In the first weeks of Advent, my intellect and faith have been assaulted by many things going on outside and inside the Church. Its been a challenging time of preparation for Christmas. These things are troubling, but perhaps, in contrast, they can help us understand better the darkness of the world into which the Christ child was born and how to prepare ourselves for the trials ahead. As the Christmas song, “O Holy Night” states: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, then He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”. Perhaps it’s my age, or an increasing exposure to the news shared at light speed on social media, but I have never seen such strong evidence that the world still lay in sin and error, pining for salvation which can only come through Our Lord Jesus and His Holy Catholic Church.
Hypocrisy of Secular Society
Our modern society is not healthy spiritually or morally. The news is full of the shameful behavior of people who should know better, but obviously, do not. Highly successful people who dole out sexual abuses for years are now being exposed. These admit their actions, but have zero repentance or accountability, despite their loss of fame and fortune. Doubly disturbing are some of the victims who have spent their career making violent and sexually explicit music and movies, remained silent for years despite their own abuse which they accepted or ignored repeatedly to achieve fame and money, and with knowledge of others who were being abused. Only now are these charges made public when it becomes politically expedient. At the same time, the values and the products of Hollywood and politics which are at the core of this swamp of sexual sin, remain unchanged.
I was waiting in the lobby of the local tire shop, getting a new set of tires for the van and observed this in action on a mid-day talk show on the lobby television. There was a panel of women who opened the show with a discussion about Matt Lauer, and what a terrible person he was because of his sexual sins. The panel, none of which are notorious saints, then proceeded to discuss Matt’s marriage and alleged arrangement with his wife to stay in the marriage for money. Each one of them had a different take on marriage. One was happy being a “wife on the weekend,” which I took to mean she was someone’s concubine for the weekend. The audience applauded. One thought the two should have immediately divorced. The next was someone who took the opportunity to support same-sex marriage. One did talk about the “sanctity of marriage,” but in a natural sense. None of them seemed to reflect on the events as terrible sins which offended God and the sanctity of marriage as an institution modeling that of Christ and His Church. Nowhere is Christ found in any discussion about marriage. The end of the show featured a review of a raunchy movie, where a man and woman were fornicating, amidst violence and destruction. Of course, the panel didn’t connect any of these things – and the basic idea that what people consume is what people become, and what people become is how they behave (lex orandi, lex credenti in a sort of warped way). Darkness and error.
Secular Offensive at Christmas
It has been obvious for a while that secular society often goes on the offensive during major Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter. I have observed that the stories about the Gnostic Gospels being “discovered,” with lots of commentary about the evil Catholic Church suppressing these poor people who were entitled to their opinions just like everyone else. My perennial favorite is the story about Jesus’ wives that has been discovered by some genius at Harvard or Stanford or wherever, accompanied by a special on the History Channel (right after the one about Aliens building the pyramids).
In a new twist, this past week, we have seen the Nativity Scene, and the Holy Family attacked directly. One report featured a Christmas scene with two Josephs in an absurd and blasphemous attempt to promote the homosexual agenda. Another story featured a church where a “hipster” nativity was a part of a larger display, but of course, the secular paper featured this item. The Catholic cleric involved in organizing the Christmas display explained that the Holy Family represented in this way (as secular hipsters) helps children relate to the Nativity. Unfortunately, “Mary” in the scene had her bra strap showing and was groggily drinking a latte; “Joseph” had his shoes off and was taking a selfie. It was like a punch in the stomach.
This week another Christmas Nativity story has appeared, this time from the Vatican. Apparently, the official outdoor Vatican Nativity Scene has made an attempt this year to incorporate the Corporal Works of Mercy (where are the Spiritual Works?). Unfortunately, “clothing the naked,” features a nude Adonis-like figure reclined in full view. The man is not a weary and sick vagrant, he is a homosexual icon. Sadly in all the photographs that I have seen, the nude man with the six-pack abdomen shines like a beacon – the Baby Jesus is hidden. This is a disturbing metaphor of secular influence on the Church.
