Sunday, November 28, 2010

Preface: Making Martyrdom Irrelevant


The office of the Catholic bishop is the highest and most sacred office on earth. Catholic bishops are not only successors to the Apostles; they are the continuation of the Word Incarnate. It is only fitting then that they enjoy the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders in order that their words have efficacy.

St. Ignatius, successor to St. Peter as bishop of Antioch, just decades after Christ walked the earth, wrote that Catholics are to look at the bishop as the Lord Himself and that the bishop presides in the place of God. He even referred to Christ as “the Bishop of all.” Such was the acclaim given to the ministry of the episcopate and it still holds true today. However, a bishop’s vocation is probably best expressed in terms of spiritual fatherhood. And as a spiritual father, a bishop is to reproduce spiritual sons and daughters in the image of Christ.

The Catholic Church provides models of spiritual fatherhood such as the early Church Fathers and other saintly bishops and priests. Their words and deeds are enshrined in books, liturgical feast days and other forms of Tradition. The Church holds up their lives for our edification, to be sure. But they also serve as a standard from which we measure genuine spiritual fatherhood. Without them, it would be difficult to recognize the voice of Christ, our Shepherd. Therefore, the Church bids the faithful to esteem the witness of saintly bishops and priests who have passed into eternity. She also expects today’s bishops and priests to aspire to that same witness.

As a spiritual son myself, I want for our bishops and priests what the Church wants for them. I want them to be confident, to clearly and unapologetically represent the Catholic Faith and to be confrontational when circumstances warrant it. Is this not what a loving father does? However, when their witness falters or is compromised, I pray for them.

Filial love also bids me to take it one step further. When the Catholic clergy fall into certain patterns of behavior, behavior which differs from the great exemplars of the Faith, especially at such a critical juncture in our nation's history, then it is incumbent on me as a spiritual son to speak to these concerns. In 2000 the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) published a document called, Civility in the Media. What is noteworthy is the following statement from that document: “We acknowledge that our role in the Church inevitably puts us in a position in which we may be criticized for some actions. Catholic media have the right to engage in such criticism carried on in the spirit of civility already described.” I am assuming that this admonition applies to the Catholic blogosphere as well. With that presupposition in mind, I intend to do exactly what the USCCB prescribes: to blog with a spirit of civility.

For starters, there is a pattern among many a Catholic clergy to over-accommodate non-Catholics, members of the media and critics of the Church. There is such a thing as being diplomatic to a fault. This attempt to find common ground can lend itself to theological error or, at times, a negation of their own Catholic identity. One incident that comes to mind is when Gretchen Carlson interviewed Archbishop Timothy Dolan on Fox News, Wednesday, November 24th. What I heard was not a shock, but it was another disappointment. When referring to the meaning of Thanksgiving, he said to Gretchen, "We are conscious that Somebody…some call him or her or whatever you want ...Somebody beyond us is in charge and we are immensely grateful…"

The reason why this statement and other incidents are unhelpful to the mission of the Church in America on the next blog.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Church, the Lower Class and Minorities III

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his first encyclical, On Christian Love, that “The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.”

This exercise of the Catholic Church’s three-fold responsibility was once the foundation for civilizing an unbaptized and cruel world; a world that was insensitive to human suffering. Africa is such a world: a world that is undergoing a lot of suffering but is also becoming, day by day, a sign of hope. It is true that Africa is being afflicted with the AIDS epidemic, political corruption, and high mortality rates. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church is winning an impressive number of souls for Christ. And in doing so, the epidemics and the crimes against humanity will cease or at least diminish in time.

History shows that wherever the Gospel of Life is planted, civility and mutual love flourish. However, this can only happen when evangelization and charity work together for the common good. After all, people are willing to listen to the Gospel if the bearers of that Gospel relieve their hunger, loneliness and nakedness.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Church, the Lower Classes and Minorities II

Today, in the West, there is a tendency among Catholics to partition evangelization and charity into two separate compartments. If evangelization is seen exclusively as something that serves spiritual needs, then such a mission can easily be relegated to the middle and upper classes. From my personal observation and experience, Catholic evangelists- by and large –are apt to avoid the lower class-minority demographic; not because of any racist tendencies, but rather because they simply can’t identify with that subculture. This may explain why many African-Americans refer to Catholicism as a “white man’s” religion.

