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That photo above is an image of a statue of St. Gellert (Gerard), one of Hungary’s patron saints. He was an early bishop in Hungary, a Benedictine missionary who was martyred in 1046 when a pagan mob threw him off of that very hill overlooking the Danube from the Buda side. The statue, erected in 1904, shows the saint defiantly brandishing the holy cross. I took that shot yesterday, walking back home to Buda from church in Pest. I found it very moving, especially given that during the Orthodox liturgy, I had been praying for Hungary’s reconversion — only a very small number of people here are churchgoing Christians — and also for neighboring Poland.
Why Poland? Because of this Wall Street Journal story that appeared the other day, which verifies what I have been saying here since I first visited Poland in 2019: that Poland is secularizing very fast, and that within a decade or two, Europe’s most steadfastly Catholic country could have gone the way of Ireland. If you’ve been reading me since back then, you will recall that a Polish Benedictine whom I was told was one of the wisest priests in the country, Father Wlodzimierz Zatorski (who died in 2020 of Covid, I’m sorry to say), affirmed all of this to me when I met him in 2019. When I asked him what was to blame for the collapsing state of the Polish Catholic Church among the young — aside from the secularist currents from the West washing over postcommunist Poland, and from anger over the abuse scandals — he said, “The vainglory of the bishops.” His English wasn’t strong enough to explain to me what that meant, but in talking about it with a Polish Catholic friend later, I was told that the Polish bishops of the postcommunist era assumed that everything would be just fine from here on out, and they lived like presumptious princes.
I had also been praying, as I often do, for Christianity back home in America, whose decline I have been publicly mourning for years, and attempting to resist in my last two books. I don’t follow the Evangelical world closely, but lately I’ve been hearing from some of my Evangelical friends that things are going very badly among them. Things are continuing to fragment over post-Trump fallout, as well as Critical Race Theory, and the liberalization and/or secularization of the young. I have no recent data or credible anecdotes about my own communion, the Orthodox churches, because we are so small, but last week brought a bunch of depressing information from my Catholic sources and others, about Catholicism in the US.
First, this from the political scientist Ryan Burge. What the hell happened to American Catholics?! There is decline in every group, but look at the plummet among Catholics:
This is the share who believes that pornography should be illegal.
1973 vs 2021
Evangelical: 47% to 41%
Mainline: 48% to 33%
Black Protestant: 28% to 25%
Catholic: 42% to 25%
Other Faith: 44% to 29%
No Religion: 15% to 10% pic.twitter.com/Xf53RyVtJH
— Ryan Burge (@ryanburge) February 19, 2022
The historian Bill Tighe, a Byzantine Catholic layman, sends out a daily compendium of religion stories and commentaries that pique his interest, usually Catholic ones. Last Wednesday’s newsletter was pretty depressing. Some of its highlights below.
Here’s the veteran Catholic journalist Phil Lawler expressing deep suspicion about the Vatican’s upcoming “Synod on Synodality,” which he suspects will be used to ram through liberalization. And here is a chilling piece of analysis by Catholic writer Michael Hichborn on how the synod is likely to be hijacked. This excerpt begins with a quotation from the official synodal handbook:
2.1 Who can participate?
For this reason, while all the baptized are specifically called to take part in the Synodal Process, no one – no matter their religious affiliation – should be excluded from sharing their perspective and experiences, insofar as they want to help the Church on her synodal journey of seeking what is good and true. This is especially true of those who are most vulnerable or marginalized.
The process is that the baptized will hold sessions under the direction of their diocesan bishops who will then synthesize these sessions and submit this to the Vatican which will then prepare a document for the bishops to discuss in 2023.
Heretics, schismatics, apostates, non-Catholics, and even atheists are allowed to participate, and though they are not counted as part of the sensus fidelium, their presence not only poses a threat to poorly formed members of the Faith, but actually affords an open door for radical and unprecedented changes.
Can you believe that? It’s insane.
