“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.
— Alfred Lord Tennyson, “The Charge of the Light Brigade“
“Why dost thou call the apostolic chair the chair of pestilence? If, for the men that sit therein, I ask: did our Lord Jesus Christ, on account of the Pharisees, reflect upon the chair, wherein they sat? Did he not commend that chair of Moses, and, preserving the honour of the chair, reprove them? For he sayeth: they have sat on the chair of Moses. All therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do. These points if you did well consider, you would not, for the men whom you defame, blaspheme the Apostolic See, wherewith you do not hold communion. … Neither on account of the Pharisees, to whom you maliciously compare us, did our Lord command the chair of Moses to be forsaken; (in which chair he verily figured his own) for he warned the people to do what they say, and not what they do, and that the holiness of the chair be in no case forsaken, nor the unity of the flock divided, on account of the wicked lives of the pastors.”
— St. Augustine, Contra lit. Petil., I. ii. chs. 51, 61.
Yes, yes, I have a few “ecclesial” and “spiritual” posts under construction, but I almost feel like shouting with joy: LIFE IS SO MUCH BETTER NOT TALKING ABOUT “THE CHURCH”!
I’m as happy as a bug in a rug to focus on my family, my fitness, my prayers, and my books. We can’t change anything in the Church, it’s not up to us teach or legislate, and debate invariably leads to breaches in charity. Therefore it’s best just to turn up and tune out. Even the injunction to “hold fast to the traditions” is best honored in the breach, on your own time, in your own closet, since any vocal hankering for something not already approved or promoted by your own bishop is typical traditionalist hubris. Better just to keep your nose, and your voice, down, stick to your prayers and good works, and let God sort everything out. Can’t we all just get along?
There’s an icy serenity in that kind of hands-off quietism. (Ask the ostrich.) After all, it’s not my Church, not “our” Church, so why should I lay claim to anything in it beyond securing my own salvation and the good of others? Why bother? Given the irresistible and undeniable power of the episcopacy to do whatever they want with the traditions, disciplines, and “style” of the Church at any time in history, why should I bother clinging to those features from any age in the Church’s life, as if such pesky particulars mattered? The Faith is the thing, the Creed is the thing, the Mass is the thing–not how it’s lived, expressed, or celebrated. What am I, more Catholic than the pope?
Admittedly, this quietist position does not help me resolve the tension created by seeking above all to “empower the laity” in the past half-century or more, but, again, I am a mere worm, and the Church certainly doesn’t need my input. The key to Catholic happiness, apparently, is more than “pay, pray, and obey.” The key to happiness in the Church in our day is not simply to submit, not simply to commit all things to the Lord, but, rather, actively to flout one’s sense of tradition and prudence in order to defend and valorize and “internalize” every aspect of the status quo. Resignation is not enough; celebration is the sign of a Serious Catholic. After all, didn’t Luther criticize the hierarchy and various abuses, and we know how that turned out? The key to happiness in the Church now is to breathe deeply and unflinchingly from the exhaust pipe of the New Evangelization as the hierarchy drives the Catholic Cadillac where God knows it must go. Woe to the man who would lay a finger on God’s anointed one. Just ask St. Athanasius. (In contrast, apparently, lay chrisms are bought wholesale, on the cheap, and can be trampled upon with indiscriminate glee.) Lest the reaming seem to be one-sided against hapless traditionalists, realize that, although liberal prelates like Kasper, Mahony, Martini, and the Winnipeg Statement Gang are easy pickin’s for conservative snipers, they too, as irreproachable pillars of authority, must never suffer a syllable of public protest. Anything less obeisant would be a crime most schismatic.
Oops, almost forgot: lest you get carried away with the theocratic itch, remember that bishops can denounce other bishops, and popes can stifle past popes, cuz, like, even though desecrating the ark and flouting the king merits the death penalty, and stuff, these Special Anointed Types can and should mess with those other Anointed Types, sorta like only Titans can fight Titans. Also, since priests are the representatives (or vicars) of bishops, it follows that we can’t clip a lock from their hallowed heads, either. And as far as deacons partake of the sacrament of holy orders, too, we challenge them at the peril of our own souls. As for what the Anointed do amongst themselves…. Let a thousand intra-caste shootouts blossom, as long as we worms dare not trample a blade of anointed grass. (Make sense now?)