Since the upper and middle classes are materially provided for, it is natural that the spiritual dimension be the chief concern among Catholic evangelists. As result, doctrinal orthodoxy and moral purity becomes a high priority, as it should. But when the spiritual component of evangelization is disengaged from serving the poor, then a void is created. In the absence of Christ-centered personnel, charity-based initiatives and social services tend to take on a humanistic character. No longer seen as a single reality, evangelization and social services not only pursue different ends, but they are often inspired by different ideals. As such, those who honorably care for the poor do so without the sound moral and spiritual principles that evangelization requires for its mission. In many cases, what was once founded as a religious enterprise for serving the poor ends up becoming a secularized philanthropy.

If America is going to benefit from what Catholicism has to offer then evangelization and charity- both native to the Catholic Faith –will have to exist side by side, as one ministry, for the common good of this nation. Catholicism will never compete with political demagogues and advocates of big government if minorities and the lower class are untouched by Catholic evangelization and charity. Quite often, the ministry of caring for the body (i.e., soup kitchens etc.) leads to unfamiliar subcultures where the Gospel can be preached. Understandably, many Christians from the middle and upper classes are simply uncomfortable with this. So, they focus their energy on "spiritual poverty." The nice thing about "spiritual poverty" is that it is everywhere; including in our own parishes. As such, there is no need to venture to the other side of town; the part of town where lifestyles are markedly different from our own.

To put it another way, the convenient thing about attending to the needs of the soul- as opposed to the needs of the body and the soul -is that you never have to leave the parish basement; our comfort zone is secured. However, there is a price to pay. The false promises politicians hold out to the lower classes and minorities eventually acquires credibility and strength in our absence. And to be sure, proponents of big government will continue to have a monopoly on the underprivileged as long as Christians relegate their ministries within their own familiar environments.

Concluding thoughts on the next blog.

The Church, the Lower Classes and Minorities

Philip Jenkins in his book, The Next Christendom, argued that Africa is likely to be the next bastion of Catholicism in the twenty-first century. What Europe was to medieval Catholicism, Africa is now becoming to today’s Catholicism. In fact, in the year 1900 there were only 9.9 million Christians in Africa. But at the turn of the millennium, they numbered 360 million. It is estimated that at least 8 million Africans are baptized every year; which amounts to about 20,000 baptisms a day. Just when Christianity seems to be dying out in Europe, its growth in Africa continues to impress interested observers in the West. George Weigel gives a simple explanation for this rapid expansion: Christianity attracts massive numbers of converts in twenty-first century Africa, as she did in the second and third century Roman Empire, because it helped provide for those whom the rest of society preferred to ignore. He goes on to say that education, health care, and social service is deliberately linked to evangelization. Evidently, this joint effort of evangelization and charity underscores the progress Catholicism is making in Africa.

For the early Church, this body and soul combination in ministry was virtually inseparable and largely taken for granted. As Dr. Thomas Woods, author of How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization said, “Even the Church fathers, who bequeathed to Western civilization an enormous corpus of literary and scholarly work, found time to devote themselves to the service of their fellow men. St. Augustine established a hospice for pilgrims, ransomed slaves, and gave away clothing to the poor. (He warned people not to give him expensive garment, since he would only sell them and the proceeds to the poor.) Saint John Chrysostom founded a series of hospitals in Constantinople. Saint Cyprian and Saint Ephrem organized relief efforts for the poor.”

Wherever the Gospel was widely accepted, people who were traditionally denied social status and justice- such as the poor, slaves, women and children –were seen as equals to the most privileged social caste. Pope Leo XIII summed up the kind of impact the Faith had on human dignity and progress: "The Catholic Church, that imperishable handiwork of our all-merciful God, has for her immediate and natural purpose the saving of souls and securing our happiness in heaven. Yet, in regard to things temporal, she is the source of benefits as manifold and great as if the chief end of her existence were to ensure the prospering of our earthly life. And, indeed, wherever the Church has set her foot she has straightway changed the face of things, and has tempered the moral tone of the people with a new civilization and with virtues before unknown."

The origin of this new concept of equality and human rights originated from a heightened awareness of the dignity of the soul. After all, it was the rational and immortal soul that was created in the image of God. By association, however, the human body came to be understood as the most sacred material thing in the universe. As Pope Pius XI said, man is a microcosm- a world in miniature; as such, he has a worth far surpassing the whole universe. This understanding of the human person gave the Church Fathers, Saints and Martyrs every incentive to not only to preach the Gospel, but to care for the infirmed at the risk of losing their own lives. In the third century, for instance, when whole towns and districts were wiped out from plagues, it was the Christians that demonstrated heroism by not only caring for their own, but also caring for pagans. Such a sacrificial love for humanity was unknown to the ancients. And it is a love that needs to be reawakened in America.