There’s more. Here’s a link to a story in America, the Jesuit magazine, about a heretical gay priest who openly dissents from authoritative Church teaching on homosexuality, and who teaches his students at Fordham University, where he holds an endowed chair, to do the same. Excerpt:
At Fordham, a Jesuit university, Father Massingale teaches a class on homosexuality and Christian ethics, using biblical texts to challenge church teaching on same-sex relations. He said he came to terms with his own sexuality at 22, upon reflecting on the book of Isaiah.
“I realized that no matter what the church said, God loved me and accepted me as a Black gay man,” he said.
Father Massingale has a different vision of the church: one where Catholics enjoy the same privileges regardless of sexual orientation.
“I think that one can express one’s sexuality in a way that is responsible, committed, life giving and an experience of joy,” he said.
… Father Massingale remains optimistic about gradual change in the Catholic Church because of Pope Francis and recent signals from bishops in Europe who expressed a desire for changes, including blessing same-sex unions.
“My dream wedding would be either two men or two women standing before the church; marrying each other as an act of faith and I can be there as the official witness to say: “Yes, this is of God,” he said after a recent class at Fordham. “If they were Black, that would be wonderful.”
How can a Church that not only permits a priest like that to preach and teach, but that also valorizes his heresy, be said to be serious about following Christ? I don’t get it. The truth is, nobody in authority cares to stop it.
My friend Steve Hutchens, a senior editor at Touchstone and a lifelong Protestant, writes this response, which I publish with his permission:
It is immeasurably sad to watch the Catholic Church I have known it in its death throes. It is very much Fr. Reardon’s beached whale, a truly magnificent beast dying prey to every hostile force, and now, as several authors have noted, “the world’s largest liberal Protestant denomination.” If I ever forgot the debt I owe to Catholics, this latest list of articles, all by Catholics in the vestibule of the house of mourning, has thrust it back upon me.
Traditionalist Catholics, sure on unshakeable principle that their Church is the True One and cannot be overthrown, ignore the Protestant experience with progressivism (they are, after all, only heretics experiencing the inevitable), and do not recognize that by the time the power structures of their church are in the hands that they are–that the Synod on Synodality with its attendant premises can move forward with papal approval–and their third estate (not just the pope and bishops) is as modernized and corrupted as it is, the Church is past recall. There are, I believe, answers for this for the preservation of the faith, but none of them are “Catholic answers,” for the Roman mistakes (in the eyes of this Protestant), principally on the development of doctrine and the Roman papacy) are very old, and their correction unthinkable to the only people with sufficient insight and moral courage to recognize the problem.
I know Steve, and he really does mean it when he mourns what is happening to the Catholic Church, falling apart not under outside persecution, which it has withstood for many centuries, but from inner decadence. I think his last line is achingly tragic. He’s talking about how those within the Church who perceive the collapse around them are unable, because of their theological and ecclesiological convictions, to do what might arrest the decline.
Of course theologically orthodox Catholics will resist that conclusion, and I don’t want to argue the point here. I am no longer a Catholic, and do not share the Latin Church’s opinion on papal authority. I will say, though, that I don’t understand Catholic conservatives who rage against Pope Francis for making bad use of the authority that the Church has given popes. I mean, I completely understand their anger, but I don’t understand how a faithful orthodox Catholic can be so militantly against this or any pope, and still be faithful to what the Roman magisterium teaches about the papacy. When I was a Catholic, I wasn’t quite an ultramontanist, but I wasn’t far from it, given the moral qualities of Pope John Paul II (I was only two months away from formally converting to Orthodoxy when Cardinal Ratzinger was named Pope, and I shed not a few tears over leaving him, as he is one of my heroes). Were I a Catholic today, I would be in serious despair over the papacy and what it means for the Church.
I don’t take the least satisfaction in any of this. It would be a hardhearted and even vainglorious Christian of any communion who took pleasure in the agonies of any other church. I don’t even feel that way about the liberal Mainline Protestant churches, because even though I am confident that their decline follows naturally from their liberalization, every single one of us faces very difficult times now and in the immediate future.
I hope, though, that Christians who have denounced my Benedict Option idea will reconsider it in light of the rapidly worsening situation. It is not a “head for the hills” retreat, as shallow critics have claimed, nor is it a counsel of surrender, as other equally shallow critics have said. It is rather a way of deep resistance that must be followed in addition to resisting through political means. Before he died, Father Zatorski launched a Benedict Option organization in Poland, because he agreed with me that the long-term survival of the faith depended on rebuilding the Church from within, through small communities of committed faithful. While it is important to have political power, in part to protect religious institutions and believers, that power means nothing if the Church is hemorrhaging believers. For example, the Church of England is established, but it is likely on its last legs, because so very few Anglicans in the motherland of Anglicanism believe anymore. If you place all your bets on Christian political power, what happens when you start losing elections? And if you were able to establish Christian rule via tyrannical means — say, imposing an integralist state upon an unwilling population — what good would it do you if the churches were empty? Worldly power does not save souls. St. Benedict offers us a basic model of faithful resistance, I believe, one that lay Christians of all kinds — Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants — would do well to study and adapt to our own particular traditions and situations.
What else is there? If you know, please say, because we are all in this crisis together.
I want to share with you a searing essay by Steve Skojec, once a prominent Traditionalist Catholic commentator, but now a man who is suffering a terrible crisis of faith. It appeared last month on his Substack newsletter. I have never met Steve, but we have corresponded for the past few years. I first reached out to him when I observed that he was going the same way I was going back in 2004, burning out from my anger at the corruption in the Catholic Church. I told him back then that I still believe that my anger was justified, but that it ended with me losing my ability to believe in Catholic Christianity. I cautioned him to be aware that this is where he was headed too, and if I could help him in any way to hold on to his faith, please just ask. I told him that I would not take advantage of his suffering to make a pitch for Orthodoxy, but that I felt his pain acutely as a brother in Christ who had been exactly where he was at the time, and wanted to help him. Steve responded in a friendly way, and we have been occasional correspondents since then.
It all happened like I feared. Now Steve hasn’t renounced Catholicism, exactly, but he has ceased to practice it for the time being. He explains it all in that essay. Steve was raised Catholic, and was deeply involved in the Legion of Christ, the powerful ultraconservative Catholic religious clerical and lay order whose revered founder was, it turns out, demonically corrupt. In his essay, he talks about how that played out in his own life (he was once a seminarian of the Legion):
This conversation was the beginning of a series of discussions that I have begun thinking of as “the Catholic ‘Me Too’ movement.” It’s the thing where you talk to other people about your bad experiences, and suddenly you see the light go on in their eyes, and they sit up and say, “Wait, that happened to you too? I thought it was just me!” And then what seemed like an anomaly turns quickly into a pattern.
So why this stroll down (unpleasant) memory lane?
Because I feel like I’m right back there again. Ever since I wrote Against Crippled Religion, everything has changed. I pushed back against the institution, I said “to hell with your rules, I’m talking about the bad stuff you’re doing,” and almost instantly, I’m on the outside looking in. The whisper campaigns, the gossip, the attempts to destroy my reputation, they all started right back up again. This time, they weren’t an organized attempt to circle the pedophilic wagons, but the traditionalist tribe pushing me towards exile, one “last” big purity spiral in an endless string of purity spirals.
It was deeply telling to me that nobody in trad media I wasn’t already working with at 1P5 offered a word of unsolicited support when I outlined my struggles.
You know who did? Karl Keating and Jimmy Akin and Dave Armstrong and Dawn Eden Goldstein and a bunch of other people who either ignore or actively criticize me most of the time. People from the Patheos crowd, people who prefaced their emails with disclaimers like, “I don’t agree with a lot of what you say, but I just wanted you to know that I understand and I’m praying for you.”
