What a Eucharistic Civilization Looks Like
An excerpt from the new book, How the Eucharist Can Save Civilization
The Eucharist is not a doctrine to be believed, but a reality to be lived — one that should shape our life and everything that we do. In my new book, How the Eucharist Can Save Civilization, I look at how, if we allow the Eucharist to change us, the transformation will ripple into the world, becoming a seed for the renewal of our civilization. What follows is an excerpt from the final chapter:
I truly believe that, unless the world ends soon, Christian culture will rise again. Things might get worse first, with the Church keeping the seeds of civilization alive, as we see in Walter Miller’s post-apocalyptic novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, where, after nuclear war, the monks once again keep faith and learning alive. This is simply what the Eucharist does on earth; in the midst of cultural ebbs and flows, it slowly changes everything! We should not conceive of a new civilization as an imposition of the Christian faith or the Church on the world. God, even though He is omnipotent, does not force Himself on us, and He gives a wide berth to our freedom. He wants us to become fully alive and for human institutions to achieve justice in accordance with nature’s real goods. Because the Eucharist is the heart of the Church as well as the heart of the world, it enlivens the secular realm to achieve its end: the common good of society.
A new civilization will not occur by chance. It will arise through the slow toil of Christians working to make all things new, inspired and strengthened by the presence of Jesus within them. This is how Jesus changes the world: one person at a time. The United States bishops explained this ripple effect in their document on Eucharistic revival, “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church”: “The personal and moral transformation that is sustained by the Eucharist reaches out to every sphere of human life. The love of Christ can permeate all of our relationships: with our families, our friends, and our neighbors. It can also reshape the life of our society as a whole. Our relationship with Christ is not restricted to the private sphere; it is not for ourselves alone” (§35). A civilization revitalized by the Eucharist would recognize the worship of God as its highest good, as a source of life beyond itself upon which it depends, while drawing from this strength the ability to rightly order the things of the world in justice and charity.
The Eucharist can save civilization by providing the spiritual ability to restore order and sanity to our culture. Its power is primarily an interior one, which is needed to overcome the moral and spiritual vacuum of our culture. We celebrate the liturgy for its own sake, not as a means to a practical end. It remains a sign that our ultimate good rests beyond this world in the eternal Sabbath of God. The goal of the Eucharist, therefore, is not a new civilization but communion with God. The goals of civilization, on the other hand, can be realized through the power of the Eucharist, which promotes a right order and harmony in human life. If we seek to restore things by our own power, we will fail, but with the help of the true king of the world, we can transmit the power of God’s healing truth and love. The goal of a new Christian civilization is not a theocracy, as the Church has always recognized the distinct and separate legitimacy of the political order. The cathedral cannot replace the city hall, although it should serve as the true center of the city and its constant reference to what matters most.
The culture of Christendom was not a single political entity. Dawson explains how “the medieval Church was not a state within a state, but a suprapolitical society of which the state was a subordinate, local, and limited organ. Ideally there was one great society — that of the Christian people — with a twofold hierarchy of spiritual and temporal ministers.” A Christian civilization is not run by the Church, as it arises when members of the Church permeate society with Christian values through their leadership and work. It is a matter not simply of having enough Catholics in influential positions, as we already have that to no good effect, but of allowing Jesus to act through the daily fidelity and influence of ordinary Catholics. Originally, Christian civilization arose through the providential encounter of the Gospel with the culture of the ancient Mediterranean, primarily Greek philosophy and Roman law, which was transmitted to the new peoples of Europe, the barbarians. There is nothing particular in this culture to Europe, per se, as a similar pattern of education and justice can arise anywhere in the world. There is not one particular way of doing things in a Christian society, not one particular culture or politics, but a Christian way of living that transforms how we think and all that we do.
Faith necessarily creates culture by making spiritual realities visible to the world, although we have to have faith first in order to rebuild civilization! Dawson rightly recognizes that wherever it arises, “the return to Christianity is therefore the indispensable condition for the restoration of a spiritual order and for the realization of the spiritual community which should be a source of new life for our civilization.” T. S. Eliot articulates a similar point: “However bigoted the announcement may sound, the Christian can be satisfied with nothing less than a Christian organization of society — which is not the same thing as a society consisting exclusively of devout Christians. It would be a society in which the natural end of man — virtue and well-being in community — is acknowledged for all, and the supernatural end — beatitude — for those who have the eyes to see it.” Eliot posits the two essential goals: acknowledging and living the goods of nature, while ordering them to an ultimate goal beyond this world. Since we have experienced what Nietzsche called an inversion of all values, a restoration of Christian civilization would entail a reversion once again, turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6) so that it will land on the right side again — valuing humility over pride, sacrifice over selfishness, leisure over frenetic busyness, and gift over consumption.
In terms of working for natural goods, Christians can cooperate with all those of good will, especially our fellow Christians. The Eucharist inspires us to upend the culture of death by emphasizing the intrinsic value of life. Pope Benedict XVI’s exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis relates, “The food of truth demands that we denounce inhumane situations in which people starve to death because of injustice and exploitation, and it gives us renewed strength and courage to work tirelessly in the service of the civilization of love.” The word love has been eviscerated of meaning. Rather than a feeling that seeks one’s own fulfillment, true love sacrifices for the good of the other. A Christian society has to reject harmful lies and refuse to offer a public place to evil. In fact, precisely out of love, it must refuse to affirm evil as good while protecting the vulnerable from the exploitation of our technological society. As Jérôme Lejeune aptly put it, “The quality of a civilization is measured by the respect that it has for its weakest members.” A Christian civilization is marked by love, creating an environment that makes it easier to be good, because it seeks after the right goals, ones that lead to the flourishing of the human person.
A Christian civilization embraces a greater simplicity because it does not seek an earthly utopia or the recreation of humanity (as in the satanic project of transhumanism). It puts earthly goods in the right perspective as limited and ordered toward higher things. The virtue of religion, the virtue that gives God what He is owed and orders all things to Him, is a civic virtue because God is the origin and end of all earthly goods. A healthy society honors God and lives in a way pleasing to Him, which also leads to the happiness of its citizens. A Christian civilization holds the faith in honor, seeks solutions inspired by it, and unites people together in pursuit of the highest goods. In overcoming secularism, it allows for a public exercise of faith, not simply a private one that struggles to express itself in a consistent and fully fledged way. Like the spires of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Christian civilization can rise in the modern world, not simply as a return to the past. It will be a new creation, drawing upon the great legacy of Christian culture and expressing it in a new way, incorporating the genuine advances of the modern world while integrating them into a deeper vision of human life.