Monday, October 16, 2006

A Sort-of Chestertonian Crosses the Bosphorus

Many of you may have already seen coverage of this, but if not, here you go.

Beliefnet's Rod Dreher, best known as a chief proponent of the "crunchy conservative" lifestyle - sort of a nouveau distributism - and author of a book thereabout, recently revealed that he and his family have left the Roman Catholic Church and joined that of the Orthodox. The decision was no doubt a trying one, and I hope you will joing me in praying for them.

That said, however, it is a conflicted thing. To read his account is to be plunged into a tale of depravity, heartbreak and betrayal, scandalized beyond innocence and wounded beyond measure. There is something rotten in the American Catholic church, and the stench of it drove this man away.

At the same time, however, it need not have. There is a tendency even among devout religious people - perhaps due to habit, or because they simply aren't thinking clearly, or even, alas, have never really thought about the issue at all - to look at the Church in purely secular, materialistic and consequential terms. It's the sort of thinking that sees an atheist argue with a Catholic about the Church's worth, and the best the former can do is cite the Inquisition, while the best the latter can do is cite the Church's charitable works. Here is a truth that even atheists and anti-Catholics must consider and embrace:

The Catholic Church is not a political party.

We can not simply say, "her rule is insensitive," or, "her leaders are lacking," or, "she does not grasp economics." It is utterly fruitless to discuss the Church in a manner that is divorced from the claims that she makes about herself, whether those claims are true or not. To do so is, at best, to be entirely ignorant of the Church's motivations. In situations such as those that Rod describes, in fact, it is of paramount importance to consider this, and to his credit he recognizes as much even if he does not, it would seem, accept it in the end. Does it shatter the legitimacy of your nation's laws when men break them? When Smith murders Harris does it mean that America (for example) need never have been? The answer to this is clearly no, no matter how gruesome and appalling the death of Harris may be, and yet it is the mad answer of "yes" that keeps so many out of the Church, and drives so many who are already within her mighty bulk away.

Christ promised that the gates of Hell would never prevail against His Church, and it is up to the Catholic faithful everywhere to take Him at his word. This invincibility, however, does not mean that the Church will never know hardship or tremors, and nor does it mean that she is simply mystically preserved from downfall. It is my own opinion (as a wretched layman and general nub) that the Lord's promise on this score was not only a matter of His own supremacy, but also, perhaps, a vote of confidence in the believers who would take up His banner in the days to come.

If this is the case, then, it is unseemly to abandon the Church in her hour of need. If the gates of Hell are not to prevail, then she needs constant shoring up, attention and renewal. She needs to fight for her position, and the faithful need to fight with her. The Church is the bride of Christ, and He didn't marry no wimp.

In the end, however, Rod's reasons for doing what he did do not matter as much as they could, for it is the general opinion of many that he will find similar problems among the Orthodox, for all their gaily-clad solemnity, and will thereafter be faced with quite a problem indeed. Indeed, Rod himself admits to this very fact, yet hopes to "get it right" nonetheless. It is our hope that he will come back, if he feels betrayed again, but it's not going to be pretty when it happens.

The key passage from his explanation, for our purposes, is this:
We kept going back [to the Orthodox parish], and finally got invited to dinner at the archbishop's house. I feared it would be a stiff, formal affair. I was astonished to turn up at the address given, to find that it was the shabby little cottage behind the cathedral. We went in, and it was like being at a family reunion. Vladika's house was jammed with parishioners celebrating a feast day with ... a feast. There was Archbishop Dmitri in the middle of it all, looking like a grandfatherly Gandalf. I had never in all my years as a Catholic been around people who felt that way about their bishop. The whole thing was dizzying -- the fellowship, the prayerfulness, the feeling of family. I hadn't realized how starved I was for a church community. Julie, who grew up Evangelical, said this was what she had known all through her youth -- and what she'd left to become Catholic. I remember thinking that night, given what we'd been experiencing in the liturgy, and now at this parish feast, This is what I thought Catholicism would be like when I came in. And I reflected that there's really no reason at all Catholicism can't be like this. It's not like the Orthodox have some exclusive magic. But there you are.
This concerns us for two reasons, and by concerns I mean "matters" rather than "worries." First, this really is what it should be like, both from a Catholic standpoint and that of a mere Chestertonian. Men may differ on just what "life" and "lively" mean, but it must be agreed upon that if the Church must be one thing, it is intensely alive. The family is the seat of all life, and, as luck and prudence would have it, the Church is structured like a family in the efficient, exalted, traditional sense. We have paternal headship, we have feminine grace, and we have quite a brood of children indeed. This is not a resemblence that may be brushed off as coincidental or far-fetched.

