Fraught, the second definition of which reads “causing or affected by great anxiety or stress,” remains one of my favorite adjectives to use when discussing not only our current political climate, but the situation in the Catholic Church as well. Some friends like to tease me for using the word too much. By my lights, folks don’t use it enough. Sticking to the Church for a moment, it is patently absurd that words such as “troubled” or “unstable” or “challenging” are used to describe one of the greatest ecclesiastical crises in Church history. Although some point to trying periods such as when Arianism ran rampant or iconoclasm reigned supreme (at least in the East), never before have we seen apostasy on such a grand scale, along with princes and leaders of the Church teaching manifest error without any apparent risk of official censure. Truth be told, those who like to bring up previous points of difficulty in Church history often do so in order to paper over what is going on today, at this very moment, throughout the Catholic world. Even if there is an argument to be made that there were worse times for the Church centuries ago, that does not relieve faithful Catholics living today from the duty to fight for a restoration of orthodoxy and sound leadership. And yet there appears to be no end to the excuse-making, no shortage of justifying rhetoric meant to lull otherwise vigilant Catholics into accepting “the times” and going about their business. After all, God won’t allow the gates of hell to prevail against the Church, etc., etc., etc.
On the political level, there is a noticeable shift within certain Catholic circles away from either longing for some age that never existed or believing that the “right set of candidates” with the “right set of policies” will bring order back into the world. The fruits of the liberal order are now fully apparent; there’s no reason to think the situation will improve. Similarly, there is no reason to hope that some half-witted “strong man” is the answer to our present maladies. Seeking salvation in a buffoon would be risible if it wasn’t so catastrophically sad. How many more election cycles will it take before a sizable enough portion of the Catholic electorate wakes up and fights back? Or will the bulk of American Catholicism succumb to secularism once and for all, praying for political peace at the cost of their very souls? Never underestimate the power of cowardice fueled by promises of comfort and entertainment. Given how leaderless many Catholics feel today, and the fact that our very shepherds have abandoned fighting for the fullness of the Faith, is it any wonder the sheep are picked-off so easily by the wolves?
Now comes the hard part. For no matter how often I make mention of these realities to an increasing number of people willing to accept them, I am always hit with the question, “What do we do about it?” And here I must say, without a trace of glibness or irony, “Pray.” For prayer is where we draw our strength from the only true source of hope in dark times, Christ our Lord and Redeemer. It is in prayer and participation in the Church’s divine services that we find the fortitude to press ahead, to be witnesses to the truth, and endure whatever evils may come because of our most sacred convictions. No design, no artifice of human thought with an accompanying socio-political program, can possibly provide more than prayer. If we cannot be Catholics, if we cannot hold together in charity and truth, then nothing we might pull together from the teachings of the popes on society and the learned reflections of theologians will mean much of anything. And even if such endeavors can succeed for a time on the mundane level, what use will they be for orienting us toward our highest end, which is the beatific vision?