We were talking movies and my friend Rick told the story of watching the fantastic movie, The Mission with a group of parishioners in a progressive parish in some city up North.
They had a discussion about the film afterwards and Rick said, “I just found it amazing the lengths the missionaries would go to bring the gospel to the natives.”
He was surprised when one of his fellow Catholics was shocked. “Did we actually watch the same movie?” He asked. The progressive Catholic was not impressed by the missionary effort. He was disgusted and dismayed. First, the people were “indigenous people” they weren’t “natives”. Second, he thought it deplorable that the white male, European missionaries had invaded the territory of the indigenous people forcing them to convert to Christianity.
You get it.
What is a core principle of the Christian faith — bringing the gospel to those still untouched by the good news of Christ–was considered bad form, colonialist oppression, imperialist arrogance and white privilege.
The story illustrates the total division between the two different Catholic Churches in the United States. One group of Catholics may be called “historic Christians” the other “secularists or progressives.” The historic Christians simply believe the old, old story of a lost humanity in need of savior. They believe that Jesus died to save us from our sins and that all people should come to know the gospel so that they might move out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
The other “Catholics”? What do they believe? In my experience they believe the same thing all the other progressive worldlings believe. They believe the secular gospel of a humanity that is always getting better by their own efforts. They believe in total individual freedom without any restraints. They believe in the Christian faith is the best way to make the world a better place, work for peace and justice and help the poor. They believe in women’s rights to abortion and homosexual rights to be married.
In other words, what they believe is indistinguishable from what all other secular, humanist Americans believe. The only difference is that they “identify” as Catholics.
What is the root of this division? It is a basic philosophical disagreement. The secular humanists believe the Christian faith is a human creation. It was forged in a particular cultural milieu and out of particular historical conditions. Because of this, it should not only adapt to the culture in which it finds itself, it MUST adapt to the culture in which it finds itself. In this viewpoint the Catholic faith is always wrong. The prevailing culture (whether the primitive people of New Guinea or the primitive people of New York) must be superior and must “correct” Catholicism.
The historic Christians believe precisely the opposite. We believe Christianity was revealed by God to the human race by a direct action. “In the fullness of time God sent forth his son, born of a woman.” This historic gospel does not change with time or adapt to the culture in which it finds itself. Certainly the mode of expression and the method of communication may change, but the core gospel does not change. It challenges and corrects the world. The world does not challenge or correct it.
This is the essence of the Christian faith, and what I don’t get. What I really, really don’t get is that these secular, progressive non-Catholics are the ones who call us historic Christians “hypocrites.” Do we fail in realizing all our spiritual goals and ambitions? Sure. Do we talk the talk but not walk the walk? Of course. It goes without saying.
The division, therefore, in the Catholic church is very deep indeed. It goes right to the roots. At present we patch things up. We pretend there is unity. We avoid talking about these issues because we sense that they are unresolvable.
Indeed they are. A friend of mine in the Anglican church put it this way after trying to dialogue with a secular, progressive Christian. He said, “It was like we were playing tennis on two adjacent courts.”
Historic Christians should stop and realize that this is the real divide. It is not simply between liturgical, political or disciplinary disagreements. This is not between those who like the traditional Mass or those who like the Novus Ordo. This is not between political opinions or matters of taste. This is not about Vatican II or pre Vatican II. This is not about whether you home school or not or whether women should wear chapel veils. It is not about “this Catholic college is better than that Catholic college.”
It is not about any of that.
It is about this deep, deep divide. A divide that cannot be breached. It is a divide between sheep and goats, and between weeds and wheat, and from where I am I can see only that this cannot be resolved here and now.
It can only be resolved on that day when the Great Judge separates the sheep from the goats and takes the weeds, gathers them up and throws the on the fire.