Over the past fifty years, many of the Catholic faithful have been extremely scandalized, and even traumatized, by the willingness of so many Church leaders, including myself, to be incrementally drawn into a moral capitulation to the tyranny of progressive secularism. While, through the gracious fidelity of the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church is to both be and act as the pillar and foundation of truth (I Tim 3:15), many of us in the hierarchy have been more than willing to abdicate our responsibility to proclaim the whole truth of God for the sake of trying to make the Gospel more relevant to the defective and desecrating premises of secular society.
This tendency to value popularity over fidelity and expediency over integrity is nothing new. It was clearly manifested in Aaron’s capitulation to the Israelites’ consensus that a golden calf had to be forged and worshipped at the base of Mt. Sinai. And it was again manifested when Pilate conceded to the demand of the Sanhedrin, supported by the Jewish mob in the praetorium, that Jesus be crucified. Fifty years ago, its seductive seeds were again planted among the People of God, when a number of theologians, dissenting against Humanae Vitae’s reaffirmation of the need to respect God as the absolute Lord of Life , asserted the supremacy of conscience over this objective moral truth.
And sadly, when Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle sought to clearly reassert the fact that one’s personal conscience must be brought into conformity with objective moral truth, he was denied decisive backing by the Vatican. Since then, the alleged “supremacy of conscience” has been further expanded to justify an ever-expanding list of sins. And whereas a sincere conscience must be rooted in truth, the dissenters have asserted that a sin-seared conscience, continually being morphed to conform to one’s emotions, convenience and agenda, must be reverenced and never challenged by the revealed truth of God. Relevance, apparently, is to be given higher regard than Revelation.
Thus it is that we have witnessed Church leadership in a tailspin. It is no wonder, then, that on June 29, 1972, Pope Paul VI sadly noted that from some fissure, the smoke of Satan had entered the sanctuary of the Church. Note, for example, how the handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal has apparently been guided by expediency, rather than by integrity. At first, expediency seemed to demand that those who dared to “slander good priests” and to “create scandal” by reporting these serious sins be castigated and bullied into silence. But then, as the fear of the lawsuit did what the fear of the Lord was not allowed to do, those same “scandalmongers” and “slanderers” received apologies and were praised for their heroism. Note also how the compounding of sin by those same abusive unrepentant clergy was largely ignored.
Apparently the sacrilege of offering Mass and receiving Holy Communion in a state of serious unrepented sin by such abusive clergy has not been taken very seriously by the hierarchy. If it was, we would have had at least a month of Masses of reparation and serious reparational fasting. But, sadly, the impression that was given, guided by the demands of secularist expediency, that the desecration of the Blessed Sacrament is not to be considered a serious sin. As a consequence of this, is it any wonder that so many in the state of objectively serious unrepented sin feel free to follow the dictates of their sin-seared consciences, and approach the Eucharistic Christ with a sense of entitlement, rather than humble reverent gratitude.
The prioritizing of popularity and expediency over the integrity of truth is also manifest in other liturgical changes. For example, Communion in the hand was initiated as an act of disobedience to the liturgical discipline of the Church. The pseudo-sophistication of those who asserted, “As adults, we can feed ourselves,” tended to reject the basic spiritual truth that we all must approach God as repentant, humble and grateful beggars. When Church leaders finally capitulated to their demands, they established clear norms for this practice. But these norms have rarely been fully implemented. And those priests who do seek to respect and fully implement them are often treated as being either too strict or as lacking pastoral sensitivity.
In addition, we should note that this practice also tends to leave Eucharistic particles on the church floor, thus turning the bag in the church vacuum cleaner into a de facto tabernacle.
The demands of expediency also have guided many of us Church leaders into a pandering to sinners, rather than calling them to conversion. The cry, “All are welcome” tends to ignore why they are welcome. They are welcome to join us into ingoing repentance and renewal in God’s gracious love and mercy. In a good doctor’s office, all are welcome, but they are welcome for a purpose - to enter into a discipline of healing and healthy living, not to abide in sin. In contrast to such a therapeutic welcome, many in the Church have become so caught up in welcoming, that they are afraid to call people to accountability. Convenience, not accountability to our covenantal commitments, is seen as the standard for good pastoral practice.
And so we relax Church discipline. We allow corn beef and cabbage dinners when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday in Lent, we transfer to Sunday the celebrations of Ascension and of Corpus Christi, and we carefully avoid telling parishioners that the Third Commandment does not say, “Keep holy the Lord’s Day, if you feel like it.”
Thus thousands of Catholics, who have missed Mass without a serious reason, feel free to receive Holy Communion in the state of objectively serious sin. And while the discipline of truth without the discipleship of love can be experienced as tyranny, it is also true that the discipleship of love without the discipline of truth leads to spiritual anarchy. Jesus Himself pointed out, “If you love Me, keep My commandments”. (Jn 14:15, 15:10)
All this points to a basic paradigm shift, into which many in the Church have been seduced. Whereas, for centuries, the Church has proclaimed the Kingdom of God to the world, we have been more recently seeing the Church proclaiming the New World Order and its ever-changing dictates of political correctness. The Kingdom of God is rooted in a dynamic of evocation. For God is always calling us forth into a greater intimacy with Himself, His love, His truth and each other. The word, evocation, affirms a personal call of God to intimacy with Himself. And this redemptive and regenerative call goes out to all dimensions of our humanity, forming us anew in His image and likeness.
Having such a common call, we have a common destiny and common point of reference in His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Sadly, though, in recent years, this paradigm has been largely eclipsed, as so many in the Church have come to embrace the secularist paradigm of self-fulfillment indicated by the word, evolution. Evolution, unlike evocation, is an intrinsically impersonal dynamic (Note, for example, the secular excitement over the recent development of sex robots, which offer sexual gratification with no need for personal commitment or intimacy). Unlike covenantal love, which has as its source, sustenance and summit reverence for the mystery of Divine Intimacy, evolution is rooted in accumulating power and control. It values survival over integrity, and thus is willing to desecrate the sacred whenever such desecration is expedient for one’s survival.
That is one reason why we so rarely hear the secular world use the word, virtue. For virtue is based on accountability to truth and reverence for the sacred. Instead, even among the hierarchy today, we are more likely to hear the word, values. Unlike virtues, values are amenable to subjective agendas and moral ambiguity. Virtues incarnate truth. Values mutilate the truth. Note. for example, how many of the Jewish leaders had become so accustomed to mutilating the Word of God to make themselves look righteous that, when the Word of God became flesh, they were not content until they had desecrated and mutilated that Word on a cross in order to vindicate their own self-righteousness. As indicated above, they tragically made the mistake of valuing expediency over integrity (Jn 11:49-50).
Thus it is that we need to remember that words do matter. They establish the basic premises for human communication. If words are desecrated, human relationships become desecrated. As long as Christians uncritically capitulate to the secular agenda of establishing desecrating words such as expediency and evolution as the linchpins of human development, the secularists, silently snickering with condescending cynicism, will gladly acclaim our sychophancy as enlightenment. But if, by the gracious fidelity and mercy of God, we firmly assert anew our accountability to the splendor of truth and the sacredness of the human word, we will witness in even more glorious ways the reality of a basic truth of our Faith - the Word becoming flesh was not only an event in history, but also a profoundly transcendent Mystery, which wondrously transforms all time and all dimensions of our common humanity.
May God, in His gracious and compassionate mercy, deliver us from the quagmire of confusion and bring to fruition the graces He has so faithfully bestowed on us in spite of our sins and negligence.
Rev. Thomas R. Collins is a Catholic priest in the service of the people of Virginia.