It’s Time to Clean Up the Mess

By Regis Martin

Regis Martin is a Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012) and The Beggar’s Banquet (Emmaus Road). His most recent book, published by Scepter, is called Looking for Lazarus: A Preview of the Resurrection.


How bad must things get before we can all agree that the sky is actually falling and that Chicken Little was right all along? Forget the secular scene, where Biden-induced disasters have become pretty much standard issues. What about that far greater and deeper and richer dimension, the one that Holy Mother Church herself presides over? How are things going in the realm of the sacred, the place where the grammar and the poetry of God are spoken?

Now that rather depends on who’s in charge, doesn’t it? When Pope St. John XXIII would have his frequent night sweats over the state of the Church, he’d have to remind himself who was actually running the show. And knowing it was the Holy Spirit, he’d allow himself to go back to sleep.  

But what if the Holy Spirit seems to have gone to sleep as well? Or, to put it in a way that does not invite despair, what happens when the Church herself—large swaths of her membership, at any rate—behaves as though God had somehow closed the door on the world, leaving us to our own devices and desires? Will the gates of Hell have then finally triumphed over the Church founded upon the Apostles? Will she no longer be filled with the Spirit of God? Who then will ensure the safety and security of God’s children?  

The Church in Germany? Are we really expected to take instruction from a Church that appears to have quite lost its head, whether clerical or lay, and now disports itself on a stage swept clean of the Deposit of Faith? Whose current spokesman, Bishop Georg Bätzing, head of the German Bishops’ Conference, wants to rid the Catechism of the Catholic Church of every invidious reference to homosexual acts, which means that sodomy will no longer be viewed as inherently immoral. Is that what we want? 

Or that the ordination of women is now on the table, along with canceling priestly celibacy and doing away with whatever strictures stand in the way of allowing contraception and Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics? Why not replace statues of the Blessed Virgin with Pachamama while we’re at it?ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

Are we really expected to follow suit? To join in the wholesale depletion of the Church’s Faith? Well, of course, we are. If all we really want from the Church is that she moves in tandem with the times, in thrall to the same siren songs that move a fallen world, then certainly the job of holding the line is over. It would be silly to mount any sort of resistance to the Spirit of the Age. Let the Zeitgeist have its way and soon enough all these retrograde distinctions won’t matter a whit, right?

On the other hand, perhaps we should bother Heaven by asking for the grace and the courage to move the world according to God’s own Spirit. There can be no greater enslavement, as Chesterton would say than to remain a child of one’s own age. There are too many souls sunk in infantility already, besotted with the Spirit of an Age, the highest ambition of which is to persuade the Church to go along in order to get along. 

Why would the Bride the Christ want to do that—betray the Lord for a few worldly baubles? Have we no self-respect at all? It may be a bit of an embarrassment, to borrow a line from the late Joe Sobran, to belong to a Church that is fifty years behind the times. But to belong to a Church that is five hundred years behind the times, now that’s positively invigorating!

The Carthusians certainly nailed it when, seven or eight hundred years ago, they reminded the faithful that, “The Cross stands steady while the world spins.” They might have had the Germans in mind, who’s been spinning wildly out of control for some time now. And the truly infuriating thing is that they seem to be getting away with it. OK, maybe a few bishops (less than a hundred at last count) have written concerned letters about the dangers of running off the rails with a train wreck just waiting around the corner. But where is the pope in all this? What does he think is going on? And, more to the point, what does he propose to do about it?

What a bloody mess we’ve made of things, to use a word that one would think by now has become fairly radioactive. How long ago was it, anyway, since the pope urged us all to make messes? That now-familiar theme was first sounded, by my recollection, about seven years ago when Pope Francis, freshly installed, stood on the banks of a river in Paraguay exhorting tens of thousands of young people to do exactly that—coupled, to be sure, by the need to then “tidy it up.” But that part seems not to have caught on with equal enthusiasm.

I vividly remember reading about it at the time. What especially caught my eye was the bit about not wanting to disappoint his young audience, which is why the speech his handlers had prepared for him never got delivered. “Because speeches are boring,” he explained ingratiatingly amid loud and lusty cheers. “Make a mess,” he said. “A mess which gives us a free heart, a mess which gives us solidarity, a mess which gives us hope.”

Maybe he should have just read the speech. Meanwhile, must we wait for yet another Catherine of Siena to take His Holiness in hand, reminding him that things like “a free heart…solidarity…hope,” are not the result of mess-making but of grace—the grace of Jesus Christ—and that the encounter with Christ produces sanctity, followed by the renewal of the world He came to redeem?