You might remember the name Dr. Ralph Martin from a recent series on Cleansing Fire reviewing his book, “Will Many Be Saved?”. More recently he has published a sobering a article titled, “The Post-Christendom Sacramental Crisis: The Wisdom of Thomas Aquinas”. You can download it directly here or by going to the free literature page of his organization’s site – www.renewalministries.net. The whole article is definitely worth the read, but here’s some snippets.
When the eternal consequences that flow from what we choose to believe and how we choose to act are not spoken of for long periods of time, the silence on these dimensions of the gospel is often taken to mean that they are no longer important, true, or relevant. As one Australian commentator has pointed out, when the eternal consequences of believing and obeying, or not believing and obeying, are left fuzzy, “the essential faith of Catholics will then amount to no more than a vague theism with little specific moral content; just what it is for a large proportion of Catholics today.”6
The collapse of doctrinal clarity is certainly a major contributor to the general indifference to the call to evangelization which has so insistently come from the Magisterium since Vatican II. Cardinal Ratzinger called it a “catastrophic collapse” of catechetics.
The Catherine of Siena Institute in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has interviewed tens of thousands of Catholics and their pastors and makes the point that even among the minority of Catholics who come to Church somewhat regularly fewer than 10 percent could be considered “intentional disciples” who have consciously made Christ the center of their lives.10 Cardinal Ratzinger remarked on a strange phenomenon he observed in conjunction with the collapse of the Church in the Netherlands after Vatican II. He pointed out that by every statistical measure the Church in the Netherlands was collapsing and yet, strangely, at the same time an atmosphere of “general optimism” was prevalent that seemed blind to the actual situation.
I thought to myself: what would one say of a businessman whose accounts were completely in the red but who, instead of recognizing this evil, finding out its reasons, and courageously taking steps against it, wanted to commend himself to his creditors solely through optimism? What should one’s attitude be to an optimism that was quite simply opposed to reality?11
In the United States, “official optimism” has been quite strong in the midst of radical decline. When the American bishops greeted Pope Benedict XVI on his pastoral visit, they spoke of our “vibrant” Church. Shortly before Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States, Russell Shaw, a respected author and former spokesman for the American bishops, urged the American bishops to stop pretending everything was fine.12
Dr. Martin’s article provides statistics from a “large midwestern diocese”. The numbers are nothing shocking for us here in Rochester. However, the article is, for the most part, about the US (and the Western world) in general. My speculation is that there are a few strongly orthodox dioceses in the US (eg Lincoln), a few strongly progressive dioceses (eg Rochester), and then a majority of not-so-bad-but-not-so-great dioceses in the US. It got me thinking that God often uses situations like we have here in Rochester to actually work for his greater glory. Not that he wills or appreciates dissent or disobedience, but rather that he can use all things to work for His good. I started wondering what my spiritual life would be like if I lived in a typical parish and a typical diocese. Would I have been pushed to search for the truth and battle for my own soul as I have here in Rochester? Or would I have been content to be a minimalist Catholic who isn’t all that bad, but who doesn’t make Jesus Christ the center around which his whole life revolves? I’m not sure, but I am sure that God is here working, right here, right now, begging you and I to lay down our lives for Him… to offer everything we have to Him… to not have a complaining spirit… because ultimately who are we complaining to?
Pray that our next bishop acknowledges just how bad things are and doesn’t bring a false optimism. Continuing with the status quo is no longer an option. Well, it never was an option when you consider the sake of souls, but what really seems to be getting attention is institutions collapsing.
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
Once again, I will fall back to Scupoli’s “The Spiritual Combat”
(perhaps this a more reader friendly link, but I’m not entirely sure it works)
If you find that chapter helpful, continue on to Chapter 38. Or rather just get the whole book.