You see, I don’t think I wanted to admit it to myself, but I replaced one cult with another one. I told myself, when I left the Legion, that I had to learn to find my identity in the Church as a whole, not in this or that religious movement. But the fact is, traditionalism is not the Church as a whole. It is, on the one hand, a top-level category for folks who just want reverent liturgy, better sacramental forms, and more nourishing devotional lives. I have no argument with these people. I agree with them, or I wouldn’t have championed this stuff for most of the past 20 years.
But it’s also an ideology, full of hubris and vitriol and negativity and gotcha journalism and conspiracy theorizing and vice masquerading as virtue. “I’m going to be a complete asshole to you but label it ‘admonishing the sinner’ so I can consider it a spiritual work of mercy.”
And so when you see me railing against trads, that is what I’m going after. Trad culture, especially online trad culture, is dominated by this type. (For those who say it doesn’t happen in real life, you’re wrong. A well-established trad priest I know once took me aside and said the reason he doesn’t do more coffee hours after Mass is because they inevitably turn into “trad bitch sessions.”) It’s toxic, it builds itself up primarily by tearing others down, it’s adversarial and contrarian about everything, and it actively cultivates hostility with anything not perceived as ideologically pure.
I didn’t get to the top of that particular heap without knowing how it works. People who tell me it doesn’t need to wake up.
For those who don’t know, Steve was the founder of One Peter Five, one of the most influential trad websites. He sold it last year; it is still going strong. He continues:
But I also know I’ve offended a lot of people who used to support me, including financially, by going after tradistan all the time. And if you’re one of the good ones, I owe you an apology. I’m not meaning to hit out at you, or your desire to fulfill your obligation to God in the best way possible, or to give your children the best shot at heaven. But look at what rises to the top of the thought leader charts in the traditionalist movement: panderers, malcontents, and shit-slingers. People who prey on your justifiable fear, and need to keep you anxious and riled up so you keep reading or watching. “Did you see what the pope did now” is a solid business model. I know. And when I realized what I was doing, I had to stop. Even when it’s true, it’s NOT HELPING ANYONE BE A BETTER PERSON.
I was desperate to separate myself from these people, and from the LARP some of them are trying to create, and so I kicked off, hard, to get some space from their orbit.
But that leaves me adrift. It doesn’t change my opinion that the post-conciliar Church is a failed experiment that is dying before our eyes and holds no real appeal for people serious about religion. It doesn’t change my opinion that this pope is a moral and theological monster who has called into question the very dogmas of the Church on some critically important matters. It doesn’t change my opinion that the old Mass is objectively superior to the new, or that the older sacramental forms more clearly convey the grace they attempt to signify and institute, or that a lot of the older Catholic ethos was better.
But not all of it was.
A lot of it was dour, and dire, and debilitating. I’d like to talk more about that in a future post, since this one is already rather long.
For my part, I’ve totally lost faith in the Catholic Church’s ability to be believed at face value. I know it might be as right as I always thought it was, but I don’t know how to find a path to making sense of that when those put in charge of the Church, given authority by God himself, are doing the most to undermine its very teachings and sacramental life. Some guy once said something about how a house divided cannot stand, and a lot of people thought he was onto something.
I’ve also come to realize that my belief in God was entirely predicated upon my trust of the Church telling me a) that it was true b) who he was and c) what that meant I had to do. It wasn’t because I think he’s self-evident, or because I feel that he loves or cares about me, or that we can possibly know what he wants with any degree of certitude. I took for granted all of these things because the Church told us he left them in charge, and that was that.
