Friday, September 24, 2010

What a Childless Nation Portends

In recent years, many Americans have made the personal decision not to have children. Today, however, even more people, sold on the myth that the earth is overpopulated, have made it clear that it is a civic duty for couples to have only a few children, if any. What was once a personal decision to have a small family is now a secular mandate to discourage couples from having children at all. In the twenty-first century, it has been customary for families with five or more children to either get lectured, sneered at or to be given looks of disapproval by perfect strangers at the local grocery store.

It is a true marvel of human nature that many or even the majority of people can be so zealously opposed to that which is absolutely necessary for survival and happiness. Materialism and secularism can so twist human thinking that people can hate what is positively good for them and love what is positively bad. Such is the mystery of sin and the effect it has on the soul.

I’ll leave it to Steve Mosher and The Population Research Institute to provide all the statistical data why America and Western Civilization is headed for a demographic collapse (see: The point here is that once people cross a certain threshold of prosperity, materialistic lifestyles set in, the appetite for sacrifice wanes and reproductive attitudes harden. It is usually at the tail end of this development that the State sees that a childless nation is not in its best interests. Historically, declining tax revenue and the disportionate ratio between the young and the elderly are but natural results of a low birthrate. In response to this, governments typcially offered incentives to reverse the trend. But when the harm of a nation gone childless was felt, it was often too late for political remedies.

In the last forty years, Catholics- both clergy and laity –have been embarrassed about what may prove to be the most prophetic and important doctrine of our times: the truth of contraception. As a result, very few teachings at the local and diocesan level and even fewer sermons at Sunday Mass have even mentioned what impact contraception has had on marriage, the family and culture. Our silence has left the door wide open for the propaganda that children are a burden to society. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception will undoubtedly be vindicated when the demographic winter has peaked. And we are just beginning- only just beginning -to feel the effects of that winter. We have to pray for our bishops and priests; that they may lead the way in encouraging married couples to be generous with God in terms of having children. It is incumbent on all Catholics, but especially Bishops, to articulate what a childless nation portends.

What the family loses, the State gains. When families shrink and breakdown, the State only increases and becomes more powerful. History bears witness to this fact. The present day challenge of American citizens to retain their liberty and prosperity can be traced (although not exclusively) to the breakdown of the family and the unwillingness of couples to have children. On the other hand, if the American people were to value an abundance of children, this would be a sign of recovery; a harbenger of better things to come.

"But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific. They became so numerous and strong that the land was filled with them." (Ex 1:7)

Long before the birthrate of the West became an issue, Bishop Sheen he issued the following warning:

If our birthrate should again decrease as it did 15 years ago [1933], and that decrease should continue, would we not become the prey of other nations? History does not reveal the survival of a single nation with a declining birthrate in a moment of trial and crisis. On the occasion of the fall of France in 1940, a French general gave the failure of the family to perpetuate itself as the basic reason for the nation’s debacle.

In 150 B.C. Polybius, in writing about the decline of Greece, said: “For the evil of depopulation grew upon us rapidly, and without attracting our attention, by our men becoming perverted to a passion of show and money, and pleasure of an evil life, and accordingly either not marrying at all, or if they did marry, refusing to rear children that were born, or at most, one or two out of the great numbers, for the sake of leaving their well-being assured, and bringing them up in extravagant luxury. The result, houses are left heirless, and like swarms of flies, little by little, the cities become sparsely inhabited and weak.”

The decline of the population always begins with the economic top; those who could most afford to have children do not. The group less economically blessed produces more. Soon the infection against the family spreads from those in high economic brackets to those below, and a civilization goes into decline.

There is no doubt the State will claim more power for itself as the family declines, but the state and society are not identical. As the vital energy of society goes into decline, the mechanized bureaucratic machinery grows by leaps and bounds…Invasion was a possibility from the time Roman morals began to decline.”

-Bishop Fulton Sheen, Communism and the Western Conscience 1948

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Learning the Hard Way

Cardinal James Francis Stafford gave a lecture in the fall of 2008 at the Catholic University of America, making reference to then president-elect Barak Obama, he said, “On November 4, 2008, America suffered a cultural earthquake.” “For the next few years," he continued, "Gethsemane will not be marginal. We will know that garden.” Cardinal Stafford then went on to criticize Mr. Obama for being “aggressive, disruptive and apocalyptic.” CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer immediately criticized the Cardinal's comments as "scathing rant" and a "diatribe." Almost two years later, however, it would seem that most Americans have come to believe that the words of Cardinal Stafford are more than just a rant.

