The outpourings of emotion and remembrances at the scenes of the Paris terrorist massacres are quite telling — piles of flowers and candles marking the specific spots where people gather to reflect. It all looks and sounds incredibly Catholic. But ... just how Catholic is it?
It has all the outward signs of Catholicism, after all. But just how authentically Catholic is it? It is a curious thing when a nation which has officially abandoned Catholicism still has an almost instinctual Catholic response. But Catholicism is merely a shadow of its former self in the nation known as the Eldest Daughter of the Church. It's a strange balance between rejection and acceptance. In a kind of scaled-down way, it's kind of like the Catholics who show up only for Christmas and Easter. You wonder: Why are they here? It isn't theological or really even spiritual, beyond the most superficial understanding of the term "spiritual."
The point to note in Paris, as mourners bring by their dying flowers and soon-to-be burnt-out and blown-out candles, some vestige of truth remains, however obscured and lost on the mourners themselves. It is a curious pity; you feel sorry for people who still respond on some foundational level to a tragedy, still respond out of a long-forgotten sense of Catholic identity. These scenes of Paris mourning are a cause of mourning in and of themselves.
When you see them in poses resembling prayer, you wonder: What are they praying for; do they even know what to pray for? Do they have and hold a conscious thought that some of the souls of the victims may be in excruciating need of prayer in Purgatory? Are they showing up because of some melodrama playing out in their own individual psyches or personality types, the types drawn to drama or tragedy? They are memorializing an event, using Catholic signs and symbols to do so, yet don't really understand why, and have no lasting purpose to what they are doing because they do not understand.
We are currently reduced to living on the fumes of that former civilization [of Christendom], as the last vestiges of it fade away. So what will replace it? Where will we be in 10 years? How will faithful Catholics live in the new Dark Ages? Thankfully, when we look at this vexing question, we do have precedent. [That precedent is St. Benedict.]
In his 1981 book After Virtue, which we highlighted in yesterday's Vortex, Alasdair McIntyre, a brilliant man, drew some comparisons between the time of St. Benedict and our own time. He says near the very end
This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting for another — doubtless very different — St. Benedict.Since McIntyre penned those closing words more than 30 years ago, much has changed in the world, although it would be difficult to view it as surprising given the trajectory of the past 50-plus years. But McIntyre nails it when he refers to need for another St. Benedict. What St. Benedict foresaw was the need for Catholic communities to preserve the Faith from the evil the world was sinking deeper into it. So he withdrew, but he did not retire.
[Hat tip to Sir A.S.]