Last year I put together a 23-part podcast series on Church history called Triumphs and Tragedies. It’s basically one episode per century, and hoo boy — what a roller coaster! I produced the podcast and got it out there through my blog-website because I felt there are a good number of Catholics who are confused, bewildered and angry about the state of the Catholic Church today.
They’re shocked by the sex abuse scandals and even more dismayed by the coverups by bishops. Many of them feel like the hierarchy are not doing anything about the financial corruption and immorality at the highest levels of the Church, and that the bishops and cardinals are fiddling while Rome burns. What does history have to do with it?
When we consider the history of the Catholic Church we soon come to realize that political power struggles, heterodox theology, immorality, financial skullduggery, gay mafias and inside jobs are nothing new. A study of Church history shows that the Barque of Peter has always been sailing through stormy seas. Besieged by persecution from without and corruption from within, Christ’s Church bears the burdens of sin in every age.
The Triumphs and Tragedies podcast is a good way to get an overview of that history. Looking back is one thing. I also wanted to ask, “Where is the Church going in the future?” When faced with rapid change in society and the Church our first instinct is to draw back, defend our position, deflect the change and strengthen what we are already doing as a form of defense. We stick out our chin and say, “You want to be modern and change everything, do you? Well, we’re going to be just as old-fashioned as possible and change nothing. Not one bit.”
But battening down the hatches, pulling up the drawbridge and taking pot shots over the parapet doesn’t really work. Sieges usually do not end well for the people in the castle. When faced with change, instead of going on the defense we need to see what changes are happening and think how we can respond in a positive and proactive way—accepting the good things the changes offer while discerning the dangers and avoiding the traps.
This is why I am producing a new podcast to discuss John Allen’s important book, The Future Church. Allen’s book is now 10 years old, so it will be interesting to study the book together through the podcast and see where his prognostications were accurate and where the Church has gone in a different direction.
In his book Allen discusses 10 trends that are sweeping society and the Catholic Church into the 21st century. Those 10 trends are below the surface of the news cycle, but they are strong and certain. In The Future Church podcast I’ll be outlining and analyzing those trends and sharing my own opinions and analysis.
When I was researching Triumphs and Tragedies it became clear to me that the history of the Church can be broken down into 500-year segments. The first five centuries are the time of the Roman Empire. The second five centuries are a dark time when the Church seemed to be sinking in sin, division, heresy and corruption. The third segment saw the flowering Christian culture in the high Middle Ages. The last 500 years, from the Protestant revolution onward, have been a time of revolution and rejection of Christianity. These four epochs have been like a swinging pendulum. Five centuries of growth under the Romans, then a swing back into darkness. Five centuries of triumph in the Middle Ages, then a swing back into revolution and rejection.
If my theory is right, then we are right on the cusp of a tremendous swing forward. The future Church is unknown to us, but my podcast discussing this future Church will explore the exciting challenges of change that await us. I hope it will be a source of encouragement and discernment for many.
I am not pessimistic about the future. God does not forsake his Church, and if he’s still in charge I, for one, have no intention of jumping ship or launching a lifeboat.