Second, this passage underscores the issue of charity in matters such as these. Many have criticized Rod's conversion as being unnecessarily Rod-centric, and it is indeed possible that one may get this impression by reading passages such as that above. His needs weren't being met; his conception of liveliness wasn't being lived up to; his spirit didn't feel on fire for God. These are things that are meant to matter, however, else we would not have been created individuals. What's more, it is no prideful thing to complain that one is "starved for a church community." Yes, we may be petulant: Blah, blah, blah, Rod's not satisfied, etc. But we must, moreover, be gravely worried: There is no church community. This is not something that may be brushed off lightly. It is not enough to turn one protestant, of course, as so often happens, but it should be enough to put the fighting spirit into a body, as the chips are most certainly down. The real infamy of Rod's conversion, if any can be found, is in the fact that he could follow up the statement, "there's really no reason at all Catholicism can't be like this" with the news that he's giving up.

I will close, anyhow, by reiterating my call for prayers, and wishing him good fortune as he goes forth on this curious adventure.


Trubador said...

Well put. It's the curse of the "ME ME ME" baby boomer generation. Which is why JPII went straight to the following generation with his World Youth Days (and was extremely successful with it).

I do not doubt Dreher's sincerity, but I do doubt his "theological" reasoning.

His wife (who was evangelical before becoming Catholic) was quoted as saying, "We need less Peter and we need more Jesus" with regard to their becoming Orthodox. That says a lot.

Paul Pennyfeather said...

I think it would be wrong to read too much into this or that sentence in Mr. Dreher's post. There is always an element of the personal in such decisions, and this need not be attributed to the ME generation ethos.

Dallas is Catholic spiritual wasteland, and this is by design. To worship there is, in many cases, to band together with people (Bishops, priests, lay workers) who, by any sane definition, hate the Catholic Church and her teachings.

The modern Mass is, often it seems, the incarnation of the ME generation ethos. And if what I hear (and have seen) is represenative of Dallas' Catholic Churhes, to raise children in such an environment is tantamount to spiritial child abuse.

I don't live in the Dallas community, but visit there often. Dallas is bad even by the slack standards of the modern American Church.

In my community, we are blessed with a decent Cathedral, and with a Latin Mass at another Church. If I couldn't take my family to the Latin Mass, I don't know what I would do. Should I raise my children essentially as non-Catholics in a Catholic Church?

I used to blame the liberals for the rot in the Church. I don't anymore. They have their revolution and they know what they want. It is the conservative, orthodox Catholics (like myself) who bear the lion's share of the blame. We sit silently through the wretched Mass; we ignore the violations of the GIRM; we rationalize the hand-holding nonsense and lack of piety; we say nothing when the ugly Churches are built; and we write checks knowing the money will be wasted on beauracratic ineptitude, political issues mascarading as social justice, or (in some places) outright depravity.

This will change only when we turn our critical gaze away from the Rod Dreher's and toward our own Churches. The mote in our eye grows bigger every day.

Alan Capasso said...

Another person leaving Peter because of Judas. If one wants a feeling of community, of celebrating a feast day with a feast or a welcoming heart why are they waiting for some one else to throw the party? The sence of community begins with the family and in the family. invite some Catholics over for prayer, sausages and beer. The next time you meet at church things will be lively.

Andrew said...

The simple, sad fact is that most of the people sitting in the pews of our churches are protestants, if Christians at all--and they don't even realize it. In fact, most of them probably wouldn't understand what you are talking about if you pressed them on the point. From my experience, if you can get together the remnant of the faithful from any parish, you can have a community, albeit a small one. While I agree that the truly faithful must step up to the plate and do something about the condition of our parishes, I'm afraid real improvement will only come when the parishes are cleared of the sentimental and cultural-only Catholics. The preaching of the clergy can definitely help toward this end. But, it will be persecution that will really thin the ranks, and force the remnant to regroup, grow in our faith, and then explode in a fury of evangelization. Let us pray for persecution.