March 17, 2009

Of "Ghetto" and Monasteries

The modern faithful Catholic has a very good and healthy concern for being able to live in the world even while being not of the world. It's been emphasized extensively in recent Papal documents and backed up just as extensively with references to the Church's mission in the world. The reason is simple: we're supposed to make disciples of all nations, and it's awfully hard to do that while refusing to stray out of our own little "bubble".

I don't want to protest that there's anything wrong with this in itself, but I feel the need to defend from it something that it was never meant to be against.

Because of the corruption in the world (which I will be among the first to say hasn't destroyed everything good out there if you happen to bring up the right topic -- say, videogames) and the sheer magnitude of great traditions of the west and Catholicism, there's also a strong tendency for faithful Catholics trying to preserve these traditions to find it difficult to live in the world in any more than a minimal way. However, when we talk about this or if our fellow Catholics start to notice it they often remind us that we have to live in the world and engage with it or whatever the phrase is.

As for the Church on the whole, they're right. In fact, they're right to remind us of that as a general principle. What concerns me is I never hear about the case or reason where/why there could be an exception -- and a fairly major exception unless I'm mistaken.

Before I get to this exception, let me dissuade a probable objection: contrary to popular belief, our modern situation is not terribly different from that of ancient Rome, anyone who actually reads the ancients (I don't care which ancients, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, anyone) can tell humanity hasn't changed, and we're more different from the Romans technologically than societally/morally, so don't waste your breath/fingerstrength telling me that it's not the same because times have changed.

You've probably figured out from that that I'm about to pull some example out of history. If so, you're right.

Back in the days when Rome was burning down it was the monasteries that preserved learning while the Christian evangelists worked with the cultural mess of the remnants of fallen Rome and the barbarians (whether the barbarians were any better at the time is not a debate I'll get into here). The Church on the whole was on a massive mission to convert the pagans, and her teachings about good led them to salvage both much of Rome that would have been obliterated as well and many an aspect of barbarian culture (come on, you have to admit the Germans are not like the romance-ized French, although that's a poor example as it's two modern cultures). If you think the Catholics who are working to make use of film and internet today are engaging the world, you haven't seen anything compared to the post-Rome age. Nonetheless, a lot of the saving of culture and thought and holiness could not have been done if many communities of Christians hadn't built themselves refuges to fall back on.

I'm inclined to think, therefor, that it's not necessarily a failure for some of us to focus less on being out there as a sign in the world and more on perfecting the sign. There have always been Christians who focused on that, and they've always been a great source of aid and strength to the Christians who go out into the world. The trick is merely keeping the two in contact so that they can provide that aid.

With that said, is there some real concern that these "ghetto-ized" Christians may not provide as much good advice for evangelizing because they aren't as aware of what the real objections in the world are? There can be. I don't think that invalidates it though, for the simple reason that it didn't stop the monasteries of the post-Roman age from preserving so much good. I also am not too concerned about it because in our modern world there are degrees between monastery and being totally immersed in the world. I think having both is an ideal to strive for, so long as we also strive to keep the two from being seperated.

So, I don't think it's necessarily wrong of parents to shelter their families to some extent or another, or for me to wonder whether, with the global economy arguably about to go down in flames, the price of islands might get low enough for us to buy one, for the sake of future generations.

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