The Bible loves telling the story of the underdog. From Abraham charging recklessly into battle to save Lot to the rise of “The Way” in a pagan society, the Bible could be one large story about the underdog overcoming adversity. This story demonstrates God’s control over all affairs (Exodus 7:1-5, Jeremiah 18:6), a truth everyone seems to understand.
A secondary truth this way of storytelling gives us is that while God is supreme, we are quite limited. Even though God performed all the signs and wonders so that the Egyptians freely parted with the Israelites, only a small remnant of that group actually reached the Promised Land. (Numbers 14:26-35.) Though Abram’s descendants were as numerous as the stars of the sky (Genesis 15:5), only a remnant would actually live in the land they were promised. (Isaiah 10:22) St. Paul also picks up on this theme when he speaks about the remnant “chosen by grace.” (Romans 11:5) It is clear this concept of a remnant is important in Christianity.
While this importance shouldn’t be downplayed, I fear that many Catholics are learning the wrong lesson from this teaching. Somewhere (and I’m not sure where) we began to instantly associate “remnant” with “small minority” and “small minority” with “the true faith.” Everyone began building their own factions within the Church, all claiming to be the remnant of the Bible. Implicit in the concept of the so-called “Benedict Option”  is the idea that they are that remnant not just in society, but in Christianity as well.
This has gotten to such absurd levels that American Catholicism can hardly be described as a church but more akin to a roving band of ecclesial warlords leading their militias. Combine this increasing sectarian nature of the Church with a growing marginalization, and you get a Church not only isolated from the world, but isolated from each other as well. Pope Francis condemns this as the “self-referential Church.”
To defeat this self-referential concept of Christianity, we must tackle the true meaning of what the bible’s remnant is. In the Bible, not all remnants are created equal. While most people pay attention to the remnant of Isaiah, the Bible mentions another remnant which is also worth paying attention to: The Remnant of Jeremiah’s time.
After the fall of the Kingdom of Judah, a small group of Israelites were left in the land by the Babylonians. These individuals immediately started a power struggle for themselves, with one leader killing the other. Once the new leader had secured for himself his power, he asked Jeremiah to bless “this remnant.” (Jeremiah 42:2) Rather than issue a blessing, Jeremiah offered them a warning: their current plan would almost certainly lead to their destruction.
I find this story quite relevant for our times. This remnant came into being after centuries of mostly weak and sometimes terrible rulers. They were mostly bereft of any security or stability. A foreign culture and power had overcome all that they knew and held dear. They left the lands they belonged to so that they could now live out the truth as they understood it. Can we Catholics not at least partially identify with this? Have we not been through several decades of (with some notable exceptions) mediocre leadership? Has not worldly thinking overcome substantial quarters of the Church, something Paul VI noted now four decades ago?
While we can sympathize with this viewpoint, we have to ultimately reject it. Jeremiah notes that their goal was a noble one. They looked to a place “where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor suffer hunger.” (Jeremiah 42:14) While a noble impulse, one cannot ever fully escape the effects of sin. Retreat from sin, and it will simply occupy the spot you fled, and continue pursuing you. Retreating from society will only cause the decay of society to accelerate. You might have been an avenue of God’s grace to improve the situation. Without you, there are fewer opportunities for that grace to shine.
Opposed to this remnant is the remnant the Bible praises: the elect chosen by grace. They are the remnant not because of their size, but because they are the “first fruits” of creation offered to the Lord. (Revelation 14:4) This remnant came from all “nations, tribes, people and tongues”, that is, from every walk of life. (Revelation 7:9) They didn’t retreat from the world. On the contrary, they endured “great tribulation” (persecution) as well as “hunger and thirst.” They lived a life defined by suffering and tears. Yet it is this witness that gives the world hope, and causes God to intervene to protect His people.
While it may seem this way, I don’t intend for this article to be an intellectual exercise, or just a studying of Old Testament curiosities. As a traditionalist I see the false concepts of a remnant theology devastate my brothers, just as Catholics of all stripes have watched the self-referential Church leave behind at the same time a Church more educated and yet more ignorant than ever, a group whose certainty of mission is only rivaled by their certainty to avoid actually having to carry it out.
The first step towards restoration is not to form a remnant and isolate. It is to seek out what we were called to be, and go out and do it. The next time you feel drawn to a remnant, don’t look at their size. Look at what they are defined by and how they act.
 A concept that mostly centers on Christians retreating from the world to preserve truth until the current crisis in the world and Church ends.
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