The Future of the Church Lies in the Past

“Are they ashamed of the abomination they have committed? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.” (Jeremiah 6:15)

Nuisance callers want the person called to talk, so they will often ask, “Can you hear me all right?” or “How are you today?” Television shows have “teasers” at the beginning of the show, trying to enlist the interest of viewers so they will stay with that show. Speakers often begin their talks in a familiar and even jocular way, attempting to engage their audience in the topics ahead. Even the Bible suggests the initial advantage of milk before meat (1 Corinthians 3:2, Hebrews 5:12).

Suppose, though, that callers have no interest in the call, or viewers in the show, or listeners in the speech. Suppose there is no “meat” after the “milk.”  Then all the staging or preparation is worthless and to no avail. A shop with beautiful window dressing is worthless if there is nothing in the shop to examine or to buy. Texans have a great phrase for this: They speak of someone who is all hat (or big hat) and no cattle.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Let’s “Catholicize” that, shall we? How about a bishop or priest who is all vestments and no virtue? Or maybe all chasuble and no chastity? Or maybe all pizzaz and no piety?

How about style without substance? How about changing doctrines and dogmas; or guitar Masses and the like; or replaced and now flaccid moral standards; or silly and sophomoric preaching; or a garbled liturgical calendar; or the spineless toleration of the intolerable, such as idols in the Vatican, or the “synodal path,” or reception of Holy Communion by those who cannot and will not profess its divine significance?  

I will spare you the litany (I forgot—litanies are now generally out of favor) of the interminable and destructive novelties we Catholics have endured for sixty years. Simply look around, though, and ask if these innovations have helped to build and buttress the Church charged by Jesus Christ to testify, always and everywhere, to the truth which sets us free (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15).

Our Lord said that “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:16). We have had lots and lots and lots of talk for a half-century since Vatican II. But we see now, in the cataclysms surrounding us, the absence of “meat”—that is, of the kind of faith-filled discipleship to which Our Lord calls us.  

Instead of a Church standing like a rock in the morally polluted rivers of this time and place, we have an eroded church, whose leaders too frequently can no longer distinguish between good and evil, sacred and profane, beautiful and ugly, or even male and female. If we needed any more proof of the feckless and foolish and filthy thoughts and actions all around us today, we need only look at LGBTQ videos designed for children. I will not rehearse here the seemingly endless debaucheries parading as love and justice. How much evil is done, or excused, in the name of (false) mercy!  

Society has been sewerized, and we, like the proverbial frog in the beaker, are so enmeshed in the filth around us that we can no longer wisely judge it for what it is: political and moral dung (see Isaiah 59:14-15, Jeremiah 5:20-31). Thus did Bishop Sheen admonish us that if we failed to behave the way we believe, we would begin to believe the way we behave. 

Recent polls confirm that there has been a pernicious spiritual revolution, especially among the younger generations. The gist of the surveys is that vast numbers of people now dismiss the Church and the Bible as keys to a virtuous philosophy of life, which has become a stew of various poorly examined thoughts and things. The Judeo-Christian culture which formed us is largely a matter of the past.  

From the surveys:   

  • Horoscopes provide useful guidance for their life 
  • Getting even with those who offend or harm them is defensible 
  • God is not involved in people’s lives 
  • Allowing people to own property facilitates economic injustice 
  • Karma is a viable life principle 
  • The Bible is ambiguous in what it teaches about abortion 
  • Human beings have developed over a long period of time from less advanced life forms to our current condition
  • The Bible is not the accurate and reliable (i.e., inerrant) word of God. 

In fact, the two younger adult generations are considerably more likely than older generations to rely primarily on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism for worldview guidance. They are also significantly more likely than people from older generations to argue that traditional moral perspectives are irrelevant today, making a series of formerly rejected behaviors now considered to be morally acceptable. Those included lying, not repaying loans, taking illegal tax deductions, speeding, and committing suicide or allowing for euthanasia. The two younger generations are also much less likely than their older counterparts to accept the Golden Rule, to believe that wealth is provided by God for its possessors to manage for His purposes, or to believe that the universe was created with any divine intervention in that process.

