On the Connection Between Sound Doctrine and Civility

A key theme of St. Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus, bishops he appointed to oversee the churches of Ephesus and Crete respectively, is their insistence on sound doctrine. He writes to Titus, “As for you, speak the things that are consistent with sound doctrine …” (Titus 2:1). He tells Timothy that if he passes on this doctrine to others, he “… will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of faith and sound doctrine that you have followed” (1 Tim 4:6).

St. Paul also makes an interesting connection between doctrine and civility. He writes of those who diverge from sound doctrine and describes the effects of their dissent:

Whoever teaches something different and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the religious teaching is conceited, understanding nothing, and has morbid disposition for arguments and verbal disputes. From these come envy, rivalry, insults, evil suspicions, and mutual friction among people with corrupted minds, who are deprived of the truth … (1 Tim 6:3-5).

We can see this clearly today, when so many people—even within the Church—spread false teaching and call good, or no big deal, what God calls sin.

Note that the effect of rejecting sound doctrine is, in effect, widespread incivility (rivalry, insults, suspicions, and friction). Yes, welcome to the modern Western world.

What is the connection between spreading false teachings and incivility? It is the loss of a shared foundation of fundamental truths. Without such a foundation it is difficult to have reasonable, rational discussions in which one begins with agreed-upon principles and builds upon them logically to form conclusions. Here is an extremely simple example:

  1. An obtuse angle is one whose measure is greater than 90° and less than 180°.
  2. This angle measures 120°.
  3. Therefore, this angle is an obtuse angle.

You can see that you wouldn’t get very far if you couldn’t agree on the definition of an obtuse angle or on how to use a protractor to measure angles or on how to compare the magnitudes of numbers!

The problem today is that, due to radical individualism and subjectivism, many basic realities are no longer accepted as legitimate premises upon which to base an argument. Without the ability to have reasoned arguments like the ones so beautifully depicted in the St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, we have descended into vehement disagreements, strident protests, heated rivalries, and even hatred.

The most extreme example of this is the relatively recent word “transgender.” Merriam-Webster defines it as follows: “of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity differs from the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.” Nothing is more obvious than that humans come in two sexes, male and female. The ability to determine one’s sex is neither difficult nor mysterious; a simple look at one’s private parts (in more than 99.9 percent of the population) is quite sufficient. When even something this simple or obvious is no longer accepted as such, the ability to have a conversation, let alone a rational argument, is diminished, to say the least.

In such a radically subjective climate, whose view “wins”? Generally, it’s the one who yells the loudest or has the most influence or is the most famous. It is not reason that triumphs but power. We have today what Pope Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism,” in which nothing is accepted as definitively true. The tyranny comes in the force (cultural, political, or legal) used to impose the standard that there is no standard. It is impossible to argue for a position from first principles when there are no agreed-upon first principles. Today, one achieves the highest level of popularity and acceptance by having no principles at all (other than that everyone’s “principles” are equally valid). Interestingly, the principle that there are principles is not considered an acceptable principle!

St. Paul rightly highlights the necessity for pastors to teach sound doctrine. This helps build a sturdy foundation of truth for the Church and the culture. Having agreed-upon principles provides the basis for rational discussion. It also sets limits on diversion: a range of views may be allowed but only within reasonable boundaries. It is like the rules on a multilane highway: a person can drive in any one of several different lanes, but only those going in a certain direction and certainly not on the shoulder or off on the grass. Sound doctrine provides limits; it helps us avoid getting in an accident or winding up at the bottom of a roadside ravine.

In the modern West, we seem to be engaged in a massive social experiment as to whether there can be a culture without a shared cultus. A cultus indicates a shared set of beliefs in God and in what He teaches and expects. Once upon a time in the U.S., though we had sectarian differences, there was still a fundamental agreement on basic moral norms rooted in the Ten Commandments and the long experience of Christianity. This common ground has disappeared, and the picture of St. Paul describes above is very much in evidence. Even in the Church there are factions, suspicions, rivalries, and even insults. That is what happens when doctrine is set aside, when silence and/or ambiguity are widespread and even weaponized. When the sheep are fighting, the shepherd should step in with clear teaching. In today’s radical uncertainty, even the shepherds are afraid to fight.

When doctrine collapses, incivility and fierce anger rule the day. St. Paul paints the picture vividly and accurately. The only real solution is to rebuild the sure and sturdy foundation of sound doctrine. Pray for greater courage among bishops, pastors, and Catholic Cultural leaders to rebuke dissent, solidly restore the foundation of truth, and then insist upon it. Without the truth there will be no peace.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: On the Connection Between Sound Doctrine and Civility

A Lament on the Shrinking of Summer

Not so long ago the middle of August was still a lazy time to enjoy the last few days of summer. It used to be that Labor Day marked the unofficial end of summer—not so much any more in more places for more and more people.