To continue, please read next blog.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Our Lady, Patroness of the Union


The following solemn prayer is a consecration of the United States of America to Our Lady in 1792 by Bishop John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop of America. She was later given the title, Our Lady, Patroness of the Union, by the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884.

Most Holy Trinity, Our Father in Heaven,
Who chose Mary as the fairest of Your daughters;
Holy Spirit Who chose Mary as Your Spouse;
God the Son Who chose Mary as Your Mother,
In union with Mary, we adore Your Majesty
And acknowledge Your supreme, eternal dominion and authority.

Most Holy Trinity, we place the United States of America
Into the hands of Mary Immaculate
In order that she may present the country to You.
Through her we wish to thank You for the great resources
of this land.
And for the freedom which hs been its heritage.

Through the intercession of Mary, have mercy on the
Catholic Church in America.
Grant us peace.
Have mercy on our President
And on all the officers of our government.

Grant us a fruitful economy, born of just and labor,
Protect the family life of the nation.
Guard the precious gift of many religious vocations.
Through the intercession of Mary Our Mother,
have mercy on the sick...the tempted sinners...on all who are in need.

Mary, Immaculate Virgin, Our Mother,
Patroness of our land, we praise and honor you
And give ourselves to you.
Protect us from every harm.
Pray for us, that acting always according to your will
And the will of your Divine Son,
We may live and die pleasing God. Amen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Building Better Than They Knew


The Third Plenary Council at Baltimore in 1884 was a gathering of fourteen archbishops, sixty-one bishops, and a number of priests and religious. It was presided over by Archbishop James Gibbons who, in my opinion, was another Fulton Sheen in his day. He was a man of eloquence and spiritual insight. Under his patronage the Catholic Church in America grew in number and in strength.

From this Council came the following words about America’s founding as being the “special work of Providence.” It further adds that if our freedom should ever be imperiled, it will be found that Catholics, acting as “one,” will pledge their lives to secure it.

"We consider the establishment of our country's independence, the shaping of its liberties and laws, as a work of special Providence, its framers 'building better than they knew,' the Almighty's hand guiding them.... We believe that our country's heroes were the instruments of the God of nations in establishing this home of freedom; to both the Almighty and to His instruments in the work we look with grateful reverence; and to maintain the inheritance of freedom which they have left us, should it ever—which God forbid—be imperiled, our Catholic citizens will be found to stand forward as one man, ready to pledge anew 'their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor."'

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Strongest Political Instrument III


In Survivals and New Arrivals, written in 1929, Hilaire Belloc addressed why public education is the "strongest political instrument of our time." Eighty years later, his insights on State-run education and its power to shape a nation's character speaks directly to America's political challenges today.

The second point in The Strongest Political Instrument II was not primarily concerned with false statements in text books or error propagated by teachers (although there is no shortage of them in public education), but rather with the hierarchy of values, the sequence of topics and the emphasis given to certain ideas. What is not emphasized ceases to be important, what is, becomes the essential. It is in this scheme of learning which provides the lens through which a child, and indeed the nation, is trained to see the world. Second to the family, children spend most of their time at school. Teachers leave a deep and lasting impression on their students. As such, most of us in our adult years can still remember the names of our teachers. Unfortunately, God and His laws are dismissed by public educators and hence forgotten by students. Again, what is foreign to childhood education struggles to become relevant and credible in the adulthood years.

This takes us to our final point: Belloc maintained that in comparison with Christian education with its ultimate goal being the salvation of the soul, nothing else counts. "It is good to be able to read and write and cast up simple sums; it is better still to know something of the past of one's people, and to have a true idea of the world around one. But these are nothing compared with the Faith." In other words, knowledge and mere intelligence, by themselves, are woefully insufficient in preparing students to become productive citizens of our commonwealth. If the content of learning is not ordained towards noble purposes, such as the good of one's soul, the welfare of the family or the betterment of society at large, then intelligence can become a vice; indeed, it can easily be co-opted for evil purposes.