And now that the trust is gone, I realize the faith I thought I had was mostly illusory. And so yes, without the solid ground of belief firmly beneath my feet, I’m questioning everything actively, and openly, because like with the Legion, I feel like I’ve been played. They saw someone eager and zealous and took advantage of me and now my life is more than halfway done, my best years are gone, and they’ve almost all been given to the service of an insufferably corrupt institution that didn’t even make me a better person. That’s the thing I can’t get over. I’ve been a better man, a better husband, a better father, a more decent and loving human being since I stopped actively practicing the Catholic Faith than I ever was when I was receiving the sacraments regularly. If they are supposed to transform our lives, how does that even work? And why is it that so many of the nastiest people I encounter are overtly devout in their religious practice?
Of course, I’m not supposed to be saying any of this out loud. Over and over, people tell me I shouldn’t be airing my doubts and grievances in public. Just like the Legion, the Church has inculcated a terror of “scandal” in us, as though any grown up person with real faith is going to lose it because some dude on the internet says he’s not so sure anymore. And this fear of scandal is enforced by an army of fellow tongue-clickers. But really, all this speaks to is a lack of confidence that the “truths” of the faith can bear scrutiny. If you know they can, you should invite people like me to throw everything I’ve got at it, because I’ll do no damage and the Church will come out smelling like roses, triumphant again, just like always.
Read it all — and subscribe to his Substack. You will learn more about what you need to survive as a Catholic (and not just as a Catholic) from reading the words of this disillusioned Catholic trad than from reading many other more upbeat writers.
Why do I cite the Skojec essay, and at such length? Because it reveals the hard limits of the conservative/traditionalist approach. It speaks, I think, to the “vainglory” of Traditionalism (or religious conservatism) separated from an authentic culture of conversion and discipleship. Every Christian church has this faction in it. Yesterday after liturgy, I had lunch with an Orthodox convert friend who lamented the toxic nature of online conservative Orthodoxy — the kind of people who rant and rave about liberals within the Orthodox Church, and about Christians from other cultures, but who are guilty of what Skojec denounces as “trad bitch sessions.” This is why I stay out of these online circles. It’s not that they are necessarily wrong, at least not most of the time — we really do have a problem within Orthodoxy of those who want to compromise the faith to make it more appealing to the Zeitgeist — but that rather they offer no way out of the crisis. This is perhaps the most painful lesson I learned from the loss of my Catholic faith, and it was why I had to resolve when I came into Orthodoxy in 2006 to do my best to avoid the errors I made as a Catholic.
What were those errors? Principally I trusted in holding the correct thoughts in my head, and being angry at the right enemies. And I trusted in the basic integrity of the Catholic institution. That is, I believed that the solution to the crisis was primarily external: purifying the institution of heterodox elements, and getting the organization in right order. I could not have foreseen back then the coming of a Pope Francis figure, but observing the corruption of the church led even by a saintly man like John Paul II made me aware of the hard limits of my vision. I used to be the kind of Catholic who believed that putting right-believing bishops in place, ones that governed as defenders of Catholic orthodoxy, would be sufficient. I was wrong. It does no good at all to have the right bishops in place, or priests, if they won’t defend orthodoxy, and not just “orthodoxy” (right belief), but also preach and teach discipleship (orthopraxy).
What’s more, I did not reckon sufficiently back then with the failure of the laity (myself included) to desire to live fully Catholic lives. As I have confessed in this space countless times, I really did believe that as long as I held all the magisterially orthodox opinions, I was doing my part. I had placed unwarranted faith in an institutional solution — and so was unprepared when the leadership of the institution was shown by the abuse scandal to be rotten, and incapable of reforming itself. Someone once defined institutional corruption as what happens when people within an institution can perceive the problems, but lack the ability to do anything meaningful about it. All the destruction Pope Francis and his allies are wreaking within Catholicism now would not be possible if the institution — including the laity — were stronger in the faith.
