"...let us have no antiquarianism about Dickens, for Dickens is not an antiquity. Dickens looks not backward, but forward; he might look at our modern mobs with satire, or with fury, but he would love to look at them. He might lash our democracy, but it would be because, like a democrat, he asked much from it. We will not have all his books bound up under the title of 'The Old Curiosity Shop.' Rather we will have them all bound up under the title of 'Great Expectations.' "
All right, I confess that my knowledge of Dickens is from the scene in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" where Spock gives Kirk a copy of "A Tale of Two Cities" for his birthday. But it occurred to me that what Chesterton says about Dickens could also be said about the Catholic Church.
The Church, contrary to many people's opinion, does not look backward but forward, especially in those places where it most seems to be looking backward.
Imagine someone inherits an old Victorian house once owned by their great-great grandparents. The house is full of what the new owners think of as old, musty antiques. In the oak paneled dining room, there is a beautiful dining room table and chairs,with a matching sideboard full of the family china and silverware and on top of which are pictures of several generations of the family. In the living room there is an upright piano and over the fireplace is a portrait of the pater familias. The bookcase contains many of the classics (which were new at the time!). A gigantic family bible, it's pages well-worn, is in a place of honor on the coffee-table. In the kitchen is lined with a rustic wallpaper. In the pantry is a cookbook in which are scraps of paper with old family recipes. It is full of life and rich with tradition. Father and mother were respected. The family had even had a special way of speaking to each other that was passed on, creating a sense of belonging. It was a warm, inviting place ready for the new generation to settle into.
Except the new generation thinks it needs remodeling. They strip the paneling and wallpaper and paint in brighter hues. The dining room table, chairs and sideboard are sold cheaply, without much profit, and replaced by glass and chrome furniture. The fine china is put away and replaced by Pfaltzgraff. The family pictures are scanned and up-loaded to a digital frame. The portrait of great-great granddad is taken down to make room for a large plasma video screen. The fireplace and piano is replaced by a home entertainment system. The books are left there but never read since they only have time to read "People" magazine. The family bible is moved to make room for the Sunday New York Times. The old family recipes are too complicated to make, so they are replaced by Martha Stewart magazines and a copy of Cooking for Dummies. It is now a functional house for people who spend no time there.
The Church was like that comfortable house. It looked back to it's traditions so it could have a solid foundation for the future. But to some it seem merely old and tiresome. So they got rid of furnishings, family heirlooms and traditions. The altar was replaced by a table. The tabernacles were sometimes moved. The portrait of the Father was too patriarchal and judgmental, so it was moved to make room for inclusive entertainment. Church architecture was modernized until you couldn't tell a church from a theater. The early church fathers and the writings of the saints were ignored in favor of modern theology and contemporary spirituality. Classic chants and hymns were considered too hard to play and sing, so they were replaced by music that is too often impossible to play or sing! We made a new translation of the Bible that has the distinction of being an indistinct translation of the Bible (We're the only ones who use it after all!). We traded our family identity for a cookbook that doesn't even have a recipe for lentil stew! The Pope was ignored and Mother Church was put in a home. They family's way of speaking was changed into jive-talkin'. We were left with
But now a people who did not know the Pharaohs of post-conciliar polyester have arisen and are heading back to their homeland. As the Holy Spirit is goes ahead of them in a pillar of fire to cleanse the Church, they are finding a beauty that was almost lost to them. It will take time to rebuild the walls of the city of God and to restore his Church, brick by brick, with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other as those who watch them curse them with scorn. They will bring out of the storeroom new treasures as well as old. The way they are taking goes through Calvary back to the new Jerusalem. As they travel they are being lead by a man in his 80's dressed in white who, in the name of God, loves them enough to tell them the truth and give them hope. It seems like an unlikely group for such a task, but I think they will prevail. They have a 2000 year old promise that they will not be overcome, even by death itself. They will overcome because of the blood of the lamb, the word of their testimony and because they did not love their lives even when faced with death. I pray for the grace to join them.