read it, as it bridges my world to the one elsewhere, outside of God's country. It's a world, I guess, I don't really understand and rarely encounter, except when some perfect stranger asks to be "friended" on Facebook and lists himself or herself as being in a relationship with someone. Normally this is the bizarre world of the mainstream media, always trying to attack and undermine Catholic tradition by putting our roots in question and banalizing everything, as if we too were are part of old Reformation logic denying the sublimity of Christ's choices for His Bride.

Call me Victorian, but I am as shocked as my parents' generation would be at the very thought of someone so labeling himself or himself as being in a "relationship" (it may be listed as an option, but no one is constrained to such indiscretion), noting it publicly and somehow wanting to draw me, the archbishop, into the thing, knowing full well that this is casual certainly, but yet somehow deliberate, and neither a cry for my help nor a source of pride to share in one's celebration of life and love (This applies in terms of Shaw's book as readily to the so-called "issue of academic freedom" as it does to fornication or adultery, et al.).

The book is about many things but one of them is not really what you would call a new concern, but certainly receives a worthy treatment at the hands of Shaw:

Lest anyone miss his point, Herberg went on to explain that what he was describing was “essentially the ‘Americanization’ of religion in America, and therefore also its thoroughgoing secularization”. American Protestantism had been experiencing this since after the Civil War; now, in the middle years of the twentieth century, it had spread to Catholicism and Judaism: “With the loss of their foreignness, of their immigrant marginality, these two religious groups seem to be losing their capacity to resist dissolution in the culture.” (Highlight Loc. 1629-33)

With the big anniversary of the Edict of Milan falling in this year, and given my cultural context in Ukraine, in the shadow of the "Third Rome", I guess Shaw's assertion (not his alone, but commonly shared and condemned by Pope Leo XIII and others) that American culture has always been at odds with Catholicism, has me thinking I need to rewrite part of a little lecture I give from time to time on the differences between the Roman and Byzantine worlds. I'll need to make it clear that the Roman struggle to assure its estrangement from civil society is as much an ongoing struggle, even yet today, as is the Byzantine struggle to make the Church's marriage to Caesar "work". 

Shaw, as I say, has his head on straight, offers a masterful analysis of what is or should be troubling us as we look at the Catholic Church in America today and for tomorrow:

A better question for Catholics would be this: What kind of Americans do they want to be—assimilated creatures of the secular culture, or people of faith who seek for themselves a national identity superior to the one that the secular culture wishes to impose on them, an identity grounded in the gospel, leading them to distinguish carefully between what’s acceptable and good in secular culture and what expresses secularist values in conflict with their faith?(Highlight Loc. 878-81)

Shaw's book reassures me in my own conviction concerning the need for recovery and reform when it comes to Divine Worship. I find him sympathetic to my pleas to recover a sense of the presence of God in our homes through the presence of holy pictures and simple prayers. The Year of Faith is flying by and there is still much to do in terms coming to knowledge of our catechism and basic prayers. He joins the chorus of those asking for quality preaching at Sunday Mass and puts his seal of approval on the efforts of EWTN to reach beyond the minority who maintain a lively contact with their parishes.

Stiff necks and hardened hearts perhaps abound more than I believe. We need to recover sacred space and be recollected. Not because that is all we can do, but because the Lord Jesus stands knocking at the door and if we let Him in, He will work marvels. The forecourt of heaven must be swept and cleaned; the Temple must be restored.


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