To be a Roman Catholic on January 1, 2020 on planet Earth seems a slouching towards a madhouse circus, a flinging of one’s being from a seatbelt-less Tilt-A-Whirl into places you never wanted to go — but in this intemperate Big Tent world, you step right up — because here you are!
This fairground has been reconfigured and redistributed for all; today, the veiled daily communicant shares space with the cheery-faced scooter-steering priest. There’s the rainbow chasable up at the Vermont country parish, while a Sacred Heart vestment is worn down in East Texas. Within this wide-open carnival space (it is certainly not narrow) German synods are given wide berth, but Ven. Fulton Sheen is not. Over here, the line is long with shepherds who spend money wildly (as yet another newspaper report details) but mysteriously, the sackcloth-and-ashes moment from these bishops does not come.
The carnival line for the penitential set is short. Lonely even.
As the turnstiles swivel in this emotion-rich Catholic theme park (pay no attention to the distracting Pew Research folks who say Catholics are exiting turnstiles), everything is a mad-dash, frenetic whirl — and that’s enough for now. This Catholic carnival is filled with an interplay of shadow and light, churches within churches, old priest-saints (Neumann and Vianney) with the newly, not-yet-minted (Merton and Martin). It is where the horrible coexists with the noble, the modern with the ancient, scandal with the sacred — but who’s to say what’s sacred today in the Church of 2020. Sanctity can be found in protectorship of Earth, the immigrant, and the mind of the progressive-minded youth — in equivocal fashion to the way one finds sanctity on his knees in the Adoration Chapel, with bowed head, as he considers his mortal soul before experiencing Christ’s hand of mercy in the Sacrament of Confession.
Your side of the carnival determines your style of sanctity today. Your side determines your Church.
On this one side, padlocked cages hold the raw and wooden nakedness of Pachamama — “Our Lady of the Amazon” — virtually unknown up until a few months ago when a special hand-picked tree was planted in the Vatican backyard. The agonized barker screams that Pachamama is a rare and fertile idol needing to be judged through a wider, more heterodox lens. But — presto — over here on this side, is another identical Pachamama regarded in different light; the barker says she is kindling for wintertime domestic fires.
Just about anything and everything is fair game today in this Catholic carnival (just as long as you stick to your side). So this Big Tent is rollicking in its contradictions; it begs for greater engagement in the pastoral thrust of Pope Francis. But some folks from the other side, those who just can’t help themselves, wander over to stick their foot out to trip up the “thrust.”
In a solemn but well-lit part of the park, many millions of Catholics are stiffly considering the level and degree of their ecological sinfulness, rigidity, and accompaniment of the same-sex attracted — but in this section over here they pop a beer and belly laugh over it. Laughs, though, only last so long — this set knows there’s a movement afoot for married priests and female deacons — so their backs are stiffening more these days. Their antennae is always up now.
Cacophonous freethinking barkers, catechetical contortionists, and double-speak shepherding ventriloquists — exploit an emotion, “evolve” a doctrine, twist some dogma, determine your Church, pick your eternal destiny —confuses quite a few. This new emotion-based highwire act has left many forgetting how to reason. And that’s tough news, because this choir drones on, always out-shouting those few good shepherds’ diminishing voices — so be patient if this Church seems a free-for-all madhouse today. (Behind-the-curtain) transformation of two thousand years takes time.
It often seems all but a few sheep are on the wrong side of the fence now. But now’s not the time for herding; things are moving just too fast for Ezekiel 34: (11-16) shepherding.
And Mary pondered all these things in her heart.
Choirs of angels sang under starlit skies. Shepherds came down from hillsides. The newborn Prince of Peace was lying in a manger. And the Blessed Virgin took it in.
And she reflected.
The fruit of her sinlessness was shaped in her silence.
The fruit of shepherds’ silence has shaped this Catholic carnival — it’s given birth to McCarrick, Bransfield, to scarred boys torn from the splendors of innocence, and to millions of forever fallen-away Catholics. Silence is golden. Silence is rotten. We are stuck in this agonized carnival.
Thank God for her maternal love for us.
I do find myself wondering today what treasures in our Church Mary would choose to take up to ponder. Now is as good a time as any — on this holy feast day of the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God — for both sides of the circus to come together to consider her mothering of the Prince of Peace — especially since peace and pondering seems so difficult the past few decades. I know it does for me.
What does heaven’s Queen ponder when she looks down onto this Catholic landscape? Does she see it scorched? Or just filled with sinners who daily try their best? What goes through her mind? Is she dizzied? Or just used to us?
More and more, on a personal level, I do find myself wondering how she regards me and my behavior.
Does she see in me a man united to her Son, one devoted in prayer and deed throughout the day — or as just another self-aggrandizing pop-off writer?
Does she see me mortifying myself for my family, souls in Purgatory, and for her brokenhearted Church — or just mostly attached to a blinding self-indulgence?
Does she see me obliging her request to pray the daily rosary — or does she see me pushing out a Hail Mary the last hour of the day? Does she see me proclaiming her Son to a world that unwittingly begs for Him, as a Catholic man must — or does she see an emasculated version of a man, too timid to make a ripple.
Does she see in me an amputation of self-will to mimic her tortured Son — or does she see in me a man continually racing to comfort and consolation?
What does she take in? What does her heart ponder — as a mother’s heart does — when she looks into my soul? On the Solemnity of her holy Motherhood, it’s probably a good time for each of us to ask two overarching questions — a pair of high-wire doozies to stop us in our racks.
When she ponders her Son’s little ones — when she ponders you, when she ponders me — does she often shed tears from her throne?
Or does she smile widely, even sympathetically, at times?
I’ll do my best to stay close to her in the rosary, and in happy thought of her, until one day it becomes clearer.
Will you join me? I’ll even cross over to your side.