Sunday, April 22, 2007

Pray for The Eldest Daughter

France, she is the “Eldest Daughter,” of the Church, and has been since 498 A.D. when King Clovis was baptized, and in essence, the barbarian tribes that conquered Rome were “conquered” by He who promises a burden that is easy and a yoke that is light. France is a land of great saints, listing names such as King Louis, Joan of Arc, Teresa of Lisieux, and Bernadette of Lourdes, only scratches the surface. Closer to home, it was intrepid French Jesuits, who brought Christ into the deepest wilderness of North America. The river we know as the Mississippi was known to them as “The River of the Immaculate Conception,” (anyone know how to say that in French?) Also one must not forget France’s great contributions to the world. France was America’s first ally, and aided us courageously in tossing the yoke of the British Empire. Likewise, the contributions of the French to art and literature are awe inspiring. All that said, something is rotten in the state of France, and has been, for a very, very long time. Sure all nations have their ups and downs, but few have been as tragic or historically significant as those of France. The French sold out Europe and chose peace and trade with the militant Ottoman Empire and refused to answer the Pope’s call to save Christendom on several occasions. As G.K. Chesterton observed in his poem Lepanto, “The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass.” Likewise, the French refused to save the city of Vienna from the Turks a century later, thank God that in both cases, other champions of Christendom emerged to pick up the slack. It should also be noted that in the Thirty-Years War, France made war on the other Catholic powers, stabbing them in the back, "It profits a man nothing to lose his soul for the whole world"... but to check Hapsburg power in Spain and Austria? Also, it is hard to ignore the fact that while some kings of France were great and virtuous men, plenty of them lived lives which were essentially defined by the seven deadly sins in terms of decadence; the mistresses, the ceaseless unjust wars for power, the subterfuge, and the opulence even in times of famine and suffering for the common people, was all shameful. Hardly a word needs to be said on the 1789 Revolution and the bloodshed and evil that came in its wake, not only to France, but to the world, and unto our time. Its ideologies of man attaining a worldly utopia by doing away with faith, truth, and morality, and the idea of human rights not as something “inalienable” and endowed by the Creator as the American Revolution declared (and to which the authors of the Magna Carta would have surely agreed) but rather, granted at the whim of those in power; the state. These ideas have reverberated through all the destructive political movements in subsequent decades. One simple example, it is hard to imagine the Russian Revolution without the French Revolution. The Revolution, which for a time turned the great Cathedral of Notre Dame into the “Temple of Reason,” however, could never kill faith, no tyrant or revolution has ever been able to do that, and none ever will. Yet, in many ways, the French Revolution was as close to the triumph of complete secularism as we have ever seen, outside of North Korea, and certainly in the "Christian world (with the USSR running a close second) and while it did not destroy the faith, it seems to have severely handicapped it there. Even in 1957, the Church in France was wounded and in major crisis. In an article entitled, Rebellious Eldest Daughter, TIME magazine (make note of a treatment of religion which is far more fair and unbiased than one would see today) chronicled several sad events (emphasis added)… “St. Louis IX of France (1215-70) would have been saddened by the three grim problems before the French hierarchy : 1) the growing shortage of priests, 2) the defiance of the Worker Priests, 3) the crisis of religious educationFrance today has only 56,700 priests v. 71,300 in 1901, when separation of church and state became law. This deficit is especially serious in the parishes; more and more young priests are entering orders rather than the secular priesthood, and there were 16,000 priestless parishes in 1950 v. 4,772 in 1903. One reason is the appalling poverty of the average country cure. Dependent upon handouts for food and fuel, he often spends the winters in near-starvation, and it is becoming increasingly common for parish priests to solicit odd jobs in the neighborhood—house-painting, plastering, milking or shoe-repairing—to supplement the meager dole of the church. U.S. Catholic parishes are accustomed to supporting their priests, but the French, whose government paid the priesthood until 1905, have been conditioned to thinking of this as the responsibility of the state and keeping their hands in their pocketsThe body of French Catholicism is feverish with a Red virus. Open resistance to the authority of Rome is preached in the vociferous and well-financed left-wing Catholic press. This movement joins Gallicanism, the traditional independent and anti-Rome feelings of French Catholics, to more recent charges that the church is allied with "the rich." and in its anti-Communist zeal has abandoned the working class. Most middle-road French churchmen are ill equipped to fight back in this propaganda battle, partly because France's old-fashioned system of seminary education provides no training in political and economic questions… State-supported schools have traditionally provided a "chaplain professor" to train children in the catechism, but this practice is being discontinued in the new schools on the grounds of economy. Thus an increasingly large proportion of French youth is growing up without the dimmest inkling of the Christian faith…” If these problems were rampant in the 1950’s it makes one cringe to imagine what they are now. Also any of the above remind you of the Church in some parts of the US? Still, walking around France today, the footprint of the old Catholic culture (which still survives in some locals) is deep, little shrines and great Gothic churches are as much a part of the landscape as the rivers and hills. France is now in the midst of a presidential election. The voting goes in two rounds, in the first round the voters select the top two candidates, those two then go head to head in an early May election. The candidates are all disappointing, even compared to the sort of candidates we are used to in America. Yet, the differences between the top two candiates are stark, and the effects of this election truly will impact the future of France well beyond our lifetimes, in short, this election is crucial. I will blog on it in a less historical and retrospective post soon, till then, pray that the Holy Spirit guards and guides the Church’s eldest daughter in this time of great change, and that she may, some how, some day, set an example that will inspire us all and make Our Lady smile.


Tito said...

Great post!

The Fruits of the French Revolution of 1789.

Joan said...

I studied in France in college. I loved it very much, but it felt like much of the country's religious heritage now exists as a tourist attraction. (I wrote an entry on the tourist phenomenon a while ago.) It's true that even having holy days of obligation off work and school, church attendance isn't great. The busiest non-tourist church I ever saw was a small one near my house serving Paris's small but devout Filipino population and offering Mass in Tagalog.

One interesting innovation there is the PACS, which is a civil union that gives the partners most (if not all) of the rights of married couples to any two people willing to enter in the contract. It was intended as a compromise on gay marriage, but the main folks who enter into PACS are heterosexual cohabiting couples, who live together long-term and likely even have children together, but don't want all of the fuss of actually being married to each other. A PACS can be dissolved much more easily than a marriage.

Thanks for that info Joan it will come in useful in my upcomming pre election post on France.

Zdenko said...

A very informative post. I've recently been reading about the state of the Catholic Church in Brazil since the Pope is visiting South America this week. I can't say it is much better in the "Global South" than in France.

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