Back to the Tradition!

The closest you ever get to a poll in Scripture occurs in this memorable exchange:

Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he was wont to do for them. And he answered them, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, "Then what shall I do with the man whom you call the King of the Jews?" And they cried out again, "Crucify him." And Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him." So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas; and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. (Mark 15:6-15)

Given the signal failure of democracy, along with all the other forms of government and philosophy on the day that man showed himself unworthy of the God he so enthusiastically nailed to a cross, it is not terribly surprising that the New Testament does not concern itself overmuch with things like Pew Surveys. The popularity of the Church has ever waxed and waned and the reasons for that are all over the map. Sometimes the Church is popular because it is right. Sometimes it is unpopular because it is right. Sometimes a saint is beloved because he is a saint. Sometimes a saint is martyred because he is a saint.

Add to that the fact that the Church is, in this world, a hospital for sinners before she is ever a shrine for saints and you have a recipe for insuring that poll results are always going to tell you, well, not much that is useful in terms of deciding what to do next.

At present, the Pew Survey tells us that “'the Roman Catholic Church has lost more members than any faith tradition because of affiliation swapping . . . . While nearly one in three Americans were raised Catholic, fewer than one in four say they're Catholic today. That means roughly 10 percent of all Americans are ex-Catholics”. Knowing this, we should… what?

Well, using the Pontius Pilate method for spiritual navigation, we should listen to the loudest voices screaming advice and make the Church more Episcopalian by embracing various trendy leftisms such as approval of gay marriage, easing up on abortion and all those other pelvic issues, and generally stop offering any challenges to whatever it is the New York Times says we should be doing and thinking. What some screamers want is a gospel of license, rather than a gospel of grace.

Or, if we apply to other sectors in the Culture Wars, we should Hannitize the Church by kicking butt and taking names, seeing to it that all that mercy crap is flushed out along with all the other sob sister stuff that makes the Church a haven for weak-kneed Peace ‘n Justice types. What some screamers want is a gospel of law and judgment, rather than a gospel of grace.

The point is, in both cases, that we think we should be navigating by poll, which is precisely the way the apostles never thought to proceed.

Not that they were oblivious to the needs of the flock. Indeed, much of our present predicament seems to me to proceed precisely because of our bishops’ stunning obliviousness to the needs of the flock and their over-attention to worldly methods of navigation. When the flock cried for justice in the matter of the rape of their children, our bishops heard only the counsel of lawyers and psychologists, not the bleedin’ obvious testimony of the Tradition. When the faithful begged for decent catechesis, a generation got Cut Color and Draw, not formation in the Tradition. When the Pope tried to make Catholic universities teach the Catholic faith, our bishops labored with might and main to make certain that Ex Corde Ecclesia was dead on arrival, lest we learn the Tradition.

In each case, however, the problem has not been with the Church not knowing what to do. It has only been with the Church not liking what it had to do: namely, preach the gospel in season and out of season. That is what the flock needs, what it has ever needed: a Church which preaches and lives the Tradition of the Apostles. If we live it, they will come.

Copyright 2008 - Mark P. Shea