During the same year Belloc wrote Survivals and New Arrivals (1929), Pope Pius XI published an encyclical entitled, On Christian Education. In it he confirms that the Faith is of the highest importance- not only for the student and his salvation -but for the integrity of education itself. "There can be no true education," he said, "which is not wholly directed to man's last end." To be sure, the Gospel upholds God and eternity as being among the most important truths. All other truths, all other subjects and considerations, hang on this point. And it is only by having God and eternity on top of the hierarchy of truths that history, science, math, and language can be used for the common good. And as for the individual student, the Catholic Faith has always held that salvation is paramount. Belloc was right, nothing else matters in comparison. Without it, all is lost.

Pius XI went on to quote his predecessor, Pope Leo XIII, showing that Christian principles are equally necessary for a conducive learning environment: "Every form of intellectual culture will be injurious; for young people not accustomed to respect God, will be unable to bear the restraint of a virtuous life, and never having learned to deny themselves anything, they will easily be incited to disturb the public order." Since God was expelled from public schools in the early 1960's by the U.S. Supreme Court, discipline, order and safety has suffered considerably; even in the rural areas of America.

President John Adams said that the Constitution was made for a religious people. The sacrifices and the discipline required to sustain liberty and progress are only intelligible under patronage of Christianity. But in order for Christian principles to have a place in the public square, they must- they must -find a home in our nation’s schools. This will not happen as long as the State has a monopoly on education. There is no other way: The U.S. Department of Education has to go! Education has to be returned to the local communities and to the private sector! The Republic depends on it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Strongest Political Instrument II


Although most parents have not consciously surrendered their authority and rights over their children to the State, the Federal government, nevertheless, operates as though they did. This posture that public education has assumed towards the family has left a deep impression upon the psyche of Americans. And with this, we are led to Belloc's second point.

In Survivals and New Arrivals, Hilaire Belloc made a valuable contribution to the discussion of public education that few people consider today. He said, "For the most part what is not emphasized is not believed to exist. Often, from its unfamiliarity, that which is a stranger to education in childhood, is thought incredible [lacking credibility] by the grown man." It is not just the raw content we are concerned with in public education but also the order and emphasis to which certain topics are given. It is the latter which significantly shapes how we perceive the world.

Belloc elaborates further: "Truth lies in proportion. It is proportion which differentiates a caress from a blow, a sneer from a smile. It is the sequence and the relative weight of doctrines, not the bald statement, that makes the contrast between what damns and what saves. Let a child experience through the working day and through most days of the year that this or that is emphasized in its teaching, and what is so emphasized becomes, for it, and for all its life, the essential."

One could argue that as recent as 30-40 years ago public schools gave a high priority to the fundamentals of learning such as reading, writing and arithmetic. Today, however, such a claim lacks credibility. Poor academic performance and high rate of high school dropouts certainly does not plague all public schools, but it is widespread enough to be a cause for alarm. In any case, what has replaced the basics of learning as a matter of the highest importance in public education is a curriculum marked by political correctness; not only by a political correct approach in a social sense, but one that is highly politicized. To be sure, high school and even elementary school students are more likely to be taught about gay rights, the proper use of contraception, environmentalism, anti-colonialist propaganda, and the evils of capitalism than they are about Christianity, the Constitution, the Free Market and Democracy. To add insult to injury, deference to Islam is now being promoted even as discrimination against Christianity continues unabated in many schools.

Even if the content of the lesson plans and books were silent or neutral about the founding principles of this nation, the mere emphasis and weight given to topics like big government, environmentalism and gay rights etc., has a profound effect on how children see the world. As Belloc said, what is not emphasized in their childhood education will lack credibility in their adulthood. And what is not being emphasized in today's public schools are those principles which lend themselves to a free society. Instead of fostering self-governance or teaching about the principle of subsidiary or the need to look to God for the solution to life's problems, State-run education tends to advance the idea that the answer to any crisis is to be found in politics.

Invariably, what is held out as the ideal model for problem-solving is Socialism. Administrators and educators may not call it “Socialism,” but the overall worldview being advanced is one which says that government intervention is the the way to go; indeed, State regulations and oversight should be the check and balance against all injustices and inequalities. From this, an entitlement mentality is fostered in the mind of the student. He or she is more likely expect more from others, especially the government, and give less of themselves in their quest to solve problems.

Etienne Gilson, a Catholic philosopher, once said that the purpose of State-run education, its ultimate objective whether it is consciously deliberate or not, is the State itself. The vacuum that Christianity has left behind is a vast one. And in our day, an all-powerful State is in the process of filling that void. If God is not all things to all people, the State will be! But as Pope Benedict XVI said, when politicians seek to do the work of God, it becomes diabolical.