To be sure, President Obama's policies have not been realized enough to make us feel the full effects of the Garden of Gethsemane. Nevertheless, people are troubled enough about the direction of our country that they are willing to give Cardinal Stafford the benefit of the doubt. The emergence of the Tea Party, the low poll number for the President Obama, and the recent primaries are just a few indications that Wolf was wrong and Stafford was right.

With these new developments, Conservatives are optimistic over the prospects that America is now turning to conservative principles and traditional values. In eager anticipation for November's elections, there is a lot of rejoicing going on in conservative circles; albeit the excitement is tempered. Indeed, there is momentum building in favor of Tea Party values, no doubt. But success is never long sustained if the reasons behind that success are poorly understood. For any nation to advance, right ideas need to traced to their source and wrong ideas need to be followed to their logical conclusions.

Although most Americans would tend to side with Cardinal Stafford's assessment that President Obama is a liability to our nation, what troubles me is that the majority of voters had to learn this through experience. Learning by experience can be costly; especially when local, State and Federal governments were already growing in size and meddling in the private sector long before November of 2008.

Truth be told, a good Christian and civics education would have alerted the voter that with President Obama, and many Congressmen like him, free enterprise and civic liberties would be further compromised. The public should have anticipated the unfavorable developments that are now taking place in Washington D.C.

This is the problem at hand: In America, lessons are learned and quickly forgotten. American voters do not vote for something definite as much as they react to that which is disagreeable. Catholic theology and morality, on the other hand, is always oriented towards the purpose of things; that is, towards something definite. Marriage, for instance, has two definite goals: procreation and love. Similarly, the government exists for specific reasons; among them are to protect the citizenry from foreign threats and to establish public order for the common good. A solid Christian and civics education inspires this purpose oriented/principled based frame of mind. But the majority of Americans do not benefit from such an education. As such, democracy, the free market and religious liberty remains brittle. Indeed, people simply do not know the principles on which they rest nor do they understand their value.

Until the monopoly of the State on education is broken up and is then returned to local communities, Americans will continue to learn tough and costly lessons over and over again. State-run education, by and large, is prejudicial towards faith and patriotism. These two virtues, more than anything else, unites citizens under a common purpose. Without them, a nation will perish.

Cardinal Stafford's warning to America has been vindicated by recent political events. The Tea Party is on the rise. But in two, four, or six years, will voters remember why? Or will we have to learn the hard way again?


Epilogue: The following excerpt is from a book called Religion and the Modern State, written 75 years ago (1935). As a Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson understood political, cultural and religious trends. Because Dawson took all three of these social forces into account, he could anticipate what the "new State" would come to mean for the individual citizen. Indeed, what he details in the passage below are the very challenges America faces in 2010.

"The new State will be universal and omnipotent. It will mould the mind and guide the life of its citizens from the cradle to the grave. It will not tolerate any interference with its educational functions by any sectarian organization, even though the latter is based on religious convictions. And this is the more serious, since the introduction of psychology into education has made the schoolmaster a spiritual guide as well as the trainer of the mind. In fact it seems as though the school of the future must increasingly usurp the functions that the Church exercised in the past, and that the teaching profession will take the place of the clergy as the spiritual power of the future.

Nor will the State confine its educational activities to the training of the young. It will more and more tend to control public opinion in general by its organs of instruction and propaganda. We have already gone a long way towards the nationalization and public control broadcasting, and I believe the time is not far distant when similar methods will be applied to the control of the Press, and the Cinema. It is obvious that a Totalitarian State, whether of the Fascist or the democratic type, cannot afford to leave so great a power of influencing public opinion in private hands, and the fact that the control of the popular Press and of the film industry is often in unworthy hands gives the State a legitimate excuse to intervene. The whole tendency of modern civilization is, in fact, to concentrate the control of opinion in a few hands…

As our civilization becomes more completely mechanized it becomes easier to control, and the organs of control become more centralized. It is true that these things are not usually regarded as having much relevance to the religious issue. But we may ask ourselves- do people go to the cinema or to church? Does not the cinema take the place that was formerly occupied by church and chapel? Has not Hollywood got a distinct ethic of its own which influences the minds of its audiences?"

