Elliot Milco, who went from humbly editing The Josias to serving as an editorial assistant at First Things, has a new article available online entitled “The Future of American Catholicism.” (I won’t excerpt it here; you should read the whole thing.) At the heart of Milco’s piece is an analysis of how the rickety pact between (classical?) liberalism and Catholicism in America spilled over into the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and has now become something of an embarrassment for contemporary American Catholics who now realize that promise of liberalism is (and perhaps always was) empty. Tied to this analysis is a sobering reminder from Milco that even when Catholics choose to engage political liberalism in the so-called “public square,” they typically do so in expressly secular terms, pointing to vacuous concepts like “religious liberty” to defend themselves from the Obama Administration’s contraception mandate rather than invoking the Gospel (or, for that matter, natural law). American Catholics, like most American Christians, live their lives as if Christ never came at all, and perish the thought that He will ever be coming back.
In a roundabout way, Milco’s article brought to mind a homily delivered this past February by Antiochian Orthodox priest Fr. Patrick Reardon. The homily, entitled “Living Between Two Events,” is primarily a reflection on Christ’s Parable of the Two Talents. Rather than being a premodern apologia for free-market capitalism (as far too many Christians believe it to be), the parable is a stern reminder of two important truths: (1) We are all living in the time that remains before the Second Coming and the Last Judgment; and (2) We belong to God, not ourselves. Combined together, these truths should guide our very lives, not just privately “as Christians” (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant), but in all facets. God will not provide a free pass to Christians who, in their public affairs, follow the utilitarian logic of modern liberalism to unjust ends so long as they “follow the rules” behind closed doors. Not a single politician, businessman, worker, voter, etc. is exempt from God’s rule, regardless of the time and place in which he lives. Nor, for that matter, are we permitted as Americans or otherwise to live “for ourselves.” For as Reardon stresses in his homily, we have been purchased by Christ at a great price, and thus we have a fiduciary duty to God to treat our minds and bodies according to His will and His will alone.
But that is not how most of us live our lives. Indeed, it is doubtful that most Christians throughout history truly lived their lives according to God’s will, though an argument can certainly be made that in authentically Christian societies, people were far better aware of when they went derelict from their duties to Christ the Lord than present-day Christians. Sticking solely to American Catholics for the moment, imagine how difficult it must be for millions of souls to follow the narrow path that leads to Salvation when so many bishops and priests act as though it were a nonissue. It’s not that these churchmen are actively encouraging people to sin, but their words and example too often sow the seeds of indifference. How many of us know Catholics who routinely, and without compunction, set aside the precepts of the Gospel under the excuse that it “doesn’t matter” since they know in their own hearts that they are “basically good persons”? And when the demands of “the times” clash with the ageless principles of the Church, is it any surprise that today the latter buckles under the weight of the former? For most, ’tis better to be a “good American” than a good and faithful servant of the Lord.
Milco closes his article by calling on American Catholics to “re-think [their] political engagements and re-examine the foundations of the [Catholicism/liberalism] compromise, in order to better grasp the range of alternatives before [them].” This project is one all American Christians should fruitfully engage in, though Catholics may have the hardest go of it. For despite the fact it is now beyond a doubt that secularism is not our friend and democracy will not save us, too many “movers and shakers” in the American Catholic Church retain a sizable stake in making sure that the Catholic religion remains an adjunct to the ways and means of liberal ideology.