The erosion of summer is driven mainly by the start of school. I have watched with sadness as the school year seems to begin earlier and earlier and earlier. In the Washington, D.C. area, parents are young people are preparing for that first day of school – and some schools have already started. College classes start even earlier, early August in some cases; and new students who need an “orientation” generally arrive on campus even before the general student population.

What’s the big rush? Why are some people in such a big hurry to get back to the grind? Families have so little time to spend time together as it is! I hope that the concerns I express today will be seen as having spiritual components and not just as the complaints of an old curmudgeon.

The purpose of rest, both the Sabbath rest and vacation, is to enjoy the fruit of our labors. We should work to live; many today live to work. What is the point of having a livelihood if we never get the time to enjoy life? God commanded the Sabbath for many reasons, but among them was justice. He set forth a particular day of the week (Saturday) as well as other times (feasts) when work was forbidden so that all could rest. Without the collective agreement and commandment (under pain of sin), the rich get time off but the poor must still work to facilitate the leisure of the rich. God set forth a system that sought to prevent that injustice. All, including slaves and even beasts of burden, were to refrain from all but the most necessary work.

In our culture, Sunday has been the day of rest. Most who have better paying jobs get that day off. Before 1970, even the poor typically had Sundays off because most retail establishments were closed. Today, for our convenience, lower-paid store workers and restaurant staff must work.

It is the same with holidays and holy days. It used to be that days like Christmas, Good Friday, and Thanksgiving were days off for just about everyone. Non-essential operations were generally closed.

Today almost nothing — no day, no time — is sacred. Market demand and the need to get ahead of the competition drive this. Work, work, work; compete and strive to win. It is usually the poorest among us, however, who pay the greatest price for this.

Families also suffer; time together has steadily eroded over the years. The tradition of eating evening and weekend meals is all but gone. Sunday and holiday gatherings seem to be shorter and more perfunctory—if they occur at all. Summer itself is now on the chopping block. Churches are affected because the window in which we have to conduct summer festivals and Vacation Bible school is more limited.

I have been given numerous explanations as to why schools are champing at the bit to begin the year.

School officials (in both secular and Catholic schools) tell me that many parents are delighted that their children are back in school earlier, thus freeing them to do other things rather than minding the children. But what does that tell you about the vision of family life today? Shouldn’t families want extended time to vacation together and to engage in other local activities, Church offerings, and so forth? Shouldn’t parents enjoy spending time with their children? Shouldn’t they want to use the extra time in the summer to form them? Do parents have children merely to send them off to school, happy to be rid of them for a few hours? I hope not. I know that we all get a little tired, but I find it alarming that parents would be as eager for school to start as school officials insist is the case.

I am told that teachers require more days for professional development, thus forcing schools to open earlier in the year and/or close later in order to meet the required minimum number of days of student instruction. But professional days and ongoing certification have always been necessary. My mother was a teacher for over twenty years and teachers had professional days and took certification courses (mainly in the summer) back then. Teachers already have two and a half months away from classes. That’s a lot more vacation than most of the rest of us have. Is there a reason that teachers could not have most of June and July off and then return at the beginning of August for these sorts of things? If schools opened after Labor Day that would still give them more than a month for these activities.

Further I would argue that the impact of such a system is not a good one. It sets up a “death by a thousand cuts” throughout the school year as half-days, teacher in-service days, and professional days seem to eat into most weeks of the school year. In some school systems nearly every Friday is a half day for one reason or another. Working parents must juggle schedules all year long, not just in the summer when vacations are already common. Schools even collect a lot extra money running “aftercare” programs on those half-days of classes. Parents are not only deprived of time with their children, but they are pressured financially as well.

The school system is supposed to serve children, parents, and families, but it seems instead that the school systems have started ruling our lives and dictating our schedules. Even in Catholic and other private schools, parents who are already struggling just to afford the tuition must now also pay for additional childcare on those days when school is not in session or closes early.

My final concern is that school schedules carving away more and more of the summer from family time means that the formation of children shifts from the families to the schools. Is that really what we want? I would hope that parents would want to play the most significant role in forming their children. Parents should ask themselves if they want to raise their children or increasingly hand that task over to strangers. Sadly, as we all can see, many schools have become less and less places of teaching basic academic skills and more and more places of indoctrination into values that are often inimical to Catholic and biblical teachings. Although there are exceptions, the infiltration of secular and immoral ideologies into the curriculum has made major inroads in public schools.