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Using "Liberalism" in Politics and the Church II

Using "Liberalism" in Politics and in the Church continued:

More than any other pope, St. Pius X understood the spiritual, moral and political implications of liberalism. As such, he wrote extensively about it in order that Catholics and people everywhere would see the threat that it posed. His efforts did bear fruit. As late as the 1940's the U.S. Catholic Bishops became increasingly alarmed at the rising tides of Secular-liberalism. In 1948, the Archbishop of Baltimore, Francis P. Keough, wrote: "It has become a matter of grave concern to many Americans that a rising tide of secularism threatens the traditional foundations on which human life in America has always been based."

Nevertheless, as the 1960's drew nearer, secularism was seen less and less as a threat, even within the Church. The Shepherds of the flock, who are also called to be "Watchmen," viewed secularism (which is interchangeable with liberalism) more favorably; something that could be reconciled with Catholicism. But this was a departure from the past. If the drop in Mass attendance, priestly and religious vocations, and the number of closed parochial schools are any indication, it would suggest that liberalism (or secularism) is more of a foe than a friend of Jesus Christ. It does not gather, it scatters!

Pope Paul VI said in 1972 that the "Smoke of Satan" has entered the Church. With smoke, there is spiritual and moral disorientation. This smoke would linger on for at least another thirty five years. Several decades prior to Paul VI's statement, Pope St. Pius X, as a Cardinal, identified that smoke and explained to his clergy how it might be dealt with. He said, "Catholic 'Liberals' are wolves in lambs clothing; hence any priest worthy of the name must unmask for the faithful confided to his care their insidious plotting, their unholy design. You shall be called papists, clericals, retrogressives, intransigents. Be proud of it!"

These words from the saintly pontiff might come across to the modern day Catholic as being alarmist, unloving or lacking compassion. Maybe this is our problem. We have become so soft that it is impolite to even admit that the Church has enemies. Since there is no one to fight, it follows there is no "Good Fight" to be fought. So much for the New Testament. There, the fight between good and evil is graphically illustrated.

Words like sin, hell, and yes, liberalism, have become taboo words for conversation; even among Catholics. We can continue to avoid these words and thus speak partial truths; or we can use the language of Scripture and papal encyclicals. After all, language mediates truth. When language is altered or words fall into disuse, our perception of reality suffers. The term "liberalism" conveys a truth; a truth not only about politics, but about morality and faith. If several popes chose to write about it, maybe we shouldn't discourage its use.

Using "Liberalism" in Politics and in the Church

Some Catholics- both clergy and lay -have suggested that the term "liberalism" has a political connotation and as such, it does not belong in Catholic literature or discourse. No doubt the word "liberalism" has become politicized by Rush Limbaugh and Conservative commentators. For that reason, certain Catholics wince when it is used in a theological or religious context. For some, this word is too closely associated with Limbaugh, Beck or Hannity.

It should be known, however, that before Rush or any modern day Conservative saw the light of day, the term "liberalism" was being used by nineteenth and twentieth- century popes. At least a hundred years before William Buckley published his periodical, The National Review, the successor of St. Peter was warning the faithful about liberalism.

You may be surprised to know that popes like Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI used the term "liberalism" in much the same way we use it today. Some will tell you otherwise. For instance, one priest, well versed in theology, proposed to me that the use of the term "liberalism" in papal encyclicals referred to unchecked capitalism. That may have been true when we consider the writings of Pope John XXIII or Pope Paul VI. However, between early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, liberalism was used to mean the following:

1. Denying the existence of divine authority.
2. Each person defining their own morality and redefining liberty to mean license.
3. Advocating big government.
4. Causing social and political ruin.
5. Excluding the Church hierarchy from the State and other public institutions.

Below are excerpts from papal encyclicals that reference liberalism. These quotes are consistent with the above mentioned characteristics.

Pope Leo XIII, On the Nature of Human Liberty:

"Hence, these followers of liberalism deny the existence of any divine authority to which obedience is due, and proclaim that every man is the law to himself."

"By the patrons of liberalism, however, who make the State absolute and omnipotent, and proclaim that man should live altogether independently of God..."

