December 11, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Recently a university graduate asked me what he could do to live out his Catholic faith more fully during the current crisis in the Church, and how he could better share this faith with others, in spite of the many obstacles that surround us.
The first and most important thing is simply to live the faith with all of the resources it places at our disposal! Concretely, this means: staying close to Our Lord by means of the sacraments, His greatest gifts to us in our pilgrimage to heaven; staying close to Our Lady by praying her Rosary, which is her greatest gift to us in this vale of tears; wearing and using sacramentals like blessed rosary beads, holy water, the brown scapular, the St. Benedict medal; daily prayer (private and liturgical); participation in the Holy Mass and recitation of some part of the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours; spiritual reading or lectio divina; fasting and abstinence; almsgiving.
We may not be able to take advantage of all of these things every day, and, moreover, we should always do what is in keeping with our state in life; but we can and indeed must build a personal regimen, somewhat like a monastic horarium or schedule, by which we give structure and purposefulness to our days. “The life of man upon earth is a warfare,” as the Book of Job tells us, and we need to be equipped to fight. All masters of the spiritual life concur that without an intentional daily plan, we will not achieve holiness. We would be like soldiers who, surrounded by armor and weapons, never take them up, and therefore make themselves vulnerable and incompetent in battle.
The restoration of the Church, as Dr. John Rao wrote,
will only happen if we reject the temptation to despair; the temptation to flee from a battle that grows more and more unseemly as the years go by. … It will only happen if we continue to study our Faith more deeply, practice it more fervently, and … call unceasingly upon the aid of the truly living help of Christians: Mary and the saints in heaven.
A pacifistic age like ours shies away from such military imagery. Is it still appropriate?, we wonder. Apart from the fact that Scripture is full of it—enough of a reason to retain it—we would do well to remember that the sacrament of Confirmation has been understood, since ancient times, as the sacrament that strengthens us for confronting the world and its prince, the devil, and triumphing over every power that sets itself against Christ the King. We are enrolled in His army by the holy chrism. If we are attacked, the Spirit is at hand to fortify us; if we are wounded or troubled, the Spirit comforts us; if we grow weary, the Spirit is ready to sustain and energize us; if we make use of His strength, the Spirit will crown us with victory.
But the full answer to my inquirer’s question has to go beyond the individual. As political and social animals, we need one another, and we need to form intentional communities. Thus, to take an example, young professionals should create social opportunities for themselves, whether a monthly book club with dinner; a time for conversation at the local café every other weekend; watching a good artistic movie, followed by a discussion of it; an art class taken together on the weekend; ballroom dancing; a day of recollection led by a priest; a visit to a pumpkin farm in the autumn; horseback riding; playing board games or sports with other Catholics, with some good beer to top it off. (Although I haven’t read it, my wife tells me that a new book from Ignatius Press, which she has read, is full of ideas along these lines: Building the Benedict Option: A Guide to Gathering Two or Three Together in His Name.)
These kinds of social contacts are crucial to passing on the Faith as a way of life and not just a set of intellectual propositions or even a set of liturgical practices, as important as doctrine and liturgy are.
A book club is generally a great way to go, as everyone needs the opportunity to learn more, especially at a time when so much of our reading is confined to bits and pieces of news and commentary that rarely offer a broad integrated view or a deep analysis of the Faith. An example of the sort of book I have in mind would be Frank Sheed’s Theology for Beginners or To Know Christ Jesus, but of course there are many good choices out there for a discussion group—a few more examples would be Msgr. Nicola Bux’s No Trifling Matter: Taking the Sacraments Seriously Again, Michael Kent’s gripping historical novel The Mass of Brother Michel, or Brian McCall’s To Build the City of God: Living as Catholics in a Secular Age.
One last comment to make about books. Not everyone is fond of historical reading, but there are few things more helpful than the study of history for developing a realistic perspective on our present situation. It is both wise and comforting to remember what a variety of very good and very bad things have happened to Christians and the Church before, and how neither complacency or despair is ever warranted. Reading history may sound like a distraction from living in a community with other Catholics, but I’m not sure that it is. One of the problems we all face in the Church, and more widely in our social media-driven society, is ignorance of the past, with a consequent lack of perspective on the present that can easily lead whole groups up side-alleys or worse.
Let me give a concrete example of what history shows us. John McManners’ two-volume Church and Society in Eighteenth-Century France (sadly too expensive for many) documents a fascinating time that ended in 1789 in a terrible ecclesial crisis that would have been utterly terrifying to those living (or dying) through it, but was then followed by the amazing recovery of the Church in France in the mid-19th century, which led to a flourishing surpassed only by the Middle Ages. Strange things can and do happen in the history of Christ’s Church in her 2,000-year sojourn on the Earth.
A perfect book-group read in this regard would be Henry Sire’s Phoenix from the Ashes: The Making, Unmaking, and Restoration of Catholic Tradition (Angelico Press, 2015). It is fairly dense at points but always eminently readable and thought-provoking, and the second Part of the book—Sire’s analysis of the Vatican II era—is simply brilliant. The writings of Dr. John Rao and of Prof. Roberto di Mattei are also highly recommended.
Circling round to our point of departure, what can one do not only to live the Faith, but to spread it to others? There is no reason not to invite well-intentioned non-Catholics to any of the activities mentioned above; and while it is true that in ancient times the Mass was meant to be visited only by the baptized, this limitation has long since passed, and we can in fact bring people into the Catholic Church by inviting them to join us for a beautifully and reverently celebrated Mass. In particular, many conversions have taken place through exposure to the traditional Latin Mass, which, contrary to the doom pronounced upon it by the progressives in the 60s and 70s, is proving itself to be a major powerhouse of evangelization in our times—and this, precisely because it does not aim at evangelizing, but at something far greater, deeper, more absolute: the worship of the thrice-holy God.
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