I recommend we attack this problem by starting simply. Can we at least have the month of August back? How about an agreement not begin school until the Tuesday after Labor Day? It’s just a little thing, but the steady erosion of rest, family time, Church time, and “downtime” has taken a toll on our society in many ways. Here’s to summer … all of it!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: A Lament on the Shrinking of Summer

The Red Sea Crossing and What It Says to Us in Times Like These

As we are reading about the crossing of the Red Sea in daily Mass this week (16th week of the Year), we do well to ponder this writing by St. Ambrose, which reminds us of the victory that is ours:

You observe that in this crossing [of the Red Sea] by the Hebrews there was already a symbol of holy Baptism. The Egyptian perished; the Hebrew escaped. What else is the daily lesson of this sacrament than that guilt is drowned and error destroyed, while goodness and innocence pass over unharmed? (from St. Ambrose’s Treatise on the Mysteries, 12)

In times like these, we need such a reminder of this ultimate victory. The word “ultimate” is important because prior to their victory the Hebrews endured centuries of injustice. They also experienced the terror of having a vengeful army coming at them from behind while an impassible sea lay before them. It took faith to walk through those waters that rose thirty feet on either side of them like walls. Would the walls of water hold? Trusting in God and His servant Moses, they went forth.

By this faith and through this baptism into Moses (cf 1 Cor 10:2) they had the victory. How much more so do we, who are baptized into Christ Jesus.

We need the reminder of this victory in these times of moral darkness, when the murder of unborn children is called a constitutional right and celebrated with cheers, when the scientific fact that at the moment of conception a unique human being is created is denied, when medical evidence that unborn children feel pain is scoffed at by pro-choice “science deniers.”

    • These are times when many glory in their shame (Phil 3:19; Rom 1:32) by celebrating sexual disorder and confusion.
    • These are times when many, through the lie of transgenderism, fulfill Scripture passages such as these:
        • You [O mere man] have turned things upside down, as if the potter were regarded as clay. Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pottery say of the potter, “He has no understanding”? (Isaiah 29:16)
        • But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” (Rom 9:20)
    • These are times when too many priests and bishops—who should be leading the battle—are silent, or sounding an uncertain trumpet, or even speaking error and spreading confusion themselves.
    • These are times when, with a humanitarian crisis on our border, neither political party will budge an inch to bring reason to a system that is broken.

In times like these we need to remember that God has already won; whatever sin or foolishness emerges is temporary and destined to be drowned in the sea. We all sometimes feel that there is an army of sin at our back and an impassible sea of pride in front of us—but God can make a way out of no way; He can do anything but fail.

Where is Pharaoh now? Where is Caesar? Where is Napoleon? Where is the USSR? In the lifetime of the Church, empires have risen and fallen, nations have come and gone, and errors and heresies have temporarily had their day. Enemies have scoffed at God’s Church and threatened her ruin, boldly stating that they would bury us and our foolish, “outdated” ways. We have read the funeral rites over every one of them. When the present foolishness has passed, we will still be here, preaching the same gospel, while every error and lie is buried at the bottom of the sea.

Do not be discouraged. The battle is real and must be fought, but the victory is already assured. At times it may not seem to be so, but it is. To return to the words of St. Ambrose:

What else is the daily lesson of this sacrament than that guilt is drowned and error destroyed, while goodness and innocence pass over unharmed?

Fight on, fellow soldiers, knowing that the victory is ours after many days.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Red Sea Crossing and What It Says to Us in Times Like These

A Scriptural Guide for Living and Evangelizing in Troubled, Confused Times

There is a Christian hymn, written in the 1940s during World War II, that says, “In times like these, you need a Savior. In times like these, you need an anchor. Be very sure, be very sure, your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock.”

There are very few faithful Catholics who are not shocked and dismayed by the rapidity of decline into confusion (sexual and otherwise) of a culture once described as Judeo-Christian. Whatever our sectarian differences of the past (and they were significant and embarrassingly numerous), there was at least basic agreement on the fundamentals of biblical morality and the authority of the Word of God. Most of this is gone—and it has gone quickly. Consider some of the things going on in the world today:

Celebration of homosexual acts (exemplified by “Pride Month”), transgenderism, physician-assisted suicide/euthanasia, the decline of marriage and the family (due, among other things, to widespread promiscuity), the seeming impossibility of balancing generous welcome of immigrants with the need for order and respect for the rule of law.

Even within the Church, sexual abuse and sexual harassment have been too easily overlooked or not taken seriously.

The rapid acceptance in our culture of things that even ten years ago it would have seemed impossible to imagine gaining widespread approval feels like whiplash. Those of us who hold to tradition and believe that God’s teaching and five thousand years of recorded history should be respected have suddenly become out-of-touch—or even worse, hateful, bigoted, homophobic, and just plain mean! All this for failing to fall into step with the new “morality.”

Yes, in times like these we need a Savior!

The early Church experienced similar struggles. As the gospel left the relatively sane but religiously hostile world of Judaism, it encountered the pagan world, which, while not religiously hostile, was morally confused by corrupting sexual practices and entertainment marked by violence and the destruction and disposability of the human person. Sound familiar?