We may conclude, therefore, that the “milk” is sour; the “meat,” if present at all, is rancid. In matters such as abortion, divorce, and homosexual “marriage,” we know Catholics hardly differ in their moral judgment from the general non-Catholic population. We have a nation, if not a world, of Catholics so ignorant of the principles of the Faith that many actually believe Biden and Pelosi (and so on, ad nauseam) are in fact, Catholic. We have a nation, if not a world, of Catholics so poorly read, so poorly educated, so poorly informed, and so poorly formed that they effectively serve Luciferian ends (cf. Baruch 4:13, Hosea 4:6).  To them, Truth (the existence of which, in any case, they doubt, disparage, or deny) is utterly irrelevant to their squalid lives.  

St. Paul said, “I have told you this many times before, and now I repeat it with tears: there are many whose lives make them enemies of Christ’s death on the cross. They are going to end up in hell, because their god is their bodily desires. They are proud of what they should be ashamed of, and they think only of things that belong to this world” (Philippians 3:18-19). Whether in the pews or in the pulpits, so often the only certainty that reigns is the assurance that if truth exists at all, it resides in my wishes or gonads.

As the Russian novelist Chernyshevsky (1828-1889) once famously asked, “What Is to be Done?” 

Get the liturgy wrong and Catholics will atrophy; atrophied, apathetic Catholics will despoil the Church; a despoiled, feckless Church leads to a morally bankrupt country; a morally decomposed country will produce an ethically stupefied citizenry which celebrates evil as good and good as evil (cf. Isaiah 5:20).

Now suppose the restoration of the ancient liturgy (the Traditional Latin Mass) and, with it, the moral logic and language of all the sacraments. This restoration, of itself, will not be enough to revivify our enervated Church and our morally bewildered country. But such reformation is a transparently necessary first step in the rediscovery of moral sanity. As we pray, so do we believe (lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi—see CCC 1124). As we believe, so do we behave (by the grace of God).  

As this restoration is being achieved, there will be, in some quarters, anger, confusion, and obstinate refusal to go back in order to go forward. Pope Francis intends, evidently, to rescind Summorum Pontificum (Pope Benedict’s 2007 Apostolic Letter permitting liberty to priests to pray the Latin Mass without their bishop’s explicit approval). This intended rescission is, of course, exactly wrong. “Stand at the crossroads and look,” we must reply; “Ask for the ancient paths and where the best road is. Walk in it, and you will live in peace” (Jeremiah 6:16, 18:15-17; Deuteronomy 32:7). 

Many bishops, priests, and lay people will leave. But they were never truly “there” to begin with. Catholic institutions—seminaries, colleges, television and radio, hospitals, publishing houses and their allied magazines—will have to reform their behavior and beliefs. Catholicism will again have a singular liturgical language and, in time, by the grace of God, a singular, God-given, moral theology.  

A massive global catechetical program will be required as bishops and priests learn (or relearn) the ancient Faith. As they learn the liturgy and allied rituals, they are sure to encounter genuine Catholic moral theology which they forgot, scorned, or never learned. Dioceses and parishes will have to institute great programs in reteaching the holy Mass, the sacraments, and Catholic traditions.  

Imagine the effort it will take—a noble and necessary labor of love, as in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (cf. Ezra and Nehemiah). Thousands—perhaps millions—will become Catholic again, learning the Faith so often polluted or purloined during these last six or so decades.

The idiotic banners and balloons of the jejune catechetical past will have to give way to serious teaching and learning about the Faith which comes to us from the Apostles. In traditional Catholic teaching, work is that effort which brings order out of chaos. Around us swirls chaos (cf. Job 10:22). To work for the restoration of the true Catholic tradition in how we pray and believe and behave is to seek God’s order (as in Wisdom 8:1) in our own lives, in our beloved county, and in God’s holy Church.   

Pray. Believe. Think. Work. Trust. “Fight hard for the faith which has been once and for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 1:3 NJB).    

[Photo Credit: Shutterstock]

  • Deacon James H. Toner

    Deacon James H. Toner, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Ethics at the U.S. Air War College, a former U.S. Army officer, and author of Morals Under the Gun and other books. He has also taught at Notre Dame, Norwich, Auburn, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Holy Apostles College & Seminary. He serves in the Diocese of Charlotte.

tagged as: Church

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

We must raise $60,000 to fund our work and continue offering the most incisive commentary in the culture wars.

Will you please donate $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, or more today?

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Share to...