Have you ever wanted to find out how far your car can drive after the needle hits empty? The furthest I’ve ever pushed it in my current truck is 40 miles. The problem, of course, is that you get stuck somewhere if you run out of gas. Western culture, the culture that developed in Europe and spread to the Americas, Australia, and a few other places, is running on the fumes of historic Christianity, and especially Catholic Christianity, and has been for at least decades. There are, of course, quite a few Christians left, but the culture itself is no longer centered around the Church. Instead, it’s centered around consumerism, relativism, nihilism, and many other ‘isms. Eventually, we’re going to run out of gas.
Western civilization is no longer built around Christianity. For example, in 1076 Emperor Henry IV of Germany tried to depose Pope St. Gregory VIII, and in response the Holy Father excommunicated Henry IV and absolved his subjects from their oaths of fealty. Being excommunicated meant the end of Henry IV throne, so he went to the Pope, begged forgiveness, and was absolved and the excommunication lifted. Today, an excommunication would be a badge of honor in many places.
In the height of Christendom, the vast majority of people not only believed in the faith but it affected how they viewed the entire cosmos. They understood all things as being connected, that God was over all things, and that everything in life had meaning and purpose, even if they couldn’t see if in that moment. Now we mostly see life as being governed by the laws of physics. We see a separation between faith and reason, while the ancients and medievals saw them as being allies.
I’m not saying that the Middle Ages were better than today. There were many problems and it could be a truly brutal time. However, people at least knew that they could turn to the Lord, they shared a common view of life, and they believed that God was ultimately in control of everything. Now, we believe that we can control our own lives and even the world around us, so we don’t turn to the Lord in our needs.
In the Middle Ages kings and emperors tried to control the Church in order to control the people, so God sent people like Pope St. Gregory VII to protect the independence of the Church. The Church started to become corrupted by wealth and power so God send people like St. Francis and St. Dominic to show them the power of poverty and absolute trust in God. God is working in the world and in each one of our lives. God wants to use each one of us to speak His truth, to show His love, and to bring people together in Him. God wants us to be saints. It may seem like the world has turned away from God, but He hasn’t turned away from us.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.