Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The only constant...

Once again, Fr. Anthony Chadwick has written a post well worth the read. There are many blogs I read, but very few I like. Fr. Chadwick's blog is one I enjoy reading; his perspective is well reasoned and I wish there more who were so reflective.

Some points worth pondering from this entry:
Something I have already seen in France is that parish life is becoming decreasingly available to people who live outside the big cities.
In the States, urban areas are no refuge for parish life. Catholicism is retreating from the cities into the posh suburbs. As a result, many of the immigrant communities responsible for the Roman Church's numerical boom in the US do not have the same access to the Church as the Irish, French and Italians before them. Additionally, when one considers economic factors, a positively tragic picture is emerging: the poor, whether in urban or rural areas, will have decreased access to Catholicism. In its absence, they will go to those groups who are making it a point to minister unto them. This is to the shame of the Church.
The reality of the future is closed churches and the extinction of popular religion. If the institutional Church wants to hold onto something, the only tangible reality is elitist religion based on intellectual ability or simply money. That is what they are pointing at.
Such a Church is near in the Western world. Where does theology take place? For the Roman Church it is all done in the inner halls of the Vatican or the university. In either case, theology is done by an exclusive rather than inclusive group. One a centralized bureaucracy, the other an assembly of persons often times living in privilege and teaching students from similarly privileged backgrounds. In both cases, theology rarely has contact with the people on the ground or enters those very real life situations where the human person looks towards a reality greater than himself. Although, it must be noted that, practically speaking, the Curia has greater contact with the beliefs of real people as opposed to academia, which tends to nitpick and qualify theology into utterly abstract irrelevance. And, of course, one cannot ignore the force money has in many a diocese and parish. Wealthy parishioners have access to clergy, especially the bishops. The working classes largely have to be content with the occasional handshake and passing small talk.

Fr. Chadwick concludes by making a series of very sensible suggestions, the essence of which seems to be, if I read him correctly, his previously mentioned model of parish-alternative communities-monasteries. The local church must rediscover the greater Tradition and traditional liturgies (more than just the "Tridentine" Missal) could play an important part in facilitating such a development.

I suppose I'm very sympathetic to Fr. Chadwick's view because, ideally, that's how I would like things to pan out. I have no delusion of Catholicism reclaiming its thunder from the early 20th century or secular trends being reversed in the West. Of course, I'm not sure that's how things are going to pan out. I don't know if Western Christianity really knows how to operate from a position of cultural disadvantage.

Since the rise of Islam, Orthodox Christianity has had to learn how to operate from a position of weakness within the culture. Western Christianity, Catholicism in particular, still holds on to threads of cultural influence and the obvious monuments of its institutional growth. I don't know if we really have a practical model of being a church out of cultural power and I'm not really sure we're ready to learn.

Which makes me wonder....long term, does the future of Christianity belong to the Orthodox? I can only speak from an American standpoint, but in the US the Orthodox are steadily expanding - often by buying up shuttered Catholic churches. Along the coasts, more Orthodox parishes are emerging that are populated by Western converts. These churches are increasingly shedding the weight of purely ethnic identity and putting themselves on the spiritual market place - it's not uncommon to hear a Greek Orthodox priest claim you have to be Greek to be a member of the Greek Orthodox Church about as much as you have to be Italian to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church. Most importantly, the Orthodox do not overreact to secularism, neither compromising nor turning sectarian.