BY: George Dunlap, March 11, 2020, We as Catholic Men must sign-on to support, Carrie Gress’s article, with our wives and daughters in this re-birth of our Christian obligation to family and faith. Let us all join in on the rebirth of our family in Christ.
Five decades ago, radical feminist Kate Millett and her eleven friends in New York City recited a type of litany, a feminist manifesto of sorts, that has proven to be remarkably effective:
“Why are we here today?” the chairwoman asked.
“To make revolution,” they answered.
“What kind of revolution?”
“The Cultural Revolution.”
“And how do we make Cultural Revolution?”
“By destroying the American family!”
“How do we destroy the family?”
“By destroying the American Patriarch.”
“And how do we destroy the American Patriarch?”
“By taking away his power!”
“How do we do that?”
“By destroying monogamy!”
“How can we destroy monogamy?”
“By promoting promiscuity, eroticism, prostitution, abortion, and homosexuality!”
I’ve always been struck by the last line. Did those 12 women ever dream that their tiny effort would be so wildly successful? We witness their success daily, from half-time shows to celebrities insisting their careers and awards are more important than their children, from royal tantrums even to the tragic gender confusion foisted upon children.
I find Fr. Scalia’s writings to be very current and to the point. My failure is, that I do not live my faith in public, but in private…in hiding. I must show the world my faith with humility and passion. I pray I do not live my life like “the rulers”…waiting for a leader, riding in on a warhorse…imposing his Kingdom over the sinners.
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. These words of Saint Dismas, the Good Thief, saved in his last hours on a cross, resound as a perfect acknowledgment of Christ as King. Their power becomes more evident when contrasted with the words of others at that moment. At Calvary, there are three other reactions to the Crucified One. They come from Dismas’s opposites and reveal the attitudes that always oppose Christ the King.
First, the rulers. [They] sneered at Jesus and said,“He saved others, let him save himselfif he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” These are not pagans or unbelievers but Israel’s own religious leaders. These are the men who awaited their King, anticipated His coming, and desired His rule. But, as comes to be clear, they did so on their own terms. Jesus of Nazareth did not meet their requirements for kingship. He comes not on a warhorse to impose a kingdom, but humble, and mounted on an ass. (Mt 21:5) He comes not to judge but to seek and to save what was lost (Lk 19:10), to call not the righteous but sinners. (cf. Lk 5:32)
Second, the Roman soldiers. [They] jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” The great genius of the Romans was that they tolerated the religion of their subjects. Of course, that tolerance was cynical and lasted only as long as the people kept the gods in the proper place and their religion to themselves. Faith was tolerable only when kept private or confined to certain areas and spheres of life. It became intolerable when it made public claims. For Him to be executed, Jesus had to be presented as a political threat to Roman rule. Religion must be kept in its place.
Third, the bad thief: [O]ne of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” You would think that he would remain silent, if only to hedge his bets against impending judgment. But he is unrepentant. In the midst of his suffering, he lashes out at God rather than acknowledge his sins and ask forgiveness. Even in his agony, he prefers his own will to that of Christ the King.
These reactions do not remain solely in the past. We see them throughout history – in every rejection of revelation, persecution of the faithful, and refusal to repent. More to the point, they continue in us. Each rejection of Christ the King can be found, at one time or another, within us. * We at times resemble Israel’s religious leaders: we want God, but on our own terms. We long for His coming and cry out for His help. . . but then resent His intrusion and the challenges He presents. We want a king, to be sure. In fact, we know exactly how he should behave.
By: George Dunlap, August 26, 2019, The only power we as Christians have over evil is the Power of Truth from God, and that truth comes from rigorous study. Ignorance is not bless. The Aquinas 101 program is another great resource for our continuing search for truth and God’s Blessings.