There is one difference, though, and it was noted by C.S. Lewis in his Latin Letters (1948-53): ancient Greece and Europe were like a virgin awaiting her husband while the modern West resembles an angry divorcée. This makes our task today even more difficult. We seek to re-propose the gospel to a cynical world that responds, been there, done that, divorced that, and am now demanding an annulment.

Nevertheless, we have much to learn from the early Church, which experienced similar decadence and confusion. Perhaps a survey of some texts that both describe the all-too-familiar situation and offer advice may be helpful.

These texts from God’s Word do not mince words. They are a tough assessment of a world at odds with God. We live in soft times and shy away from strong, clear descriptions; we prefer euphemisms and pleasantries. However, the world of the New Testament, especially Jesus Himself, spoke boldly, plainly, and without any hint of political correctness.

That said, these texts do not mean to say that everyone who opposes Church teaching has all of these qualities. They speak to the collective qualities of a fallen world governed by a fallen angel. Even we who strive to come out of the world and not be of it do so gradually and imperfectly.

The passages are addressed to both believers and non-believers, all of whom have fallen natures and need to be vividly reminded of this, summoned to courage, and called to speak the truth in love.

The scripture passages are presented in bold, black italics while my commentary appears in plain red text.

Let’s begin first with texts that describe the situation:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father (Gal 1:3-5).

The age then (and now) is described simply as an evil age, for this world is at odds with God and what He teaches. This has been more or less obvious over the centuries, but Jesus Himself warns that the most consistent experience of His followers will be persecution and hatred from the world (cf John 15).

And you were once dead in the trespasses and sins in which you walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph 2:1-3).

The unrepentant are described as following the prince of this world (Satan), being in disobedience, living in the passions of the flesh, and destined for wrath. These are tragic truths for many unless they repent, and for us if we turn away from the faith.

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake (2 Cor 4:3-5).

The confused are described as being blinded and deceived by the “god” of this age and time. This is a prophetic description of the world in which we live. Do not excessively admire the wisdom or thoughts of this age. Science has accomplished much, but knowledge is not on par with wisdom, and wisdom is what this world lacks. Knowledge without wisdom is like a car without a key or a life without a known purpose.

For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:3-5).

Sound familiar? Adultery, premarital sex, cohabitation, promiscuity, homosexual acts, and the acceptance and even celebration of all these disordered actions. Add to this our modern struggles with addiction and all forms of excess. Yet let anyone, especially the Church, say that there should be limits on behavior and the pitchforks come out: Intolerant, bigoted, homophobic, uptight, hateful! Many don’t understand why we do not simply join in their celebration of all sorts of illicit sexual union, debauchery, and greed. But see what the text says: we do not owe them assent; it is the unrepentant disobedient who will have to render an account to Him who will be their Judge.

But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 1:17-23).

In other words, do not be dismayed. The times are unpleasant but not unexpected. For our part, we must not be fascinated by or enamored of what we see around us, nor should we be discouraged. Draw back from this confusion and see it for what it is: ungodly, worldly, and devoid of the Spirit. Have nothing to do with it.

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, … (1 Tim 4:1-2).

Take note: lies, deceit, demonic doctrines, and seared consciences.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of great trouble. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power … so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith … But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 3:1-8; 14-15).

This is all too familiar. Let’s be clear that there are more problems today than just sex. Greed, consumerism, excess, the arrogance of scientism, the prideful belief that we know better than the ancients, the demand for comfort, and the insistence on flattering our massive egos are all common problems today. We who would believe and seek to come out of this world must examine our lives and repent of drives and actions like these.

The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust and defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme … blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant … reveling in their deceptions … They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray … For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved (2 Peter, various verses).

The hatred of the truth, the blasphemy, and the contempt for sacred doctrine are nothing new, but they are now more arrogantly on display than ever before.

In these passages were many descriptions of what is only too familiar today. It has returned on our watch, and we need to take responsibility for the situation. As the Lord’s witnesses, we are supposed to be prophets to this world. If things have declined—and they have—it happened on our watch! As a Church, we have not been as clear as we should be; we have made compromises and been intimidated into silence. Parents, too, have been largely passive. We have collectively and too easily tolerated contraception, promiscuity, cohabitation, divorce, single motherhood (absent fatherhood), and all sorts of confusion about life, marriage, and family.

What then are we to do? Scripture speaks to witnessing to a dubious, resistant, and rebellious age. Consider some of these passages:

For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe (1 Cor 1:19-21).

Preach with confidence, and when ridiculed, remember that the Wisdom of God is unfathomable to the world, but the thoughts of this age are foolishness to Him. Do not be impressed by or fearful of the foolishness that parades as enlightenment and tolerance. It will neither last nor emerge victorious. God and His wisdom will out!

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory (1 Cor 2:6-7).

Notice that the rulers of this world are passing away, but the word of the Lord remains forever. Do not lose heart!

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Eph 5:15-17).

