I had toyed with the idea of having a blog post with the title of “The Golden Age of Catholicism” which just had the title and the body of the post was blank. To illustrate the idea that there never was such a golden age.
Charles Dicken’s summed up Church history perfectly even if he wasn’t referring to it
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. – A Tale of Two Cities
Church history frankly is messy and it started out that way. You don’t read St. Paul and come away with the idea that everybody was properly catechized and faithful. We are always on the cusp of some heresy, in the decline of one, or amidst one.
Sometimes we will idealize a previous generation because of a numeric superiority of priests and those in religious life. We talk about the last forty years or so of bad catechesis as if we had ever been fully catechized. No doubt the quality of catechesis has waxed and wained over generations due to multiple factors. Yet those generations who were supposedly more fully catechized managed to fall apart despite this and to pass along a diminishment in teaching.
When we look at the problems of the day it is easy to look fondly on a time without those exact same problems not fully realizing that they either had a different set of problems or roughly the same set. That each age if full of people with original sin and all that it entails. It is certainly a laudable thing to identify positive aspects of the past and want to bring them forward. The problem comes in when we have a wistful affection of the past that is devoid of the problems of that time also.
It is quite easy to be a critic of the times you live in, not as easy to see the good among the bad.
“The Reformer is always right about what’s wrong. However, he’s often wrong about what is right.” G.K. Chesterton
We can read the sign of the times and despair or we can read those same signs and be a saint. The universal call to holiness has nothing to do with the time period you live in. We are called to “Pick up the cross daily” precisely because our crosses will never be in short supply. Seemingly so many paths to anger and few to prayer, yet this is but the crossroads of what direction we travel in reaction to events. It is just and right to be scandalized by sin, but it is neither to further scandalize others by our reaction to this.
Whether it is the best of times, or the worst of times; our commitment to Christ and spreading the Gospel remains the same.
Now this post is not meant to show an example of any kind of wisdom. Often I find myself not writing posts for others, but to preach to myself my own faults.