The Church which guided the development of Western Civilization is ignored, or even blamed for the decisions it made in the past to keep the faith pure and untainted by what are clearly heresies. I believe this to be a product of the so-called Enlightenment which fomented so much rebellion and stripping of the supernatural from the philosophy of modern man, leading to such things as the French Revolution and Marx’s doctrine of Communism. The cultural Marxism of today suggests that the Church is irrelevant if it’s not worldly and appealing even to the sins of our time. In a strange kind of way, because the Catholic Church is still a target, it suggests in an indirect way that the World still recognizes it as a significant, if not any longer a moral authority to be obeyed. If it were totally irrelevant, the World would ignore the Catholic Church like it does irrelevant religions like Zoroastrianism or whatever.
Unfortunately, the attacks on the Catholic Church in recent years are much more than goofy stories about the Gospel of Mary Magdalen or secret documents revealing Jesus’ married life. During the Obama years, we saw a shift from benign tolerance of the Church’s teachings on contraception and abortion, to a frontal assault on religious freedom through the HHS Mandate which required Catholic employers to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs (the Pill is an abortion-inducing drug).
Inside the Church
Unfortunately, the attacks on Catholic orthodoxy are now occurring inside the walls of the Catholic Church. We are witnessing profound and undeniable division in the Church over the teachings about marriage and divorce in Pope Francis’ apostolic epistle. Amoris Latitiae. The document has generated much controversy because it espouses several ideas which have not been the perennial teaching of the church. I will focus on two. One is that someone who is civilly divorced and “remarried” without a declaration of nullity on the first sacramental marriage can in some circumstances receives absolution in Confession and the Eucharist. This has never been a teaching of the Church, and in fact Pope St. John Paul II only allowed it in cases where the couple was living as brother and sister. The second related teaching is that in some circumstances God will accept our inability to obey his commandments, which makes it ok to remain in a state of sin (such as an adulterous sexual relationship with someone who is not one’s sacramental spouse). In reaction to this, Four Cardinals asked the Pope in writing for a clarification in a document known as the dubia.
The Pope to date has not answered their questions. Other groups of priests and theologians have also written the Pope pleading with him to end the confusion and preserve unity in the Church. Many of those around the Pope have affirmed the change in teaching, and several major sees (Germany, Rome, Malta, Argentina) have all now adopted the new policy of admitting the divorced and remarried to the Eucharist without repentance. We have in fact a de facto schism in the Church when opposite teachings are now being taught in different places. This is a very serious matter.
Many in the Church have dismissed the concerns, providing an apologetic interpretation that is in harmony with the previous doctrinal teaching. Some have said this is not a serious matter because these teachings cannot change. The reality is that depending on what diocese you are in, the teachings (represented as practices) have changed. Nonetheless, some continue to claim that nothing has changed. Now, within the last few weeks, a letter originally sent by Pope Francis to the Argentinian bishop’s conference affirming their novel interpretation of the teaching and in which he used the phrase “there is no other interpretation” has been officially published as an apostolic letter. Pope Francis himself has stated both the guidelines of those bishops and his affirming letter are now at the level of “authentic magisterium.” This effectively strips away all doubt that somehow Amoris latitiae has been misinterpreted.
There now seems to be an uneasy silence in these days before Christmas as people digest this hard truth. Like one Catholic commentator recently opined, I often wonder why so many leaders in the Church spend time looking for explanations for people’s sin and failings, rather than teaching them to love God as he deserves. Skirting his commandments, even carefully disguised as a pastoral practice, certainly does not please the God who chose to die a horrible death on a Cross to save us from that sin.
No one really knows what will happen next, except God himself. We do know that in His infinite vision and wisdom something good will come out of this painful time. We don’t know what that will be, but we do know that all things come to the good for those who love Him. The secular world will continue to howl at the coming of Christ and the foregone defeat of evil in the end. It will continue to attack and undermine the faith from outside and inside the Church and to confuse people about what is right and wrong.
Let us resolve to stay in a state of grace, cleave to the authentic teaching of the Holy Catholic Church, and sustain ourselves with the Eucharist and praying the Rosary. Externally, let us be strong and willing to speak out to defend the Catholic Church even to the point of martyrdom; interiorly, let us build our interior castle where we and God alone reside, focusing this Christmas on the Holy Family at Nazareth as described in that familiar and holy scene where all is calm and bright.