Stay in conformity with God’s will no matter how much the world scoffs.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Col 4:5-6).

Be gracious but clear. Give answers to doubters with kindness but also with clarity. Do not hide; do not fail to answer.

Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Never, never, never defile the faith through bad conduct or inconsistency. Allow the joy of the gospel to permeate your life such that people will notice and ask you for the reason. Not everyone in this world is so jaded that he will not respond to joy and the message of the truth.

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside (2 Tim 4:2-4).

Never give up. Preach and teach even if people laugh, ridicule, walk out, write to the bishop, or threaten. Preach, preach, preach, even if your own children scoff or manifest confusion and error. Many today will resist and quote so-called authorities to seek to refute you; just keep on preaching. Stay anchored in the Scriptures and the Catechism. Read the Fathers and do not succumb to trendy revisions of the Word of God.

Let this be advice for difficult days. In times like these we need a Savior; thankfully, the Lord Jesus is still here. He himself was scoffed at, ridiculed, called a threat, and finally crucified outside the city gates. Let us be willing to go out and die with Him if necessary, out of love for the many who have been deceived by this confused culture.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: A Scriptural Guide for Living and Evangelizing in Troubled, Confused Times

A Word of Encouragement for Discouraged Cultural Warriors

It is, on occasion, discouraging to live in times like these. This appears to be the end of an era, at least in the West. Our culture used to be called Christian or Judeo-Christian. It was not sin-free by any means—there was still greed and there were various forms of oppressive justice—but Christ and the Scriptures were the basis for a consensus on fundamental moral norms. It is hard to argue that our sense of justice enshrined in law over the centuries does not have Christianity in large part to thank for this. Further, our vision that God created the world and imbued it with logic and laws that reason could discern opened the way to the natural sciences and elevated philosophy, the arts, and literature. The establishment by the Catholic Church of the great monasteries and universities helped advance and institutionalize all of this.

Ancient Europe was like a young bride with her Husband, Christ. The Modern West is more like an angry divorcée with little memory of what her Groom has done for her and a raw contempt for His vision. Preferring the darkness, many see the light of the true Christ as harsh and intrusive.

Yes, these are difficult days, and true Christians are often discouraged. Just when it seems our culture cannot become more confused and rebellious, we seem to stoop to a new low.

A reminder of the resilience of truth comes to us in the Office of Readings during this 6th Week of Easter. Evil and error have their day, or even their era, but the Word of the Lord remains forever. In Tuesday’s Office we read this passage:

I have seen the wicked triumphant,
towering like a cedar of Lebanon.
I passed by again; he was gone.
I searched; he was nowhere to be found.

See the just man, mark the upright,
for the peaceful man a future lies in store,
but sinners shall all be destroyed.
No future lies in store for the wicked.

Then wait for the Lord; keep to his way.
It is he who will free you from the wicked,
raise you up to possess the land
and see the wicked destroyed
(Psalm 37:35-40).

This truth of the passing of error and the perdurance of truth is verified by history. In the age of the Church, empires and nations, fashions and fads, errors and heresies—all have come and gone—and yet here we are, still, preaching the gospel. The Church has outlasted all her enemies; we have read the funeral rites over many who swore they would destroy us. Psalm 37 says it plainly: “No future lies in store for the wicked.” We are told simply to “wait for the Lord; keep to his way.”

In the Book of Hebrews, we read,

When God subjected all things to Christ, He left nothing outside of his control. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him (Heb 2:8).

Even though we do not see it, the truth is that nothing is outside of the Lord’s control. How could it be? Even the darkest day of Christianity we call Good Friday. Why? Because even on that day of seeming disaster, when the assembled Church shrank to one apostle and four women, Jesus worked His greatest work. He made a way out of no way and in dying destroyed the power of death. He conquered pride by humility and disobedience by obedience. Satan fell right into the Lord’s trap; while he was running victory laps around the cross, Jesus entered his trophy room in Sheol and turned the place out.

Thus, although we do not always see all things subject to Christ, be assured that they are. He is Lord. Satan rages, but mostly because he knows his time is short. He is the “prince of this world,” but this world is passing away.

In the same Office of Readings for Tuesday of this week, we are admonished in this way:

Have no love for the world, nor the things that the world affords. If anyone loves the world, the Father’s love has no place in him, for nothing that the world affords comes from the Father. Carnal allurements, enticements for the eye, the life of empty show—all these are from the world. And the world with its seductions is passing away, but the man who does God’s will endures forever (1 John 2:14-17).

That’s right, “trouble don’t last always.” We may not live to see the passing of these current evils, but they will. The truth will out. Neither be fearful of the world nor fawning over its passing powers and glory, for it is passing. Whoever does the will of the Lord endures forever.

