What ever happened to the Catholics?
We blame Constantine. He converted to Christianity and with it, his whole Empire. That is where the rot set in. Embracing a faith built on the memory of a Messiah the Empire had executed 300 years earlier was an irony that many Early Fathers missed- but the ascetics did not. They saw the Holy Roman Empire as a blasphemy.
Saint Anthony and the dissidents headed for the desert to build a Christianity away from the flesh pots of power, one that might stay true to the Jesus of the Gospels, a Gospel that said said nothing of Popes, Basilicas, Cardinals or Canon Law. And that tradition of being out of the mainstream has persisted, sometimes by choice, and sometimes by pure anti-catholicism.
Catholics used to even be a blighted minority, one that once was considered lower than the lowest, victims of racial profiling as in “Irish need not apply” and considered as a special lower species of humanity. What happened? From blessed are the poor to blessed are the privileged. We graduated from schools built for the poor kids of the slum and our kids graduated from schools like the prestigious Georgetown Prep and Gonzaga.
One can almost imagine a scene straight out of Dostoevsky where Jesus comes before the Inquisition as “the accursed Galilean.” Would Jesus facing the Supreme Court have much of a chance? This is how Dostoevsky imagined the judges trying to teach Jesus about power and where he had failed.
“There are three powers, three powers alone, able to conquer and to hold captive for ever the conscience of these impotent rebels for their happiness those forces are miracle, mystery and authority.” (The Brothers Karamazov)
Catholicism for us once stood for justice and peace, for the poor and the downtrodden. And among the greatest educators were the Jesuits who run Georgetown Prep where two of the Justices went to school. But 5 Catholic Justices represent the status quo. They rule against health care for all and equality for all. Something has gone horribly wrong. Maybe they were away the day they did Catholic Social Teaching?
When Pope Benedict XIV visited Washington DC years ago, he met with Catholic Chief Justice Roberts who at the time had come from upholding a case for capital punishment. The church has finally decided that capital punishment is as evil as abortion. But here was the Pope shaking hands with a Catholic who in his official capacity was supporting the law as an instrument of death. The Pope had nothing to say about that.
It would seem that Catholics have won the battle for acceptance that started with Al Smith running for President in 1928 and was triumphant with JFK in 1960. Acceptance into the mainstream has now become acquiescence. Catholics make up 20% of the nation and 66% of the Highest Court. By embracing power, our Catholic jurists and politicians and bishops have done their deal with the devil. Jesus I doubt would not recognize any of them.
Or perhaps he would, in what the Grand Inquisitor said to Jesus about the third Temptation where Satan offers all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus worships him. The Grand Inquisitor tells Jesus he made the wrong choice and the church by siding with the Devil, made the right one.
“…we are not with you [Jesus], but with him [Satan], there is our secret! We have long been not with you, but with him, eight centuries now…We took from him Rome and the sword of Caesar and announced that we alone were the kings of the world…”
Just as American’s should never presume that government speaks for the people and that every generation has to fight their own war of independence, so too, Catholics have to fight to win the faith back from Empire.
We lost it in 312 and seems we have lost it again. Time for another “revolution of the heart,” as Dorothy Day called it. Time for the Gospel to challenge what Saint Paul said in Ephesians
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil….”
Saint Paul was right, even if the rulers and authorities call themselves Catholic. Jesus said his Kingdom was not of this world. Seems like we did not take him at his word.
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