The entire Church has lost the vision of what it means to be the Church in the world. Most people in the pew have no clue as to what their role is as lay people, bonded by baptismal promises, to evangelize and re-create the world.
The great loss of vision to which I refer specifically, however, may be described as the loss of the vision of community. I use to mention to my younger confreres, that priests began to refer to community only after this reality had disappeared in the Church. Now, for the first time in my short life, I realize that the type of pre-Vatican II community I experienced for almost the first half of my life is gone with the winds of confusion and lack of cohesiveness, among both the clergy and the laity.
I cannot grieve over this loss, but, like an old woman looking back on the early, happy days of married love, I can say that I experienced something most people alive today will never know-local, strong, charitable, and unified communal living.
Not only did I grow up in the pre-Vatican II ghetto Church, in an area where Catholics were never more than 12% of the population and Lutherans 80%, with a smattering of Presbyterians and Baptists, I grew up in a world where the Catholic families identified which each other in two common purposes-living in and passing on the Faith. I grew up having to know the Faith, so that I could try and convert the Lutheran boy next door, or, live the Faith in a close family situation, or try to change the world and make it a better place in which to live-a Catholic place.
We were in each other houses, eating together, playing together, dating those within the little communal life, marrying those whose parents were friends of one's own parents, and so on. We knew each other, the good and the bad, the weak and the strong.
In addition, those in my generation were taught Catholic leadership training. We heard from the nuns and priests that it was our duty, as educated Catholics, to go out and create Christendom again, one modeled not on monarchies, but on the domestic Church. Family circles would spread out, like concentric circles in a pond when one tosses a rock into still water, influencing the environment, and, perhaps, if we were bold enough, changing not only the family life around us, but the political life as well.
This was not a remnant vision, but a vision of a Church "on the move". None of us thought of hiding, or compromising, or losing our Catholic identity. But, for many, hiding became a reality of survival, compromising became a way for an easy life, and the loss of Catholic identity, a change of clothes, merely, like taking off the little black dress after a party, and getting into jeans and a tee-shirt.
The loss of vision kills a people.
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
The vision for true communal life is so lost, I have come to the realization that this phenomenon, which so many of us took for granted as youth, has disappeared forever. Why? Thinking on this loss over the past week, I have come to these conclusions.
First of all, without a real, personal relationship with Christ, a deep conversion of heart and mind, there is nothing to share. Catholic communities in the past were not formed, or kept together because of politics, either in or out of the Church, but by a love of Christ and His Mother. This deep conviction of the Lordship, and yes, the Kingship of Christ on earth, brought and bonded Catholics together, even under persecution.
Second, without a great love of the real Church, not some ideal, pie-in-the-sky Church, no community can exist. People in a community love the institution Christ created, as it is, as well as what it should be. Charity forms the wattle and daub of the daily life of a community within the larger Church, but this local Church reaches out to the universal Catholic Church as well, again, in love. But, the view must be based on reality, the reality of a people trying to be holy.
I have heard more hatred of the universal Church in the past month than charity. Without love, a vision does not even spring up to feed the hearts and minds of those who desire community. Without love, as in a marriage which has failed, hearts become grasping, petty, incomplete.
To love the Bride of Christ is, sometimes, to love the Whore of Babylon. This may sound extreme, but when I came back to the Church at the age of 22, I distinctly "heard" this in my soul. I had wanted a Church which was a false construct of my mind, as a young person. I wanted a type of utopia, and became a Marxist for a while, confusing earthly, material community for the vision of community based on God's plan. This vision of God means loving sinners, including myself, and loving those who fall short of saintliness. Yes, this means loving even those who seem to be bent on destroying the Church of Christ's making.