The world and those enamored of its evils laugh at and scorn us now, but if they do not repent, they are going to be very surprised. We must pray and work for the conversion of all, including ourselves, but do not be discouraged. God’s Word is clear: evil and error are passing, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: A Word of Encouragement for Discouraged Cultural Warriors

America, I Gave My Best to You – A Reflection on the Virtue of Patriotism

Love of one’s country, patriotism, is related to the fourth commandment. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,

It is the duty of citizens to contribute to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity (CCC #2239).

Much of this is reflected in a beautiful song written for the Ken Burns series “The War.” It is called “American Anthem.” The lyrics are touching and moving. The central themes are just what the Catechism teaches: gratitude and the serving of the common good. Let’s explore some of the themes of this song on this Memorial Day of 2019.

The song begins in this way:

All we’ve been given
By those who came before
The dream of a nation
Where freedom would endure
The work and prayers
Of centuries
Have brought us to this day

We begin with gratitude. The works and prayers of centuries have brought us to this day. Each day we wake up in a land of beauty and plenty. We live in freedom because others died to win it and protect it. We drive on roads that others paved, make use of an electrical grid that others created and built. We depend on technologies that others developed. The Constitution, our legal system, civil society, the Church and her time-tested teachings—all these things and many more we have received from the hard work and ingenuity of others. Every day I am blessed to be able to walk into a beautiful church built by others.

Those who came before us were not sinless, but they exhibited bravery, virtue, perseverance, and patience in carefully setting forth a nation and a commonwealth that we often carelessly take for granted. When I ponder these things, I am overcome with gratitude.

The song also speaks of the dream of a nation in which freedom would endure. Today, many interpret freedom as the license to do whatever one pleases, but true freedom is the ability to obey God, live virtuously, and benefit from the fruits of that behavior: freedom from excess and the slavery to sin. It is only in this freedom, a freedom from self-absorption, that one can leave the sort of legacy of which the song next speaks:

What shall be our legacy?
What will our children say?
Let them say of me
I was one who believed
In sharing the blessings
I received
Let me know in my heart
When my days are through
America
America
I gave my best to you

Remember that America is not merely a nation-state or a legal entity—it is our patria, our homeland, from which we get the word “patriotism.” There is both a fatherly and motherly image we can derive from our country, America. We are sprung from its loins and nurtured in its womb. We have shared in its freely bestowed resources, taken our meals from its rich soils, and learned from the best of its teachings and traditions.

Thus, patriotism is a beautiful virtue linked to the fourth commandment “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Sadly, some people today dismiss the virtue of patriotism, calling it “nationalism” and portraying it as evidence of xenophobia. That some have exhibited extremes of patriotism does not remove the truth that patriotism is a virtue and is both commended to us and commanded of us. From it we derive a requirement to do our part to protect, preserve, and contribute to the common good. We are to leave a legacy that others will recognize, that we carried our share of the burden, that we did our very best for the land and people we are called to love.

Each generation from the plains
To distant shore
with the gifts they were given
Were determined
To leave more
Battles fought together
Acts of conscience fought alone
These are the seeds
From which America has grown

It is perhaps enough to simply do no harm or merely hand on what we received, but love is expansive. It leads us leave to our descendants more than we received. It is the American and human spirit to build on what is received, to bring things to greater perfection and beauty.

As the song mentions, we often do this by working together, but sometimes we must take up the lonely and often-despised role of the prophet summoning the nation to greater justice and holiness. Both traditions are needed. Many of us have had to raise our voices in protest at the straying of our land from its biblical roots, but this has been and is done out of love for our people and land, so that we attain to a greater and more perfect union.

For those who think
They have nothing to share
Who fear in their hearts
There is no hero there
Know each quiet act
Of dignity is
That which fortifies
The soul of a nation
That never die
s

Heroism is a highly visible virtue, but it is also the quiet, hidden acts of love and prayer that fortify the nation. Only if these daily acts are never dying can the soul of a nation hope to survive. It is the bigger and smaller things together that win the day: getting married and staying married, living virtuous lives, teaching our children well, working hard each day, contributing to the common good, forgiving yet also insisting, being patient yet also persistent. St. Augustine said, “A little thing is just a little thing, but to be faithful in a little thing is a great thing” (De Doctrina Christiana, IV,35).

On this Memorial Day, for us and all who love our Church and our land, may this be so:

Let them say of me
I was one who believed
In sharing the blessings
I received
Let me know in my heart
When my days are through
America
America
I gave my best to you

America
America
I gave my best to you.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: America, I Gave My Best to You – A Reflection on the Virtue of Patriotism

The Unique Hostility Directed Toward the Lord and the Church

The late columnist Joseph Sobran once pondered the special hatred of the world for Christ. He wrote,

Great as Shakespeare is, I never lose sleep over anything he said … By the same token nobody ever feels guilty about anything Plato or Aristotle said … We aren’t tempted to resist them as we are tempted to resist Christ (Joseph Sobran, Subtracting Christianity, pp. 1-2).

