Volume > Issue > Briefly Reviewed: September 2023

Briefly Reviewed: September 2023

Christendom Lost and Found: Meditations for a Post Post-Christian Era

By Fr. Robert McTeigue, S.J.

Publisher: Ignatius

Pages: 152

Price: $17.95

Review Author: Michael V. McIntire

Jesuit Father Robert McTeigue refers to the Western world as we have known it — the one now being deliberately destroyed — as Christendom, a whole culture based on the truth that the decisive event in human history is the Incarnation. This Christian civilization gave us the beautiful artwork, fabulous architecture, uplifting music, hospitals, universities, and practical virtues that have shaped us. Our present “culture” is successfully erasing that legacy, creating in its place a “post-Christian” era that is openly hostile to Christianity and those who profess it. Christians are understandably frightened.

Fr. McTeigue wrote Christendom Lost and Found for those who wonder how to survive as Christians in a world where they are not wanted. His is a guidebook, not a book of directions, by which he has us find our own answers by leading us to ask the right questions. Using “meditations” on everyday events that occur throughout the year, McTeigue teaches by personal example how to read the signs of the times — how to see not just an event but what it means for Christians trying to live and survive in a culture hostile to Christ. We are where we are because we have seen the signs but have not “read” them. McTeigue does not ask us to agree with his thoughts, but to think!

Christendom Lost and Found begins with an incident from three decades ago, when Jesse Jackson led students at prestigious Stanford University on a parade through campus, shouting, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go!” McTeigue asks the reader whether he thinks the chant is true or false. When my wife and I were watching that debacle live on television, we wondered how supposedly intelligent young people could act like kindergartners, and how supposedly educated faculty could support them. Had we reflected more deeply on this event, we would have seen it as an attack on Christendom misleadingly presented as a critique of racism, homophobia, sexism, and other “isms.” Today, the kindergartners have taken over, such that the culture of Western civilization has effectively disappeared from nearly all American colleges and universities — and from governments and corporate boardrooms, as well. Our blindness to the meaning of such events has disarmed us as defenders of Christendom.

Fr. McTeigue laments what has been lost, but he writes with a positive hope that, out of civilization’s ashes, Christians will build a “post post-Christian era” grounded in Truth. His hope is not unreasonable. Some of us recall when, within our lifetime, the Church was strong, when the spirit of the Antichrist was kept at bay by strong shepherds who proclaimed Truth. It was a time when Catholic parishes thrived, when most of them had a school staffed by dedicated religious sisters who taught from the Baltimore Catechism, and when Catholics of all ages mixed easily and often with non-Catholics socially and in the public square.

How are Christians to survive as Christians so that the post post-Christian era Fr. McTeigue foresees can be built? Can we reasonably rely on our institutions, our governments, or our business leaders to somehow return our country to some degree of normalcy? McTeigue thinks not. In explanation, he gives us McTeigue’s axiom: “Most institutions would rather die than admit that anyone ever made a mistake.” Related to that, he adds McTeigue’s corollary: “Most people haven’t matured past the age of fifteen and are still desperate to be invited to sit at the Cool Kids’ table in the high school cafeteria.”

Can we count on our shepherds for leadership? After all, the Catholic Church has historically been a bulwark against myriad threats to Western civilization. Fr. McTeigue responds by citing his axiom and corollary. In fact, he attributes Christendom’s destruction in large measure to the “corrupting influence of the Pharisees” on the Church, a reference to the collaboration of the Pharisees with Herod. Eager to sit at the Cool Kids’ table, they have transformed the Church into an enterprise he calls “the business of churchianity,” administered by “churchians” eager to convince Caesar that “You have a friend in Jesus.” Of churchianity he laments, “Not only does the emperor have no clothes, but the empire has no tailors.” Anticipating Pope Francis’s apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes, a decree seen by many Catholics as destructive of our liturgical legacy, McTeigue quotes the famous saying, “Tradition is not the worshipping of ashes. It is protection of the fire.”

It is futile to trust in princes, even princes of the Church. Neither can much help be expected from the shrinking number of people who profess to be Christian. Some of them are clueless, nominal Christians who “don’t know what they don’t know.” Moreover, “they don’t even know what they know.” And far too many still want to sit at the Cool Kids’ table.