Pope Pius IX, On Atheistic Humanism:

"In this same Encyclical of Ours We have shown that the means of saving the world of today from the lamentable ruin into which a moral liberalism has plunged us..."

"There would be today neither Socialism nor Communism if the rulers of the nations had not scorned the teachings and maternal warnings of the Church. On the bases of liberalism and laicism they wished to build other social edifices which, powerful and imposing as they seemed at first, all too soon revealed the weakness of their foundations..."

In the encyclical, Syllabus of Errors Condemned by Pope Blessed Pius IX (1862), the title of section 10 is "Errors Having Reference to Modern Liberalism." One of those errors is the idea that "it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State..." The conventional wisdom today among Catholics is that religion- even the Catholic religion -ought not to enjoy any preference or favor by the State. We've come a long way since 1862.

Even as early as 1832, Pope Gregory XVI wrote an encyclical with the title, On Liberalism and Religious Indifferentism.

Please see next blog for part 2.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Conservatism is Not Enough

Is Conservatism enough? Is it enough to restore America? Naturally, most Conservatives would say yes. Conservatives, no doubt, have made vital contributions to the free market, national security, private property rights, and limited government. However, this contribution is mostly within the realm of ideas. American democracy needs more than good ideas to sustain itself; it needs good people.

If there was anything that Christianity demonstrated to the world, it is that man cannot be saved nor reformed on ideas alone. Greek philosophy, as noble as it was in discerning truths about God, the soul and democracy, failed to improve the morals of the people in the fifth century, B.C. As a result, the high achievements of Greek civilization did not last. Instead, the Greek Empire fell for the same reasons why all empires and nations fall...from moral decay. The greatness of Greece eventually gave way to the Roman Empire.

True redemption involves the renewal, not only of the intellect, but of the will and heart. As St. John the Evangelist said, “While the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) It was the initiation into the person of Christ, that is, the Mysteries of the Faith, the Liturgy and the Sacraments, that redeemed and civilized humanity. Suffering was given meaning, pleasure was given perspective, manual labor ennobled, and the lowly were raised up. As one nineteenth century priest said, the Gospel appealed to the totality of man; under divine grace, every aspect of life was impacted and renewed. As valuable as Conservatism is, it can only be adapted to a portion of our lives; many times leaving personal morality unreformed.

James Cardinal Gibbons (a nineteenth century Fulton Sheen) wrote a book in 1889 called, Our Christian Heritage. Part of this book was dedicated to the critique of Greek and pagan philosophy. He explains why the Greek and Roman philosophers failed to produce good men. This historic lesson is instructive because the Founding Fathers of America took for granted that the Constitution was made for a Christian people; that is, for people who are morally upright.

Cardinal Gibbons' critique on Greek and pagan philosophy should be of interest to both Christians and Conservatives. After all, the limitations of Greek philosophy can be applied to Conservatism for similar reasons. Chief among those reasons is that ideas alone do not make good people. It is not enough that people are educated; in order for freedom, democracy and civilization to endure, they must be morally good.

Quotes from James Cardinal Gibbons, Our Christian Heritage:

“Philosophers ‘might’ have been able to check immorality. Some of them, indeed, guided by the light of reason, inculcated beautiful and sublime moral maxims; but many causes that rendered their influence for the good were scarcely perceptible among the people. Their audience was generally composed of a narrow circle of literary men.

They had no well-defined and uniform moral code; and they were often vague and contradictory in their ethical teaching. They suggested no adequate incentives to the practice of virtue. They never employed the greatest argument of the Apostle St. Paul for morality: This is the will of God and for your sanctification.”

Greek Philosophers: The Weakness of Their Morality (This also speaks to the insufficiency of Conservatism).

1. No divine model held up to them
2. No uniform criterion for right and wrong
3. Motives presented were weak and insufficient
4. No sanction was appended to their moral law
5. Teachers were limited in sphere of action which was inconsistent
with their ethical instruction. The best of them were stained by some
gross vice.

The superiority of Christian Morality:

“Example of Christ is the foundation of Christian morality. There is not a single principle of the natural law; there is not a healthy moral precept of the [pagan] sages or legislators, or any commandment of the Decalogue; that is not engrafted in the evangelical code. The Christian religion appropriates all that is good, preserving the gold and eliminating the dross.”

