The road to heaven is paved by a healthy Church
Manasseh, King of Judah, did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places which his father Hezekiah had broken down, and erected altars to the Baals, and made Asherahs, and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served them. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD.
And he burned his sons as an offering in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and practiced soothsaying and augury and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. And the image of the idol which he had made he set in the house of God. Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that they did more evil than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel.
The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they gave no heed.
My introduction is quoted verbatim from chapter 33 of the Second Book of Chronicles, with only a few words left out. I’ve quoted it because it is so applicable to many of today’s rulers, and in particular to the President of my own country, a Catholic in the same sense that Manasseh was a Jew.
I admit that some of this text must be applied figuratively. Although a straightforward paganism is growing today with the decline of Christianity in the West, most contemporary rulers would not admit to any formal worship of diabolical deities or to the practice of consulting sorcerers and soothsayers. But their continuous record of latching onto and repeating convenient moral lies is a truly parallel case. Paganism was essentially religion without morality, which demanded nothing but public rituals of conformity with evil. It is the same today, except that our leaders do not typically refer to their oracles as “gods”.
Certainly no reader will have difficulty finding modern parallels for a contemporary ruler’s burning of his sons. In the United States alone, each time the Democrats are elected they immediately issue orders to increase the incidence of abortion, and their followers sacrifice their children to the god of convenience by the hundreds of thousands each and every year. Those sacrificed, and indeed those doing the sacrificing, are, in a more patriotic parlance, the sons and daughters of the nation. In that traditional civic sense they are the “sons” of each nation’s ruler. The telling similarity is that they are always slaughtered on the altar of expediency in order to ensure a more desirable future.
As whole cultures drift into neopaganism, we see a predictable decline in the recognition of the dignity of each human person. For example despite our endless preoccupation with racial differences in the United States, it is clear that the dominant culture’s egalitarian ideal is rooted in greater wealth for the “haves” and greater economic dependency for the “have nots”. What is advocated, in the absence of significant change, is a constant array of “programs” through which those who cannot take advantage of our society’s wealth-generation mechanisms are increasingly cared for (marginally) by the dominant classes which still—through a kind of Constitutional oddity that is not easily dismissed—depend on the votes of the dependent classes they help to create and perpetuate.
Without denying the need for government to promote the common good, we can see that the modern state depends on bread and circuses (the original social programs) every bit as much as, if not more than, pagan Rome. It was Christianity which brought an effective sense of universal personal worth to the West, and so developed a culture which gradually reflected that belief.
Quiet! Oracles at work
To take another instance, it is impossible for anyone who actually thinks not to notice how quickly, on every conceivable issue, experts are introduced to spout the maxims the dominant culture wishes to use to govern the thought and behavior of everyone else. It is a rare thing that any sort of significant debate is heard either in government or in the mass media, let alone dissenting voices. As soon as some fresh issue arises, both government and media emerge with approved “experts” who somehow contrive to sound almost exactly alike.
This gives the impression that our paternalistic leaders have our best interests at heart, based on the latest and the best analysis of each new situation. Yet each of us encounters reasoned disagreement at the micro level of our own circles which never appears at the macro level. The dominant culture always screens out dissenting voices, and so crafts a uniform message which appears to be the only message, the message propagated by the wise and the good. Yet very often this message is mere soothsaying, unsubstantiated judgments and predictions which we might learn have often been proven wrong by events—if the high culture ever looked back to assess its own performance. But it doesn’t; it simply goes on to the next popular crisis, and the next set of necessary instructions for the Future of Mankind.
But of course the instructions are all essentially pagan. They are driven by specific worldly concerns, they typically further a well-funded agenda, they invariably exhibit that frenetic insistence on immediate action which is characteristic of those who lack any faith in Providence, and the one thing the oracles themselves will not tolerate is falsification or ridicule. We will look in vain for solutions which involve a change of moral life among our elites. What is always demanded is compliance from below, and an effort to close off access to “alternative worldviews”—like God’s. The massive and ongoing wreckage wrought through our broken understanding of human sexuality is perhaps the most obvious example.