It Matters What You Think By Robert Royal Monday, August 26, 2019
I wrote here recently about the Thomistic Institutes, an initiative of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington D.C., which organizes lectures and conferences by first-rate, orthodox Catholics at nearly fifty (and growing) of the most prestigious colleges and universities in America. And expansion to parts foreign is on the way. Many readers wrote to express their appreciation of this much-needed network – but also to ask: What to do if nothing of that sort is available nearby? There’s now an answer. Today, August 26, Aquinas 101 – a website created by the same Dominicans – goes live (click here, and prepare yourself for a bracing experience). The series will eventually consist of eighty-six brief lessons, carefully geared for study by anyone of normal capabilities and interest. Did I mention that the course is open to everyone – and free? This is an accessible, well-crafted introduction to the greatest of all Dominican thinkers, St. Thomas Aquinas, which will not only put you in touch with the man who has most shaped Catholic thought for centuries, but will help you see how that body of thought has great relevance to some of the most neuralgic questions we face. For example, a lot of people today, even Christians, even Catholics, have fallen into some basic confusions about the nature of Faith and Reason. As an early lecture in the series explains, this leads – on the one hand – to skepticism (we can’t really know anything about God), but also – on the other hand – to what has been termed “fideism,” that we just believe without knowing what we believe in. Both are natural reactions in a post-truth age, but a searching Catholic will not want to let his or her thinking remain stuck in our current social funk. There are better and “truer” ideas about truth, so to speak, that Aquinas and others provide us. You’ve probably seen the recent survey that shows how few people, even among practicing Catholics, believe in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. Many regard it as a mere “symbol.” Ultimately, the Eucharist is a deep mystery, but holy and gifted men like Aquinas have used the various tools of the tradition and of human reason to offer serious, rational approaches to what ultimately transcends us – and all Creation. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest, recently commented on the survey that he didn’t believe in the terms like substance, accident, matter, and form that Aquinas uses to explain the Eucharist because modern science has discredited them. In fact, science has not done so and cannot do so because the way the Scholastic thinkers use those terms is philosophical. It does not and cannot conflict with science – ancient, modern, postmodern, or anything to come, ever. But you would have to have studied what those terms mean and how Faith and Reason are related to know why.
“How can we make our school more Catholic?” This is a real question schools ask, some with perplexity. Is it a new curriculum? Better religion classes? Having the kids come to Mass? The answer is vital for the future of Catholic education. The sociologist Christian Smith notes, from his extensive research on the life of young Catholics, that “we cannot report that Catholic schooling and youth group participation have robust effects on emerging adult faith and practice.”
It is obvious to just about everyone that Catholic education currently is sliding into free-fall. As Smith further reports: “Between 1964 and 1984, 40 percent of American Catholic high schools and 27 percent of Catholic elementary schools closed their doors” and the rate has not decreased. Those that remained open “proved less well grounded in the Catholic faith and therefore less capable of passing on a robust Catholicism to their students.” This reality should lead to some serious soul searching among Catholic educators and clergy. We need to do things differently!
We tend to think of the “Catholic” in Catholic schools like sprinkles that are added on top of an ice cream cone. What makes a school Catholic is religion class and an occasional Mass, but otherwise a school is just a school. Our teachers and administrators have been formed in a secular model and don’t always know how to approach Catholic education as a distinct method of formation. There is not a bureaucratic solution from a committee or focus group that can save a school. Instead, we need a spiritual and intellectual renewal.
The Catholic faith must be the heart and soul of the school, not an add on. A few accidental elements, however important they may be, are not enough to make a school Catholic. Catholicism should permeate everything the school does, not in an exterior and artificial way, but by naturally shaping the approach to education and formation. There are two general ways of conceiving this. First, the school should form a distinctively Catholic environment or culture. Second, the curriculum must flow from and lead to a Catholic worldview.
On the first point, Pope Benedict XVI made clear that “Catholic schools should therefore seek to foster that unity between faith, culture and life which is the fundamental goal of Christian education” (“Address to the Participants in the Convention of the Diocese of Rome,” June 11, 2007). Note, the goal of education is not employment or practical skills. It is to unite one’s faith and life, to provide integration that should last into adulthood. We could say that Catholic education should teach us how to be a Christian in the world, or to go even deeper, how to be a saint.
Secondly, faith should shape the curriculum, not by artificially trying to make the content Catholic, but by uniting all subjects within a Catholic world view. One great example of this can be found in Stratford Caldecott’s Beauty for Truth’s Sake, in which he shows that the logical and mathematical structure of the world flows from the Logos, God’s own truth through which he created the world. He shows how numbers and music reflect this order. Another example can be found in Simon Weil’s relation of mathematics to prayer, which shows how studies affect the soul in a way that flows into the spiritual life.