Fr. McTeigue believes we have now entered the period of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Permanent Lie,” with a culture based on lies that can vary from time to time and even be contradictory. We see with disturbing frequency how the lie becomes a shelter because it is unsafe to oppose or contradict it. The purpose of his book, McTeigue tells us, is to contribute to the overthrow of the “Permanent Lie.” Yet, even knowing the “right questions” is difficult in this culture, for the purveyors of lies are intent on stifling independent thought. They spend billions on the development and promotion of distractions to prevent questions even being asked.

How are we to react? Fr. McTeigue says the Christian cannot do nothing, but he cannot do just anything and certainly not everything. To aid in the decision, McTeigue critiques four general strategies that have been bandied about, ranging from various degrees of “hunkering down” to open resistance and pushing back, or some combination of these. The decision must be a personal one, made by each individual or family in light of their particular circumstances and with thoughtful prayer. Whatever the decision, “There can be no peace or justice if man’s moral nature is ignored or denied.” There are two choices: Christ or chaos. “Where Christ does not reign,” McTeigue warns, “sin and death and the absence of charity will prevail. Always!” In Psalm 119 we pray with the psalmist: “Teach me discernment.” This book seems to be a response to that prayer.

Fr. McTeigue has a talent for discussing troubling issues in a way that is easily readable and does not endanger one’s blood pressure. He delivers his message with wry humor and delightfully cynical turns of phrase. He concludes with a note of high hope. “I can say with Christian confidence,” he writes, “that this present post-Christian era cannot prevail and will not endure.” Christians living the true faith will prevail.

Educating for Eternity: A Teacher’s Companion for Making Every Class Catholic

By Brett Salkeld

Publisher: Our Sunday Visitor

Pages: 160

Price: $12.95

Review Author: Elizabeth Hanink

During Catholic Schools Week, at virtually every parish I have been part of, an administrator or former student ascends the ambo to say a few words about Catholic education. Yet I don’t recall anyone addressing its eternal benefit. I’ve heard about students who’ve won scholarships, achieved business success, and pursued interesting careers. One year, I even heard sung the praises of Sonia Sotomayor, an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who is a product of Catholic schools but gives no evidence that Church teachings influence her rulings.

To be sure, parochial-school students receive the sacraments, duly checked off a list. But do they see them as a lasting source of grace? Discipline is good, too, but will the result be merely well-mannered children or ones trained in the virtues? Do Catholic schools really form children who will become lifelong, practicing members of the Church? Not always or even often.

Brett Salkeld writes that many schools’ shortcomings stem from a lack of understanding of what Catholic education should be and how to accomplish it. To solve the problem, he has authored a book that could be of practical use to teachers and staff at parish elementary schools and diocesan high schools. The goal is genuine “Catholic Academic Integration.”

Salkeld begins his two-part book with an examination of why Catholic education differs from secular education and why knowledge and skills, though important, are not the final end. The end is, rather, the pursuit of God. Our children will become truly successful and happy to the extent that they develop the virtues that make for a meaningful life. Salkeld’s quote from French Catholic writer Léon Bloy is telling: “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only real great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”

The second part of Educating for Eternity offers the how. How does a teacher at any level incorporate a Catholic approach to subjects other than religion? Salkeld helps teachers understand, by offering concrete examples in a variety of areas, that contributing to a truly Catholic education is possible even when they’re teaching subjects like sports, math, or civics.

The chapter on health, for example, puts the right sort of emphasis on living with illness and disability. Without an understanding of redemptive suffering, life’s inevitable burdens might well seem pointless. Turning to language arts, even grammar can help children see that rules are not the “opposite of freedom” but the prerequisite of true freedom. Learning who “makes your meaning” and what constitutes true human flourishing is critical if children and young adults are to successfully resist the call of our contemporary culture. They need to understand that they were made for God, not for the state or the economy.

Salkeld’s book is not perfect. His quick dismissal of intelligent design is superficial, and to say that advocating it does more harm than good is wildly off the mark. He spends some time elaborating on the Church’s position on Darwinian evolution yet seems not to recognize that the theory remains just that: a theory. Indeed, it is one that takes a variety of forms and generates significant criticism even among its proponents.

Salkeld offers a few suggestions about the broader activities of the school day: frequency of devotions and Mass attendance, prayers, and how disciplinary actions might better reflect a Catholic approach. He does not tackle the issue of parents who focus only on quantifiable results, though he is clear that a Catholic school can succeed at these and accomplish its most important objective: forming, along with parents, faithful Catholics. Some of his suggestions seem basic. But many who teach in our schools did not themselves receive their education in a program that recognized its true purpose. Salkeld helps us recognize that purpose, and for this we are in his debt.

 

©2023 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved.

 

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