A Catholic cure for the bite of the ideological viper

Our editorial this week warns about the danger of apathy among Catholics. Given the priest shortage in many parts of the country that is projected only to increase in coming decades, Catholics are going to find they’ll need to make more and more of an effort to practice their faith, starting with its “source and summit” in the Eucharist on at least a weekly basis. 

No doubt it is discouraging for those of us who make the effort — poor as it is — to hear about a Catholic mom who simply stops taking her family to Sunday Mass because her parish moved from across the street to another location a couple of miles away, or a priest who says he will leave the Church if his bishop reassigns him from a parish to a Catholic high school. 

What is it they’re not seeing about the value of Catholicism? And why don’t they see it? 

Contrast that with the fire of many people coming into the Church (including this Easter weekend). Recently, in this space, I wrote about a Protestant pro-life activist who’s made the decision to become Catholic — or in his words, made the decision to stop fighting the urge to become Catholic. He sees something very valuable in Catholicism that he was missing even as a fervent, faith-filled Protestant. Why don’t more Catholics act that way? 

That’s obviously a question that has many, many answers. 

One obvious answer has struck me in a particular way this Lent, though: Engaged Catholics too often seem angry rather than happy. 

No, no: This is not another column pleading for everyone just to get along. And it is not a plea that readers stop sending me angry letters! Taking faith seriously requires engaging emotions (and, hopefully, intellect and will, too). I welcome that, and get engaged in it, too. 

But there’s more. A popular blogger who writes under the name the Anchoress hit the nail on the head with a post toward the end of Lent this year that reflected on how the Catholic in-fighting was a bit like how the Jews were sickened by vipers’ bites in the desert, and cured by looking at Moses’ serpent-on-a-staff.

“For us,” she wrote, “pulled ever leftward, yanked impatiently by the right, it is Christ, raised on the centering vertical beam, upon whom we must gaze in full reliance that where he abides there is no confusion; in his All-Holiness, there can reside no chaos.” 

She quotes St. Augustine: “Are you assailed by the temptation of the serpent? Then gaze at the mystical serpent lifted up on Calvary; see there Our Lord victorious and triumphant in his bodily death and the cross will provide a healing remedy.” 

“We can only pray, with sincerity, with great fervor and with fasting,” she continued, “that those among us bitten — and the viper strikes without warning — will remember to look up, look up, and be healed.” 

May this Easter bring blessing and healing to you and your families — and to all Catholics.