Father Martin Inches Closer To The Brink
1 hour ago
Once my wife and I were shown a house we were thinking of renting. As we walked through it with the agent, we could see that the family living there at the time were very conservative homeschooling Catholics. You could tell by the art on the wall and the books on their shelves. Normally this would have encouraged me, but the more time we spent at the house, the more the place struck me as a factory for manufacturing either totally docile conformists, or anti-Christian rebels. The parents seemed to take the moral and spiritual formation of their children seriously, but also seemed to think that the only way to form faithful Catholic children is to keep them from seeing, reading, or listening to anything that’s not the product of an extremely narrow, rigid, dessicated, and sentimental piety.
They created a “safe space” for their children, but I doubt very much that they created a “good space,” in the sense of a space in which the kids could refine their human desires and learn how to guide them to good ends — this, as opposed to learning how to deny those desires entirely. Goodness is not the absence of sin any more than peace is the absence of war. Brave New World presents not the same kind of dystopia as 1984, but it still depicts an inhuman tyranny.
How did Michel envision the spirit of Christian justice and charity, sustained in the mystical body’s corporate act of worship, to be applied in “modern practical life”? Rather than taking an institutional or structural approach, as did other Catholic social ethicists of the twentieth century, such as Msgr. John Ryan (1869-1945) and Fr. Charles Coughlin (1891-1879), Michel begins with the liturgically-formed person, who while a member of civil society, is also first a member of the Church, and exists subject to the different orders (ecclesial, political, social, domestic) in the one providential ordering of God. Indeed, given his influence on Dorothy Day (1897-1980) and the Catholic Worker movement, which certainly espoused a vision of social renewal based on the personalist philosophy of Peter Maurin (1877-1949), and Michel’s influence on other social reformers and friends such as Baroness Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985), one might argue that Michel’s approach is anti-institutional. If he was amenable to institutional reform, it would be a form of solidarism or corporatism, perhaps such as that articulated by Heinrich Pesch, SJ (1854-1926) and the German school of Catholic social thought, or the vision of the Central Catholic Verein in Saint Louis, which drew upon the German school.
Michel argues that such families and parishes can be citadels of Christian culture radiating into their neighborhoods, ones in which the liturgical life extended into daily life forms the center of social, cultural, spiritual, educational, and recreational life. Practically, Michel argues that these roles find concrete expression in the “works of mercy administered to the needy and the poor,” since we have “at times been guilty, all of us, of an . . . alienation of the toiling masses.”
He criticized some Catholic thinkers as having “lived entirely in the past,” and who easily dismissed non-Catholic thought and labeled it as “pantheistic, idealistic, hedonist, materialist, etc.” How were non-believers supposed to see any truth in the Catholic intellectual tradition if “we are actually building a wall around ourselves and closing to them all avenues of approach”? The liturgically formed Christian, we might say, sees all people as potential members of the body of Christ, as those for whom Christ has also died, and seeks to encounter them in the truth by engaging them on an equal level.
However, in contrast to the “antipolitical” politics (as proposed by Dreher), Michel saw the need for active political and social engagement. Like a true Thomist, Michel recognizes the importance of making important distinctions between the eternal and timeless principles, safeguarded by the Church, and contingent, context-dependent realities. Although the natural and the supernatural orders could not be identified, they remained interrelated, and Michel saw clearly how the natural political, social, and economic order affected the supernatural, and believed, following Pius XI, that what was needed was not only a change of spirit among Christians, but also of institutions.
What is needed today is the living of a saintly life that shows the “world how the daily routine and concerns of life can be raised to the supernatural and so sanctified,” and this is the “type of sanctity . . . needed in our day.