If we are going to understand and appreciate what our faith teaches we must see as God sees, not as human beings see (see 1 Samuel 16:7). For instance, I recently wrote an article, “Chastity and Sexuality”, to help people understand Catholic teaching on sexuality and chastity. Our faith teaches that the way we understand our sexuality with our bodies is expressive of our faith. Meanwhile, the prevailing worldview more and more separates the physical act of sex from its spiritual meaning.
It used to be that the prevailing worldview was based on Christian values. However, “In 1974, Archbishop Fulton Sheen said in a conference, “We are looking at the end of Christendom. Not of Christianity, not of the Church, but of Christendom. Now what is meant by Christendom? Christendom is economic, political, social life as inspired by Christian principles. That is ending – we’ve see it die.” ” (University of Mary, From Christendom to Apostolic Mission: Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age. Bismark, ND: University of Mary Press. 2020. preface).
The Church continues and will always continue as long as it seeks to do the will of God and not human beings. Christianity will prevail but we need to understand the world in which we proclaim the gospel has changed. When we say that Christendom has ended, we are saying that the prevailing worldview no longer has a Catholic worldview as its center. We are in an “age of change” where we, the Church, need to seek new ways of proclaiming the gospel to be sure we are “not fighting yesterday’s war” (From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, 2). This is especially important when we are trying to bring back to the faith those who have left. “C.S. Lewis once described this difference as that between a man wooing a young maiden and a man winning a cynical divorcee back to her previous marriage” (From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, 2-3). We may need to use different methods to evangelize someone who has never be Catholic than for someone who was but has left the faith. In either case, we need to help them understand the Catholic view of the world.
In doing so, we may be more like the Catholic Church was in its early years in the Apostolic age. than during “Christendom”. The early Church was formed in a Hellenistic culture with a worldwide that was not Christian. The Catholic Church did not give into that worldview. It held to its faith. We need to do the same (see From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, 13). I could write much more on Christendom vs. the Apostolic age but I do not need to. If you would like to read more about that, I recommend reading the aforementioned From Christendom to Apostolic Mission. Here I wish to provide a few highlights and then focus on our Catholic sacramental view of the world.
Catholicism used to be part of one’s heritage. Being Catholic had sentimental value as part of the way one was raised (see From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, 38). This “sentimentality” might have been enough to keep the faith going in a Christendom world where Christianity was the prevailing worldview. It is not enough now. In a Christendom society, an attitude of “maintenance”, to just keep doing what we had been doing as a church, may have seemed like enough. In Apostolic age, “maintenance” is not enough. We need to focus on “mission” (From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, 26). It can be nice to be in the majority but our Catholic faith is not a movement of the majority. It is a movement of faith (From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, 33).
Thus, we need to regroup. We are a shrinking church in terms of attendance. The Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the decline. Here, From Christendom to Apostolic Mission says, “The analogy might be to an army in fallback mode, needing to abandon a certain territory in order to gather strength for the sake of a renewed attack at a later time” (57).
So what is the Catholic sacramental view of the world that I mentioned above?
As From Christendom to Apostolic Mission says, we face a “daily onslaught of false gospels, leading to confusion and distraction away from invisible realities to concerns solely of this world” (66, my emphasis). Fundamental to understanding the Catholic sacramental view of the world is understanding that the visible realities of the world in which we live as signs of the “invisible realities” of the eternal. As we profess in the Nicene Creed, “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.” The visible and invisible are not two different realities. They are one.
We are not to adopt a purely “materialistic, “scientific” view of the world” (From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, 67). Our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is at stake. Yes, from the standpoint of a material world and scientific view, the bread and wine continue to look like bread and wine even after the consecration at Mass. The visible appearance has not changed but the invisible reality has. It has become the Body and Blood of Jesus. We know this not from science. We know it from Jesus’ own words, “this is my body…this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you” (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:14-20, Cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-25). We know it by faith.
It is in this same sense of the visible revealing the invisible that our Catholic understanding of sexuality (see also From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, 68) speaks of outward sexual acts revealing inward realities of the love between a man and a woman (see “Chastity and Sexuality”). The physical bodies of man and woman express how their love complements one another in a way that sexual acts between two men or two women cannot.
This sacramental view of the world shows how our Catholic morality is not based on simply what the majority think or what those who hold worldly power (“positivism”) think. It is based on the way God created the world.
As From Christendom to Apostolic Mission says, “In the Christian vision, to be human is to be involved in an extraordinary adventure…An integral aspect of this drama is that we have been born into an invisible world as well as a visible one, and the invisible world is incomparably more real, more lasting, more beautiful, and larger than the visible” (70, my emphasis). To focus only on the physical (visible) aspects of sexuality activity without what it is meant to represent is to miss the greatest part (the invisible).
Jesus became human, incarnate in the flesh, to help us battle “against the powers of darkness” (From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, 71). It is “the ongoing story of God bringing humans from slavery to divinity” (From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, 72). God wishes to take us from the slavery of limiting ourselves to what we see in the flesh, the visible, to the invisible reality of what He offers us for eternity. What we experience in this world is “both immensely significant and of little importance: unimportant in itself and significant in what it prepares us for” (From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, 73), that is, life with God.
Christianity is not just a set of rules. It is a way of life. It calls us to see the world differently (From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, 74. For more on Christianity as rules or a way of life, watch the video recording of my presentation, Are They Rules or a Way of Life?).
Morality and faith (spirituality) are not two different things. Our morality is part of the way we live out our faith, living not as we will but as the Father wills.