This takes us to Belloc’s third point: How Compulsory Universal Education contradicts important aspects of the Catholic Church's mission…on the next blog.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Strongest Political Instrument


State-run education is the "strongest political instrument of our time." During the twentieth century it has demonstrated that it has the power to make culture into its own image. Without exaggeration, education in America has evolved into an powerful machine; one that is based on a socialistic model. Is it any wonder that more and more politicians and media types have come clean and are now unapologetically in favor of Socialism?

As to the socialistic model of public education, for the most part, competition between schools does not exist. Most parents have no choice but to send their children to the nearest public school. State funds inevitably leads to State standards and no one elses. And the exclusion of choices and ideas is but a natural outcome of its governmental standards.

For instance, public education, since the early 1960's, has grown hostile towards Christianity, towards constitutional principles, and towards the family itself.
Yet relatively few people give it the attention that it deserves.

Admittedly, politics and the ballot box is where all the action is. And for that reason, much our energy is invested in congressional, gubernatorial and presidential elections. However, political victories which lend themselves to the restoration of America, when they come, are short lived so long as the State has a monopoly on education.

In 1929 Hilaire Belloc wrote a book entitled Survivals and New Arrivals. Belloc provides an analysis on Catholicism and the emerging threats to Western Civilization. One of those threats is what he called "Compulsory Universal Instruction." To Americans, it is better known as public or State-run education. In any case, he briefly outlines why this kind of education undermines the family, democracy and the Christian religion. "The inevitable conflict," said Belloc, "between the Catholic and the non-Catholic conceptions of human nature, life and destiny, cannot but make the elementary school their battlefield."

There are three decisive points which Belloc brings to our attention. Each one illustrates why Christians and Conservatives alike should provoke a national debate on the lethal effects a State-run education has on a free society.

First, Belloc wrote that, "The State is secondary to the family, and especially in the matter of forming a child's character by education. Now here the State of today flatly contradicts Catholic doctrine. It says to the parent, 'What you will for your child must yield to what I will. If our wills are coincident, well and good. If not, yours must suffer. I am master.' At least, so the State speaks to the poorer parent; to the richer it is more polite." Now, this is perfectly consistent with the Second Vatican Council's document,Declaration On Christian Education, which says, "Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators."

Belloc's prophetic statement that the public school system sees itself as "master" is no exaggeration. Public educators in the twenty-first century, especially when dealing with sensitive subjects like sex-ed, have expressed a superiority complex. Indeed, throughout the country, they have shown a disregard for the preferences of parents and have put them in uncomfortable situations by having their children opt out of certain sex-ed programs. Moreover, even though parents pay their fair share into the public school system, they have very few choices when their local elementary or high school fails their children academically.

According to the Catholic Church, as stated above, the State is the servant of the family. Fathers and Mothers, not public school teachers and administrators, are the primary educators of their children. In addition, the authority they have over their own children in terms of education is second only to God. However, the State as it exists today- in practice and in theory -no longer sees itself as the guarantor of parental authority, but rather its rival. This general philosophy is not only problematic in terms of parental choice and rights, but it has insidiously shaped the way children see the world. The elementary school children today will be the policy makers of tomorrow. The question is: Do we expect them to have any appreciation of the natural law? One such law is that the family precedes the State and for that reason "the State is secondary to the family." This is a fundamental pillar to Western Civilization. Without it, it ceases to be free and prosperpous.

Two other points Belloc proposed for our consideration in the next blog.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Airport Screening: A New Low for Civil Liberties


An excuse that an all-powerful State uses to encroach upon the rights of its citizens is that of security. After all, it is the primary reason why the State exists to begin with. The big news this week is that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has implemented new and intrusive screening measures for airline passengers in light of terrorist threats. Frisking to the point of touching private body parts, and using scanners which reveal every last detail of the human anatomy, are the recent “security” measures being employed by TSA agents at airports. For many people, being subject to such treatment was a humiliating and dehumanizing experience.

Pope Leo XIII wrote in the late nineteenth century that if the State is not guided by divine and natural law, then there will be no boundary definitive or sacred enough to prevent it from transgressing human rights. In the previous decade- but especially in these last two years -a good percentage of the private sector has been absorbed into the Federal Government. What is even more disturbing, however, is that the most personal and sacred possession we have- namely, our bodies -is subject to violation in public.