Catholics should be confident, therefore, that the remedy the Church offers is not only perfectly adapted to human nature, but there is no aspect of human existence which is beyond her reach. The aid of social or political ideologies- as good as they are -are partial and temporary. Only the Church, the extension of Christ's Incarnation, applies the remedy which is whole and permanent. She not only gives the light of truth to the mind, but she empowers the will to be morally good. As such, self-governance and limited government will become a real viable option.

Tocqueville's Optimism for Catholicism

Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman and a Catholic, visited the United States of America in 1831 for approximately eleven months. During his visit, he went to the first Catholic basilica, The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the autumn of the same year. When he returned to France, his native land, he wrote a book entitled: Democracy in America.

Being well versed in history and in the Catholic Faith, Tocqueville accurately foresaw the challenges American democracy would face. But he also foresaw that Christianity in America would tend towards one of two destinies. "Our posterity," he said, "will tend more and more to a single division in two parts- some relinquishing Christianity entirely, and others returning to the bosom of the Catholic Church."

Indeed, he was quite optimistic that Catholicism is the most compatible, out of all the Christian churches, with democracy. He even dared to contend that Catholicism would be the last viable option for Christians in America.

In his own words:

"Amongst the various sects of Christianity, Catholicism seems to me to be one of those which are most favorable to the equality of conditions. In the Catholic Church, the religious community is composed of only two elements, the priests and the people. The priest alone rises above the rank of his flock, all below him are equal. On doctrinal points the Catholic faith places all human capacities upon the same level; it subjects the wise and the ignorant, the man of genius and the vulgar crowd, to the details of the same creed; it imposes the same observances upon the rich and needy, it inflicts the same austerities upon the strong and the weak, it listens to no compromise with mortal man, but, reducing all the human race to one standard, it confounds all the distinctions of society at the foot of the same altar, even as they are confounded in the sight of God. If Catholicism predisposes the faithful to obedience, it certainly does not prepare them for inequality; but the contrary may be said of Protestantism, which generally tends to make men independent, more than to render them equal.

America is the most democratic country in the world and at the same time it is the country in which the Roman Catholic religion makes the most progress. Men living in democratic ages are very prone to shake off all religious authority; but if they consent to subject to themselves to any authority of this kind, they choose that it should be single and uniform. Religious powers not radiating from a common center are naturally repugnant to their minds…The men of our day are naturally disposed to believe; but as soon as they any religion, they immediately find in themselves a latent desire which urges them unconsciously towards Catholicism. Many of the doctrines and the practices of the Roman Catholic Church astonish them; but they feel a secret admiration for its discipline, its great unity attracts them…our posterity will tend more and more to a single division in two parts- some relinquishing Christianity entirely, and others returning to the bosom of the Catholic Church."


Epilogue on Tocqueville's Optimism for Catholicism:

Why did Tocqueville believe that one of two things would happen with regard to Christianity? Those two things being the relinquishing of Christianity altogether or the return of Christians to Roman Catholicism.

Tocqueville predicted that a competitor of Christianity would emerge and that competitor would be Pantheism- the worship of the earth or the universe. Central to Pantheism is the belief that the universe itself is God. Although you may be unfamiliar with the term, you know the practice well. Today, it is expressed in both the New Age Movement and Environmentalism.

There are three things that are attractive of New Age/Environmental spirituality:
1. The oneness and the interconnectedness of nature. "The Circle of Life," if you will. People are attracted to unity and Pantheism provides that sense of unity.
2. Mystery: Planet earth is full of beauty and the unknown. The stars at night and the immense body of water known as the ocean, gives an aura of infinity.
3. Vague Morality: The reason why the ancient pagan gods attracted the Israelites in the Old Testament was because they were tired of being told what to do by Yahweh. The golden calf didn't give them commandments; neither does "Mother Earth." With New Age/Environmentalism you have the spirituality but not the burden of a well-defined moral code for the individual.

Protestantism, on the other hand, contained within it divisions and contradictions. These contradictions would apparently lead to its own dissolution; that is, the rejection of Christianity all together. The chain reaction is as follows: Religious division leads to skepticism of religion; skepticism of religion leads to religious apathy. Religious apathy is Christianity's terminal illness, at least in theory.