I don’t know specifically how that affects us in Orthodoxy, except to say that Orthodox Christians who believe that going to church and trusting in the Church leadership is sufficient to preserve the faith and pass it on to our children are wrong. For Protestants, the same thing, with the added point that believing that there is a political solution to any of this is delusory. In the late autumn of 2020, a friend in Baton Rouge shared my new book, Live Not By Lies, with his Baptist Bible study group, and said that there is wisdom there for preparing ourselves for what’s to come. He told me that they all blew him off, telling him that they weren’t worried, because President Trump was going to be re-elected, and all would be well. We see how well that plan worked out. But even if Trump had been re-elected, the idea that he or any other president could stop the decay and decline of the Christian faith in the United States is nothing but a way of coping with impotence.
It is a form of vainglory, of pride, of hubris. Here in Hungary, most practicing Christians I know are staunch supporters of the Orban government, and for good reason. But I hope none of them are under the illusion that having a political leadership that is pro-Christian, however necessary in these increasingly anti-Christian times, is anywhere close to sufficient. In a public discussion the other day here in Budapest, a conservative Hungarian friend of mine acknowledged that the churches are weak here in Hungary, but suggested that the cultural Christianity that still exists among Hungarians is a reliable basis for building a political and social order. I responded by saying that’s what someone of my parents’ generation might have said. My mom and dad were not regular churchgoers, but the idea that Christianity would decline in America was literally unthinkable to them. America is Christian, and always would be, whether or not the Drehers participated actively in church life or not. That was totally unrealistic, as we now see — and as Hungarians will soon discover.
The core problem, I think — the one that Steve Skojec discovered, and that Christians of all kinds who can read the signs of the times are discovering — is that most Christians today lack a sense of realism about the state of the churches, about the state of our society, and indeed about themselves as Christians in a post-Christian world. T.S. Eliot famously observed that humankind cannot bear too much reality. Our disinclination to accept the painful realities of our situation today, and to formulate responses based on the world as it is, not as we wish it were, is the main reason, I think, why we Christians are dead in the water as sharks circle. As Skojec writes, when he was in the Legion, he was part of an official culture of denial: just do what we tell you to do, and don’t pay attention to the naysayers, have faith in the leadership — and all will be well. At worst this is a strategy bad men use to cover up their sins; at best, this is a coping strategy.
Today Catholics may place their hope in Christ’s promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail against His church. Yes, he said that, but he did not say that Hell would not prevail against His church in the West. Besides, to see what’s happening in the actually existing Catholic Church, not the Catholic Church of idealistic fantasies, could lead someone to despair about whether Catholic ecclesiological claims are valid. This is what has happened to Steve Skojec.
I don’t believe that Catholicism is correct about the nature of the Church, of course, but I’m not interested in arguing that here. I simply want to point out that resting in an unwarranted faith in institutional solutions is to put the future of the faith at risk. There are countless Christians in every church in the West who believe that everything is going to come round right again if they just sit still and wait it out, because God wouldn’t abandon us, right? What if the truth is that we have effectively abandoned Him, and we don’t know it, because we think that holding the correct opinions — affirming the Catholic magisterium, believing that Jesus is our personal savior, etc. — is all we need to do in this crisis?
I have written many times in the past in this space about the historian Edward J. Watts’s great book The Final Pagan Generation, about the Roman elites of the fourth century who sincerely believed that their paganism would last forever, because Rome had been pagan for many centuries. (Ed West takes up that book in his recent Substack essay.) They did not notice what was happening around them, until it was too late. So it is with us. History is not fated, but the hour for us Christians in the West is very late, and we are still sleeping.
In his must-read diaries, the late Father Alexander Schmemann, an Orthodox priest, often decried the triumphalism of Orthodox Christians, and their vainglorious indifference to the outside world. They put their faith in liturgies, in cassocks, in Tradition, and made idols of these things. In 1977, he wrote:
I realize how spiritually tired I am of all this “Orthodoxism,” of all the fuss with Byzantium, Russia, way of life, spirituality, church affairs, piety, of all these rattles. I do not like any of them, and the more I think about the meaning of Christianity, the more it all seems alien to me. It literally obscures Christ, pushes him into the background
Elsewhere in the Journals:
Once more, I am convinced that I am quite alienated from Byzantium, and even hostile to it. In the Bible, there is space and air; in Byzantium the air is always stuffy. All is heavy, static, petrified. . . . Byzantium’s complete indifference to the world is astounding. The drama of Orthodoxy: we did not have a Renaissance, sinful but liberating from the sacred. So we live in nonexistent worlds: in Byzantium, in Russia, wherever, but not in our own time.