Here are some practical points of what must be done to make a school more Catholic. Most of them are actually quite simple.
First, just as the Eucharist is the source and summit of the faith, so it must be the heart of the school. The culture of the school should form around the rhythm of the liturgy. At a minimum the school should have Mass weekly, but daily Mass more than anything else would make the Eucharist a priority in our Catholic formation. Eucharistic adoration should also occur on a weekly basis, teaching the kids how to adore and honor Jesus in the Eucharist.
The next most important element consists in the witness of teachers and administrators. They embody the faith in their example and way of teaching and leading. Pope Benedict taught that teachers “must also be ready to lead the commitment made by the entire school community to assist our young people, and their families, to experience the harmony between faith, life, and culture” (“Address to Catholic College Presidents,” April 17, 2008). Hiring must include mission fit and dedication to forming children in the faith. Formation for current teachers is essential to help them grow in their relationship with God and knowledge of the Catholic tradition.
In addition to teachers, we need the witness of clergy and religious as an active presence in the school. Their role will make clear that the school exists as part of the Church’s mission of evangelization. Their presence also will plant seeds for vocations. How will children discover a vocation with a model to guide them? Two dioceses with the highest rate of vocations have all of their high school religion courses taught by priests.
Even secular people expect that a faith-based school will provide strong human formation. If our graduates are not more virtuous and mature than students graduating from the public schools, we have fundamentally failed. Without this formation, how else will our students navigate the challenges of our culture, let alone exercise leadership? Students also need to experience Jesus in a living way, not only in prayer, but also by encountering the poor. Human formation and service should make the teaching of the faith concrete. If it is just words in a book, it will be quickly discarded, as happens more often than not.
Continuing this point, another crucial way of making the faith come alive entails teaching our students how to pray. Prayer is where we meet God most directly. Pope Benedict made this point very clearly at the beginning of Deus Caritas Est: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Do our students encounter Christ or do they just pass a test on doctrine? We have to teach them to pray, especially through lectio divina, where they learn to enter into a conversation with God, listening to his voice in Scripture and responding to him.
Catholic education is part of a long tradition. One of the first Christian schools opened in the second century, the Catechetical School of Alexandria, with teachers such as Clement and Origen, taught not only the faith, but also philosophy and mathematics. After the fall of Rome, Boethius and Cassiadorus advocated for Christian, classical education, writing textbooks on the trivium and quadrivium. The Church also founded the first universities. Catholics have access to an overwhelming educational, artistic, literary, and cultural legacy. But, graduates of Catholics schools generally don’t encounter this tradition much and if they do it will be remote and abstract. As Christopher Dawson argues in The Crisis of Western Education, we have to immerse our students in the living legacy of Christian culture so they can be formed by it, live it, and pass it on to the next generation.
Education is largely a matter of language, which we use to communicate and express ideas (this is true even outside the liberal arts). Latin is the Church’s language and learning it opens a doorway to Catholic history, tradition, and liturgy. It helps to impart a distinct identity, including being able to pray in common with other Catholics throughout the world. Practically speaking, it sheds light on the English language as at least thirty percent of its vocabulary comes from Latin and another thirty from French (which itself originates in Latin). Also, Latin helps us to grasp the basics of grammar more easily than through English (probably because of English’s much simpler grammar).
The arts provide immersion into the Catholic tradition. The Church has an unrivaled literary, musical, and artistic tradition. As we emphasize the technical elements of education, it is important to remember that deep thinking and expression are something that computers will never master. The liberal arts will be more relevant than ever with the rise of robotics! Literature helps situate students within the story of the Catholicism and to explore moral and spiritual themes in an embodied way. Building on Latin, Gregorian Chant provides a simple and beautiful way to help form a contemplative mind and it also laid the foundation for the development of classical music. The visual arts are essential for cultivating an imagination informed by the faith. Students should be familiar with the great, Catholic artists and their works.
Immersion in the beauty of the tradition should overflow into school Masses. School Masses are not known for their reverence or beauty, especially in music. If students learn to be prayerful in school, this should express itself primarily at Mass, as the children will know how to enter into its mysteries to meet God there. The homily should confidently lead the children into the mystery of the liturgy and its readings, reserving a conversation and Q&As for their increased presence in the classroom.
