My posts last week–here and here— on Cardinal Maradiaga’s speech on the New Evanglization prompted some pretty fierce comment from John Zmirak here and my own observations were mentioned by Ross Douthat in an extended piece in the New York Times here and Rod Dreher here.

Douthat discusses the ongoing “civil war” in the Catholic Church between conservatives and progressives and in an uncertain voice he calls for a synthesis and hopes Francis is the man to pull the church toward the center. Douthat echoes my concerns about Cardinal Maradiaga’s speech,

It felt like an address, in other words, that could have been delivered by a progressive prelate in 1965 or so, before subsequent developments exposed some of the problems with a Christianity focused too intently on the horizontal rather than the vertical, social injustice rather than personal sin, the secular rather than the transcendent. Even has Francis has been eloquently warning against seeing Catholicism as a worldly “ideology” or letting the church become an N.G.O., then his friend and ally’s vision seems to risk falling into a version of exactly those traps.

This is the divide in the Catholic Church–you could call it the church of the two NCRs–the two American Catholic papers with the same initials: National Catholic Register and National Catholic Reporter. The Register is owned by EWTN and takes a consistently conservative stance on Catholic issues while the Reporter takes a predictably progressive stance on the issues. It is like there are two Catholic Churches. Each has their own colleges, their own publishing houses, their own religious orders, their own bishops, their own dioceses and parishes.

The progressives are predictable in their emphasis on peace and justice issues, modernized liturgy with full participation of the people and most often an unquestioning alliance with left wing political movements. They can be characterized by their passive aggressive “deep concerns”, the priests in their polyester vestments, their brutal modernist architecture, iconoclastic approach to tradition and worship, and silent but deadly support of feminism, abortion and the homosexualist agenda.

On the other wing of the church are the consistent conservatives. They stress tradition and beautiful liturgy. They tend toward the clericalist and hierarchical. “Full participation” of the people means that each person participates fully in the Mass by giving their undivided attention and worship to God. This means they kneel silently and pray. No polyester for their priests. They’re the lace and brocade brigage. The sniff out the incense still redolent in the vestments that have been salvaged from churches that have been “wreckovated”. There are no passive aggressive methods with them….it’s just aggression. They value the old because it’s old and despise the new because it’s new. They are for “family values” and can too often wind up being “the Republican party at prayer.”

What intrigues me is that after Bl. John Paul II the Holy Spirit has given the church first a Benedict and then a Francis. These two popes and these two saints perfectly typify these two extremes in the church. Benedict the bookish–the introverted monk, the man of prayer who planted the seeds of a new civilization as Rome was crumbling. Then Francis the poor–the embracer of lepers, the preacher to birds, the holy fool, le jongleur de Dieu…the one who was called to re-build the church and brought reform and renewal that he himself could never have imagined.

Most people (probably because we are either introvert or extrovert) will gravitate to one more than the other. Me? I’m a Benedict man. In fact I am actually a Benedictine oblate. Give me a book and a cell (and a bottle of Benedictine) and I’m good. However, I realize that Francis is also a saint and I need the Franciscans of this world, and if we Benedictines need the Franciscans, the Franciscans also need the Benedictines.

There needs to be a synthesis not a compromise. Somehow or other we need to open our minds and hearts to one another and have the brains and the guts to recognize what is good and beautiful and true about “the other side” This is tough because we all naturally want to hunker down with people like ourselves. Everybody–and especially religious people–want to find a comfort zone and stay there. We want to surround ourselves with people who support our own opinions and tastes. We want preachers who do things our way and a fellowship who believe as we do. Furthermore, we bolster our little snug, smug clan by building walls around our enclave and creating enemies. Nothing binds us together more firmly than a shared enemy. So we demonize and turn our fellow Catholics from “the other side” into our scapegoats.

This is not Catholicism. It is sectarianism. It’s may not be a full blown cult, but it is cult like behavior, and it is the one kind of behavior Jesus came out against guns a-blazin’.

So where is the synthesis that is not compromise? It is in the cross of Christ. Every answer is in the cross of Christ donchaknow? The first commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. This is the vertical beam of the cross. This is our relationship with God, and that comes first as I discuss here. This is the emphasis of the “conservatives” or the “Benedictines”. Their emphasis on tradition, liturgy, worship, prayer and personal holiness is the vertical beam of the cross. It is the connection between heaven and earth. It is the ancient ladder to heaven.

But that cross is incomplete without the horizontal. The second commandment is like–namely this–that we love our neighbor as ourselves. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Likewise, on the vertical beam hangs the horizontal beam. We can’t really reach out in love to our neighbors without first establishing the relationship between ourselves and God. The horizontal without the vertical remains on the ground and remains nothing but a human exercise in shallow goodness. The vertical without the horizontal as nothing but a pole in the air on which no man can be crucified and therefore no sacrifice can be offered.

The cross is a sign of contradiction. It is a sign of conflict. The vertical may support the horizontal, but it is also true that the vertical and the horizontal clash. Read More