This is the difference between Tradition and Traditionalism. We desperately need Tradition, but too many of us — Orthodox, Catholic, and otherwise — put our faith in an ideology that, in fact, obscures the living Christ. There are Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant versions of this, but the impulse is the same. A Southern Baptist friend told me not long ago that the travails shaking his denomination today have their roots in part in the Southern Baptists’ unwarranted faith in what they believed was the plain meaning of Scripture, but which was in fact a far more historically and culturally determined interpretation of Scripture than they realized. He told me that when he looks around at the institutional Southern Baptist church, he sees a leadership that is completely clueless about the crisis in which it is immersed. In his view, they are Boomers and older Gen Xers whose cultural and religious imaginations are stuck in the late 1980s, and who are generation responses to the crisis based on a world that they understand, but that no longer exists. “Ten years from now, the picture [for Southern Baptists] is going to look very different,” he laments. This is because the leadership of his church is paralyzed by its conservatism (not in the theological sense — my friend is a conservative — but in the sense of being afraid to think outside narrow confines), and has organized its gatekeeper class to keep those who challenge its static vision at bay.
Next month marks the fifth anniversary of the publication of The Benedict Option, which is more relevant now than when it appeared in 2017, and will only grow in relevance, alas. It should be read in conjunction with Live Not By Lies, which is more acute, and deals with the coming persecution of believers who dissent from what I call “soft totalitarianism”; if you doubt the existence of soft totalitarianism, I ask you to look to Canada, which has just announced the rudiments of a social credit system, going after the bank accounts of political dissenters.
There are many things that we small-o orthodox Christians can do now to prepare ourselves for persecution to come, and also to fight the decadence that can and will take us down even if no secularist ever lifts a hand against us. But we first have to live in reality, in our own time, not in the idealized past. This does not mean that we should conform to the Zeitgeist! It does mean, though, that we have to meet the challenges of right here, right now, fighting the war we are actually in, not the one that we wish we were in.
Look, the bishops are not going to save us. Amid the greatest crisis the Catholic Church has faced since the Reformation, the Catholic bishops will soon be meeting in Rome to hold a “Synod on Synodality.” Seriously! The Catholic world in the West, at least, is in collapse, but these bureaucratic divines have been called by Pope Francis to have a big meeting about having meetings. I don’t follow US Orthodox church life outside my own parish, but I have been told by those who do that our bishops are consumed by spiritual torpor. And as I’ve said, I don’t know too much about the specific situation in the various Protestant churches, but I hear from my Protestant friends a lot of gloom about their institutions. I hear from Christian friends in all the churches complaints that they can’t find solid and inspiring leadership. Me, I think it’s probably the case too that we could do with solid and inspiring followership — that is, Christian laity who are eager and willing to be challenged and discipled, not coddled and affirmed in our mediocrity. In any event, we are all consumed by a deadly crisis, and we do not have all the time in the world to deal with it.
I looked up at St. Gellert yesterday, and was inspired by his defiance. The mob killed him, but in the end, Christianity won over Hungary. Where are the statues of the murderers of Bishop Gellert? Yet if the Lord whom Gellert died serving does not live in our hearts and in our lives, Gellert’s statue will not be a call to us to courage and faith, but will be just another historical curiosity, like statues of Greek and Roman deities.
I choose to look upon that image of the martyred bishop as a call to change my life, to abandon spiritual complacency, and allow the Holy Spirit to create in me a heart willing to sacrifice and even to die for Christ, because that is the only way Christ will continue to live within our cultures and civilization. And you?
* This article was originally published here
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