False Missionary Zeal
This post was first published at Patreon.com/CF.
There is a false missionary zeal that remains a perpetual temptation in the Church for her members, born from perhaps a good heart, but definitely from a inadequate grasp of the truths of the faith. It is a zeal that would change but a little of some inessential Church teaching, or merely the language that surrounds or presents some topic or other, to make it more palpable to the world. These soft changes and subtleties are not about essentials like the Trinity or Christology or the Sacraments, but things further down the hierarchy of truths, less-than-essential, or so the thought goes.
What is this false missionary zeal?
It is the desire to win souls in the world by appealing to the worldly in a worldly fashion. It is making the gospel of Christ and his Church carnal and not spiritual in order to appeal to the carnal man or woman.
The idea is born from a heart that really wants to make Christ known and loved and to make men and women enter the Church and love the Church. These are the 17th Century Jesuits who would make "whatever compromise necessary to advance the faith" (Fr. D Longenecker) and not the Jesuits of the 16th century who literally bled and died for the Faith.
Gnosticism was once the elite school of thought of the day. Reformed theologian, H. Reinhold Niebhur, in his classic text, Christ and Culture, talks about how almost all of the ancient world's intelligentsia were Gnostics, so to be a Christian and oppose Gnosticism was intellectual and social suicide. So many Christians, like Mani, just wanted to incorporate and accommodate the "clear facts" of Gnosticism into the Christian thing. Yet, as we sons and daughters of Saint Irenaeus know, one cannot simply connect Gnosticism with the Gospel and end up with Christianity, no matter how similar sounding the language may be.
This gnostic temptation is born, though, from a heart that wants Christ to be known and loved by those in the world, and yet, in the final analysis, it is not the Christ of the gospels, but like the Golden Calf at Sinai, it is only an idol, yet one that bears the same name as our Lord.
G.K. Chesterton once quipped in his book William Blake:
“A fad or heresy is the exaltation of something which even if true, is secondary or temporary in its nature against those things which are essential and eternal, those things which always prove themselves true in the long run. In short, it is the setting up of the mood against the mind.”
The desire to evangelize the world goes wrong when we seek to make the message palpable to the world, to worldliness. It is apologetics gone wrong. Niebhur sees this as a version of the gospel that would put Christ in union with the Culture as the master, teacher, and fulfiller of the culture's desires and aspirations, while missing the distortion of sin and concupiscence at the center of every human heart and, subsequently, every human culture.
As Fr. Longenecker continues in his article, quoting Hilaire Belloc about the 17th Century Jesuits and their ultimate suppression:
“The great effect of the Jesuits had been to recover Europe for the Faith by making every sort of allowance—trying to understand and by sympathy to attract the worldly and the sensual and all the indifferent, and insisting the whole time on the absolute necessity of loyalty to the Church. Defend the unity of the Church, and talk of other things afterwards: preserve the Church which was in peril of destruction; only then, when you have leisure, after the battle, debate other things.” (Characters of the Reformation)
The reality here is the lack of tension between Christ and Culture, Kingdom and World, Carnal Nature vs Life in the Spirit.
A Reformed Baptist preacher, Paul Washer, a man more anti-Catholic than most humans, once used the analogy of the King giving his bride to the watch of the King's men. When the Kingdom is full of men and women who are carnal and not spiritual, out of fear the men will change the Bride to suit the desires of the people. They will strip the bride of her wedding garment and dress her up like a prostitute and parade around the Kingdom. She will keep some from leaving the Kingdom, to be sure, but for all the wrong reasons. A Church that makes use of carnal means to save is incapable of giving Christ to the people, of imparting supernatural life to her children.
Reminds me of the Chesterton line about not wanting a church that's right when I'm right, but that's right when I'm wrong.
The very word ecclesial comes from the Greek ekklesia: ek = out of, Klesia = to call. We are those who have been assembled together by Christ calling us out of the world and into the Kingdom. We are not those who in the world and of the world, but in the world and of the Kingdom. We save those in the world by loving them and calling them to live in the Kingdom, to live another type of life.
I have a lot of appreciation for someone like Fr. James Martin trying to do what he is doing, but he is wrong. Flat wrong. While he is building a bridge to all the wrong people, such as those who openly refuse to live according to the Church's teaching, he is building a wall around the heroic few who are striving to engage in spiritual friendships, community, meaningful life, and sanctity while living with same-sex desires and attractions. He fails to see the damage his ministry does to those he is sympathetic with and towards.
What phrase better summarizes the Fr. Martin bridge-building project than Belloc's statement: "trying to understand and by sympathy to attract the worldly and the sensual and all the indifferent, and insisting the whole time on the absolute necessity of loyalty to the Church"?
He advocates changing the Catechism of the Catholic Church to say "differently ordered" instead of "intrinsically disordered" when speaking metaphysically about same-sex attraction and desires. It's just a little thing. Just one adjustment. It's more sympathetic. Those in the world see "disordered" and think you are calling them psychologically unstable. This way they will not reject your message before you even get out the door. Just show them Jesus' love, for our Lord was not exclusivist and moralistic.
And yet, there is Courage. There are men and women who are embracing the world's lost love, Jesus Christ, even if it means they lose the world in return. There is Eden Invitation which weaves authentic human desires for Christ with Theology of the Body, prayer, and friendship. I have spoken with and been ministered to and loved by men and women who may or may not call themselves 'gay' or 'bi' or 'trans' but have certainly felt those desires.
Thousands hemorrhage from the Body of Christ because it ceases to proclaim the mood of the day, and yet, the Church is all the better. It is better, not because carnal men and women are leaving, it is better because the truth is best given unalloyed by hearts that are unalloyed.
When I read the testimonies and hear stories of the men and women who are in Courage, I know the Word of God is still living and active: "Because thy steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise thee" (Psalm 63:3). People are choosing Jesus Christ over and against the easy life that our culture proclaims is just different.
I'm picking on Fr. James Martin because, 1) he is a Jesuit and 2) in his recent book and all his media interviews he only elevates groups that are antithetical to the Church. He walks right up to that line, then backs away from it, but never once does he praise groups like Courage. Why wouldn't he praise Courage? Because it lacks accommodation. It declares Jesus a jealous lover who will not settle for your heart to be shared with the world. You can only love one spouse fully.
I've been thinking about this gospel stuff for quite some time and the interview with Fr. Harrington has really upped my rage about compromising the gospel for expediency, sympathy, or fear of rejection. I want to proclaim the gospel and not be a 'false brother' like St. Paul speaks of in his first chapter to the Galatians (everyone should read it).
I'm going to end this stream of consciousness essay. Hope I don't disappoint!