I have often contemplated this hostility toward and resistance to Christ and His Body, the Church; it is unparalleled. Few of the Protestant denominations experience this hatred. The Buddhists don’t seem to be subject to it. Even the Muslims are exempt despite the distinctly non-Western views that predominantly Muslim countries have on many social issues important to the American Left.

There is an almost visceral hatred for Jesus Christ and His Church that is so over the top, so irrational, that one has to marvel at it. The world doth protest too much. Why?

Is it fear? Perhaps, but the Church is not powerful enough to “force our views” on everyone, as some who hate us say that we do.

There is no rational explanation for the world’s intense fear of and hatred for Christ and Catholicism except to echo the words of Christ Himself:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without cause’ (Jn 15:18-25).

Yes, they hated Him without cause—at least any rational cause. There must be a cause, but it is so irrational that I surmise it must be that Satan himself is interacting with our flesh. Satan hates Christ in a way that he doesn’t hate Muhammad or Luther. Christ is a true threat, so Satan rages; the world and flesh draw from this rage and fear.

Think I’m exaggerating? It seems to be fine for excerpts from the Quran to be studied in public schools, but just try to put anything from one of the gospels into the curriculum and the outrage (closely followed by lawsuits) is nearly instantaneous. The annual “Christmas war” now targets not only nativity scenes and Santa Claus (a secular remake of St. Nicholas, by the way) but even the colors red and green!

Sobran said it well: Christ makes people lose sleep in ways that others do not. His words and teachings touch a core that others never do. That the world bristles is a compliment. Jesus Christ must be taken seriously. You may be mad, or sad, or glad, but no one goes away from Jesus Christ unchanged or merely “informed.” His words have an authority that demands a response. The world seems to know this and thus bristles. Some love Him and some hate Him, but few are neutral.

Why is this so? Could it be that Christ really is who He says He is: Lord and God? Could it be that it is His voice echoing in every conscience? This strange, irrational, excessive fear; this anger toward and even hatred of Christ attests to the truth of His claim to be the one whom we will either love or hate. One cannot serve two masters (cf Mat 6:24).

Shakespeare’s words don’t make anyone lose sleep; neither do Plato’s or Aristotle’s. Why is that?

To every secularist and atheist, I direct these questions: Why do you protest Christ and His Church so much? Why do you exaggerate our power? If we really are irrelevant, if our “day is over” and we are laughably outdated, then why the fear, anger, and protest? Do our “myths” scare you? If they are mere myths, then why fear them? Why don’t you direct the same anger toward Buddha or Muhammad? Is it that still, small voice in your conscience?

What is it? Why your sleepless wrath?

Sobran observed the odd spectacle that there is greater intensity for Christ from His opponents than from His friends:

Sometimes I think the anti-Christian forces take Christ more seriously than most nominal Christians do … [Indeed] Such a strong and unique personality [as Christ had] could only meet strong and unique resistance. That is why Christians shouldn’t resent the resistance of those who refuse to celebrate his birth [and protest us doing so]. In their way, these people are his witnesses too (Joseph Sobran, Subtracting Christianity, pp. 7-8).

So, while it is irksome, take the special hatred of the world toward Christ and His Church as a compliment. Somehow, we are viewed as a unique threat. Despite all the scandals, despite the timidity of our clergy and laity, we apparently still pose a threat. It must be Christ shining through in spite of us. Shine, Jesus, shine!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Unique Hostility Directed Toward the Lord and the Church

Advice in Times of Trial and Discouragement

At daily Mass this week (7th week of the year) we are reading from the Book of Sirach. God inspired Jesus ben Sirach to pen advice so beautiful and wise that the early Church used it to instruct catechumens in their first year. Consider the following passage:

My son, when you come to serve the LORD, stand in justice and fear, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, incline your ear and receive the word of understanding, undisturbed in time of adversity. Wait on God, with patience, cling to him, forsake him not; thus will you be wise in all your ways.

Accept whatever befalls you, when sorrowful, be steadfast, and in crushing misfortune be patient; For in fire gold and silver are tested, and worthy people in the crucible of humiliation. Trust God and God will help you; trust in him, and he will direct your way; keep his fear and grow old therein.

You who fear the LORD, wait for his mercy, turn not away lest you fall. You who fear the LORD, trust him, and your reward will not be lost. You who fear the LORD, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy. You who fear the LORD, love him, and your hearts will be enlightened. Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the LORD and been disappointed? Has anyone persevered in his commandments and been forsaken? Has anyone called upon him and been rebuffed? Compassionate and merciful is the LORD; he forgives sins, he saves in time of trouble and he is a protector to all who seek him in truth (Sirach 2:1-11).

We can see in this text a prudent description of reality along with some remedies and rewards. Let’s ponder them.

