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Don’t Blame The Bishops

Continuing the discussion in the Irish Church thread, a Catholic theologian friend wrote to say that as far back as 2002, in his book “The Courage To Be Catholic,” George Weigel was publicly calling for the Pope to sack failed bishops. I appreciate the information, and am happy to pass it on to you readers.

My theologian pal added the following in his e-mail, which I thought so good I wanted to pass it on to you:

I think that Christianity–in all of its institutional and ideological forms–is getting its butt kicked in the West. None of our Churches is doing very well, ‘conservative’ ones included. We’re all flat-footed, trying to hold on to something that is dying and incapable of being saved (this afflicts both ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’), or winded, trying to race to keep up with the latest ecclesial or cultural trend. Both responses are reactive rather than creative. I don’t think that it’s helpful to look to bishops to save us, at least in the sense of them being saviors or ‘great men’ bending history to their wills. A JP II is the exception, not the rule. More generally, a bishop will foster the necessary renewal by welcoming and supporting and giving space to authentic renewal movements.

The renewal that is needed must go much deeper than politics and policies and pastoral letters and instead touch the core of culture. That is, we need new “Benedicts” who–seeking God first and above all–can generate the saints and the art-beauty that Ratzinger said were the only two effective apologiae for Christianity. But, the Catholic Church in the US–for one–is today seriously lacking in its fostering (and patronage) of artistic types. That’s one reason why ‘religious’ or “Catholic’ art is so pathetic today. And, even some of the beauty that emerges today–in neo-Romanesque or neo-Gothic or neo-Baroque church architecture–still is backwards-looking than forward-looking. It’s imitative and reflective of a failure to engage the imaginations of artistic types today. Such cultural renewal will begin in Christian families that form and kindle the religious imaginations of their children, refusing to settle for the constricting blinders of our dominant, popular culture. I, for one, would like to see a Church that is at-once more contemplative and charismatic, rather than the tepid-moralistic-neutered-beige thing we now have. Wasn’t it Stanley Hauerwas who said that American Christians have managed the impossible: to be of the world without being in it?!

You have much to read, but Archbishop Rowan Williams’ recent address to the October’s Catholic Synod of Bishops (on the New Evangelization) was remarkable in its focus on contemplation.

There are so many good things in his address–which is free from the density and contortions that frequently plague his prose–but here’s a choice nugget:

“What people of all ages recognise in these [meditative, contemplative] practices is the possibility, quite simply, of living more humanly – living with less frantic acquisitiveness, living with space for stillness, living in the expectation of learning, and most of all, living with an awareness that there is a solid and durable joy to be discovered in the disciplines of self-forgetfulness that is quite different from the gratification of this or that impulse of the moment. Unless our evangelisation can open the door to all this, it will run the risk of trying to sustain faith on the basis of an un-transformed set of human habits – with the all too familiar result that the Church comes to look unhappily like so many purely human institutions, anxious, busy, competitive and controlling. In a very important sense, a true enterprise of evangelisation will always be a re-evangelisation of ourselves as Christians also, a rediscovery of why our faith is different, transfiguring – a recovery of our own new humanity.”

In short, we will evangelize and transform our culture, our neighborhoods, our parishes, our families, our selves, only when we seek God first. The rest–culture, politics, etc.–will follow, but only if we are first open to God and the transformations he wishes to work in us. Our desire, however earnest, to control things or cultures is really a form of idolatry, of a desire to control God and to make him do our will (rather than to do His will). But, it’s much more satisfying for all of us to blame someone else, especially bishops (whom we imagine to be unlike us, even though they’re generally just like us, for good and for ill). We’re all stuck with each other, and that realization–in the Church, as in our own families–is a beginning of renewal.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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