This is why you will see an emphasis on care for the environment (with carbon credits for the rich), public education (with private schools for those who shape what is acceptable), assistance to the poor (with severe restrictions on Christian groups which work against self-destructive secular values), anti-racism programs (carefully designed to eradicate any goodness in inherited cultural values), restriction of infectious public activities (with exceptions for preferred ideological gatherings), free exchange of ideas (with censorship and/or cancelling of dissidents), and on and on.
As with King Manasseh of old, everything goes forward under the guise of an intelligent broad-mindedness which masks the most sinister commitments to evil. But make no mistake: This is the intensely desired worldly liberation of paganism.
When the Son of Man comes…
I made the point in The inexpressible sadness of Christian failure that “we must rid ourselves of the illusion that Christ and the Church have ever been triumphant in this world”. It follows that we ought to give relatively little thought as Catholics to seizing the levers of worldly power. Each of us has a different calling from God, but in general it is much more important to work to increase the faith and courage of our children and our friends, of those we influence and those we educate, and—in whatever way we can—of the Church as a whole. St. Paul made an important point when he demanded the following of the Corinthians:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.” (1 Cor 5:9-13)
Bishops also need to keep this in mind, when they are repeatedly tempted to spend their time advocating on issues of public policy. In other words, I repeat St. Paul’s advice. If we cannot cleanse and renew our own Church, with its Magisterial guarantee of truth, how can we even begin to cleanse the world? For this reason, it is a thousand times more important to purify the Church—to the point that her members generally cannot publicly oppose Christ while claiming the Catholic name—than it is to improve our status by winning any number of political, social or economic victories in the larger culture.
To make this clear, let me raise a question: Which is more important: (1) To win an election; or (2) To prevent those who win elections from using the name “Catholic” if they publicly oppose Catholic teaching? Or which is more important: (1) To put nominal Catholics in public office? Or (2) To end the widespread scandal of nominal Catholics in ecclesiastical office?
A moment’s reflection tells us it is more important that faithful, spiritually strong Catholics predominate overwhelmingly in ecclesiastical office. This is true in general, of course, but it is also true so that publicly unfaithful Catholics—Catholics who advocate through their words or manner of life that they disdain the teachings of Christ through His Church—can be removed from the Church and denied the Catholic name. Moreover, this particular spiritual step is one of the most important steps for the Church in regaining the consistency and credibility needed to form successfully the souls who are willing to commit themselves to her tutelage. This needs to happen throughout the Church—from the poorest parish (where the best priests are too frequently exiled) to the richest university (where the worst priests are so frequently coddled).
The fork in the road
The road to Hell may be paved with good intentions, but the road to a personal Christian culture, and so to Heaven, is paved by a healthy Church. That some of us may get there by a rougher road is no excuse for not making it smoother. Our every prayer and action ought to have this end at least partially in view.
By way of conclusion, let me point out that the story with which I began results in Manasseh being taken captive by the King of Assyria. The saga continues:
And when he was in distress he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God received his entreaty and heard his supplication and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. [2 Chr 33:12-13]
But it does not end there. For Manasseh’s son, Amon, did not repent. He did evil in his turn after he became king. This too is the fate of countless Catholic children who are neither formed within nor influenced by Catholic families living in and through the Catholic Church, as Jesus Christ intended them to live.
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Posted by: miketimmer499385 -
May. 20, 2021 3:00 PM ET USA
You've described exactly the condition we find ourselves in. On reflection, the speed at which the apostasy of the Catholic "faithful" has proceeded since I was educated in parochial schools thru 12th grade beginning in the 1950s is jaw-dropping. Who knew that Catholics such as you and I would confront old testament conditions, but I suppose, then again, I've failed to this point to appreciate the complete teaching of the persistence of evil in this world. When will Cordileone act, now or never?
Posted by: edenjohnson364256 -
May. 18, 2021 8:27 PM ET USA
I know parishioners who attend Mass daily and receive Communion and who frequent the Adoration Chapel and they voted for the Biden Administration. They would, again. When Archbishop Naumann said that Biden should not call himself a faithful Catholic, 30,000 Catholics immediately asked for his cancellation. There are Bishops who openly say that they would give Biden and Pelosi and the likes, Communion. James Martin, Simone Campell? What is the answer?
Posted by: icpoems.mb5375 -
May. 18, 2021 8:21 PM ET USA
God rewards those who show Him Gratitude, as a Practice. That's strength, and there is none better.