I have blogged quite a bit over the years about “the tale of two churches” One of the articles is here and it expresses the realization that there is already a schism in the American Catholic Church. It is not a formal schism, but it is a real schism. As a convert I expressed it like this:
I was quite prepared to find fellow Catholics with different tastes in music, church architecture and liturgy. I was also prepared to encounter Catholics with different opinions concerning politics, history, education and social matters. I knew I would also encounter a good number of poorly catechized Catholics who simply didn’t know their faith, and I was prepared for ‘dissenting’ Catholics who knew the faith, but disagreed with the teachings of the church while still remaining within her.
What I was not prepared for was to find two Churches within Holy Mother Church. These two churches are very difficult to identify and define because the two different groups cannot be separated according to outward criteria alone. It is too easy to divide these two groups according to ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’; ‘charismatic’ or ‘traditionalist’; ‘right wing’ or ‘left wing’. The two groups I am talking about exist within all these preferences. The two groups are distinguished not so much by what they do, the way they worship or the causes they espouse, but by their underlying understanding of just what the Catholic Church is for.
There seems to be one group of Catholics who believe the Catholic Church is here to change the world. They believe it is our primary mission to help the immigrants, feed the hungry, be activists in worthy causes, raise money for the poor and be engaged in all the corporal works of mercy.
The second group of Catholics believe the Catholic Church is here to save souls. They believe humanity is locked in bondage to sin and that Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God and Son of Mary died to deliver mankind from the bondage to Satan and open the gates of heaven to all believers. This, they believe, is the primary mission of the Church.
I belong to the second group, and I proclaim without apology that this is the authentic message of the Catholic Church and the other version is a false religion. In fact, it’s not a religion at all. It’s a manifesto. It’s a rule book. It’s an agenda and it is therefore an ideology.
Does this mean I am opposed to the corporal works of mercy? Of course not. But they are the result of the saving work of Christ in the world. They are the consequence of our faith. They are, by God’s grace, our faith being put into action.
We should be honest. The modernist agenda is opposed to the supernatural aspect of the faith.
But it is not good enough to simply write off all those who also profess the Catholic faith.
We have to be honest in seeing that the modernist is opposed to an antique religion for what he considers a good and sincere reason. He believes modern people can’t connect with the supernatural trappings of a 4,000 year old cult. He believes a religion that talks of sacrifice and “the blood that washes away the sins of the world” is impossible for modern people to believe in. Therefore he quietly puts that archaic religion up in Grandma’s attic. It is relegated to the museum of religious ideas, and he uses the language now only in a symbolic way with a superficially respectful nod as a young man might smile and be kind to his grandpa with dementia.
The second version of the faith is authentic not only because it is consistent with the Sacred Scriptures, the liturgy, the magisterium and the lives of the saints, but also because the second version has room for the first while the first has no room for the second. That which is comprehensive is always more true than that which is exclusive.
Those Catholics who belong to the second category wholeheartedly embrace the corporal works of mercy as necessary and vital whereas the Catholics in the first category dismiss the supernatural as irrelevant, out of date and even dangerous.
This is the schism in the Catholic Church. Half of us believe one thing and the other half believe something different.
But simply lamenting this schism and blasting the other side in some kind of religious civil war is not good enough.
What is desperately needed is a new evangelization that deals with this issue rather than skirting around it. The concerns and the questions of the modernists are real. How do you explain thousand year old religious concepts in the modern world? How do you explain stock religious concepts like “Jesus Died to Save You From Your Sins” or “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”? How do you explain a religion that talks about animal and human sacrifice to modern people?
Both sides of this religious divide should be wrestling with these issues.
But what we seem to prefer is to retreat into our preferred tribes and throw stones at the other side–blaming them for all problems.
I ask for your prayers as I continue to work on a book that I hope will be a small contribution to this problem. It is called Immortal Combat – The Way of the Warrior Priest. It is an effort to explain the atonement in a way that is accessible and convincing to modern man.