Pentecost and the Church of Tommorrow
One thing I notice that’s different today from when I was a kid is that there doesn’t seem to be anymore fiction geared towards tomorrow that isn’t dystopian. Sure, I was still a tyke when the movie Logan’s Run came out about a world in the future where people that hit thirty were euthanized, yet others ran away to sanctuary. But that was science fiction. Everything else seemed to speak of a day in the future when everything would be better. There were cartoons even that made spoofs of the trend — the car of tomorrow, and the house of tomorrow by Tex Avery. I would laugh and laugh. That’s not what fiction gives us today, though. Today, you get Hunger Games. It’s a vision of a future where you are on your own against death.
I wonder if the Apostles didn’t have a little bit of that feeling, as they crowded in the upper room after the Ascension. We have the benefit of 2000 years later to see all of Jesus’s promises play out well enough that we can envision the Church in all kinds of ages — the Apostles didn’t. To them, they lost Jesus, there was the Romans and the Jews to deal with yet. And look what they did to Jesus. They didn’t yet have the wisdom to understand why the angels gave a near sarcastic “why are you staring up into the sky?” — they had already been given the sacraments – specifically Our Lord’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament. They just didn’t get it yet. It had to look grim — dystopian — like Hunger Games.
I had to laugh yesterday when I saw a view of the Church of Tomorrow published in the National Catholic Reporter (one wonders if this isn’t the magazine of record for AmChurch). It was titled, A church refreshed: A dispatch from an American Catholic future. Naturally, I wanted to read it because I like to see the ideas of the future. After clicking on it, I see this graphic:
I can only laugh. HAHAHAHAHAHA! It is AmChurch fantasyland! There’s a woman priest, and the felt banner, “All are welcome” and “Who am I to judge” and “God is love.” My favorite part is the gratuitous interpretive dancers. If interpretive dancers looked anything like them, I might give a second review, but they never do. And then, the strange rainbow — we all know what that refers to.
Reading the article reveals that everything is great in this place, if you are a neopagan, that is. The one thing that stood out to me as a pure fantasy is the ornate church. AmChurch doesn’t build churches that look like that. It has no belief in the supernatural, so nothing inspires. It is the empty vision of what killed the Church in America. All of it. Nothing about a Church that loves the sacraments and God. In fact, the only mention of sacraments is in a quote, “the sacraments are not a club.”
Well, actually, they are. A club for the baptized. The unbaptized lack the capacity to receive the supernatural graces. But the club is all inclusive — all are welcome to baptism and have been since the beginning. At the first Pentecost, the Apostles boldly proclaimed that what Jesus gave them is for everyone. So important was it, that even though the Apostles spoke their native language, everyone heard them speaking in their own native language — Arabs heard Arabic; Jews heard Hebrew, Greeks heard Greek, and Romans heard Latin. So, I don’t really understand what world the author of that article is living in… unless he means, as AmChurch does, that his Church of tomorrow is what the world wants, and not what God wants.
I guess if we were neopagans, that’d be a pretty nice Church. But God asked us to worship him, not ourselves or the world. So that looks like a very dystopian future to me. One bereft of God’s supernatural graces.
The Dystopian View from Theologians
Romano Guardini, at the end of his 1956 book, The End of the Modern World, has some pretty choice warnings for the Church of tomorrow. He saw a day when “Christianity will once again need to prove itself deliberately as a faith which is not self-evident; it will be forced to distinguish itself more sharply from a dominantly non-Christian ethos.” He spoke of tradition having been stripped away from the Church and love disappearing from the public. And then what might sound dystopian: “If we speak here of the nearness of the End, we do not mean nearness in the sense of time but nearness as it pertains to the essence of the End, for in essence man’s existence is now nearing an absolute decision. Each and every consequence of that decision bears within it the greatest potentiality and the most extreme danger.”
The Apostles had to have a fresh view of Guardini’s point about the end and danger. Without the Holy Spirit, they were painfully aware of danger. Look what they did to Our Lord, after all. Those were some dangerous times to be a Christian. They had to make traditions, one of which was the making of the sign of the Cross – but today we have authors who praise the duty to follow apostolic traditions yet abandon one of the first traditions they gave us! I get what Guardini was talking about — he also mentioned that to be faithful would become very lonely. Lonely perhaps in worldly terms — a dry martyrdom of sorts. Because even the self-styled theologians of today don’t seem to see a future Church that makes any sense. So many utopian theologies have sprung from within the Church ever since the modernists came out of the shadows post-vatican II.
