National Catholic Register


Our Crisis of Christlessness


BY Ellen Wilson Fielding

December 27, 1998-January 2, 1999 Issue | Posted 12/27/98 at 1:00 AM



“What I Learned From a Muslim About Eucharistic Adoration,” by Peter Kreeft(Crisis magazine, December 1998)

Peter Kreeft writes that a former student told him about a Muslim friend, who said, “‘If I believed that thing that looks like a little round piece of bread was really Allah Himself, I think I would just faint. I would fall at His feet like a dead man.’"

He continues: “This story got me thinking about the ills of our culture both outside and inside the Church. Every American knows our culture is in crisis. And every Catholic knows that the crisis has infected the Church as well as the world. But what is the root of the disease … ?

“As St. Thomas Aquinas says, the primary object of faith is a reality, not a proposition (although propositions are indispensable). Not the proposition ‘God exists’ but God; not the doctrine of the Resurrection but the reality of the Resurrection; not the creeds about Christ but the real presence of Christ, is the crux and crisis. It is a crisis of Christlessness.

“Wherever God shows up in scripture, it is His real presence that makes all the difference. Job's three friends talked about God as if He were absent, but Job talked to Him, however confusedly, for his faith was in God's presence. That faith was rewarded when God appeared to Job but not to his friends, and approved Job's speeches, not theirs.

“Throughout the Gospels we find Jesus constantly doing just that: showing the difference between mere concepts and real presence. … He did it when He berated the Pharisees, with ironic humor, for keeping their noses in their books instead of looking to Him—the book was wholly about Him! (John 5:39-40)

“He did it in His parting words to His apostles, when He left them with the only thing powerful enough to transform the world: not comforting words about Him but His real presence: ‘Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’ (Matthew 28:20)

“Why are the Christian soldiers no longer marching onward but retreating? Because we no longer understand this ‘real presence,’ this difference between Christ abstract and Christ concrete.

‘Wherever God shows up in scripture, it is His real presence that makes all the difference. Job's three friends talked about God as if He were absent, but Job talked to Him, however confusedly, for his faith was in God's presence.

… The crisis of faith in the Church is a crisis of faith in Christ's real presence. The deepest root of the dullness and ineffectiveness of most parishes, laity, clergy, homilies, liturgies, music, catechesis, programs, and all the extra Martha-like activities, is not outright heresy or apostasy but simply remoteness—not, as the ‘liberals’ say, the Church's remoteness from 'the people,’ but from The Person.

“Why have Evangelical, Fundamentalist, and Pentecostal Protestant sects and denominations been so much more successful throughout the Americas during the past generation? … It is not primarily because of a disaffection for the things Catholics have and Protestants don't … but for the one thing Catholics have but don't know they have—in fact, the main thing Catholics have: Christ. These Catholics never knew Jesus Christ in the Church, but they did find Christ present in the souls and lives of Protestants.

“Where is He present now? In His Church. This means essentially two things. First, He is present in the Church's sacraments, primarily in the Eucharist. Second, He is also present in the Church's members, in the souls and lives of those who have believed in Him. What a tragedy that so many Protestants do not know that first presence! And what an equal tragedy that so many Catholics do not know the second!

“What will happen if we also neglect the first? What sound will we hear to replace the great silence of eucharistic adoration? The same sound we hear from the National Council of Churches: the sound of coffins being built, the sound of dead logs falling.

“And what will we hear if we rediscover His presence and adore Him? The same sound we hear in the Gospels: the sound of a blazing fire, the rattle of dry bones coming to life, the shouts of joy that ring through scripture and through the great old Protestant hymns.

“For in adoration we focus on Christ the center, and everything else then appears as it truly is: as a ray of light from that sun, the Son of God. … Even this great mental benefit, or ‘payoff,’ must not be our primary motive, however. … He commands us to adore Him for His sake, not for our sake; but He does this for our sake, not for His sake.”

Ellen Wilson Fielding writes from Davidsonville, Maryland.

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