The Church and the “New Normal”

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s marriage decision, these sober thoughts occur:

(1) The Supreme Court of the United States [SCOTUS] has rendered a decision that puts the Court at odds with the Constitution, with reason, and with biblical religion.

(2) SCOTUS has gotten it wrong before. It got it wrong on race in Dred Scott and Plessy vs. Ferguson (which upheld segregated public facilities). It got it wrong by concocting a constitutional “right” to abortion-on-demand in Roe vs. Wade and doubled-down on that mistake by getting it wrong on abortion again in Casey vs. Planned Parenthood. Now SCOTUS has gotten it wrong on marriage. There are remedies to SCOTUS getting it wrong; one of them is a careful re-examination, during the 2016 campaign, of the theory of “judicial supremacy,” which holds that the Constitution means whatever a majority of the Court says it means.

(3) The marriage battle was lost in the culture long before it was lost in the courts. The foundations of our culture have eroded; now, the New Normal insists that literally everything is plastic, malleable, and subject to acts of human will. The result is a moment of profound moral incoherence in which understandings of human nature and human happiness that have stood the test of experience for millennia are being discarded as mere rubbish – and those who resist trashing the moral patrimony of humanity are dismissed as irrational bigots, religious fanatics, or both. This New Normal is willfulness-on-steroids, especially when that willfulness involves human sexuality. Nothing, it seems, constitutes aberrant behavior – except the public defense of traditional virtue.

(4) The Catholic Church in the United States bears its share of responsibility for this incoherence. It was clear sixty years ago that the old mainline Protestant cultural hegemony was fading, that an alternative cultural foundation for American democracy was necessary, and that a new cadre of citizen-leaders, capable of articulating the moral truths on which the American democratic experiment rests, had to be raised up – and the prime candidate for doing all that was the Catholic Church. It might have happened. But too much of the Church’s clerical and lay leadership lost its nerve after Humanae Vitae; the window of opportunity closed amidst the maelstrom of the Sixties and the decadence of the Seventies; and the forces of incoherence won the day.

(5) The New Normal will not leave the Catholic Church alone. Like everyone else who contests the New Normal’s ideology of Anything Goes, the Catholic Church will be aggressively attacked for daring to oppose that ideology. So the Church must learn, fast, how to play good defense, defending the right of our institutions to be themselves and of our people to be themselves; it will do a service to America in the process. (A good primer for thinking through these issues is the recent pastoral letter by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge.)

(6) The long-term answer to the New Normal – and to the dictatorship of relativism the New Normal is trying to impose on the universities and professions (without encountering much resistance), on traditional religious communities (less successfully, so far), and on individuals (through reprehensible but effective bullying and shaming) – is the re-conversion of the United States to right reason, moral truth, and a biblical way of seeing the world. This is a multigenerational project; it will necessarily be ecumenical and interreligious. From the Catholic point of view, the only possible response to the New Normal is a robustly evangelical Catholicism: one that displays true happiness in lives of solidarity with others; one that links that happiness and solidarity to friendship with Jesus Christ and the truths his Church teaches, inviting others to consider “a still more excellent way” [1 Corinthians 12.31].

(7) And that means a thorough catechesis of the Catholic people of the United States, not least through preaching: preaching that forthrightly challenges the too-often-typical Catholic shrug at the New Normal; preaching that calls Catholics to deeper friendship with Christ, meaning deeper conversion to his truth.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash