1968 – A Year When Many in the Church Drank the Poison of the World

Corner of 7th & N Street NW, Washington D.C., April 8, 1968
There was something awful about the year 1968. Fifty years later we are still reeling from its effects. Perhaps we do well to ponder the deep wounds that still fester today.

I was a young lad at the time, and almost everything I saw on the television news terrified me. Harrowing nightly reports from Vietnam (where my father was stationed) detailed that day’s casualties; I always feared that my father had been one of those killed. There were frequent riots and anti-war demonstrations in America’s cities and college campuses. There were two high-profile assassinations: Dr. Martin Luther King in April and Robert F. Kennedy in June. Riots and burning cities followed Dr. King’s assassination. I remember my mother, who was teaching on the South Side of Chicago, having to flee for her life and finally be rescued and escorted out by police. The first stirrings of militant feminism were occurring.

The growing “hippie” movement was fresh off 1967’s “Summer of Love”—which was just an excuse for selfish, spoiled college kids to get high and fornicate while deluding themselves that they were somehow doing a noble thing. This ramped up to the even more hideous Woodstock festival in August of 1969. It popularized the sexual revolution, drug use, rebellion against all authority, and a lot of just plain bad behavior.

In the Church, sweeping changes were underway, adding to the uncertainty of those times. Even if one argues that such changes were necessary, they came at an inopportune time and fed into the popular notions of revolution. The revolt against Pope Paul VI’s magnificent and prophetic Humanae Vitae, published in July of 1968, ushered in a spirit of open dissent that still devastates the Church.

Yes, 1968 was a terrible year. When I mention that year and shake my head, I often get puzzled looks. I stand by my claim: 1968 was a cultural tsunami from which we have not recovered to this day.

Some years ago, I read an article by James Francis Cardinal Stafford, who also singled out 1968 as being a year of intense darkness. He focused particularly on the devastating effects of angry and open dissent, set loose by theologians and priests who rebelled against Humanae Vitae. The Cardinal asserted that the violent revolution raging outside the Church decisively entered within her during that time and that we still stagger from the effects today. Here are some of his observations of that year, when he was a priest in Baltimore:

English historian Paul Johnson dubs 1968 as the year of “America’s Suicide Attempt.” It included the Tet offensive in Vietnam with its tsunami-like effects in American life and politics, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee; the tumult in American cities on Palm Sunday weekend; and the June assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy in Southern California. It was also the year in which Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical letter on transmitting human life, Humanae Vitae (HV). He met immediate, premeditated, and unprecedented opposition from some American theologians and pastors. By any measure, 1968 was a bitter cup. …

The summer of 1968 is a record of God’s hottest hour. The memories are not forgotten; they are painful. They remain vivid like a tornado in the plains of Colorado. They inhabit the whirlwind where God’s wrath dwells. In 1968, something terrible happened in the Church. Within the ministerial priesthood, ruptures developed everywhere among friends which never healed. And the wounds continue to affect the whole Church. The dissent, together with the leaders’ manipulation of the anger they fomented, became a supreme test. It changed fundamental relationships within the Church. It was a Peirasmòs [i.e., a trial or test] for many.

During the height of the 1968 Baltimore riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I had made an emergency call to [an] inner-city pastor … He described the view from the rectory while speaking on the phone … his parish was becoming a raging inferno. He said, “From here I see nothing but fire burning everywhere. Everything has been set ablaze. The Church and rectory are untouched thus far.” He did not wish to leave or be evacuated. His voice betrayed disillusionment and fear. Later we learned that the parish buildings survived.

Memories of the physical violence in the city in April 1968 [following the King assassination] helped me to name what had happened in August 1968 [the explosion of dissent against Humanae Vitae]. Ecclesial dissent can become a kind of spiritual violence in its form and content.

What do I mean? Look at the results of the two events. After the violent 1968 Palm Sunday weekend, civil dialogue in metropolitan Baltimore broke down and came to a stop. It took a back seat to open anger and recriminations between whites and blacks. The … priests’ August gathering [against Humanae Vitae] gave rise to its own ferocious acrimony. Conversations among the clergy … became contaminated with fear. Suspicions among priests were chronic. Fears abounded. And they continue. The Archdiocesan priesthood lost something of the fraternal whole which Baltimore priests had known for generations. 1968 marked the hiatus of the generational communion … Priests’ fraternity had been wounded. Pastoral dissent had attacked the Eucharistic foundation of the Church. Its nuptial significance had been denied. Some priests saw bishops as nothing more than Roman mannequins.

Cardinal Shehan later reported that on Monday morning, August 5, he “was startled to read in the Baltimore Sun that seventy-two priests of the Baltimore area had signed the Statement of Dissent.” What he later called “the years of crisis” began for him during that hot … August evening in 1968 … Its unhinging consequences continue. Abusive, coercive dissent has become a reality in the Church and subjects her to violent, debilitating, unproductive, chronic controversies.

The violence of the initial disobedience was only a prelude to further and more pervasive violence. … Contempt for the truth, whether aggressive or passive, has become common in Church life. Dissenting priests, theologians, and laypeople have continued their coercive techniques. From the beginning, the press has used them to further its own serpentine agenda (The Year of the Peirasmòs – 1968, J. Francis Cardinal Stafford).

Yes, a terrible year 1968 was, and we have yet to recover. Discussion in the Church has often retained its painful, divisive, “spiritually violent” tendencies. Clergy at every level are divided—priests against priests, bishops against bishops, cardinals against cardinals. Division is everywhere. The laity often see bishops as more resembling elected official than the anointed leaders and fathers they are. Sadly, politics do seem to infect ecclesial matters. Cynicism—whatever its source—has crushed our openness to be taught. Many today are neither docile nor loving and supportive of the Church. Discourse in the Church, which should be marked by charity and a family love, is instead modeled on angry political debate and the pursuit of power; an atmosphere of suspicion and scorn is in the air.

Our faith has been divided and politicized even within. Catholics who are passionate about the family, life issues, and sexual morality go to one side of the room; those passionate about the social teachings of the Church to the other. From their respective sides they hurl blame, venom, and scorn, debating who is a true Catholic and who really cares about what is most important. We do this rather than appreciate the work that each of us does, failing to understand that the Church needs two wings to fly.

Add to all of this the wars over the liturgy; scorn and contempt are often evident in discussions of something that should be the source of our greatest unity. Legitimate diversity has become adversity; preferences are dogmatized; arrogance is too easily on display.

It seems that it is easy to get Catholics to fight among themselves. We take the bait every time. The media know it; many politicians know it. Shame on them for doing it, but shame on us for being such an easy target.

To a large extent it goes back to those angry days in 1968, when priests and laity took the violence and discord of that awful year and made it the template for Church life, when there emerged a kind of spiritual violence and discord, when there developed a hermeneutic of suspicion, and when there was an embracing of a distorted ecclesiology of the Church as a political entity rather than the Body of Christ.

Perhaps such tendencies were decades in the making, but as Cardinal Stafford notes, there was something about that hot and fateful August of 1968. Something in that awful year infiltrated the Church and has grown like a cancer. It is still with us today and has infected us all. Somehow, it’s still August; the scorching heat wave lingers, and the hazy air reminds us of the summer of our discontent—that awful, fateful year of 1968. Usquequo Domine … usquequo? (Ps 12:1)

This song says, “I need you, you need me. We’re all part of God’s Body. Stand with me, agree with me, you are important to me, I need you to survive.”

What Ails Us? The Rise of the Imperial, Autonomous Self

A rather succinct and accurate summary of our current malaise is that we live in the age of “the imperial, autonomous self.” In effect, many if not most people claim an authority, a right, to craft their own reality and live according to their own notions of it. Not so long ago, it was generally accepted that reality was something outside ourselves, something that we had to go out to meet, study, and obey. There was a certain “is-ness” to things. Conformity with the basic and revealed nature of things produced thriving and the kind of happiness that comes from being in harmony with what fundamentally is.

Recently however, there has been the ascendency of the notion that reality is what I say it is. The “soft garments” version of this is, “That may be true for you, but I see it differently. You live your truth and I will live mine.”

A Supreme Court decision of the early 1990s gave voice to this notion in its ruling defending a woman’s “right” to abort her baby:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life (Planned Parenthood of SE Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 851 (1992)).

Such vapid language from the highest court in the land undermines the very concept of law. If someone can just define abortion as good, or define even the very nature of the universe, why can’t someone commit mass murder and call it good? This is the exultation of the imperial, autonomous self with almost no qualification! No family, community, nation, or culture can exist as a collection of imperial, autonomous individuals; it would be moral and political anarchy! Something outside ourselves (e.g., reality, the real (not imagined) universe, divine law, natural law, agreed-upon legal norms) must unite us.

The imperial, autonomous self cannot stay soft when, as the court suggests, the heart of liberty is neither the truth nor law (divine, natural, or civil). As we have seen in recent years, the imperial, autonomous becomes the imperious, combative self; the battle is not won by those with the most reasonable stance but by the most powerful, richest, loudest, fiercest, most exotic; or by those with most access to the media and popular culture.

The soft version of the imperial, autonomous self marches under the banners of tolerance, kindness, and open-mindedness. The fiercer version that has emerged more recently substitutes tyranny for tolerance. Few of these tyrants will admit their tyranny; they prefer to call it tolerance, but they have substituted a new meaning for the word.

Tolerance used to be understood as “a measured willingness to live with differences.” Today it has come to mean “agreement” and even “approval.” Of course, if I agree with you and approve of what you do, I do not need to practice tolerance. Thus, the redefinition of tolerance vacates the original meaning of the word entirely. Interestingly this new definition still permits calling others intolerant using the original meaning! It illustrates the “brilliance” of the cultural left in refashioning our very vocabulary and harnessing the power of words. I have written more on this matter here: Misunderstood Tolerance.

We ought not to be mistaken; the “tolerance” of the cultural elites is in fact tyranny. This is evident time and time again when anyone dares to stray from the acceptance and approval that are demanded by this new meaning. If one transgresses by not approving whatever previously sinful behavior currently demands approval, the repercussions include denouncement and demonization. The person or group is labeled unkind, hateful, intolerant, bigoted, phobic, discriminatory, and/or guilty of aggression (or the newly coined “microaggression”) and is accused of making people “feel unsafe.”

Having successfully demonized people or groups, the next move is to silence and suppress any expression of alternate views. Speakers delivering oppositional lectures on campuses are not merely protested, they are interrupted, shouted down, and even subjected physical disruption. All of this is deemed acceptable because the protesters are silencing the views of “bad” and “intolerant” people. In this way, the cultural left—which once held free speech as among the highest freedoms—is increasingly silencing oppositional speech.

The next stage is not merely to denounce opponents, but to legally punish them and criminalize their non-cooperation in the latest cause-du-jour. They are threatened legally, hauled into court, decertified, fined, and/or shut down for failing to approve of whatever the theoretically tolerant people say they should.

A recent Supreme Court case granted some relief to a Colorado baker who was subjected to this. This does not mean that such actions are going to stop. The cultural elites and self-appointed enlightened ones will just keep at it until they reach their objectives. Wearisome, lengthy, and expensive lawsuits, along with increasingly severe legislation, will likely continue until complete compliance has been achieved.

Thus, we see how the imperial, autonomous self gradually becomes the imperious, authoritarian self. Tolerance becomes tyranny. Our current Pope warns of ideological colonization. Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI warned of the “tyranny of relativism” and subjectivism. When we shift the locus of truth from the object (reality) to the subject (the individual), “truth” becomes about power and who has more of it.

George Weigel, in his thoughtful book The Fragility of Order , summarizes our times as follows:

The drastic attenuation of … three great ideas:

  • that there are deep truths built into the world, into human beings and into human relationships;
  • that these truths can be known by reason;
  • and that knowledge of these truths is essential to living virtuously, which means living happily (p. 124).

With these three great ideas weakened, we are left with a very small world; we are turned inward and have become self-referential. These are the ultimate parameters of the imperial, autonomous self: it is a small world, closed on itself, with a population of one. It is centered on me and whatever I think. Forget about anyone else. Forget about heritage. Forget the collected wisdom of millennia. Because little can be agreed upon (even the patently obvious sex of male and female bodies), we are left with a fierce power struggle between competing visions of “reality.”

If Western culture was the fair flower of the Judeo-Christian vision, the post-modern world is an ugly dandelion with deep tap roots. It is a dandelion that has gone to seed, and its white, cotton-like seeds are blowing in the breeze and taking root everywhere.

What are we to do? First, we must see the revolution for what it is. There is a hopelessly fatal shifting of the locus of truth away from what is revealed by God in biblical revelation (Divine Truth) and in the Book of Creation as grasped by reason (Natural Law). This is our Judeo-Christian heritage; it was what grounded us and united us. Having removed and denied the efficacy of this, our modern world has become unmoored and unraveled, mired in hopeless power struggles.

Only a return to our roots can save us. Therefore, St. Paul’s mandate to Timothy must also become ours:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and encourage with every form of patient instruction. For the time will come when men will not tolerate sound doctrine, but with itching ears they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires. So they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim 4:2-5).

This is true not only for bishops and priests, but for parents, Catholics in general, and all believing citizens of this land. America remains a great country, and our religious sensibilities are not completely lost. There is time, but the door is closing, and our cultural opponents are more fierce and bold than ever before. This is a good fight, and if you find a good fight you should get in it.

Three Insights of Pope Leo XIII That Diagnose Our Cultural Malaise

Pope Leo XIII penned an insightful analysis of three trends that both alarmed him and pointed to future problems. He wrote of these three concerns in 1893 in the Encyclical on the Holy Rosary entitled Laetitiae Sanctae (Of Holy Joy). The Pope laid out these three areas of concern and then offered the Mysteries of the Rosary as a remedy. Let’s look at how he described the problems and then consider what he proposed as a solution. His teaching is presented in bold, black italics. My remarks are shown in plain, red text.

There are three influences which appear to us to have the chief place in effecting this downgrade movement of society. These are—first, the distaste for a simple and laborious life; secondly, repugnance to suffering of any kind; thirdly, the forgetfulness of the future life (# 4).

Problem 1: The distaste for a simple and laborious lifeWe deplore … the growing contempt of those homely duties and virtues which make up the beauty of humble life. To this cause we may trace in the home, the readiness of children to withdraw themselves from the natural obligation of obedience to the parents, and their impatience of any form of treatment which is not of the indulgent and effeminate kind. In the workman, it evinces itself in a tendency to desert his trade, to shrink from toil, to become discontented with his lot, to fix his gaze on things that are above him, and to look forward with unthinking hopefulness to some future equalization of property. We may observe the same temper permeating the masses in the eagerness to exchange the life of the rural districts for the excitements and pleasures of the town … (#5).

One of the truths that set us free is that life is hard. Along with the progress we can and do experience come trials, arduous work, and setbacks. Few things of true value come to us without significant cost. Coming to realize and accept that life is hard is freeing, for it minimizes or even removes many of our resentments. Many today expect that life should be peachy all the time and when it is not become angry and resentful; some even threaten lawsuits. It is common today to think of happiness as a God-given right. Our Founding Fathers recognized the pursuit of happiness as a right, but many think happiness itself is a right. When they are not happy, the system has somehow failed them. Many today expect to live lives in which there is little risk and things come easily. This has been one of the factors influencing the growth of government. As insistence on a comfortable life grows and hard work begins to seem an unreasonable demand, we expect government to ease our burdens and provide comfort and happiness; we are less willing to work hard for these things. Rather, we see happiness and comfort as things to which we are entitled.

Unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments. With unrealistic expectations, people quickly grow resentful. Our ancestors of a mere 150 years ago had different notions. They looked for happiness, too, but largely expected to find that in Heaven. Many of the old Catholic prayers bespeak a vision that this world was a place of travail and exile, a valley of tears where we sighed and longed to be with God. Many Catholics of those earlier times lived lives that were both difficult and short; they lived with far fewer creature comforts than we do today. There was no electricity or running water; medicines were few and far less effective. Entertainment was limited, houses were smaller, and transportation was far more restricted.

We live so well in comparison, yet despite being more comfortable, there is little evidence that we are happier. Indeed, we seem more resentful, probably because we expect more—a lot more. As Pope Leo noted, young people resent discipline and seem to expect to be spoiled. Most parents seem more than willing to indulge them while shirking their duty to correct, as that would bring tension and difficulty.

The value of hard work and the satisfaction that comes from it seem lost on many today. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick used to counsel us priests that if we did not go to bed tired, something was wrong. All of us need some rest and relaxation, but hard work actually brings greater satisfaction to times of rest.

The high expectations we have today breed discontent. We really insist on living in a fantasy that this world is, or can be, paradise; it cannot. A better strategy is to accept that life is at times difficult and to meet its difficulties with courage. Though this is a hard truth, accepting it brings peace.

In response to this first error, Pope Leo commended to our attention the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary and in particular a meditation on the implicit lessons of the home at Nazareth:

Let us take our stand in front of that earthly and divine home of holiness, the House of Nazareth. How much we have to learn from the daily life which was led within its walls! What an all-perfect model of domestic society! Here we behold simplicity and purity of conduct, perfect agreement and unbroken harmony, mutual respect and love … devotedness of service. Here is the patient industry which provides what is required for food and raiment; which does so “in the sweat of the brow,” which is contented with little …. These are precious examples of goodness, of modesty, of humility, of hard-working endurance, of kindness to others, of diligence in the small duties of daily life, and of other virtues …. Then will each one begin to feel his work to be no longer lowly and irksome, but grateful and lightsome, and clothed with a certain joyousness by his sense of duty in discharging it conscientiously … home-life … loved and esteemed … (# 6).

Problem 2: Repugnance to suffering of any kindA second evil … is to be found in repugnance to suffering and eagerness to escape whatever is hard or painful to endure. The greater number are thus robbed of that peace and freedom of mind which remains the reward of those who do what is right undismayed by the perils or troubles to be met with in doing so …. By this passionate and unbridled desire of living a life of pleasure, the minds of men are weakened, and if they do not entirely succumb, they become demoralized and miserably cower and sink under the hardships of the battle of life (# 7).

Today more than ever there is almost a complete intolerance of any sort of suffering. This has been fueled by the fact that we have been successful in eliminating much suffering from daily life.

We are largely protected from the elements, medicines alleviate much of our pain and bodily discomfort, appliances and advanced technology provide unprecedented convenience and make most routine manual labor all but unnecessary.

This leads to the unrealistic expectation that all suffering should be eliminated. There is almost an indignity expressed when one suggests that perhaps some things should be endured or that it is unreasonable to expect government, or science, or “someone” to eliminate every evil or all forms of suffering.

Further, we seem unwilling to accept that accidents happen, and unfortunate circumstances occur. Instead we demand more and more laws, some of which are intrusive and oppressive; we undertake lawsuits that discourage the very risk-taking that makes new inventions, medical breakthroughs, and scientific techniques possible.

We often hold people responsible for things over which they have little to no control. Economies have cycles as do climates. Governments and politicians cannot be expected to solve every problem or alleviate every burden. Sometimes things just happen and there’s no one to blame and no one that can fix it.

Life is not a cushioned room. While we can and should try to fix unnecessary hazards and seek to ease one another’s burdens, suffering, sorrows, accidents, and difficulties are all part of life in this valley of tears. Acceptance of this truth leads to a kind of paradoxical serenity. Rejection of it and indulgence in the unrealistic notion that all suffering is unreasonable leads to resentment and further unhappiness.

In response to this second error, Pope Leo commended to our attention the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.

If from our earliest years our minds have been trained to dwell upon the sorrowful mysteries of Our Lord’s life … we [may] see written in His example all the lessons that He Himself had taught us for the bearing of our burden of labor– and sorrow, and mark how the sufferings…He embraced with the greatest measure of generosity and good will. We behold Him overwhelmed with sadness, so that drops of blood ooze like sweat from His veins. We see Him bound like a malefactor, subjected to the judgment of the unrighteous, laden with insults, covered with shame, assailed with false accusations, torn with scourges, crowned with thorns, nailed to the cross, accounted unworthy to live …. Here, too, we contemplate the grief of the most Holy Mother … “pierced” by the sword of sorrow … (# 8).

Then, be it that the “earth is accursed” and brings forth “thistles and thorns,”—be it that the soul is saddened with grief and the body with sickness; even so, there will be no evil which the envy of man or the rage of devils can invent, nor calamity which can fall upon the individual or the community, over which we shall not triumph by the patience of suffering …. But by this patience, we do not mean that empty stoicism in the enduring of pain which was the ideal of some of the philosophers of old, but rather …. It is the patience which is obtained by the help of His grace; which shirks not a trial because it is painful, but which accepts it and esteems it as a gain, however hard it may be to undergo. [Men and women of faith] re-echo, not with their lips, but with their life, the words of [the Apostle] St. Thomas: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John xi., 16) (# 9).

The cross is part of this life, but Christ has made it clear that it yields ultimately to glory if we carry it willingly and with faith.

Problem 3: Forgetfulness of the future lifeThe third evil for which a remedy is needed is one which is chiefly characteristic of the times in which we live. Men in former ages, although they loved the world, and loved it far too well, did not usually aggravate their sinful attachment to the things of earth by a contempt of the things of heaven. Even the right-thinking portion of the pagan world recognized that this life was not a home but a dwelling-place, not our destination, but a stage in the journey. But men of our day, albeit they have had the advantages of Christian instruction, pursue the false goods of this world in such wise that the thought of their true Fatherland of enduring happiness is not only set aside, but, to their shame be it said, banished and entirely erased from their memory, notwithstanding the warning of St. Paul, “We have not here a lasting city, but we seek one which is to come” (Heb. xiii., 4) (# 11).

I am increasingly amazed at how infrequently most people think of Heaven. Even Churchgoing believers talk little of it; priests rarely preach on it. Our main preoccupation seems to be making this world a more comfortable and pleasant place. Even in our so-called spiritual life, our prayers bespeak a worldly preoccupation: Lord, fix my money problems; improve my heath; get me a better job. It is almost as though we are saying, “Make this world pleasant enough and I’ll just stay here.” It is not wrong to pray for these things, nor is it wrong to work to make this world a better place, but our true home is in Heaven and we ought to seek its shores eagerly. We should meditate on Heaven frequently and the deepest longing of our soul should be to be with God forever. Instead we fear getting older; our culture tries to keep death hidden away. It ought to be that we can’t wait to see God. Sure, it would be nice to finish a few things we’ve started, but as Heaven and being with God draw closer, we should be happy that the years are flying by faster. Each day means we are one day closer to God!

Our prosperity has misled us into having an unhealthy love of this world. A friend of the world is an enemy to God (James 4:4). We are distracted and too easily forget that this world is passing away; we are all going to die. Only a proper longing for Heaven can correct the absurdity that an obsessive love for this world establishes in our soul.

Meditate on Heaven frequently! Read the scriptures, such as Revelation 1, & 4-5, 20-21. Ask for a deeper longing from God.

In response to this third error, Pope Leo commended to our attention the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary as a medicine for both our absurd attachment to this passing world and our forgetfulness of Heaven:

These mysteries are the means by which, in the soul of a Christian, a most clear light is shed upon the good things, hidden to sense, but visible to faith, “which God has prepared for those who love Him.” From them we learn that death is not an annihilation which ends all things, but merely a migration and passage from life to life. By them we are taught that the path to Heaven lies open to all men, and as we behold Christ ascending thither, we recall the sweet words of His promise, “I go to prepare a place for you.” By them we are reminded that a time will come when “God will wipe away every tear from our eyes,” and that “neither mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow, shall be any more,” and that “We shall be always with the Lord,” and “like to the Lord, for we shall see Him as He is,” and “drink of the torrent of His delight,” as “fellow-citizens of the saints,” in the blessed companionship of our glorious Queen and Mother. Dwelling upon such a prospect, our hearts are kindled with desire, and we exclaim, in the words of a great saint, “How vile grows the earth when I look up to heaven!” Then, too, shall we feel the solace of the assurance “that this momentary and light affliction produces for us an eternal weight of glory beyond measure, exceedingly” (2 Cor. iv., 17).

Here, then, are three diagnoses and three remedies. It is interesting that the roots of these problems were already evident in 1893. How much more they press upon us over a century later! It is helpful to have a doctor of souls to help us name the demons that afflict us. Having named a demon, we have more power over it and can learn its moves more easily.

  • Demon, your name is “laziness” and “distaste for hard work.” By the joyful mysteries of the Lord’s life, be gone.
  • Demon, your name is “refusal of any suffering” and “resentment at the cross.” By the sorrowful mysteries of the Lord’s life, be gone.
  • Demon, your name is “forgetfulness of Heaven” and “obsession with the passing world.” By the glorious mysteries of the Lord’s life (and our Lady’s, too), be gone.

God Has His Seven Thousand: A Word of Encouragement from the Life of Elijah

This week in daily Mass we read of the struggles of Elijah the Prophet, who spent his life fighting the influence of the Canaanite god Baal in Israel. Up on Mt. Carmel, Elijah was strong and fearless, but he also had moments of deep discouragement.

Many of us today are discouraged in these times of cultural confusion, times when so many Catholics have fallen away from the practice of the faith or so easily dissent. It makes me think of the prophet Elijah at his lowest moment: he was in a cave, anxious and fretting, so depressed he could barely eat.

Those were very dark times, when huge numbers of Jews fell away from the exclusive worship of the LORD and bent the knee to Baal. Jezebel, the foreign wife of the Jewish King Ahab, was instrumental in spreading this apostasy. Elijah fought against it tirelessly and at times felt quite alone.

There he was, fleeing from Queen Jezebel (who sought his life) and deeply discouraged by his fellow Jews, who were either too confused or too fearful to resist the religion of the Baals demanded by Jezebel. Perhaps he thought he was the last of those who held the true religion. In the cave, Elijah pours out his lament.

And there he came to a cave, and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Ki 19:9–10).

God will have none of this despair or complaining. He says to Elijah,

Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria; and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And him who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay; and him who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet I have seven thousand in Israel, that have never bent the knee to nor bowed to Baal, nor kissed him with the mouth (1 Ki 19:15–18).

There are others after all! It is a small remnant to be sure, but Elijah is not alone. A small remnant remains faithful and God will rebuild, working with them.

Elijah is commanded not to give way to discouragement, but rather to keep preaching and to anoint leaders and a prophet who will keep preaching after him.

This is a lesson for all of us.

In times like these, it is hard not to feel like Elijah: deeply disappointed and even discouraged in the face of our current cultural decline. How many of our countrymen and even fellow Catholics have bent the knee to the Baals of our time, accepting the doctrines of demons? How many have been led astray by the Jezebels and the false religion of the Baals of our time, setting aside the cross and substituting the pillow of comfort and selfish desire? Now, like then, many are told to immolate their children, to kill the innocent through abortion (and call it “choice,” “women’s healthcare,” or “reproductive freedom”). There is widespread misunderstanding of marriage, rampant divorce, cohabitation, fornication, children being born out of wedlock, sweeping approval for same-sex unions, and even the open celebration of homosexual activity. All of this causes grievous harm to children by shredding the family—the very institution that needs to be strong if they are to be raised well.

Euthanasia is back in the news, and the legalization of polygamy may be on the horizon.

So here we are today in a culture of rebellion. Sadly, too many in the Church (including clergymen and those in the Church hierarchy) seem bewitched, succumbing to false compassion.

Lest we become like Elijah in the cave, discouraged and edging toward despair, we ought to hear again the words of God to Elijah: I have seven thousand in Israel that have never bent the knee to nor bowed to Baal.

God has a way of working with remnants in order to rebuild His Kingdom. Mysteriously, He allows a kind of pruning, a falling away of what He calls the cowards (e.g., Judges 7:3, Rev 21:8). With those who are left, He can achieve a great victory.

Consider that at the foot of the cross there was only one bishop (i.e., one priest, one man) who had the courage to be there. Only four or five women possessed such courage. But Jesus was there; and with a remnant, a small fraction of His followers, He won thorough to the end.

Are you praying with me? Stay firm! Stay confident! Do not despair! There are seven thousand who have not bent the knee to the Baals of this age. With a small group, the Lord can win through to the end. Are you among the seven thousand? Or do the Baals hold some of your allegiance? Where do you stand?

Elijah was reminded that he was not alone. Hearing of the faith of so many of you readers reminds me that I am not alone. When I hear the Amens coming from my congregation as I preach the “old time religion,” I remember that I am not alone. When I gather with other coalitions of believers, I am reminded that there are many good souls still to be found. Seek them out. Build alliances, and stand ready to resist, to fight the coming and already-present onslaughts.

I cannot be certain of the fate of Western culture (frankly, it doesn’t look good). I am not sure if these are the end times or just the end of an era. But of this I am sure: Jesus wins and so do all who stand with Him and persevere to the end. Get up, Elijah. Go prophesy, even if you are killed for it. Keep preaching until the last soul is converted..

On the “Memorare” of Memorial Day

Memorial Day for many means the beginning of summer. To others, it is a day off to go shopping. But as I am sure you know, Memorial Day is really a day to honor those who have died in the service of this country. Here are some thoughts based on two words that arise on a day like this: “memorial” and “monument.”

The word “memorial” comes from the Latin memorare, an imperative that means “Remember!” Therefore, Memorial Day is “Remember!” Day. To remember something is to allow it to be present to our mind and heart so that we are grateful, sober, aware, and different because of it.

This is a day to remember that there are men and women who died so that you and I are able to live with greater security, justice, and peace. May these fallen soldiers rest in peace. We owe them both a debt of gratitude and our prayers.

In a secondary sense, we can also honor today those who currently serve in the military because they also place their lives on the line for our security and peace. On Veterans Day we will have a second opportunity to thank those in the military who are still living.

God bless them all and may the dead rest in peace. We must remember that freedom is not really free—others paid the price for our freedom.

The second word is “monument,” which comes from the Latin words monere (to warn, remind, or advise) and mens (mind).  Hence a monument exists to admonish or advise us to remember the dead and/or what they have done. Not only do we owe a debt of gratitude to our fallen soldiers, but we must also hold in our memories all they have done for us.

There are many memorials and some monuments as well honoring our fallen soldiers. Here in Washington, D.C. and in most cities, there are memorials to the soldiers who died during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the War in Vietnam. Soon enough there will be monuments to the fallen from the Gulf War and to those who gave their lives in other wars. The Tomb of the Unknowns is a poignant monument to the many fallen who remain unknown to us. And who can forget the deep impression that the rows of white crosses in a military cemetery make?

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

The Lord Himself makes it plain: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).

We must never forget the price that others have paid for our freedom. Pray for our fallen soldiers from every generation and for their families.

Here is the text of the song “Mansions of the Lord”:

To fallen soldiers let us sing,
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing,
Our broken brothers let us bring
To the Mansions of the Lord

No more weeping,
No more fight,
No prayers pleading through the night,
Just Divine embrace,
Eternal light,
In the Mansions of the Lord

Where no mothers cry
And no children weep,
We shall stand and guard
Though the angels sleep,
Oh, through the ages safely keep
The Mansions of the Lord

Perhaps you might use the following video as a way to meditate on the sacrifices they have made:

A New Movie: Paul, Apostle of Christ

Over a month ago I was blessed to get an early view of the new movie, Paul, Apostle of Christ. It is indeed wonderful — beautifully filmed and with a moving ending. It is not a simple retelling of the Acts of the Apostles; such films have already been made. Instead, it is a moving portrait of St. Paul (James Faulkner) and St. Luke (Jim Caviezel).

The setting is Rome during St. Paul’s last days. Great persecutions are underway, taking a heavy toll on the Christians there. The movie presents the humanness of these struggles, both individually and communally. It weaves many of Paul’s writings in, but not in an artificial way. It also depicts a personal dimension of Paul by developing certain painful memories he carried with him. While these memories are mentioned in Paul’s writings, their creative treatment in the movie leads to its powerful conclusion.

To avoid having to issue a “spoiler alert” I will not say any more about the movie, but I strongly encourage you to see it. Expect less of a retelling of Acts or a presentation of Paul’s writings and more of a treatment of Paul, Luke, and the early Christians, who endured so as to hand the faith on to us.

On Presidents Day We Should Remember That Washington and Lincoln Often Called us to Prayer

We live in a secular age. Religious utterances by government officials are greeted with surprise or even indignation by some. While the primary role of civil leaders is not a religious one, insisting that never express religious sentiment is a form of extremism rooted in exaggerated conception of the idea of the separation of Church and State. In fact, “separation of Church and State” appears nowhere in the United States Constitution.

On Presidents’ Day we do well to look to history to clarify that these extreme, modern concerns were not shared by Washington, Lincoln, and many other leaders.

Religion and the First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

While the First Amendment prohibits Congress from passing a law respecting an establishment of religion (the “Establishment Clause”), but it also specifies that it shall pass no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion (the “Free Exercise Clause”). This second pillar, protecting the free exercise of religion, has been eroding over the years, with the definition of “exercise” ever-narrowing. Increasingly, the claim is made that religious bodies (especially the Catholic Church, it seems) are seen to have no right to attempt any influence in the legislative process. This, of course, would limit our ability to freely exercise our faith, a major tenet of which is that we should evangelize, be a light to the world, and testify to the truth. More and more, secularists are proposing that the only acceptable place for religious expression of any kind is within the four walls of a church building.

Many argue that America’s founding fathers wanted it this way, that they wanted a “wall of separation” because most of them were either irreligious or deists. It is interesting to note that despite this most of them spoke freely of God, including appeals to Him and His will in their remarks. This is true even of Thomas Jefferson (who famously referred to a “wall of separation between Church and State” in a letter). Of the five inscriptions on the walls of the Jefferson Memorial, culled from his writings, three refer God and one to the Creator. Most of the founding fathers (who purportedly wanted this dramatic separation of Church and State) were involved in drafting the Constitution.

Many people love to point out that God is never mentioned in the Constitution. Oh, but He is! The final line of the Constitution reads as follows:

Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty-seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth. In Witness whereof, We have hereunto subscribed our Names

“In the year of our Lord …” where did that come from? I guess the drafters of the Constitution never got the memo that God is not to be mentioned in government documents or at government functions. The Lord referenced here is none other than Jesus Christ, for the year corresponds to the number of years since His birth.

The first signature on the Constitution is that of George Washington. Apparently he also never got the memo about keeping God and religion out of all things governmental because he mentioned God frequently in his writings and speeches. Below are just three examples. The first speaks of our obligation to give thanks to God; it is a decree declaring a Day of Thanksgiving in the United States on November 26, 1789. The second is from a speech to an assembly of Delaware Indian Chiefs in 1779 (it would be considered highly politically incorrect today). The third is from his last speech to the U.S. Legislature.

  1. Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:” Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best. Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789 George Washington, President.
  2. You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are (Speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs on May 12, 1779).
  3. I now make it my earnest prayer that God would … most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of the mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion (Last Official Address of George Washington to the Legislature of the United States).

Abraham Lincoln also often referred to God and faith:

  1. On Faith as among the civic virtues – Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty (First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861).
  2. On Divine ProvidenceIn the very responsible position in which I happen to be placed, being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all are, to work out his great purposes, I have desired that all my works and acts may be according to his will, and that it might be so, I have sought his aid—but if after endeavoring to do my best in the light which he affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for some purpose unknown to me, He wills it otherwise. If I had had my way, this war would never have been commenced; If I had been allowed my way this war would have been ended before this, but we find it still continues; and we must believe that He permits it for some wise purpose of his own, mysterious and unknown to us; and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that he who made the world still governs it (Letter to Eliza Gurney, October 26, 1862).
  3. On Religious Liberty – But I must add that the U.S. government must not, as by this order, undertake to run the churches. When an individual, in a church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest, he must be checked; but let the churches, as such take care of themselves. It will not do for the U.S. to appoint Trustees, Supervisors, or other agents for the churches (Letter to Samuel Curtis, January 2, 1863).
  4. On the Justice of God – Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-mans two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether” (Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865).

These are just a few samples showing that the aversion to any religious reference is relatively new and is a disposition largely unknown to our founding fathers as well as to those of Lincoln’s era. These quotes do not “prove” that Presidents Washington and Lincoln were perfect Christians or that they were never critical of any aspects of religion, but they do indicate that they both understood the importance of religious faith to our country and were quite comfortable articulating both the need for faith and its benefits.

Extremism – Recent attempts to completely ban any religious expression, any spoken appreciation for religion, or any encouragement of its practice, would surely seem extreme to these men—extreme and far removed from the embrace our country has historically extended to faith.

Washington and Lincoln did not hesitate to invoke God, ask His blessings, and exhort their fellow citizens to prayer. Let us pray for our country and for all of our leaders. Happy Presidents’ Day!

Has Jesus Saved You from This Present Evil Age?

Jesus Christ came to save us from our sins; that is certainly true. St. Paul said, The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1 Tim 1:15).

St. Paul mentioned another truth, however, one we too often forget. It came during a benediction to the people Galatia:

We wish you the favor and peace of God our Father and of the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, to rescue us from this present evil age, as our God and Father willed—to him be glory for endless ages. Amen (Galatians 1:3-4).

So Jesus came to rescue us from “this present evil age.” What is this evil age? It is more than a mere period of time. It is the collection, the confluence of philosophies, ideologies, powers, illusions, and sinful attitudes that are arrayed against us. The world and its prince seek to draw us into their realm, to win our loyalty, our very heart.

This is our foremost daily battle. We live in a world filled with loud sounds, flashy lights, vivid imagery, and enticing morsels. In an age dominated by various media, there is rarely a moment that is not filled with distractions and “come hither” seductions that appeal to our fallen nature. Although it is orchestrated by Satan, the prince of this world, many willingly connive in the deal, for there is enormous profit to be made and the glory of power to be had by those who participate in the system.

Behind the bait of glittering lights and tempting morsels is a hook that easily ensnares us and can only be removed with pain. While there are lawful pleasures from God to be enjoyed, too often what is offered is not from Him. This can be discerned by the fact that the fake gifts of this evil age are distorted by excess or are directed to the wrong end.

Christ Jesus came to save us from our sins as well as from this present evil age. Is this clear to us? Does the idea even appeal to us? Most Christians seem quite content to expose themselves completely to the age and accept even its most sinful propositions without question. These views are accepted uncritically because they seem popular, while the gospel is criticized as irrelevant or even hateful. We willingly spend hours exposing our minds and hearts to this world and its values yet find it challenging to pray for even ten minutes a day.

St. John said,

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).

St. James added,

Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility with God? Therefore, whoever has chosen to be a friend of the world is an enemy of God (James 4:4).

Thus we do indeed need to be saved from this present evil age. Our hearts are weak and we are easily swayed by apparent, passing goods away from what are true, lasting, true goods. Without Christ we are easy targets.

Help us, Lord; our wounded hearts pine for all the wrong things in all the wrong places. Save us, Lord, from this present evil age!