My adviser gave me Bridging the Great Divide by Fr. Robert Barron to read over the summer. I finished it recently and one of the chapters was relevant to Colin's post below. Fr. Barron came of age in the 1970's at the height of the "Spirit of Vatican II"; he called the result the "Beige Church." High altars were jack hammered out, communion rails were removed, statuary disappeared, murals were painted over, church architecture began taking some strange turns, hymns were being written with secular music in mind, and popular devotions such as Eucharistic Adoration and the Rosary were downplayed. Fr. Barron didn't and doesn't feel any animus toward the often well-intentioned priests and religious who oversaw all of these radical changes. He just found the fruit of their labor to be a little boring. As another favorite author of mine once said, "It is supremely ennobling to belong to a Church that is centuries behind the times, but quite dull to be in a Church five minutes behind the times, always huffing and puffing to catch up."
These are obviously sensitive topics but I think it's necessary to discuss them anew because the restoration of a vigorous Catholic identity is probably the defining goal of Pope Benedict's papacy. Over the past forty years, Catholics have lost a sense of the supernatural, of the transcendent. It is both necessary and important to work for social justice, but what about sin, grace, and salvation? Fr. Stevens once told me that one of the questions he always asks prospective seminarians in their admissions interviews is, "Why do you want to be a priest?" The answer he hears most is, "I want to help people." He replies, "That's very good that you want to help people, but how specifically do you want to help them? Social workers help people too."
Today, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, seems like a perfect day to keep these things in mind as it is a day devoted in a special way to the Body and Blood of our Lord. The eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, and brings us into contact with the supernatural as nothing else can. That is why people go to church - that's the only reason anyone should go to church. I don't think the Church should try to imitate worldly trends so as to attract people; anything we do along those lines will always be just an imitation, and why should people settle for that when they can find the real thing out in the world? I think we need to recover that sense of transcendence, of mystery, of awe in the Church. Some of the schools I've visited in our diocese say something like, "Let us remember that we are in the presence of God," before class or an assembly begins. Just so.
Of course, dear reader, if you are thinking about the priesthood at all you probably already have a healthy appreciation for the supernatural. As Archbishop Bruguès said, our culture doesn't support us as strongly as it used to, so men who come forward for Holy Orders today tend to be "priests of conviction." None of this is meant to denigrate the very important and very necessary works of those who minister to the poor and fight for social justice. But for whose greater glory do we do those things?