Catholicism, on the other hand, possesses unity, mystery and authority. According to Tocqueville, it can compete much better with Pantheism than Protestantism. The Catholic Church does not bear the burden of the kind of internal contradictions Protestant Christianity bears. It gives a sense of oneness with the Saints and Angels in heaven and with our brothers and sisters on earth. The same Scripture readings are read during the Liturgy throughout the world; the same Communion is being shared, and we follow the lead of the same Shepherd, the Pope.

This is the reason why Alexis de Tocqueville said that Americans will tend toward either the relinquishing of Christianity or a return to the Roman Catholic Church. Let's pray that it is the latter.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Beck's Minus: Doctrinal Indifference II

Beck's Minus: Doctrinal Indifference continued:

If it doesn’t matter what the Eucharist is- whether it is just bread and wine or if it really is the body and blood of Christ- then nothing in Christianity matters. If Catholic doctrine is correct and the Eucharist is worthy to be worshipped, then a host of Christians and non-Christians are simply missing out on many spiritual blessings. On the other hand, if Catholic doctrine is wrong and the Eucharist is nothing more than bread and wine, then hundreds of thousands within the Catholic Church are committing idolatry by worshipping bread on a regular basis. Indeed, they would be no better off than the ancient pagans.

If we need not concern ourselves with the difference between Eucharistic adoration and worshiping a piece a bread, then people will not concern themselves with the difference between the worship of Christ and a false god. That's right! Generic Christianity and the growing indifference to those doctrines which unfortunately divide Christians has led to the indifference of Christianity in general! If it doesn't matter if you're Catholic, a Baptist, a Methodist or a Mormon, then being a Christian will not matter. Such is the unintended consequence of doctrinal indifference.

And this is where Glenn Beck gets off track: Only in theory can he say that the God of Christianity, the God of Judaism and the God of Islam are interchangeable. Only in theory does the doctrinal divide among the great monotheistic religions not make a difference. In reality, however, each of these great monotheistic religions has their own peculiar effect on the individual, society and the world. And it remains doubtful if a Republic like America- with its justice system, free market and religious liberty -could long endure under Judaism or Islam. The bottom line is this: doctrinal differences do matter. Not only do they have a significant impact on America's longevity, but they will also affect Christianity's survival in North America.

Christ is not an option for America any more than it is for the individual. Without invoking His benedictions, all is lost. He was the reason why the United States of America became the greatest nation on earth. And as far as Christianity is concerned, it can only be the source of countless blessings to culture if it presents itself as preeminently and exclusively privileged to be the bearer of God's revelation to all people. If the Church in America ceases to missionary in this respect, she will cease to be competitive with alternative religions and ideologies. The incentive will not be there for onlookers to join her ranks.

I return to a quote from Pope Leo XIII: “To hold, therefore, that there is no difference in matters of religion between forms that are unlike each other, and even contrary to each other, most clearly leads in the end to the rejection of all religion in both theory and practice."

Beck's Minus: Doctrinal Indifference

Before I venture into the minus or limitation of one of Glenn Beck's positions, I think it is important to state that he has done what no other Conservative commentator has done: And that is, he made a direct appeal to the American people that they return to God. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Michael Savage have all made references to God and to religious values in passing. However, I do not recall any of them professing to their audience that, ultimately, God is the answer to our national challenges; and that these challenges are too big for a conservative fix. Indeed, politics is important but beneath that layer are many other layers which need fixing i.e. individual morality, broken marriages and families, State-run education, and a host of other issues.

With every virtue, however, there lurks a corresponding vice. A kernel of truth can turn into a bad seed if it is not planted in rich soil. It was virtuous on Glenn Beck’s part in that he pointed to God as the solution to our nation’s troubles. With that said, his call to “restore honor” may travel down a rough and narrow road if he says or implies it doesn’t matter what God you worship or how you worship. On the August 28th “Restore honor” rally in Washington, D.C., he invited rabbis, imams, Protestant ministers, and Catholic priests up on stage in order to show that there is solidarity among the monotheistic religions in America. In one sense, this show of unity is pleasing to the eye but in doing so he gives the impression that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are equally compatible with the founding principles of our country. Using Beck’s logic, it would seem that Judaism and Islam were just as capable of supplying the frame work for the U.S. Constitution.