Finally, the school should look Catholic. The environment should be enriched by Catholic symbols and the beauty of Catholic art. Archbishop Michael Miller, in The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools, expresses this point well:
If Catholic schools are to be true to their identity, they should try to suffuse their environment with this delight in the sacramental. Therefore they should express physically and visibly the external signs of Catholic culture through images, signs, symbols, icons and other objects of traditional devotion. A chapel, classroom crucifixes and statues, signage, celebrations and other sacramental reminders of Catholic ecclesial life, including good art which is not explicitly religious in its subject matter, should be evident.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Catholic schools must be more Catholic or they will not be differentiated enough from public schools to survive. As we witness an enormous crisis of public education, we should reflect on how we have followed these schools in their methods to our own demise. The Church has its own legacy of education, which has been marginalized in the last fifty years, but which must be revitalized. If we truly embrace our faith in our own schools, in forming a Catholic culture and worldview, we can save our schools and begin to shape the culture more broadly through the lives of our graduates. By saving the soul of our schools, we’ll help save our own souls!
Editor’s note: Pictured above are four of the seven liberal arts painted by Francesco Pesellino.
R. Jared Staudt works in the Office of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries of the Archdiocese of Denver. He earned his BA and MA in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN and his PhD in Systematic Theology from Ave Maria University in Florida. Staudt served previously as a director of religious education in two parishes, taught at the Augustine Institute and the University of Mary, and served as co-editor of the theological journal Nova et Vetera. He and his wife Anne have six children and he is a Benedictine oblate.
Lenin – who gave the world the socialist murder machine formerly known as the Soviet Union – loved music when he was in exile. Once he returned to Russia, to spark the Bolshevik Revolution, he said he couldn’t much listen to music anymore: “It affects your nerves, makes you want to say stupid nice things and stroke the heads of people who could create such beauty while living in this vile hell.”
There was, is, and always will be a kind of radical Lover of Mankind who will sacrifice saying “stupid nice things” and even actual living people to some harebrained scheme that makes our fallen world still more vile. But there’s a lesson here, even for us in well-off, tolerant-to-a-fault societies, who may be tempted to think that our whole lives should be consumed by cultural, political, or spiritual wars.
People in a position like mine may be especially susceptible to this temptation, which is why active measures, in a different key, are necessary. I myself try to play the piano at least a half-hour every morning because it reminds me – if not necessarily people in the house who have to listen – that God’s Creation is a harmony, a discordant harmony to be sure, but a definite concord of creatures, not perpetual warfare.
Many people send me books, good books, about our current turmoil. I appreciate these, but as someone always engaged in heavy reading for several book-writing projects of my own, often can’t get to them or even acknowledge the favor. But a generous TCT supporter gave me a book at dinner this week that has captured my attention: Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers by Patrick Cavanaugh, a conductor who is also director of the Christian Performing Arts Fellowship.
It’s a succinct and clear account of the religious beliefs of twenty well-known classical composers, from Bach to Messiaen – and many greats in between, a wonderful record of how close music and spirit have been, until very recently, in Western culture.
The great Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, had no difficulty in seeing God and music intertwined. As he once said, “Music’s only purpose should be for the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.” A humble, if prodigious, musical worker (he famously walked 200 miles to hear then-celebrated organist Dieterich Buxtehude), he regularly put J.J. (Jesus Juva– “Jesus help”) on the page before composing.
There were similar examples in the same period. A servant stumbled in on Georg Friedrich Handel just as he finished writing the Hallelujah Chorus for the Messiah, and found him in tears: “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.” (Incredibly, if you discount divine inspiration, Handel had produced the 260-page score of this evangelization in sound in just twenty-four days.)
These musicians were quite at peace and confident in their Christian faith. Kavanaugh doesn’t much write about the times in which they lived. But it’s significant that they could attribute their works to God’s gifts, despite the fact that their lives overlapped with several of the major anti-Christian figures of the Enlightenment such as Diderot, Hume, and Voltaire. You won’t read that in most mainstream accounts of our roots in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.
Bach and Handel were, of course, Protestants, but it’s striking and little known how many of the greatest classical composers have been Catholic (in varying degrees) over the centuries: Haydn (the most steady and orthodox of them all), but also Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt, Chopin, Bruckner, Gounod, Dvorak, Elgar, Messiaen. (Stravinsky, perhaps the greatest 20th-century composer – was Russian Orthodox – but wrote a Mass and other sacred music.) Despite their differences, they were virtually all united in believing that inspiration came from and returned praise to the Creator Himself.