We’ve come a long way since the 1960’s. After several decades of Secular-liberalism being dominant in our public institutions, a low standard of morality among the people was sure to follow. With a decline in morality came an influx of crime on the domestic front and the heightened threat of terrorism internationally. With such uncertain conditions, a general feeling of insecurity became a new reality for Americans.

In the book of Wisdom it says, “A distressed conscience always magnifies misfortunes.” (Wisdom 17:11) When our treasure in heaven- the hope of immortality -is exchanged for the pleasures of the flesh and the goods of this world, then the frailty of life is more deeply felt. The worry over losing our possessions and coveted experiences turns into a quest for security. And if trust in Divine Providence is wanting, then the State is more than happy to fill the spiritual void. It does so by creating the illusion of security the unbeliever or the sub-religious seeks.

In his book, Democracy in America, Tocqueville warned that the side effects or drawbacks of freedom are immediately felt but its long term benefits are not. With the free market, for instance, corporations do fail and the economy does occasionally contract. However, over the long run a free market economy rebounds and grows more than a centrally planned economy ever would. The same can be applied in civic and social affairs. On the flipside, the security proffered by the State has the opposite effect of freedom. Its benefits are immediately felt but its evils or drawbacks only become apparent in the long term.

In short, the blessings of freedom require patience and the ability to see beyond the immediate future; especially when freedom is misused. The security advertised by an all-powerful State is seductive. Keeping it at bay requires discipline, self-governance and foresight among its citizens. Keep in mind, it is the weakness of our fallen human nature to barter for security at the expense of liberty.

This is where the Christian religion comes in. Tocqueville went on to say that the value of Christianity is that it provides diametrically opposed principles to those human tendencies i.e. anxiety, the fear of death and false security, which lead to the slavery of sin and consequently to the servility of the State. In the doxology at Mass, we pray: “Protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” We rarely consider that our faith in Christ, even as it is expressed in the Divine Liturgy, has civic and political ramifications. Indeed, it is the guarantor of human rights and liberty itself.

A return to Christian principles is the most effective remedy against the invasion of privacy by the government, such as the TSA has demonstrated, and the absorption of the private sector into the public sector. Political and economic policies, by themselves, are insufficient because they are but the expression of what already exists inside the human spirit. As Fulton Sheen said, if the soul is not saved, nothing is saved!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Preface to Democracy in America


The following is a re-posted blog for the new visitors who may have missed it:

The fear of neighbor always precedes the fear of government. When the morality of a people breaks down, they no longer trust their neighbor. Increased frequency of crime rates, dishonesty, and exploitation naturally causes distrust of both stranger and neighbor. However, when we no longer trust even our neighbor, we look to the government to protect us from the neighbor we no longer trust.

Take for instance the last six decades: As late as the 1940’s, hitchhiking was considered a safe practice; as late as the 1950’s, the front or the back door to our homes remained unlocked at night; as late as the 1960’s, we were free to walk downtown Chicago, New York City or Los Angeles without fearing for our lives; as late as the 1970’s, parents could leave their children in their cars (with the windows rolled down) while they went shopping; as late as the 1980’s, seals for medication bottles were unnecessary; and as late as the 1990’s, school shootings were unheard of. In this decade, our children’s "playground" is much smaller than what ours were growing up just a few decades ago. We had the whole neighborhood, they have the front or the backyard; usually under the condition that one of the parents is on the lookout.

Slowly but surely, over these last six decades, we have lost our social freedoms without even knowing it. But there is one thing that more and more Americans do know: our civil liberties are becoming increasingly frail...courtesy of our growing and aggressive Federal Government. The immorality we fear in others was only a prelude to the oppression we now fear in our government.

Democracy and liberty is a strict discipline. It unravels when morality is relaxed. Individual morality, enduring marriages and intact families are the foundations on which democracy and liberty rest. But there is another principle which underscores everything, and that is religion. Indeed, liberty, morality and religion hang together. No one made this point better than Tocqueville.


Over one hundred and seventy five years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a book called Democracy in America. He visited America in 1831-32 to study America’s penitential system, institutions and its form of government. His observations of American Democracy and its future trends were right on the money! Although he personally visited and studied America in the nineteenth-century, he, nevertheless, wrote about what would eventually be twenty-first century America. His foresights were that uncanny!

