The other day I was chatting with an online acquaintance about Jean Ousset’s Action (IHS Press 2002). First serialized in French in 1966/67, the work represents Oussett’s pinnacle contribution to classic Catholic social thought and yet remains largely ignored by contemporary Catholics. Though Ousset was in no sense the last of Catholicism’s great counterrevolutionary thinkers, he was one of the last to direct the majority of his energy to problems outside the Church rather than the multitude of those metastasizing within her. Action was composed right at the point when liberalism tipped the balance of power within the Catholic Church, distorting doctrine, renovating the liturgy, and confusing (if not scandalizing) the faithful along the way. Since that time faithful Catholics concerned about the direction of the (post)modern world have contended themselves with refreshing our understanding of the principles of right order drawn from the time-honored teachings of the Church and her most steadfast theologians. As laudable as that work is, it is also true that it is not enough. Ousset recognized as much; he knew that firm principles, rooted in the truth, must be accompanied by action. Catholics are not allowed, according to Ousset, to sit back and wait for better times; they cannot tempt God into doing the work of restoration for us. Ousset, unlike many today, took St. Augustine’s following dictum with the utmost seriousness: “Work as if everything depends on you. Pray as if everything depends on God.”
The overall numbers are paltry, but we know that today there are many souls who pray continually for the Church as if everything depends on God. Do they work, however, as if everything depends on them? Some do, but certainly not enough. None of us do enough. When there are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of faithful Catholics kneeling before the altar every Sunday as their priest recites the Roman Mass for all time and yet, upon exiting their parishes, exercise no energy toward continuing the spread of the vetus ordo, contended as they are with what little is offered them, do we not have more work to do? And when these same Catholics turn a blind eye toward wider abuses within the Church so long as their little pocket of the Corpus Mysticum remains “pristine,” have we actually done anything at all? Some of us don’t want to cause a fuss. We fear that if we do then what little we have may be taken away. Maybe tso, but the work of restoration requires sacrifice; it demands risk. The truth does not become secondary because it happens to be inconvenient.
Am I getting ahead of myself? There is a good argument to be made that while incremental action is always required, the devastation wrought over the past five decades has left us in what might be called the “principles phase” of restoration. In other words, since many of us today are so ignorant or confused about the principles of the Church, the basis of her being, and her true mission in the world yesterday, today, and forever, the only prudent activity to be undertaken now is to reeducate ourselves and others; only then can true action be put into place. But how long will that last? At what point do we say, “Enough talk; now it’s time for the harder work to begin!”? Will we ever get there? Or will we succumb that that very modern, very liberal, temptation to involve ourselves in endless chatter, an unceasing discussion, that never terminates in a decision—a decision for action?
If this problem appears grave within the walls of the Church, it is graver by an order of magnitude in society today. When Oussett wrote in the 1960s, he perhaps wrote with the hope that the Church would still, even after letting in some “fresh air,” continue to be what she had to become in the modern world, namely a bulwark against error and a bastion for the rights of God over and against liberal errors which continue to breed indifferentism, relativism, and individualism. No Catholic can write with such hope now, or at least not more than a few flickers of hope. A Catholic concerned with the upending of truth in the (post)modern world looks to the indefectible teaching of the Church, but not to her largely, though thankfully not completely, defective leadership. Such a Catholic will point to where the world has gone astray while the Church, in her doctrine, remains on the right path. However, he will rarely feel empowered or emboldened to do anything more than that. What backing does he have? And is he not flirting with drawing the ire of his fellow churchmen if he should take action in the name of any truth which is out-of-step with the Zeitgesit? The Church made peace with the modern world half-a-century ago, or so we’ve been told. Let’s keep this peace and do nothing more than what the modern world will allow us to do: discuss, discuss, discuss.
Today’s battle, today’s counterrevolution, must be conducted on two fronts: one internal and one external. Society is decaying; we cannot simply chatter about it or, worse, capitulate to the rot. The Church has cancer; Christ tells us that she will never die, but can she fully live until she is cured? Assuming there was ever a time to “wait and see,” that moment passed some time ago. Still, if a ray of light to be found in the present darkness it is this: We have no need to hang our heads in shame and weep over our failures because the real work, the true action we are all called to undertake as one people of God under the Kingship of Christ, has yet to begin.