The great modern Catholic poet Paul Claudel was fond of the phrase Noli impedire musicam (“Don’t impede the music”), a rather loose translation of Sirach 32:5 about not gabbing during a feast when there’s music playing. He suggested it had a larger meaning: that we often mar the natural music in the world with our self-important preoccupations.
There’s much talk these days about that mysterious phrase from Dostoyevsky, “Beauty will save the world.” St. John Paul II and Alexander Solzhenitsyn have given us some valuable reflections on that theme. And there’s this from Benedict XVI:
The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes, so that later, from this experience, we take the criteria for judgement and can correctly evaluate the arguments. For me an unforgettable experience was the Bach concert that Leonard Bernstein conducted in Munich after the sudden death of Karl Richter. I was sitting next to the Lutheran Bishop Hanselmann. When the last note of one of the great Thomas-Kantor-Cantatas triumphantly faded away, we looked at each other spontaneously and right then we said: “Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true.”
I’m not entirely convinced. Bernstein and many modern musicians seem to make the music itself into an idol, and doubt the God behind the music in whom so many of the great composers believed.
But Benedict is certainly right about how important is the “wound” that beauty inflicts on the heart – and the importance of such wounds in opening us up to realities that our arguments and logic often deal with poorly or even overlook.
Whenever I write about subjects like this, usually in the summer or other times we can breathe a little more deeply and look to larger realms, someone inevitably writes to say that I should give up aery-faery things, because what we really need is a militant political party. True, of course, to a point. We also need a Church Militant.
But I also remember Lenin – and the value of saying “nice stupid things” – and the dangers of letting the Bolsheviks impede the music and dictate the whole agenda.
*Image:Joseph Haydn playing in and conducting his string quartet by an anonymous 19thcentury artist [Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna]
Do you remember a time, readers, when you could spend a whole day, actually a whole month, occasionally even a year, and not give one passing thought to the issue of sexual perversions?
Do you remember a time when not one liberal in a thousand would have thought it a good idea to have drag queens do story-hour for children in a public library? When people who fell into sexual perversion, or who are alleged to have done so, or who are alleged to have wanted to do so though they did not, or who are alleged to have been the sorts of people who would have wanted to do so if they had known What We Know Now, were not held up for the admiration of children, in their school textbooks?
Do you remember a time when not one liberal in a thousand would have thought that a man who said he was a woman or a woman who said she was a man was in touch with reality and not prey to a destructive fantasy or delusion?
Do you remember a time when liberals, precisely because they were liberals, held men and women up to high standards of sexual decency, and (wrongly) believed that they were capable of maintaining those standards without the ministrations of the Church?
Do you remember a time when it would not have occurred to you in a hundred years that your priest was anything other than an ordinary man, a real man, following the special call of the Lord? A man who in another life, with a different call, would have been married with a passel of children, a pillar of his community?
Do you remember a time when a priest could march alongside miners and auto workers and look like one of them, not like a breathless female reporter in the locker room of a football team? Do you remember when nobody, absolutely nobody, would have considered that a female reporter should even be in that locker room?
Do you remember a time when divorce was a scandal? I do. Do you remember a time when family-owned motels would not let unmarried people book one room instead of two? Do you remember a time when boys and girls actually dated, and when the vast territory between loneliness and going to bed as a married couple had not been strafed and scorched and left with not a single healthy custom standing – a cultural Nagasaki and Hiroshima, from sea to sea?
And now this, about Cardinal McCarrick. The cardinal, choosing his words precisely, says he has no memory of ever having engaged in the sexual abuse of the erstwhile young man who is now accusing him.
About that accusation I have no confident opinion, nor need I have. For when you have a gorilla in the living room, thrashing the furniture, chewing the upholstery, and defecating in plain sight and smell, you do not ask whether it was also the gorilla who smashed the light bulb.
The cardinal has cautiously denied one sin, while not bothering to address the thousand others. For all these years, according to witnesses at last speaking out, he has been vesting in lavender, compromising young men in his charge, including those who he made sure would see his misdeeds though they did not participate in them, and exerting all the subtle pressure of power and prestige to keep those who demurred – who did not enjoy bunking with Uncle Ted – from speaking out.
