Thoughtful Repartee About the Times — and How Christians Can Best Respond
BOOK PICK: Readers would best approach ‘Christendom Lost and Found’ as a series of meditations.
CHRISTENDOM LOST AND FOUND:
MEDITATIONS FOR A POST POST-CHRISTIAN ERA
Father Robert McTeigue, SJ
Ignatius Press, 2022
124 pages $17.95
To order: ignatius.com or (800) 651-1531
Do we need Christendom?
First of all, what is it?
Jesuit Father Robert McTeigue offers two answers, a positive and a negative one.
Positively, Christendom is that thick ethos of perspectives, values and practices that suffuse a culture, not just leaving the Church’s mark on that culture, but aiding Christians to practice their faith through its social supports.
Negatively, Christendom is a superficial and rote religiosity, underpinned by social expectations and sometimes government, often satisfied with a minimalist externalism (“the business of Churchianity”).
The author wants to see a robust, rich Christendom that expresses our gratitude for the rich patrimony we’ve inherited and our felt generativity in passing it on, leavened by doing God’s work in our times, to future generations.
But he also contends that we’ve reached a moment (if there ever was one) where Catholics can no longer cruise on routine ritualism and tepidity. “The fantasy of an indefinite ‘business-as-usual’ is unsustainable.” And he’s no Pollyanna. He reads the signs of the times, knows they are inauspicious (to say the least) to real Catholicism, a reality hardly wanted by the state nor necessarily by many of the professional religious class. How to respond runs the range from Dreher’s “Benedict Option” to shelter-in-place to playing peek-a-boo with the modern world through some kind of contemporary catacomb Christianity to riding forth on a Reconquista to reclaim the world for Christ.
Father McTeigue does not offer answers, at least explicitly (though one might argue his Socratic method suggests some implicitly). Instead, this book is a kind of thinking aloud with like-minded people about the attenuation of our sociocultural Christian ethos, why and how it might be rebuilt, and what obstacles stand in the way. He arranges his thought in the form of 44 “meditations,” thoughts he had expatiated upon in a free-flow journal written during the COVID lockdown.
There’s a certain mindset that might question the need for Christendom at all. Christians of the first three centuries lived with social support, and the Church thrived. Why not revert to that vision?
Two reasons. The Church thrived, but at what cost: Listen to the martyrology of the First Eucharistic Prayer. And Christians are social beings. Their most fundamental identity and value commitments should not be lived as isolated individuals but as communal leaven (Matthew 13:33), which Jesus himself commissioned they carry to the world’s ends (Matthew 28:20).
Readers would best approach this book as a series of meditations. In the first stages of the book, one might occasionally think the author is wandering, but there is an overall vision by which it all hangs together, and the meanderings themselves are worthwhile and scenic trips.
This book is a thoughtful repartee about the times we live in and how we might best as Christians respond to them. I close with Father McTeigue’s thoughts to provoke an examination of conscience about our current lot:
“Perhaps one of the reasons that we may rightly speak of Christendom as having been ‘lost,’ at least in the contemporary West, is that so many of the heirs (and therefore the stewards) of Christendom never had to consider whether Christendom was worth striving for, sacrificing for, or defending, much less to consider whether it was worth expanding.
Perhaps Christendom in our time has mostly been presented as perpetually maintenance free, neither demanding nor offering much. Consequently, comfortable, distracted, and sedated Westerners could not be expected to rally for what they do not love. Were they were taught to love authentic Christendom?”
Or have we been heirs that squandered an inheritance too easily gotten because we never felt its value?