It has become clear over the past few years that the emphasis on “culture wars” has done little or nothing to reverse the flight of Western culture from Christian values, even though the concept was initially perceived as a sort of rubric through which the public morality essential to the common good might be recovered. During this same period, the Church has called repeatedly instead for a “new evangelization”. The apparent clash between the two phrases has come to a head in the insistence of Pope Francis that we must proclaim the whole Gospel rather than concentrating so much on public battles over the Gospel’s most contested moral points.
This conceptual shift has been bewildering to many, who wonder whether their public witness to the faith is unappreciated in Rome or, worse, whether they have somehow been wrong to screw their courage to the sticking point in precisely those controversies where contemporary society is most opposed to the Church. I hope by now that sufficient distinctions have been made to enable everyone to see the larger issue. It is not that working for the public acceptance of Christian and natural morality is wrong, but that the failure to recognize and respond to the need of our contemporaries for the full Gospel is self-defeating. Our moral efforts are often undermined by a kind of tunnel vision.
The public culture is increasingly anti-Christian not primarily because of political manipulation but because the private culture is, on the whole, not significantly Christian at all. People do not support divorce, contraception, abortion, homosexual behavior, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and, inter alia, the primacy of secularity and the State over religiosity and the Church primarily because they are evil, but primarily because they are wounded and lost. There are reasons enough over the past several hundred years for what we might call our deep civilizational loss of faith. Even for those called to emphasize public battles, it is useless to proceed as if we are just a few votes away from the Age of Faith when, in fact, we live in a period where effective awareness of the Gospel is largely non-existent.
What does that amount to?
In this light, it is paramount to foster the development of more apostolates which serve the needs which people recognize in themselves. Such apostolates serve at once as a concrete manifestation of Christian love and as a means to respond to other needs which people may not yet recognize.
Let's superimpose this on the current situation inside the Church.
We have a doctrinal dissent problem.
While apologetics and debate are good and necessary, we are far more likely to be listened to if we serve the people.
Why are do many people ignore Church teaching?
It is true that a lot of it has to do with not being taught the Faith, and there is a lot of heresy out there that undermines efforts to teach the faith.
The thing is, they don't see orthodoxy in action. They don't see how it's relevant to their lives.
How do you expect a cohabitating couple to adhere to the faith they can't make the link between Church teaching and their concrete existence?
These couples have problems. So what are we doing to help them with their problems?
Now I'm not advocating that we sanction their living arrangement.
But, they are still a couple and they still have legit problems. Take, for instance, raising children. How can faithful Catholics help them raise their kids in a better way?
I've often thought about there are mothers who need affordable baby-sitting, or mentoring, or some place to call when they have an issue that can't be solved in their immediate social network because the people in it are just a basket case. There are a lot of Church ladies who could mentor, babysit, and give advice on how to deal with situations.
Now if you serve the people, they make friends with you.
Friends are far more likely to listen to friends.
Friends are more likely to get people to pray, turn to Jesus-- and the Church. And the wisdom of the Church.
(Wisdom, that's another thing that seems to have been abandoned, but that's a blogpost for another day).
Of course, in saying, I don't think we should stop doing the apologetical work, or the prolife activism.
There is a danger that when we suggest a new approach, we abandon old approaches that have done good. Apologetics has done a heckuva lot of good for the Church, and so has prolife activism. Apologetics is still the order of the day. So is putting forward pro-life ideas. Because when the single mom's heart has turned to Jesus, and she begins considering what the Church says, she will need answers to her questions and that's where apologetics comes in.
I have often sensed that Church life has lost its sense of relationships. How many churches I have been to where I was just a benchwarmer to the priest. I didn't know him and he sure as heck didn't know me. It was like going to the theatre, I was the anonymous audience to his words instead of a child in a spiritual family. He was a sacrament dispenser and I was a recipient. It was like he was a bureaucrat administering a government service in the Kingdom of God.
I remember talking to a Mennonite pastor who did rescue work in Toronto in the 80s. He told me the story of another prolife pastor who was eventually charged with pimping his wife because they needed money for dental work. I can't remember the exact details of the story, but that's not the point. What he said was that he was ashamed and mad that this man could not come to the Church with his problems and ask and expect help. He had to sink to this level of desperation.
Well how true is that? How true is that of Catholics? How true is that of indifferent Catholics, "ex" Catholics, apostate Catholics, lukewarm Catholics? It's even more true than with respect to orthodox Catholics.
I can't say the Church has ever help solved any of my personal problems. Or anybody else I know.
And as I write this, I feel a certain compassion fatigue myself. Everybody asks me to care when I have my own family to take care of.
Notwithstanding my own weariness, the Church needs to do this stuff, regardless of my feelings, which I suspect represent a large swath of the Catholic population. I'm not the only one tired at the end of the day of taking care of the family.
(But then this is why we have religious, isn't it? Because they are free to devote their time).
Orthodoxy still needs to be on the agenda. Just as Pope Francis said, we can't only talk about abortion.
In fact, we can't only talk.
We have to find the means to put our faith into practice in a way that helps lost and wounded souls. A lost and wounded soul needs Jesus. Spiritual cripples can't find solace in high-fallutin' dogmas. We have to be Jesus to them.
I don't pretend to know how this can be put into practice concretely. But it needs to be said.