He has pointedly not said, “I have never had sexual relations with a seminarian or a priest.” It was a perversion of the male protective brotherhood, whose noblest and purest manifestation is the apostolic band.
Unlike those brothers the apostles, who went forth into the world to lay down their lives for Christ and the Church, these bands in our day have used the Church as a cover, and a means of procurement. They have turned the Church inward upon themselves and their essentially narcissistic and childish desires and deeds.
We should not then be surprised that the Church, in their hands, becomes contentedly anti-apostolic and anti-evangelistic. The leaders make common cause with ambitious women against their enemies: ordinary, healthy, self-assured, masculine men and the women who love and esteem them.
The Mass itself is made soft and effeminate – neither masculine nor feminine. I have often noted that every single hymn in vast repertory of Christian hymnody that has anything to do with fighting for Christ, hymns going back all the way to Prudentius and Venantius Fortunatus, has been banished from the hymnals, except for For All the Saints.
That one exception we may attribute to the need to have something or other for All Saints’ Day, and even then, in many hymnals I have seen, the lyrics are made squishy, or the stanzas with the most fight in them are simply dropped. These leaders are simply not interested in taking on the world.
But that is the raison d’être of the brotherhood. Men who are friends, soldiers in the field, do not gaze into each other’s eyes, melting. Your drill sergeant does not call himself Uncle Ted. He does not write lovey letters to you, after he has snuggled you into a compromise. He does not engage in spiritual bribery and blackmail.
Men who stand shoulder to shoulder – you can picture them in your mind’s eye, leaning against a fence or a car or a tank – look out in the same direction, towards the world to conquer. That has been the orientation, the direction to take, of every true leader of men the Church has known, from Peter and Paul to Benedict, from Francis and Dominic to Ignatius, from John Bosco to Jose Maria Escriva.
We have the Lord’s own choice to follow, ordaining men to form that band of brothers. Men, not just anatomical males. They might get something done.
*Image: The Last General Absolution of the Munster Fusiliers at Rue du Bois by Fortunino Matania, 1916. It is assumed that the painting was destroyed during the German blitz of London in WWII. Certainly the original is missing.
Young adults are tough to minister to. We’re on the move, our peers aren’t going to church with us, and we’re most likely to sneak out of the back of the church before someone can hand us a parish registration form.
But we desperately want community — and faith-based ones especially. As we move into new phases in life, we remember fondly the bonds that were formed in our high school youth groups and campus ministry service trips.
One of the things that has surprised me most about starting a new podcast for young Catholics is how many people write in to say that just knowing there are other young Catholics out there on the other end of their headphones is a consolation for them.
The preparatory document for the 2018 world Synod of Bishops on youth instructs the church to “give major importance to young people’s involvement in the structures of participation in diocesan and parish communities, starting with pastoral councils, inviting young people to make their creative contribution and accepting their ideas, even when they appear challenging.”
I think the document has it right. The onus is on parishes to open up spaces for young adults to serve. But so many young adults hold back from engaging in parish life because we’re waiting for the world’s most dynamic young adult group to form before we make any first moves toward committing to a parish or community.
I was nervous when I filled out the information card for ARISE, a new small-group, faith-sharing program held once a week in the home of a parishioner. I had apprehensions about not knowing anyone in the group, about being the youngest person by far, and therefore not having enough life experience to have anything meaningful to contribute.
And as I sat around George and Kathleen’s table for the first meeting, I realized those apprehensions that I had were accurate — but they weren’t at all limitations.
(CNS illustration/Nancy Wiechec)
There are some things that you just can’t get at a Theology on Tap event with other 20-somethings: like being in the presence of two couples, one married for 25 years and the other more than 50, while I began a new relationship; hearing about the faith of parents and single adults; and learning that friendship can be just as much of a challenge later in life but remains fiercely as important.
Young adult Catholics suffer from lacking a community of other young adults, but we fundamentally suffer from a lack of a wider Catholic community. A parish can offer that — even without the hip young adult group.
If you’re nervous about going to a meeting or a program alone — that’s OK. See if you can find just one other person your age who would want to go with you. They could be a fellow parishioner or just someone who you Soul Cycle with and also happens to not think it’s totally crazy that you go to Mass on Sundays.
