The Gregorian Blog
We’re in God’s Hands Now
Benedictine College, Haverty Circle.
Today in the Fortnight for Freedom American Catholics are placing ourselves and our future in God’s hands at last.
And so begins Act Three in the story of the Catholic Church in America.
We’re all familiar with the three-act drama from movies: In Act One, the hero does hard things, triumphantly. In Act Two, the hero gets a little soft and a little lost; he starts to forget who he is. In Act Three, troubles overwhelm the hero; he is a goner for sure — until he remembers who he is and battles back, at the last minute but just in time.
The Church in America desperately needs a strong Act Three.
In Act One, an immigrant Church settled in, built cathedrals and launched the public institutions that proclaimed “We belong here.” Anti-Catholic forces fought back, keeping us out of entry level positions a long time ago and keeping us out of upper-level positions until recently. But we fought back and won, as you can see in the progression from Al Smith to William E. Miller and Sargent Shriver in the American Catholic Hall of Fame. End Act One.
In Act Two, the forces of secularization changed America, and the Church forgot who she was. We went from saying “Accept us. We belong here,” to saying “We’ll do anything to belong here if you’ll just accept us!” Catholic politicians promoted abortion (the ultimate child abuse), huge numbers of Catholics rejected Church teaching (especially its teachings on sexuality), and vast numbers of us agreed that God had no place in our public lives.
We laid our spiritual weapons down—and the forces we had fought against quietly took away our ammo and began to tie us up, stripping us of religious liberty in so many ways. End Act Two.
Today begins Act III. If this were a movie, the moment would be exhilarating as we think “How will he get out of this one?” and watch the hero satisfyingly dispatch the bad guys.
But this is real life, so we might not feel so exhilarated. In real life, we fear, when Catholic people give up and forget who they are, they get owned by the secular culture and then they’re done.
But we need to remember where the Three-Act structure comes from: It imitates the rhythm God has used throughout salvation history.
God is the king of Act Three. He loves to wait until all earthly hope is gone, and then win.
The Israelites in Egypt weren’t just enslaved by the Egyptians: They were utterly defeated. They had forgotten their identity, their calling, and their God. But then God sent Moses.
The first Christians didn’t just abandon Christ at the crucifixion, they abandoned the Christian project, walking away disillusioned by his apparent failure. Then Christ rose.
Following the type of the martyr, the Church has snatched every one of its major victories from the jaws of defeat.
Christological heresies wiped out the faith of most of Christendom — then sparked a massive faith revival. The fall of the Roman Empire left the Church without its power structure — and the Benedictines rebuilt the faith on more solid ground. The Reformation tore up the Church — and also purified it, in time to proliferate in the New World.
There is no doubt the same thing can happen in America today. If we make the right choice.
We can, of course, make the wrong choice. We can give in to exhaustion, demoralized by declining numbers and horrific scandals, and hand over the gains our forbears won. God can handle that. He is already raising up faithful sons and daughters in Africa, India, China and South America. The Church will do fine without us.
But we can make another choice. We can abandon ourselves at last into God’s hands and let him do with us what he will.
I predict not only that we will make the second choice, but that we have already begun to. This moment doesn’t just come after years of decline. It also comes after years of American Catholic renewal in education, religious life, seminaries, youth rallies, the pro-life movement, apologetics interest and Eucharistic adoration.
We saw the flowering of all that work this Spring, when unprecedented “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rallies for religious liberty were held in 164 cities in all 50 States. More will come this fortnight, including one Benedictine College is sending buses to.
We will see the flowering of the American Catholic revival not just in a defense of religious liberty, but in a thousand faith initiatives that will surprise us and energize us.
This is no moment to retreat. Too many people have worked too hard to leave us with exactly the resources we need (neither less nor more) to rise to this challenge. On each day of this Fortnight, the Gregorian will provide resources to help the renaissance along ... spiritual ammo for our hero as we begin Act Three.