Mike Lewis asks a critical question for any Catholic who cares about bearing witness to Jesus Christ. It is particularly pertinent on this Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross:
Today, the cultural division between the Catholic Church and Western society—especially on moral issues—is as wide as it has been since the rise of Christendom. The dictatorship of relativism that Pope Benedict XVI decried in 2005, which “does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires,” has fallen and been replaced by a new societal orthodoxy holding new doctrines that are often incompatible with long-established teachings and traditions of Christianity. Today’s progressives aren’t “relativists” because they subscribe to moral dogmas just as strongly as Catholics do, and some of these beliefs are very much at odds with traditional Catholic ideas, especially regarding women’s and LGBT rights.
In his 1975 encyclical, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Saint Paul VI reminded us that the Church “exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace” (14). Later in the encyclical, he explained the importance of changing our approach to evangelization when situations require it. He wrote, “This question of ‘how to evangelize’ is permanently relevant, because the methods of evangelizing vary according to the different circumstances of time, place and culture” (40).
Successful evangelization today must respond creatively to unprecedented changes in the world, and should be mindful of the unique obstacles in each society. In the West, the evangelization challenge for the Church is to show that Catholicism is not an obsolete religion filled with superstitious bigots and conspiracy theorists. If we are unsuccessful, sharing the Gospel will be impossible. In the developing world, the evangelization challenges are to inculturate the faith and to liberate the oppressed. Failure to do this will lead the people to seek God elsewhere. Where the Church is tiny and persecuted, including China and parts of the Muslim world, the challenge is to show these societies that Catholics can live in fraternity as neighbors despite differences in belief, and can help work toward the common good of all. Failure to rise to this challenge means they will be crushed.
The declining Church in the West has suffered serious blows to its moral credibility in recent decades. This has resulted in declines in its ability to witness in the public square, its influence in halls of power, and its capacity to evangelize the culture. Historians and sociologists will research, write, and debate what caused the fall of Christendom for ages to come, but we Christians today don’t have the luxury of centuries to take stock of what went wrong if we want to survive this crisis. More importantly, if we fail to recognize how the Church is perceived by the wider society, our beloved faith will be reduced to little more than an afterthought by the prevailing culture in a generation or two.
This is the key challenge facing Church leaders today, and it is something that Pope Francis has consistently tried to address. He has faced strong resistance in these efforts, mostly from within the Church. Many times during his eight-year pontificate, Francis’s progress has been hindered. His initiatives have been blocked repeatedly by other Catholic leaders who promote more reactionary, ideological approaches to the faith. And this has cost valuable time. Unless our Church leaders can quickly learn how to be serious voices of social and moral truth on the world stage, Catholicism will soon drift into an age of cultural irrelevance.
Me: I think the core blunder of conservative Catholicism in our time is that it imagines our task is to impose a moral code (or at least those fragments of the moral code conservatives find useful in their nihilist grab for power) on people who have never been given a credible witness to Jesus Christ and who therefore cannot for the life of them imagine why they should live by the code when they have no faith in Jesus. What Catholic conservatives have increasingly striven to do is hunker down in a Fortress of law, fear, and force and try to make the world live by their standards while showing (especially since their prostration to Trump) that they don’t believe the gospel and don’t trust Jesus Christ to save or lead his Church. Every day they make clear that they think they must fight a rear-guard action to defend the Church from the pope while struggling to force unbelievers to act as if they believe a gospel that even the Catholic KKKrusader for Trump and “Western civilization” does not believe. They evince no trust that God is the Lord of History. They show no faith that God guides the Church. They make clear they do not believe in the indefectibility of the Church.
They make clear, in a word, that they think themselves, and not Jesus, the saviors of the Church and that they are fighting a losing battle to stave off Gotterdammerung. The world is not the place where the fields are white for harvest and the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church. It is the terrible realm of the enemy and nearly every person they meet is not somebody seeking happiness (and therefore Jesus, who is our happiness) but an enemy to be feared and defeated. The very idea that the Church should have something to offer the world is dismissed as kumbayah snowflake talk. We are not to cater to the wants of the world! We are to smash this selfish world! People who come to the Church filled with wounds and needs are libs, parasites, and weaklings demanding a handout or subversives trying to destroy us. Their needs are contemptible. They should bend the knee, not prate about their needs! What the Church needs is manly shock troops to storm the beaches and force liberals to bend the knee! Not wussy snowflakes complaining about how their lives are hard!
And so the Tough Guy Catholics like Voris, Heilman, and Altman try to impose their fake gospel with fear and force and heap contempt on the Holy Father’s calls for mercy and grace as the “Church of Nice” even as many in the fields white for harvest beg Christians to show them Jesus and are rebuffed by Real Catholics[TM] with hearts of stone. The Cross and real suffering is for other people. Self-pitying fantasies about suffering and martyrdom are for the Greatest Catholics of All Time.
I’m glad Where Peter Is exists to provide a sane counter-witness to the antichrist cult that has engulfed conservative Catholicism in its war on the Holy Father and its ongoing prostitution to the GQP Cult.