The theologians have become unmoored in my view. First Things reviewed a book Theology After the Revolution by R.R. Reno, a book about theology in the Twentieth Century some while back. Up in the clouds with the heady language, these guys are building systems of elaboration to compensate for what the reductionism of the manualist movement stole from us: plain spoken catechism. Theology is some sort of impenetrable fortress of vocabulary up in the clouds now. Meanwhile, back on the earth, Our Lord left us sacraments and graces so that the clouds, and He, come to us. Just like those angels at the first pentecost — why stare into the sky — Jesus gave you His presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
I’m not alone in this view, however. Speaking about that book review, a wise and seasoned priest (whose identity is not given here) gave the report: “I found it boring. Catholic theology then had nowhere to go apart from a rediscovery of its foundation in the Eucharist. Meanwhile, self-styled theologians will continue to infest our quondam Catholic universities.” Comments like this are only uttered in the catacombs of Catholicism today. The noise of utopia crowds it out anywhere else!
Staring into the Sky
So many self-styled and man-driven theology movements have sprung up in our time, many of them putting on airs of authenticity and a utopian view, that it’s difficult to see how we’ll make it. A lot of times, it can seem like we are the Apostles today: if we go outside and speak the truth, it’s likely we’ll get bludgeoned to death by a self-righteous, self-deputized Catholic blogger before the world even cares to hear that baptism is for all — and all really are welcome. These movements are all staring in to the sky, telling us to look up and see a future up there that will be great — as long you convince all your friends to believe in the same — and buy the DVD set and books.
Instead, the Catholic views promulgated all hang on some sky-vision. Take the pentecostalist charismatic view. At the end of the day, they are most likely to be a church of man because, as Father Hardon pointed out, the beliefs have a tendency to make every man his own magisterium. The problem with that is that you need an authority structure to reign in a world full of popes. So the Marxist restructurists did that with small bible studies lead by hand selected small group leaders. It’s not called RENEW everywhere anymore — it has a million names and flavors so it spreads more widely. It’s a future church of projected ideals. Chasing clouds.
Just like the Nat. Cath. Reporter article, these visions see a future church that uses human means to create a new place. Rather than focusing on the sacraments, it’s a church of programs and activities. Our Lord never told use to stay busy. He said to pick up our cross and follow Him.
Other views think the Church can only compete by having programs, talks, and round the clock lectures of busybody activity. They think they can out-program the nondenominational feel-good churches of the day. Those feel good churches don’t have the real presence. They don’t have Our Lord. It is really that simple, but you won’t hear anyone say it. So the Church, if she is going to be anything tomorrow, must become again the Church where Our Lord Jesus is physically present — the same God-man who makes the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk.
The Blessed Sacrament and Pentecost
Our Lord left us what we need and sent the Holy Spirit to fill us with wisdom (not with gibberish and seizure-like moments as the instant mysticism of the pentecostalists). Like the first Apostles, I’m not sure we can see what tomorrow’s Church will be like, but we face the same challenge they did: despite the danger of the world, God became man, was crucified, rose form the dead, ascended into heaven, and is with us physically in the Blessed Sacrament. Even today, you can get laughed out of a Catholic church for saying that. It’s true however. Theology tomorrow needs to return from the clouds and utopias and come back to this fundamental point. Despite the storms of theological revolutions around them, Fulton Sheen and Fr. Hardon both came to emphasize the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament as the wellspring of Catholic faith and tomorrow. Pope Benedict XVI apparently agreed and elaborated on the point that the “Eucharist is the causal principal of the Church.” (Sacramentum Caritas, 2007). It was the point made by Fatima, Bellarmine, Eymard, and on. I don’t see that emphasized in small faith movements or the social activism of the Reporter article. In fact, they seem to be missing the point by staring into the clouds.
The true vision of the Church of tomorrow is one where the sacraments and divine grace are again clearly understood in simple terms – this is Jesus, and by following Him, He gives you divine powers, supernatural grace, to do things greater than your human nature could do. You obtain the ability to do this and love God more fully by being baptized. You will find happiness and contentment in doing what Jesus asks of us and worshipping Him, the Father, and the Holy Spirit.
Pope Benedict saw this earlier in his life. You will see reports of his prognostication — but I like this one that just reports it. After having been cut off and isolated from the vast movements of theologians and people staring into the clouds of utopia, he could see the mass of fantasyland tumbling on itself. Instead, like Guardini, he saw a lonely place for the faithful for some time. Reduced to rubble, “It will be a more spiritual Church, and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute”
Sounds bleak, but think of this: If the church is what the Reporter projects, or what the small faith group charismaniacs want, or just a giant emotional spa, or what AmChurch wants, I don’t want it. I want what Jesus promised: eternal life with Him.
Put those things aside — for those in a state of grace: We have Our Lord. We have Pentecost. We have the faith. Like the Apostles, we have it all!
Photo by twm1340
This article, Pentecost and the Church of Tommorrow is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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