There are three ways to view and treat the world. First, one can run from it and hate it in itself. Why? Cowardice, shameful lack of magnanimity and graciousness, solipsistic self-loathing. This is the way religious nut jobs approach the world: They run to the hills out of hatred of the world as such.
Second, one can worship at its feet, desire it for its own sake, seek in it one’s true end. This is the way of paganism.
Third, one can embrace the world insofar as it is the way to heaven and the medium for the glorification of God. In this way, the world is loved insofar as it reflects the glory of God and is an instrument to our return to him. This is the way of true religion.
Sadly, 63 years ago, many Catholic theologians erroneously thought that good, solid, orthodox Catholics approached the world in the first way. That is, many Catholic theologians thought good Catholics hated the world out of fear. Perhaps there were a few. But in reality, there were not so many. Good solid Catholics always have the third way of treating the world.
But on that erroneous judgment, these theologians decided to stress embrace of the world. Sadly, they did not adequately distinguish the third way, embracing the world as reflection of and instrument of return to God, from the second way, the way of heathen worship.
In this fusion of the second and third ways, their agenda was both good and evil. They described “apostolate” as using all the means of the world to evangelize, to bring people to Christ and to his Church. That is great. That is right. That is the third way!
How did they interpret that? Say yes to the things of the world. If it is, it must be good, for God created it. And all things then must be good. Insofar as a thing is, it is good. This sounds good.
But In fact, it is simple minded.
Things must be rightly ordered. The lower good must be loved for the sake of the higher goods. We cannot love lower goods simply for their own sake, without connection to the higher goods. Rather, we must embrace each thing insofar as it reflects the glory of God. This is the right and true way of worship. My whole life must be ordered to the Worship of God, the Holy Trinity, in the Face of Christ and by the light of the Holy Spirit, to the Glory of God the Father. That is right worship.
Here’s what happens to our apostolic vigor: We begin by saying, “I’ll grab a beer with Mike, and tell him about the Church. I’ll have a beer, though I could fast, because that way I’ll ‘relate’ to him better, accept him where he’s at. And ‘if he exists and the beer exist,’ they must be good.” But after three months of having beers with Mike, now I’m really enjoying my micro-brew with him. I kind of like chumin’ with him. I begin to desire the beer for its own sake. The conversation for its own sake. I begin to think that this is a good in itself. That it has no higher purpose, no order to a higher good, no reference to Mike’s returning to the Catholic Church, which he foolishly and to the danger of his soul abandoned as a young man.
In short, from my enthusiastic embrace of the world as instrument in the third way, I have slid into a partial love of the world for its own sake, the second way. I have divided my life in two. Yes, I want to give all to God. But now I find myself giving only most to God. I find myself wanting a little time and space of my own, not ordered to him. I choose it because it is desirable. That is what happened to the Catholic apostolate in many cases. That is what happened to the bishops in many cases. They began by having dinners with political figures as ways of encouraging the good. They ended up really liking the conversations and dinners… for their own sakes!
Next up? We get a group of so-called conservatives defending a “New” view of Natural Law that is, to quote a brilliant Jewish friend of theirs, “Neither natural nor law.” These new thinkers of the natural law tell us we can aim at more than God, at the whole set of “goods in themselves. Ain’t that nice. If I, living in America, want to “aim at” a nice day at the football game, then golf, then a beer, and a few minutes of prayer, well that’s all well and good. I can do and become dis-solute in this manner, say the new thinkers of the natural law, and that is part of a well-balanced life. It is not all ordered towards one end, God. It is a whole package of goods.
Ain’t it good to be an American idol(ater)? That’s what we have become. Idolaters. We are 50 percent worshippers of God and 50 percent idolaters. Which means we are divided in two. We are not integrated.
It is difficult to keep the Third Way. Very difficult. It is the way of the Cross. Now, if the theological assessment of 63 years ago was false, and the solution led to this current idolatry, we clearly need, today, a resounding condemnation of the second way. This is what is most needed pastorally. A resounding condemnation of the second way.
But that would mean to pay attention to Heaven and Hell. To the final destiny. To preach. To confront sinners with the deadliness of their sins. To sacrifice. To worship. To be ordered, wholly ordered to God. To be, in short, holy.
(But it’s so nice just seeing the Redskins game next to the Secretary of State, while we sip wine, talk about pleasant things, consider the sun setting, and look at how wonderful life is, when you’re in the world….)
The sinner-with-whom-we-drink but to-whom-we-ought-to-preach knows deep down what we ought to be about and what we ought not to be about. How do you think this sinner feels, deep down? How would you feel if your physician only ate chips and salsa, only drank a micro-brew with you, when he knows you’re dying of a cancer that is treatable, while he really doesn’t want to bring it up right now, since it will cause you great unease and a change of lifestyle?
That is why the world is dis-gusted with the Church. The world wants to vomit up this charade! And rightly so. May the world do its deed! May it be the arm of God in his execution of justice! May it spew out the lukewarm semi-idolaters, even if those “zealous for your house” must also perish at the same time.