The vision of the Protestants has been and still is the search for the perfect Bride of Christ on earth --some unreal City, only populated by those who are already saints. Such a utopia does not exist, but we all should be working towards this vision of holiness. The word for saint used by St. Paul when he described the Church is qadosh. This word means "one in a covenant", or even better, "one set aside by God" to become holy, to pursue holiness, to be in a covenantal relationship with others. Do Catholics understand what it means to be covenanted, to be set aside in the world and to become holy, not as hermits, but together, in love?
The Church is not a business corporation, or a club. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, and we are Her members in an organic sense. St. Paul's theology of Church reveals this mystery to us in his famous pericope on the People of God. Perhaps 1 Corinthians 12 is one of the most misrepresented selections from the great Apostle to the Gentiles. The community of the Church cannot be seen as a group of people with different gifts to share, as if one had gathered a focus group for a certain purpose. The Body of Christ is a living community, like an extended family, reaching out into the world, and not self-referencing constantly. This type of community grows together, changes into a people of charity, open to those in need, open to correction, and growth.
The loss of vision implies that most people simply do not understand this passage as describing a living organism of people who share a common vision, and want, really want, that vision to become a reality on this earth, now, in this time. The last element missing, which a community absolutely must experience, is friendship in the Lord. Sadly, I have discovered that most people today simply do not know how to be friends.
How did this happen? One can blame the lack of the nuclear family, as families create communities of sharing. One may blame the false rugged invidualism of the Anglo-Saxon, both in America and in the U.K. One may blame the lack of marriage, period, and the unwillingness to have children, a common loss in the Western World. One can blame gross greed and selfishness, the Peter Pan syndrome, or worse, the Predator, me-first, and me-always mindset of the narcissist.
One can blame governments and the media for creating a fear culture. This must be addressed. We do not need to live in fear. We have God in our midst. Too many Catholics have refused to be healed, to get beyond hurts, in order to be friends and to love again. Whatever the root causes, the lack of friendship stops communities from even starting.
In England and in America, there exist a few communities to which one can look and find the three elements described above: love of Christ, love of the Church, love of neighbor.
But, I want to add one more cause of the demise and end of communal Catholic living-the proliferation of too many opinions among Catholics. Without a common vision of what the Church should be, there can be no community. Recently, I discovered that a group of people who desired, (and some still do), communal living failed because of this hydra-headed monster of opinion. How can a Catholic community exist when people actually "hate" what they call liberals, neo-cons, or trads? To me, this diabolical soup of opinions, not based on doctrine or dogma, but interpretations of what the Church should look like today, has murdered the faltering groups who have wanted real community. Opinions, simply, are not shared truths, but stumbling blocks to community. To pick and needle those who go to a different form of the Mass, for example, or who do not wear what one determines as godly clothes, must be seen as the infiltration of cult-thinking into some groups within the Church. Such opinions reveal a lack of a common vision.
Communities which "work" and thrive have a common vision. We see this most clearly among the renewed, older religious orders, such as the Benedictines, the Franciscans, and even the Jesuits--orders which have experienced a renewal of vision based on that of the founders, all saints with vision.
No separate opinions mar the real visions of St. Benedictine, St. Francis, and St. Ignatius. If there are modern interpretations, these, slowly but surely, are being set aside for a renewal of the original rules. The vision of the communal life of the saints grows daily in the newly established orders, seen in such monasteries in Kansas City, Clear Creek, and London. Yes, even the Jesuits witness a renewal, with a new kind of man entering the order-a man seeking the real purity of St. Ignatius's community, a man seeking holiness, not political agendas.
But, for the laity, I fear the days of community, as experienced among remnant families, has disappeared forever in the fights over the Liturgy, over interpretations of doctrine, and even over the personage of the present pope. The bitterness of opinion has strangled agape.
Without charity, no vision can breathe. Without a vision, the People of God will remain weak and scattered, unable to create God's Kingdom on earth, as we are commanded to do. I have wanted for years to find and help recreate the type of community I experienced from 1949-1979. Now, I fear this type of communal Catholicism has vanished. Such are the thoughts of loss today.