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How important is the Church in a time of crisis? We may soon find out
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For the past few months, a generous safety net protected millions of Americans from homelessness and hunger caused by the COVID crisis. Now the net is unraveling and the people responsible for repairing it just went home for a month-long break. Some experts speculate the federal government is doomed, and the end of the United States as we know it is at an end. If true, what role does the Church have in the months and years ahead?
What is the role of the Church during a time of collapse?
LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - Few Americans have seriously considered what would happen if the federal government collapsed. Such an event has been the stuff of science fiction rather than serious consideration. Until this year, the idea that the world's largest economy and most powerful nation of all time could collapse was a fool's fantasy. Yet, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, along with a host of smaller, yet serious problems, the possibility looms large.
On Thursday, the Senate adjourned for a recess that will last until September 8 after failing to come to an agreement on how to help millions of distressed people to stay housed and fed. And while an agreement could be reached in September, people need to pay rent monthly and eat daily. The delay leaves some 30 million Americans with a lot less help for at least another month.
Politically, Americans are sharply divided and there is great concern that the upcoming presidential election will be fraught with so many challenges it will be disputed and cause sharp civil unrest.
Even the Postal Service is experiencing disruptions and delays.
In short, the American government appears unable to meet its basic obligations to the people. All of the above are classic symptoms of nations in collapse. There are countless examples in history. While the time ahead may be difficult, they are not likely to be filled with the suffering most fear. It's also important to mention the role the Church will have to play.
The collapse of the Roman Empire took almost two centuries. While the fall of the city of Rome in 476 AD is often the date that marks the collapse of the Empire, the western Roman Empire had been in decline since the death of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in 180 AD. The decline was gradual, almost imperceptible at first. The tax collectors stopped passing along revenue to Rome. The legions no longer marched to the frontiers. News traveled more slowly. Trade from distant places stopped. What happened in Rome lost its importance. Instead, local officials and local affairs became paramount.
This is what is likely to happen should the federal government continue to lose its ability to govern. The House and Senate may still meet. The flag may still fly. All the classic hallmarks of the nation may remain. But somehow what happens in Washington D.C. may lose its significance, especially as Congress loses its ability to compromise, to pass laws, to fund public services.
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Amid this vacuum, state governments will assume power. Local governments will become more important and influential. Some states like California, with its massive economy, will probably retain their stability. Disruptions, while present, will be minimized. Some austerity will be required, and political changes will occur, but life for most people will continue much the same as always.
Smaller states with less revenue will suffer much more. Unless they can cooperate with neighboring regions, even state governments could collapse.
None of this is the cause for alarm it sounds like. Even in periods of tremendous turmoil, life goes on for most people.
This is where the Church flourishes. When the institutions that ostensibly hold society together fail, the Church is revealed as the glue that keeps people together. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church became the dominant institution across western Europe. As barbarian chiefs vied for power and control, it was the Church that brokered peace, that provided for the people, and preserved civilization.
In America, the Church will re-assume this role. No edicts need to be issued, the change will be automatic, instinctual. People will return to the Church in droves and the Church will shepherd them.
While this goes for the Catholic Church above all, it also applies to the greater Christian Church. It will be from this new unity that a new and better society will emerge. We know this because it's happened many times before.
A generation after the Balkan conflicts, cities like Sarajevo are now bustling hubs of commerce and examples of religious tolerance. The same can be expected in the United States.
It's unclear what will happen in the months ahead. A vaccine could solve the COVID crisis, the Main Street economy might revive, the federal government might get serious about helping ordinary Americans in this time of crisis. Things could get better starting tomorrow. But more likely, things will become worse. But if they do, we have little reason to panic. Instead, let us return to Church, to God, and to caring for our neighbors. If anything will save us, and our nation, it will be Christ and His Church.
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