12 September 2011

Muscular Christianity

Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops, like bishops, and your religious act like religious.--Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, 1972

I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.--Revelations 3:15-16
If you hear heresy taught at your parish or see serious liturgical abuse, it's not enough to get with your group of friends and grumble about it, or go online and complain to your little Catholic clique. That changes nothing. Get off your duff and do something. Charitably, respectfully--but do something. Prayer, of course, must always come first--then action. I'm convinced if every Catholic had the chutzpah to change things for the better, things would change.

And if you're finding it hard to fight the inertia, think of it this way: what if your priest had told the whole parish during the homily that your wife was an adulterer, or your husband was a weakling, or your child was lacking in intelligence? Would you go home, gripe a bit, then turn on the TV? Or would you react with justifiable outrage? The latter, one hopes! If you don't react with outrage, I'd really have to question your mettle as a man, or as a wife, or as a mother. It's the natural expression of love. It would be justice, it would be charity to defend your loved one. Would any excuse or rationalization stand in your way? Would you refrain from giving the priest a piece of your mind because, "oh, well, he won't listen anyway" or "I can't change his opinion" or "it's disrespectful to confront a man of the cloth"? None of those excuses would stop you, because it would be a matter of defending their honor.

Why, then, when we hear falsehoods uttered from the pulpit about Our Lord, whom we should love with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, do we just walk out and essentially do nothing? Is it because we do not love enough? If not, why not? Have we so allowed distractions and worldly concerns to crowd Him out that our zeal has turned into apathy? Do we so fear the opinion of secular man that we don't want to appear too zealous, overly fanatical, too "obsessed" with our religion?

Fr. Ray Blake has a nice bit of satire (prompted by various people's reactions to the recent talk Michael Voris gave in London) on the discomfort modern English Catholics can feel over boldly spoken faith. I'd say the average American in the pews is probably not as keen himself over the same.

Hilaire Belloc, that giant of the faith, was the single most influential Catholic man in his day in England. Chesterton only rose to prominence after the fact, and actually attributed much of his understanding of the faith to his friendship with "Hilary". In his time, it was Belloc who led the charge. This was a man who wore his Catholicism on his sleeve at a time when it was not only terribly unfashionable to do so, but could result in discrimination and unfavorable treatment at school and at work. Remember, it was turn-of-the-century protestant England in which he lived, where only a few years previous a man couldn't even attend Oxford University without swearing an oath to uphold the 39 Articles, and where the Act of Supremacy remains in force to this day. English Catholics went about their lives quietly, fully aware of their minority status, in general not wishing to ruffle feathers or draw attention to their perceived "superstitions." Not so Belloc. He roared like a lion, and instead of taking the timid and defensive posture of so many Catholics of his day, took the offense, challenging revisionist Protestant history in book after book and debate after debate.

He never tried to make the faith palatable to the masses by diluting its content. He never apologized for, say, his devotion to Mary, or his unswerving allegiance to the papacy, in spite of the derision he faced from the intelligentsia. When he went to his interview for teaching fellow at Oxford, his first act was to retrieve a statue of the Blessed Virgin from his pocket and place it on his desk. He never received the fellowship, and ever afterward (not without some resentment) attributed it to this "unseemly" display of faith.

During one of his public speeches when he was running for Parliament, a heckler accused him of being a "papist." He stopped his speech, took out a rosary from his pocket, and addressed him directly: "Sir, so far as possible I hear Mass each day and I go to my knees and tell these beads each night. If that offends you, then I pray God may spare me the indignity of representing you in Parliament!"

Things could have ended as badly as they did with the fellowship. But in this case, the crowd cheered, and he went on to win the election.

Where is such muscular Christianity today? God bless the holy clergy who are sacrificing and expending all for the faith. They are the ones who will see the harvest of souls they have reaped when they arrive in Heaven, and will receive their crown. I do not address them. All the rest--the only thing I'll say is this: don't wait around for your bishop or priest to change the world. Let that muscular, manly faith begin with you.