Tocqueville was no prophet. However, he was well versed in history; specializing in the French Revolution. Being a native of France, he knew firsthand how freedom could be lost. And as a Catholic, he understood that religious liberty could be denied by the State in short order. Such was the case when the French Revolution broke out in 1789.

In Democracy in America there are three insightful observations of his worth noting. How relevant they are today! To be sure, every American should know them. Our freedom just may depend on it.
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To read Democracy in America: Without Religion? and Democracy in America: Soft Despotism click on the April archives in the right hand column.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Literacy on the Most Important Matters III


I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," said the Spirit, "let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them." (Revelation 14:13)
_______________________________

To have a “daily familiarity with death” and to “take on the likeness of death” sounds academic and downright foolish if it is not a living reality. For a grieving father who had just lost his son to cancer, all the theological talk about death and heaven can be a poor substitution for real consolation. Even the greatest of Saints, such as St. Augustine when his mother died and St. Jean Chantal when she lost her daughter, were knocked off of their feet by the death of their loved ones. In his Confessions, St. Augustine wrote he was surprised at the profound depth of his grief over his mother's death. And as for St. Jean Chantal, she cried copious tears when her daughter died.

With that said the cause of their mourning was put in the context of eternity. The hope of seeing them was revived by their faith, spirituality and daily participation in the Liturgy. Their meditation on death as the vestibule of eternal life; acts of self-denial such as fasting; choosing to love God's will whether circumstances were agreeable or disagreeable; and offering simple sacrifices such as bearing criticism and humiliation in silence; all of these practices were what St. Ambrose referred to as being "daily familiar with death." As one priest wrote, "Life is born of death and that in God's hands suffering is the chosen instrument of resurrection." Scripture and the prayers of the Mass go to great lengths to remind us of this truth.

In the Sanctus, just prior to the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar, Catholics proclaim to God that “Heaven and earth are full of your glory!” The good things on this earth- and even our dear loved ones –are but the foretaste of better things to come. Whether it be time well spent with family or seeing a beautiful sunset, these things serve as windows to heaven through the eyes of faith. And the human spirit is never completely satisfied with the good things of this earth nor does it feel at home until it rests in God's beatitude.

St. Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini captured this inspiration when she was on route from Genoa, Italy, to New York in 1894. One day when the weather was pleasant and the ocean calm, she wrote how this scenic moment from the deck of the ship reminded her of heaven:

There is a charming blue sky above and below us one can hardly distinguish the sea from the sky…the glorious splendor renders everything so bright and brilliant that the passengers exclaim, "How lovely, how beautiful!" We seem to see the portals of the heaven which do not close at the end of the day, because there day time never ends, for the day up there is eternal and the light which emanates from the Divine Face never fails.

There, in that abode, exist no night, no ignorance, no blindness, for everything is seen in God; there, no sorrows exist, no tears, no adversity, no sighs… Friends reach there at every moment, every instant; they do not disturb, but, rather, render the repose serene and sweet. Oh, sublime City, send down your beams of Light to these regions of darkness, this shadow of death where we still miserably live. Come, Oh Supernatural Light, to reveal to us the beauties of that Blessed Country, and detach us from the miseries of this earth; make our eyes so pure that, through the shining crystal of Faith, they may behold the eternal good which awaits us after a short time of sacrifice and self-conquering. He who fights will be victorious, and to the victor the prize is Heaven.


With such words, this depiction of heaven seems worth fighting for and better yet, worth living for. But the difficulties of life, especially losing a loved one through death, reminds us that we are in the "regions of darkness." In the Salve Regina we petition the Mother of God, “To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” As we suffer and as we mourn, this truth is most deeply impressed upon our souls. In the absence of people we love and even in the absence of the things we grow attached to, we are left with a void only God can fill. For those who love Christ and long to see Him face to face, that void will be filled; but only in heaven. In the meantime, we would do well to think, to talk and to write about heaven.

Like the early Christians, we can be literate on the most important matters of life. We too can be a people of hope and thus give that hope to those who struggle to find it. It is my prayer that Dan's father will be filled with that hope...the hope of immortality...the hope of seeing his son again; and even more so, the hope of seeing Jesus face to face!

Literacy on the Most Important Matters II


“Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.”