The Reality

The text speaks plainly of the things that befall God’s people: trials, adversity, sorry, crushing misfortune, and humiliation. Therefore, we are not exempt from the cross but deeply associated with it. We have been crucified with Christ and to the world. There will be times of joy and victory to be sure, but this world is not our ultimate home. Satan is the prince of this world and God mysteriously allows him significant influence and power—for a time.

This world, then, is a place of trial and testing for us. It is a crucible, an exile, a valley of tears. Worldly victories are not promised, but heavenly ones are, provided we persevere to the end. Jesus said, In the world you will have tribulation. But take courage! I have overcome the world (Jn 16:33). To the Church at Smyrna He said, Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Look, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will suffer tribulation for ten days. Be faithful even unto death, and I will give you the crown of life (Rev 2:10).

This is our reality. The world has joys and God grants many blessings and consolation, but on the whole, this life is a time of testing and significant pain.

The Remedies

The text goes on to set forth certain requirements, admonitions, and remedies. Let’s look at some of them.

  • Stand in justice and fear. We must do what is right out of a holy reverence for and obedience to God; this will secure our inheritance in the heavenly kingdom. Without the holy fear of God, we will fear the world and its punishments. If you’re going to fear something, it might as well be the God who loves you! The world’s blows are only temporary; God’s promises are eternal. We must be actively engaged in doing and trumpeting what is right rather than passively sitting in resignation. Stand! Do your work, revere God, and prefer His favor to the trinkets this world offers.
  • Be steadfast. The world constantly bombards us with what is new, trendy, and flashy. Do not be mesmerized. Stand firm, stably rooted in the time-tested wisdom of God; it has lasted millennia for a reason. When difficulties come, remember that “troubles don’t last always.” You may weep for a night, but joy will come with the morning light. Stand firm; do not be easily moved.
  • Incline your ear to the Word. Be deeply rooted in the Word of God. Let it dwell within you richly. The Word of God is a prophetic declaration of reality. It tells us what is really going on and what shall ultimately be. Savor God’s word; let it become the very substance of your thoughts. Our minds are going to be polluted if we immerse ourselves in so much filth and error. The mind is like a sponge. If you put a sponge in dirty water, it is going to come out dirty. How do you clean a dirty sponge? By plunging it into clean water, wringing it out, putting it back into the clean water, and then wringing it out again. The Word of God is that clean water for us, for our mind. If we are going to make it through this world of error, confusion, and misplaced priorities, we need the steady, cleansing influence of God’s Word. Put on your gospel glasses and see the world through them!
  • Be undisturbed. Do not be drawn in to the turmoil of the world. If we are rooted in God’s Word and have our heart fixed on Him, then even if there are storms on the surface of our life, deep within is a serenity that the world did not give and thus cannot take away.
  • Be Patient. The word patience is rooted in the Latin word patior (I suffer). Thus, patience is the capacity or willingness to suffer in the moment for the sake of some greater good. Patience is rooted in the perspective that comes from faith. We may have to suffer for a time, but those sufferings will produce a harvest of virtue and many other good fruits.
  • Cling to the Lord. Run to the Lord. Hold to His unchanging hand. Pray every day and always keep Him on your mind. This is essential lest we lose our perspective.
  • Accept what befalls you. The word accept is rooted in the Latin word coeptare (to carry). To accept something is thus to pick it up and carry it for a time. Acceptance does not mean approval; neither does it mean resignation. It simply means being willing to carry what the Lord asks. We might rather that things be different. We might pray that the burden lessens or goes away, but for now, we must be willing to take up this or that cross and carry it for a while. Acceptance is a virtuous middle ground between delight and despair. To accept is to trust God and the truth that He asks this of me for now.
  • Turn not away. When the road gets difficult it is easy to become angry at God or to look for an easy way out. Doing what is easy today, however, often serves merely to postpone troubles to tomorrow. Do not turn aside from the Lord. He knows what is best; we do not. Trust Him. Keep following Him, and do not turn away.
  • Hope.  Hope is more than a vague wish that things get better; it is the confident expectation that God will provide me with the blessings necessary to get me home, that He will help me to attain eternal life. Therefore, hope points to and empowers fortitude and courage.
  • Love the Lord. Pray earnestly for the gift of a tender and deep love for God. Love lightens every load and disposes us to want what our beloved wants. A deep, tender, and grateful love for God helps us to endure and to run joyfully toward our goal of being happy with Him forever.

The Rewards

If we do these things, the Lord promises rewards, both here in this world and most perfectly in Heaven, where joys unspeakable and glories untold await us. The text from Sirach speaks of present and future rewards: thus will you be wise in all your ways. A worthy people are helped and directed by God through their trust in Him. Lasting joy and the fruits of mercy will be ours. Our hearts and minds will be enlightened. We will not be disappointed, but will be saved, protected, and always with the Lord.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Advice in Times of Trial and Discouragement