I do realize, however, that Glenn Beck said on his show a number of times that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. But on other occasions, he makes it clear that he doesn’t fuss over doctrine or worship; that it is important enough we believe in one God. This is where the Catholic would have to part company with Glenn Beck if we are to be consistent with the Church’s teachings.

We are increasingly pressured by the both Right and Left to refrain from “making a fuss” over the things that divide us monotheists like doctrine and the nature of worship. One of my old roommates, who happened to be a practicing Christian, tried to tell me that God doesn’t care what denomination we belonged to, as long as “you love Jesus." As Catholics, our response might sound something like this: “If God doesn’t care what denomination we belonged to, then He doesn’t care how we live, what we believe about Him, and how we worship Him. After all, our church affiliation has a profound effect on all three.”

More on the next blog

Friday, September 3, 2010

Glenn Beck and the Church III

Glenn Beck and the Church continued:

The voice of the Church, that oracle of Christ, has been an effective communicator when she has tapped into the deeply held questions and concerns of the people; whatever that may be. In 1965, the Second Vatican Council, inspired by the Holy Spirit, prophetically spoke to this need; the need of putting the Gospel at the service of common concerns and commonly asked questions about this life and the next.

After the 1960's, meeting people where they were at became more of a necessity! Stomaching abstract theological truths and topics unrelated to the circumstance of the day, would become increasingly more difficult for the average person; especially in our entertainment culture of sound bites.

In anticipating the Sexual Revolution and the cultural shift to Secularism, the Holy Spirit, in 1965, inspired the Second Vatican Council to state the following on evangelization:

“The Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics.” ( Vatican II: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Article 4)

In this passage, the Second Vatican Council provides a preamble of how the New Evangelization should proceed. There are three points to remember:

1. Don't only teach about the Gospel but use the Gospel to interpret "signs of the times," that is, what the events of the day mean in light of the Gospel.
2. Use language that is intelligible. Speak the language of the people.
3. Respond to those questions they have about "this life and the life to come." As Catholic teachers and communicators, it is all too natural to respond to our own questions, and not the questions of the people.

I am confident that in using these principles, the Church will make up for what she has lost in these last fifty years. These are the ways in which the she has inspired the multitudes in the past.

Back to Beck on the next blog

Glenn Beck and the Church II

Glenn Beck and the Church continued:

Communicating a message by tapping into the questions and concerns of people is nothing new of course. The Church has done it well throughout history but not so well in previous decades. The last fifty years are instructive to this end. The declining number of priestly and religious vocations; the closing of Catholic schools, low Mass attendance and fewer couples getting married is not the whole story, but it does speak volumes about the Church’s struggle in attracting souls to Christ and inspiring them to observe all that He commanded.

The Catholic Church is a divine institution with Christ as her founder. But she, as with individuals, has the blood of Adam running through her veins. The human dimension of the Church sometimes lags behind the Holy Spirit’s promptings and initiatives. To be sure, the Mystical Body of Christ is, by no means, exempt from bad habits.

Towards the mid-twentieth century, Western Civilization had become biblically and theologically illiterate. However, the Church continued to use her own language- biblical and theological in nature -in preaching and communicating the Gospel to world just as she did before.

Case and point: As much as I love reading the papal encyclicals and ecclesial documents of the last fifty years, I do know by experience that the average Catholic has a hard time understanding its content; in addition, reading through the volume of pages contained in the documents requires lots of time and perseverance. If we were honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that these documents reach a limited audience. They may appeal to the clergy or to theology students and professors; but I am afraid they do not accommodate the busy mother or father.

The first papal encyclical, that is, the First and Second Letter of Peter in the New Testament, is simple and short. Most people find it inspiring and palatable. One does not have to be a theologian in order to appreciate its message. The Gospels too are in the format of a story; something that even children can relate to.

Furthermore, clerical sermons in the last fifty years have been relegated to religious topics with few references to current events. What lay people breath in during the week- the news, everyday challenges, sexual sin and common temptations –were (and still are) rarely addressed from the pulpit. The Sunday after September 11, 2001, for instance, I attended Mass in which the homilist made no reference to the national trauma of what transpired just days before. Even in 2010, the vices that are killing Western Civilization- cohabitation, contraception, the low birthrate, and homosexuality –continue to be uncomfortable topics for the clergy. But if the heralds of the Gospel are not shedding the light of Christ on these issues during their sermons, who will?

