At some point the Catholic indignation industry will implode, right? I thought that more than a year ago when Episode I of the Synod on the Family was taking place. Silly me. Things have gotten so much worse since then. Several new websites, and at least a dozen new blogs, have popped up to inform us just how bad things have gotten in the Catholic Church. The Pope is nuts; the bishops are heterodox; and the laity are left in a perpetual state of confusion. I can’t blame any observer of “things Catholic” for stating the obvious nor for losing their patience with mainstream Catholic writers who try to cover-up the crisis. What I sometimes wonder, though, is what these well-meaning (mostly traditional) Catholic critics are hoping to achieve. Yes, there’s the usual rhetoric about “restoring Christendom” and such, but I am at a loss for how increasingly angry ranting is actually going to do that. Part of me wishes that some of these people would just go full-blown sedevacantist and be done with it all. Or, better yet, just become Eastern Orthodox. They at least recognize the Pope; they just don’t listen to a single word he has to say.
I jest, of course. I can’t fathom the damage that would be inflicted on East/West relations if disgruntled Catholic traditionalists converted to Orthodoxy en masse, and I am not sure American Orthodoxy can handle the internal rumble of ex-Catholics sparring with ex-Protestants over what “real Orthodoxy” looks like. None of this changes the fact that I am still mildly perplexed why certain disgruntled (if not disillusioned) Catholics stay Catholic when the Orthodox seem to be offering everything they want: a beautiful liturgy; more rigorous fasting and Eucharistic disciplines; doctrinal orthodoxy; beards; and so on and so forth.
I know there are many good answers as to why someone ought to stay Catholic and I am not interested in challenging them. My confusion does not arise out of a lack of confidence in Catholic doctrine but a lack of faith in some of those who claim to adhere to it. At what point does the papal office simply because an ideal which completely ceases to manifest itself in reality? When do we finally start staying home on Sundays instead of mindlessly attending parishes that offer grotesque, if not sacrilegious, liturgies? When do we just acknowledge (not accept) that most of the Church is enveloped by heresy and that there is no longer anything substantive to covert people to?
Let me be frank. I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. What I do believe, however, is that something has to give eventually. The Church herself won’t collapse, but things cannot go on like this without the advent of schism (or worse). Sooner or later secular and ideological forces will push harder on the faithful, expecting all to conform to the ways of the world. Maybe that will be the Church’s refining moment.
Thus the world is like an oil press: under pressure. If you’re the dregs of the oil you’re carried away through the sewer; if you’re genuine oil you will remain in the vessel. But to be under pressure is inevitable. Observe the dregs, observe the oil. Pressure takes place ever in the world, as for instance, through famine, war, want, inflation, indigence, mortality, rape, avarice; such are the pressures of the poor and the worries of the state: we have evidence of them… we have found men who grumble under those pressures and who say: ‘How bad are these Christian times!’ . . . Thus speak the dregs of the oil which run away through the sewer; their colour is black because they blaspheme: they lack splendour. The oil has splendour. For here another sort of man is under the same pressure and friction which polishes him, for is it not the very friction which refines him?
– St. Augustine (quoted in Karl Lowith, Meaning in History)