Now, this isn’t exactly a strategy for some of our peers who haven’t been active in the church for a long time, or ever. New modes of evangelization remain to be developed there.
But for those of us who have had recent experiences being a part of a church community, whether that was your Catholic high school or your college campus ministry center, we can take a courageous first step into welcoming the community that a parish can give us, imperfect as it may be.
Zac Davis is an assistant editor for digital strategy at America magazine, where he co-hosts “Jesuitical,” a podcast for young Catholics. Find the podcast at http://apple.co/2vGECqB. He is a guest contributor for “In Light of Faith.”
This year marks the 40thanniversary of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s famous Harvard commencement address, “A World Split Apart.” Five months after he delivered it, Karol Wojtyła was elected pope. Both men, from Communist lands, gave warnings to the West. How was Solzhenitsyn’s diagnosis different? How has it stood up over time?
We are used to commencement addresses that are left-wing stand-up comedy. But Solzhenitsyn did not go to Harvard to tell jokes. He promised bitterness. “Truth eludes us,” he began, “if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit. And even while it eludes us, the illusion still lingers of knowing it and leads to many misunderstandings. Also, truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.”
Likewise, Solzhenitsyn rejected social self-righteousness. The horrors of Nazism and Communism had taught him sober self-knowledge: “There is nothing that so assists the awakening of omniscience within us as insistent thoughts about one’s own transgressions, errors, mistakes,” he wrote in The Gulag Archipelago.“I remember myself in my Captain’s shoulder boards and the forward march of my battery through East Prussia, enshrouded in fire, and I say: ‘So were we any better?’”
What would you have said was the main problem in the West in 1978? For Solzhenitsyn, “the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days is a decline in courage.” But before you think of Jordan Peterson, consider that he means not so much personal manliness but strength of will in public life: “The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society.”
Clearly, Solzhenitsyn judges societies based on the character traits that they form. He effectively runs through the cardinal virtues, arguing that our successes have led to moral decline. He decries the “welfare state,” by which he means, interestingly, not the habilitation of dependents by government, but a society devoted solely to material prosperity: “It has become possible to raise young people according to these ideals, leading them to physical splendor, happiness, possession of material goods, money and leisure, to an almost unlimited freedom of enjoyment.” So why should someone like that risk his life for any higher good?
Moderation suffers, too, because freedoms are exploited to the full without self-restraint. We enjoy much freedom for evil, he says, but freedom for good hardly exists, as those who want to accomplish good get tripped up on every side. “Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime and horror.”
As for justice, it gets replaced by legalism: “Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the supreme solution. . . .Nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint.”
The “culture of death” plays no role in the speech. But a criticism of abortion might, by friendly amendment, be placed here. We tend to think of the putative abortion right as “substantive due process,” the opposite of legalism. Someone who accepted Solzhenitsyn’s analysis, however, might say, “Of course it’s wrong and should be forbidden. It is claimed that it must be allowed only on a legalistic pretext, ‘what the constitution says.’ So let’s be clear and say: that is not its true basis at all.”
We can hardly believe it now, but it was true, that incipient “political correctness” then involved ignoring the evils of Communism: “There is a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation, which works as a sort of petrified armor around people’s minds. Human voices from seventeen countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it.” Without any censorship, he says, the media was marching in lockstep to preserve this viewpoint.
It is not that liberalism failed, but that it abandoned the medieval heritage that it had always required. Thus it failed to realize the synthesis of material and spiritual goods which was its original promise:
In American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims.
Both the West and Communism reveal the failure of materialism. The path forward for the West, however, is not a reform, but something completely new. The only truths it is willing publicly to affirm are “ossified formulas of the Enlightenment,” a “social dogmatism” inadequate to the trials we must face. Solzhenitsyn seems to agree with Marx on one point: that liberalism is on an inevitable path to, first, radicalism, then socialism, then Communism. “Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism,” but the West as currently constituted seems to lack the resources to do this.
“The world has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.”
Michael Pakaluk, an Aristotle scholar and Ordinarius of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, is professor at the Busch School of Business and Economics at The Catholic University of America. He lives in Hyattsville, MD, with his wife Catherine, also a professor at the Busch School, and their eight children.