-Hebrews 2:14-15
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After my conversation with the coach over the loss of his son, a second thought came to me: Given the duration and permanence of heaven (or hell), a Catholic would expect to hear more about it in conversation, in teachings or in sermons. After all, if we intend to spend eternity there, we should give it some thought. But in order to know something about heaven- and in order to talk about it -we first have to think about heaven. Eternal happiness, according to the Saints, should occupy our thoughts throughout the week and be the content of our meditations. If heaven is given equal consideration to any future event we normally plan for- such as a vacation, a career or a wedding –then it is something that can be eagerly anticipated. When life is understood in light of eternity then death itself ceases to be perceived as the end of all that is good.

Perhaps, this is the reason why heaven- as well as hell -is rarely addressed even among Christians: And the reason is that the only way to get to heaven is to first pass through the Gates of Death. Naturally, we wince from death as if it is some alien intruder taking away something that can never be retrieved again. As such, death is regarded as something completely foreign to us; an enemy, if you will. But the fear of death leads to a kind of slavery (Hebrew 2:15); or at least a handicap which inspires a very conservative approach to life. If this life is all that counts, then we tend to hoard earthly goods for fear of losing them forever. We take fewer risks and we even love less because of those risks. Every day that passes is one day closer to the end. And for that reason we are constantly in a hurry to accumulate as many experiences we can. Youth is esteemed as our best days. Wisdom and nobility that used to come with old age is overlooked and under appreciated. Indeed, the ultimate insult is to call a person “old.” All this because death marks the end to all that is worthwhile in life! But grace bids us to think otherwise.

St. Ambrose, a Father and Doctor of the Church, said that “We should have a daily familiarity with death, a daily desire for death. By this kind of detachment our soul must learn to free itself from the desires of the body. It must soar above earthly lusts to a place where they cannot come near, to hold it fast. It must take on the likeness of death, to avoid the punishment of death.” Ambrose continues: “It was by the death of one man that the world was redeemed. Christ did not need to die if he did not want to, but he did not look on death as something to be despised, something to be avoided, and he could have found no better means to save us than by dying. Thus his death is life for all.”

Words which seemed so familiar and dear to the early Christians, are, quite frankly, strange and outlandish to twenty-first century Christians. But do they need to be if death is portrayed as a vestibule to heaven?

Concluding remarks on the next blog-

Literacy on the Most Important Matters


Just a few weeks ago I accompanied my eighth grade daughter to one of her last volleyball games of the season. Her team wanted to celebrate the end of a good season by taking the volleyball coach out to pizza just prior to the game. After dinner was over, they presented him gifts of appreciation for all the good work he had done. As he was thanking the girls, his eyes became teary-eyed. He said that it had been exactly ten months since his son, Dan, had died of cancer. Dan was either 19 or 20 years old at the time of his death. Among the gifts that were given to him was a little bit of money. The coach expressed his intention to invest the money into a foundation, the purpose of which is to give care and treatment to adolescents who suffer from cancer.

What to say? After taking it all in I noticed he was sitting by himself while the girls were chatting amongst themselves. I sat down next him and told him that I heard many good things about his son and that someday I was hoping that he could sit down and tell me all about him. To my surprise, the coach who had just collected himself from an emotional speech, began to recount his son’s death. Coach went on to tell me that Dan was flown to the Philippines for treatment in late 2009. In order to make a long story short, as a last ditch effort to stop the growth of Dan's cancer, his extremities were amputated…but to no avail. It was a real heartbreaker. Towards the end of our discussion, he mentioned that Dan had a tear in his eye just before his passing. The grieving father seemed to think that it was a tear of joy. Perhaps, Dan saw heaven closing in on him.

Interestingly, the coach concluded our conversation by saying that he wished that “God would hit him over the head” to convince him that Dan, his son, was in a better place. It just so happen later that evening I sat next to a lady at the volleyball game who knew Dan very well. Dan happened to be friends with her daughter. During the few months of his cancer treatments, Dan would come over to her house quite a bit to visit. According to her, Dan never complained. Indeed, he was a good Catholic boy who was quite accepting of his condition. Needless to say, my talking companion on the gym bleachers thought that Dan was in heaven. I do agree that people now days are too quick and presumptuous to canonize their deceased loved ones; but it would seem, from all accounts, that Dan died as a friend of God.

As I was driving home I got to thinking: What do you tell a grieving father who had just lost his son to cancer? What could possibly put a father's loss in context? In hindsight, I wish I was more literate on the subject matter of heaven. I understand there is only so much you can say. But the thought occurred to me that the hope of seeing a deceased loved one again in God's presence is something that I, as a Christian, should be able to articulate.

Please read next blog-