Hardship for the Gospel
Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel
with the strength that comes from God.
II Timothy 1:8
Faith has its burdens, much of which is the unavoidable contest with that evil so trenchantly described in the letter of James: “Each person is lured and enticed by his desire” (1:14). To grow in grace until we are lured by Christ is the work of a lifetime, never unopposed by Satan, a grace-borne burden. And now added to that burden there is another, falling on the faithful when the faith is not only attacked from without but weakened from within, at such times when bishops are often silent as the faith is challenged and the ship of Peter lists dangerously.
John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote many things that caused discomfort. His Lectures on the Difficulties of Anglicans caused anger and pain, not least to himself, but it was his 1859 essay On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine that put him out of favor in Rome and England. The essay made two points. Theologically the faith inheres in the whole Church from the Pope to the newly baptized, a truth which cannot be contested, although this truth leaves unaddressed the distinction between those commissioned to teach and those who properly are taught. Second, as a practical matter, it was a fact that in the fourth century, while Athanasius hid in the desert, great assemblies of bishops met repeatedly to agree that the Son was not consubstantial with the Father. At that juncture it was an outraged laity who would not tolerate the Arian doctrine that Christ is not the Son of God but the highest creature, that there was a time when He was not.
Newman suggested that on the facts it appeared that the government of the Church by its bishops had been temporarily suspended. Perhaps “obscured” would have been a less controversial word. In any event Newman never retracted the essay, although he did soften the last sentence. Newman can be taken as prophetic, for he saw clearly that in the midst of a period of Catholic triumph, when despite political turmoil and world war there was a revival of Catholic thought and indeed practice, something else was bubbling up from Satan’s kitchen. He described this something in the short address he gave on the occasion of his elevation to the cardinalate, the Biglietto Speech, in which he saw that Christianity would be not defeated by persecution but displaced by a benign secularism among a people who had lost interest in God.
It is a near certainty that future historians will come to understand the Second Vatican Council was in part the cause and in part the consequence of a revolution greater than 1789, 1848, or 1917 in which, however benign its intent, in its application the council was auxiliary to the sweeping away of the entire public treasure of two millennia; the liturgy, the family, the Christian-tolerant state, responsible citizenship, all were driven to the margins of life or swept away entirely.
Since the revolution was consummated on the fields of Woodstock in 1969 Roman bishops have found the courage to resist it or to try to tame it with a faithfulness that evokes cheers from the heart. But now comes a day when at Rome authority, while not denying any part of Christian dogma, out of what at least seems to be a feckless sentimentality weakens the discipline that has surrounded the sacraments since Paul wrote that unworthy participation offers insult to Christ and incurs damage to the soul: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (I Corinthians 11:27).
If the matter admits of argument, this is not the place. But what can be reiterated is the truth that the age is one in which fidelity to Scripture and Tradition is a burden to be lovingly borne, as is a love of liturgy offered in sacrifice to God. It is burdensome when those who would seek, albeit with stumbling steps, to attain by grace the purity of heart described by the beatitudes are “rigorists,” when sensibilities are dulled by an esurient ordinariness, when that which is low is praised and that which is elevated, the very nobility of the faith, is suppressed.
So at least for the present we are back to the fourth century when the only response to the weakness of authority is the defense of the faith by the faithful, a defense which requires a steadfast witness and a patient, charitably intransigent withholding of assent to sentimental and sometimes violent actions and words that violate the Christian heart. This is now part of the burden of faith.
In the midst of this vast confusion that is the Church of the present it is also possible in the words of Charles Péguy’s essay “The Holy War” to ask “if our modern faiths and beliefs, that is to say Christian ones, steeped in the modern world, moving intact across the modern world, the modern age, the modern centuries… have not received from these a singular beauty, a beauty yet unrealized, and a singular grandeur in the eyes of God…. Forever standing alone in the world,…a splendid monument to the presence of God. To the glory of God.”
Written in sorrow,