Not long ago, during one of those interminable ethnic parades so typical of New York City, a prominent churchman, seeing the traditional Catholic religiosity characteristic of this particular group, said to me, "It´s a pity that we have lost all these people." I asked him what he meant, and he replied, "The Church has lost all these people. They do not follow our moral teachings. For example, they repeatedly vote for pro-abortion political candidates."
I told him that moral weakness was not a sign of the loss of faith or Catholic identity. It simply meant that we are weak, fragile, inconsistent. Echoing Peguy, I said that saints and sinners are on the same side of the fence. Faithful or unfaithful, they both accept Christ. On the other side are those, good or bad, for whom Christ means nothing. I still think that way, but I must admit that our church leader had a point. The Catholic Church has so far lost the abortion battle in the United States (as in many other areas of the world), and it is not because Catholics are sinners. The anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision that started it all prompts us to ask ourselves why this happened.
I don´t think that the roots of our problem are in morality, in our pursuit of what is good and just. I think our problem is spiritualism. Our problem originates in that dis-Incarnation of Christ characteristic of the modern era, and which Péguy attributes to the failure of Catholic preachers to love this life, to understand it, to defend it, to value it as the locus of the encounter with God´s loving embrace of our humanity.
Péguy calls this anti-world posture a mystical disaster. We use the word "mysticism" to designate the process of union with God, the embrace between humanity and divinity, between this life and "Mystery" (the word "mystical" means "according to the Mystery").
And yet, so much of our teaching about this union sees it as a process of escaping the limitations and passions of this world in order to find God. The quest for union with God is thus split from our efforts to satisfy the demands and exigencies of life in this world. We forget that in the Incarnation God is forever bound to the present life, that our union with Him-thanks to the event of Christ-is already within the possibilities of this life.
This forgetfulness leads to a diminishment in what we can see and achieve, a kind of fear to will too much, a reduced view of what our reason can grasp and our liberty accomplish.
The consequences of this mystical disaster for morality are disastrous. What happens is that morality is separated from reality.
This can happen in two extreme ways. On the one hand, a morality is constructed based on a view of the good and just that clearly exceeds the possibilities of our limited liberty, making demands that are always experienced as impossible and encouraging us to always feel guilty about it. Sanctity (the fruit of the mystical union) thus becomes achievable only through a struggle against the needs of this life of which most of us are incapable.
On the other hand, as an understandable protest against this, morality is governed by what our reason can grasp and our limited liberty achieve without or outside the event of the Incarnation, which is much less than what is possible because of Christ.
The event of Christ and its consequences have come to be seen as something extrinsic, something added to our "merely human" possibilities, instead of seeing in the event of Christ just what these human possibilities really are. That is why we have "lost" the abortion battle (and indeed many other moral battles), because our teaching of morality was separated from the experience, in this life, of what is real and possible as a result of the Incarnation.
For this mystical disaster to be reversed, the New Evangelization must seek to awaken whatever Catholic sensibilities are left in those ethnic parades to an awareness of the new possibilities for human life revealed in the Incarnation and experienced in the encounter with Christ´s power of attraction. The remedy for the abortion tragedy is not a refined moral sensibility, but an authentic mysticism.