Just nod and genuflect.
God is in control.
Hence, if it comes to light that most cardinals oppose Kardinal Kasper’s Kompromise, we are not to take this as a vindication of our own lowly condemnations of his gambit.
We are simply to take it as part of a day’s work for our clerical handlers. They’ll sort it out. They’re on the God squad. We need to trust the experts. It is not up to us to pronounce upon the “serene” musings of our betters. At best we are broken clocks who might be fortunate enough to align with the current curial consensus. It’s not like I’m able to know what authentic Catholicism is, anyway; that’s why I need zealous pastors to tell me what’s hip and what’s on the menu. Wouldn’t want to overdress, now, would I?
Again: it’s not your Church, so pipe down and pay up.
Truth be told, I had always thought “pay, pray, and obey” was the best way, but unfortunately over the years as a new Catholic, I heard so much glowing rhetoric about the unique and increasingly vital lay charism, the New Evangelization, the death of clericalism, the ministerial priesthood being at the service of the lay priesthood, and all the rest, that I foolishly thought I might have something to contribute. I thought I actually had a basis for watering and fertilizing the arid contemporary ecclesial landscape with the riches of the Church’s own Tradition. P’shaw! I now see that it is not my place to dredge up traditional penchants, perspectives, and practices. Tradition is what the episcopacy makes of it, and if you don’t like it, you can leave. If the bishops in union with the Roman See say that x is out and z is in, then x is a sin and z is a new virtue, at which point, trying to salvage x or warn about z is but to kick against the goads. Even the sacred liturgy is the plaything of the pope, so why should I worry about any changes or alleged abuses? I just need to relax, and get over my fetishes. All I really have to contribute is a warm body, a smiling face, a row of applause, my children, and my tithes. Any desire to see the Church being led as I think is right is just crypto-Protestantism. Or crypto-Pelagianism. Or crypto-Lefebvrism. Or cryptorchidism.
Sorry, you know how easily we lay folk get confused.
So, glowing “Vatican II” rhetoric aside, I realize now that my highest vocation is simply to trust the hierarchy, suppress any and all discontent–except perhaps what I choose to voice in a polite letter to my bishop now and then–and pretend I can shut out the endless barrage of stimuli from the rest of the episcopacy and my fellow Catholics in an age of relentless social media. That’s right: the “social media” card plays both ways. Just as I apparently have no right to publicize any of my concerns to the world–as if I knew better than the Holy Spirit as He infallibly guides the bishops on every jot and tittle!–, so I must simply accept the fact that every passing scandal from any monastery, diocese, seminary, and dicastery in the news can and shall penetrate my soul, and I had better just get used to it. New Oxford Review, The Wanderer, Our Sunday Visitor, The Remnant–all lairs of lurking dissent. Don’t they know that God is in control of everything in the Church, and that there’s no reason to lift up shady rocks? Don’t they know that private letters suffice? Don’t they know that the Church knows how to handle her own affairs, without meddling lay folk demanding more light? Expose an abusive priest today, denounce the entire Vatican tomorrow–where does it end?
Airing out dirty laundry in our age, I am reminded, invariably transmits it beyond prudent privacy, so it’s best not to make a peep. The world is watching, you know. I just need to get with The Program. Hallellujah, the Church has learned to run with the big dogs as one slick media entity among many others–Image Is Everything, Amen–and that’s “Oh. Kay.” God can use all kinds. The Church used to be something to be revered, feared, and deferred to, but now is something to be smiled at and patted on the head for playing along. A shuffling grandpa ready to dazzle us all with one magic trick after another. A polyglot teddy bear with sugar plums for all good boys and girls. But again, that’s Oh. Kay. Treasure in jars of clay, and all that.
As for this worm, being exposed to the example, for better or worse, of a hundred bishops from a hundred dioceses all over the nation and the world, and not being permitted to react to it as if it were a pressing, local concern, is simply a cross I’ll have to learn to bear. I am told to embrace the fullness of the Catholic Church as lived around the planet, and to share in the joys and woes of my brethren wherever they may be, yet I am also told not to raise alarm about anything beyond my nose.
I think I finally get it.