Observing Advent and celebrating the Nativity of the Lord outside the services are somewhat cumbersome for Christians in America today. Fortunately, we are free to worship as we wish; comparing ourselves with Egypt’s Copts, for instance, reminds us of our blessings. Nonetheless, the popular and cultural traditions of observing the liturgical cycle outside the liturgical services do not cohere well with living in our secular society. The calendar difference for those who follow the old calendar is annoying; observing the Church calendar induces some level of festive dissonance for us. However, it remains an issue even for a new calendarist at this time of year, as Americans celebrate Christmas according to the canons of Macy rather than the tradition of the Church. The twelve days do not mean anything anymore in our society. It is yet another example of how ghetto Christianity (or “Fortress Catholicism”), where we can establish and live according to our own social rules and observances, is really the best option in a heathen age, though such truly is an acknowledgment of a profound crisis (and failure by Christians). I think that the bishops, especially those of the Roman Church, are somewhat naive in pretending that we can really transform the larger society into a “culture of life” without first evangelizing the people, which would thus change the culture. Of course, Christians could also take over politically, but we have lost our taste for political domination lately. Pagan societies are pagan until most people, or at least the ones who rule the institutions of the society, become Christians. There is no Christendom without Christians.
Moreover, I have come to suspect that the “natural law” approach to making the society less barbaric is mistaken. Many bishops think that we can “engage the culture” and leaven it by appealing to the natural rational faculty in men. I think that this is false hope and rather foolish. I cannot think of a time in history when philosophy was able to convert a society. There are too few rational people—too few philosophical people. Socrates makes a lot of good points in the Republic that people tend to overlook, and this is one of them. The many cannot be expected to entrust the truly wise and the truly virtuous with power. To do that, they would have to be already wise and virtuous, and they clearly are not.
The gospel, by contrast, has a track record of converting whole peoples. I think that the bishops should face up to that fact. All the peace conferences and rational dialogue that they can muster will not do anything. For the vast majority of people, truth comes not in argumentation but in baptism. I do not delight in this opinion. I find it very disheartening. Yet, I wonder now if the bible beaters of my youth were correct, after all. Jesus is the answer. It is a rare case when natural reason can get a man even halfway there.