Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Evangelization and Conversion, Yes, But How?

I just read an impressive article at National Review, entitled "In Ireland, a Defeat for the Catholic Church, and for Liberalism" by Nicholas Frankovich. Impressive, but I wish some of his premises were not undermining his conclusions. What do I mean? Well...

For starters, anti-clericalism is not an antonym for clericalism and clericalism is about as clear a concept as homophobia: you wield either word like a battle-ax, knocking down most everything which gets in your way. Anti-clericalism may best be defined as illustrative of Anti-Catholicism as it raises its ugly head time and again in Western society. Anti-Catholicism is of course a broader notion which manifests itself differently in predominantly Byzantine Orthodox milieus. I would say that you have to be Christian or of a Christian tradition to know how to be Anti-Catholic. In the West, when we say that the Protestant Reformation was Anti-Catholic we are saying that it was Anti-Clerical, that is, that it rejected the fullness of sacramental life in the Church, manifest in the seven sacraments, all of which except for the Sacrament of Matrimony have a cleric (either the bishop or a priest) as ordinary minister.

Going back to our "battle-ax", clericalism is a notion defying definition or distorting the integral role of clerics in the unfolding of the sacramental nature of the Church founded by Christ on the Apostles and continuing through the laying on of hands in the unbroken succession of bishops up into our times. Clericalism does or can only exist if your starting point is Anti-Clerical and therefore Anti-Catholic. Clerics are indispensable for the celebration of the Sacraments. Deny them their key role and you deny the Church its roots in the Seven Sacraments.

I will grant you the use of the word clericalist, referring to an unjust appropriation of mission and ministry. Non-ordained ministers who attempt to capture and hold center stage in the Church and its worship are clericalists and it is a derogatory term. They are not part of the ordered life of the sacraments. A priest or bishop might be clericalist in the sense that he denies the laity their proper role in the life of the Church. More often than not it would be better to use the term clericalist (adjective or noun) to refer to lay people usurping the role in the celebration of the sacraments and in leading public worship according to the very nature of the Church, something reserved to the bishop and his priests, assisted when possible by other major and minor clerics. Might I add in this regard that the ministry of the Word, since time immemorial in both the Byzantine and Latin traditions, is the privileged provenance of bishops as original ministers and priests as ordinary ministers of the Word preached. 

What Nicholas Frankovich has to say about the state of the faith in Ireland is fair enough, but his attribution of it to a pervasive Anti-Clericalism must be seen not in terms of a reaction to clericalist misbehavior but rather for what it is, namely Anti-Catholicism, the rejection of the Church which in its very nature is sacramental and hence clerical in the good sense of the term.

It would be much better to blame all of this sad state on a resurgence of Modernism, something which the provisions made by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council failed to contain or thwart. We have got three generations of baptized, nominal Catholics, who have no sense of the presence of the living God acting in their lives. Secularization unto practical atheism has deprived most of the least of their attentiveness to Christ, His Blessed Mother, the angels and saints who would seek us out, console us and call us home to God.

Both the neo-conservative and traditionalist camps in the Church agree on the need to re-propose the Gospel,  to evangelize for the sake of the life of the world. The question is how. No contest, the opportunity to place our youth in contact with good priests, religious men and women and devout and intelligent laity in a school setting seems absolutely necessary if one would bolster the family and reestablish Catholic culture. But school is not enough. I think of my own graduation from high school fifty years ago and of those among my classmates who made it through a very good twelve years of Catholic schooling only to fall away immediately, in most cases because their parents did not feel bound to Sunday Mass for whatever reason. 

I cannot get away from the fact that something and perhaps much is lacking also in the way we have celebrated or abused Divine Worship over the course of the last 50 years. One of the better authors out there in explaining why choosing the Vetus Ordo as the better vehicle for the evangelization of youth would have to be Peter Kwasniewski (here a recent article on the topic of vocations promotion).

The tragedy of these recent decades has been a de facto reduction of worship to a discursive exercise, which because it resembles a sort of Sunday school cannot be reflective of the reverence which should characterize our weekly and essential encounter with the Lord of lords and King of kings.

All I want to say, I guess, is that pace Nicholas Frankovich, whether in Ireland or elsewhere, we need to look again and be converted (turn around) when it comes to confessing our Lord and Savior. We need to do it without further delay.


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