Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Rising of Rohan and the American Bishops

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" That is grievous," she said. "And yet it is good beyond all that I dared hope in these dark days, when it seemed that the House of Eorl was sunk in honour less than any shepherd's cot." 
-The Return of the King

(Non-Tolkien geeks may go on to the next  feed in their readers. To those of you who were hoping for my usual type of post, I'm sorry. I just can't help myself.)  

I'm feeling a lot like Eowyn this week, and so are lots of other Catholics. What's "grievous" in our case  is the attack of the president on religious freedom, conscience rights , and in particular, the Catholic church. 
What's  good beyond hope? Obviously, the resurrection of our Bishops, both as individuals and in their collective body, the USCCB, as men  of courage and strength. 
As Catholic warriors. As good shepherds, whacking at the wolves with mighty staves. 
Yes, good beyond hope. 

 Eowyn had watched helplessly for years as her beloved King Theoden was oppressed by the  evil counsels of   Wormtongue.  A spirit of hesitation, timidity, and weariness had overtaken Theoden. He wasn't able to comprehend who his true friends and his true enemies were.  
During the dark years of the 70s and 80s, the bishops conference seemed to be in similar straits. While the flock was wandering, lost and confused by societal  revolution, that ponderous political leviathan of a bishops conference fiddled with  policy statements  having a little to do with application of faith to society and lots to do with gaining the applause of D.C. liberals.  Liberals who then  used the bishop's statements to convince much of the Catholic voting bloc that, really, except for this itty-bitty matter of abortion, the democratic party  was very much in line with Church teaching. Seamless garment, and all that. 

Then came the sex abuse scandals starting in the late 90s and lasting more than a decade.  "Sunk in honor", indeed. 

Yet at the same time, the good work of Pope John Paul II, and then Benedict XVI, was starting to bear  fruit.  Fewer new bishops were of the administrator/managerial mold. Instead some genuine shepherds--and prophets--began appearing in the American episcopate. Now there are quite a few of them. Some are already big names on the national stage, others are  more quietly working in smaller dioceses.  These shepherd/prophets are enagaged in the Herculean labor of undoing years of neglect. 

That's  why it wouldn't be entirely fair of me to cast Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan in the role of a more jovial  Gandalf, striding into the presidency of the USCCB, raising his staff, and vanquishing in an instant the dithering, milque-toasty fog and cobwebs of its former enchantment.  He needed, and received, all the support of other strong bishops and, no doubt, many  USCCB staffers who have long  been waiting for a clarion call as well. 

But my, oh my, its a very, very tempting analogy. 

Anyway, Theoden/USCCB has awakened, recovered, and has gone to war. In that army are many other stern warriors, including Catholic University, Belmont Abbey College, Thomas Aquinas College, Franciscan University,EWTN, and...I'm getting tired. Just go to to see the honor roll, which is being updated daily. 

I'll stop with the Tolkien motif before readers come down with  Analogy Stretching-induced stress, but here's just one more thing . Friday's events--Obama's "compromise" announcement--made me think of Theoden's last visit to Saruman. There was a fear that Theoden would be charmed by the persuasive voice of Saruman, and lulled into accepting a dubious peace agreement. Indeed, some of the crowd thought Saruman's  appeal to be the height of reason (can you say Sister Keehan?) But no fear. Theoden saw through the deception:

"Yes, we will have peace when you and all your works have perished--and the works of your dark master to whom you would deliver us...I fear your voice has lost its charm." (The Two Towers)

"The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services."(USCCB, February 10. 2012)