A friend of mine opined not long ago that the current behavior of most contemporary Catholics when it comes to the Church’s present state feeds directly into the secular narrative that Christians, if not all religious persons, are fundamentally irrational. At some level many Catholics probably know that their beliefs are out-of-step with the world. Desiring to not seem too out-of-step, that is too “wacky” or “backwards,” they project an image of the Church as a mighty city, impenetrable to contradictions, corruption, and chaos. And if word has gotten out about this-or-that abuse, betrayal, or deception, then it is quickly written off as an “aberration.” When it comes to intra-Catholic debate over, say, the state of the liturgy, it is downright astonishing how quickly Catholics will defend or, rather, excuse the existence of two dozen banal (if not sacrilegious) liturgies because one parish in the diocese “does it right.” Unfortunately, “doing it right” typically means little more than not turning the Mass into an atrocious, man-centered spectacle. Anything more than this, such as a bit of Latin or some polyphony from the choir, is just a bonus.
Liturgy won’t save the Church, though sometimes it can help cover up deeper problems. No doubt there are many examples in the United States and across the world where otherwise orthodox faithful are willing to set aside certain doctrinal questions in exchange for a pretty Mass. That these parishes are likely bourgeois to the extreme shouldn’t be surprising. They provide a momentary escape from reality—a flight from the truth even—before the faithful, wittingly or not, return to their everyday lives of being in the world and of it. 90 minutes on a Sunday is more than enough to convince them that they are “good Catholics,” meaning they toss the requisite amount of money into the wicker basket each week and engage in some obligatory post-service chatter about “churchly things.” And yes, sometimes that includes a bit of whispering about just how awful things have become. The only condition is that this whispering can’t leave the front steps and make its way out into the wider world where those with eyes to see and ears to hear have already concluded that the Catholic Church is the longest running joke in human history.
This is not to say that I believe the Catholic Church is a joke. It is, rather, the most serious institution ever put on this good earth. That is why it is so terribly depressing to witness those charged with her care, and the care of over a billion souls, treat it poorly. In fact, they treat it so poorly that the Church at times looks like the worst-run NGO on the planet with an intramundane, conventional moralist at the helm. It is little wonder that most Catholics living today have lost sight of the Church’s eschatological horizon and treat the Church’s intellectual patrimony as little more than a rickety bulwark against the rank nihilism which dominates contemporary culture. What else is Catholicism “for”? A once-a-week aesthetic experience; some fleeting guilt over looking too long at Internet pornography or using condoms and the pop psychological chat-in-the-box to rectify it; and a momentary flash of metaphysical superiority that is quickly tucked away by time Monday morning rolls around—that is not what Catholicism truly is; but it is what it has become after more than half-of-century of capitulation to the ways and means of liberalism. What comes next is almost too horrible to contemplate.