When the Church is silent, the world will lead the public debate on the issues. And when the Church speaks a language that people cannot understand, the world will be more than happy to speak a language that they will understand. Fulton Sheen was right! If the Church does not interfere with Secularism, then Secularism will interfere with it. The Church has to interrupt the world's monologue and lead the discussion with confidence and simplicity.

More on this in the next blog.

Glenn Beck and the Church

The Resore Honor Rally:

"For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” -Luke 16:8

For the sake of argument we’ll consider Glenn Beck as a “child of this world,” being that he is a Fox News commentator and not a Christian preacher or Christian news commentator by trade. As with any conservative commentator, Glenn Beck has his pluses and minuses; both of which Catholics can learn from.

On August 28th, 2010 Glenn Beck hosted a “Restoring Honor” rally at the mall in Washington D.C. No one will doubt that it took some prudence on his part to inspire 400,000 plus to make the necessary sacrifice in order to travel to our nation’s capital to hear what he had to say. It was quite a feat. If I am not mistaken, only Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were capable of drawing that many people.

The reason why I want to draw your attention to the “Restoring Honor” rally is because the Catholic Church used to practice some- but not all -of the methods Glenn Beck has used to galvanize the multitude. When I say “used to practice,” I mean “used to practice” on a regular basis and on a wide scale. Of course, there are some “minuses” of Mr. Beck’s approaches we should consider as well.

The Plus of Glenn Beck: Lessons Learned From What He Does Right

They say that the media cannot create a mood or a passion in the public; they can only tap into it. In 2009-2010, Glenn Beck had tapped into something that already existed in the minds of many Americans: The question as to whether or not America would survive. Given the encroachments of the Federal government on human dignity, religious liberty and free enterprise, our nation's integrity and prosperity became increasingly uncertain. To this concern, Mr. Beck effectively communicates his conservative principles in relation to the news of the day.

Glenn Beck is not satisfied with addressing what President Barak Obama believes or what his key players in the administration believes; but instead, he probes into what inspires those beliefs. As such, his audience became more acquainted with the ideology of politicians and the history of influential ideologues. Even U.S. Presidents such as Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin Roosevelt were given a historical context few Americans knew about.

The mainstream media and even the conservative media, with few exceptions, are largely uninterested in American history. But as Glenn would say, “Past is prologue.” To know where we are going we must first know what we are. And to know what we are we have to know where we came from. Indeed, history is not only a preview of the future, but it also makes clear what lies hidden in today’s world. Without knowledge of history, we will never understand the world as it really is.

Say what you will about Glenn Beck. Even his critics would have to admit that tapping into a widely held concern about America's durability and using that concern to educate Americans about the news of the day and the nation's history has served the Glenn Beck program well. The children of light can learn something from this and use it for the higher purpose of advancing the Gospel.

3rd Century Rome and 21st Century America

Just in case you missed it; a blog from April reposted:

History does repeat itself. Sometimes more than we would like it to. Take for instance the third century A.D.(200's) Ralph Martin Novak, author of Christianity and the Roman Empire, provides a sobering statistic of 3rd century Rome which serves as a warning to our U.S. government.

He said, "It is estimated that whereas at the start of the third century A.D. the Roman emperors employed only about 300 to 350 full-time individuals in administering the Empire, by 300 A.D. this number had grown to some 30,000 or 35,000 people [italics added]. The expense of this vastly increased administrative and military structure was an enormous burden on the people of the Empire, and the burden only grew more oppressive over the course of the fourth century A.D....Rome's efforts to collect the taxes necessary to pay for defense and administration exacerbated the already deep social and economic divisions within the Roman empire."

To repeat: In just one hundred years the administration of Rome, bearing a lot of resemblance to the current state of the U.S. government, grew from 300-350 employees to 30,000 to 35,000 employees! By 300 A.D., Rome's central government was so big and overgrown, that it hindered economic growth and its ability to defend its citizens against their enemies.

It is important to remember that this rapid inflation of central government resulted after two centuries of moral decay. And more disturbing, it happened on the eve of Rome's collapse; that is, just before it fell to foreign powers.

Social and moral malaise always prepares the way for an unchecked and oppressive State. As Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, "If the soul is not saved, nothing is saved!" Not even the Republic.