The Only Hope is Holiness: A Meditation on What it will take to Restore our Culture

093014There has been a tendency for traditional Catholics to hitch their wagons to the Republican Party specifically, and to conservative politics in general. It is demonstrably true that the stated platform of the Republican Party has been more aligned with Catholic teaching on a number of critical issues: abortion, religious liberty, the definition of marriage, euthanasia, school choice, parental notification, etc. And while it is true that some other issues as stated in the Catechism (opposition to the death penalty, immigration reform, care for the poor, etc.) align with Democratic views, most traditional Catholics point out that these issues are either not doctrinally absolute, or are matters about which reasonable people can differ in terms of implementation.

But though it is demonstrably true that the Republican platform hews closely to Catholic teaching on many life and family issues, it is also demonstrably true that there has been an alarming and consistent decline in cultural adherence to Catholic, biblical, and traditional teaching in these matters. And this decline has occurred despite significant periods of Republican ascendency in the past 60 years. There have been many Republican presidents during the years since the cultural revolution of 1968. And there have been periods of significant Republican control of Congress as well, especially since 1994. At best, traditional values held their own during these periods. But it is hard to argue that Republican or conservative majorities reversed the rising tide of abortion and euthanasia, reduced the levels of fornication,  diminished the number of divorces, or curtailed support for same-sex unions.

What are we to learn from this? A thoughtful article by Yuval Levin over at First Things offers some insights. I am generally less optimistic than he, but I would like to share what I think are some of his better reflections. The full article is here: A Pessimistic Case for Hope. I have added my own remarks below in red text.

Yuval Levin, who is at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and is editor of National Affairs writes,

Ten years ago this fall, it seemed for a moment like social conservatives might be ascendant in our politics. Immediately after the 2004 election, some analysts on the right and left alike said George W. Bush’s reelection signaled a rising tide of “values voters” who would yield an enduring nationwide advantage for Republicans on social issues … Many social conservatives now look wistfully upon that moment and see in the decade that followed … a sorry decline. Both politics and the culture now seem increasingly hostile to social conservatism, and religious believers in the public square are fighting for even minimal tolerance. The tide appears to have turned decisively

So here is well described the tendency over the past thirty years to seek to advance traditional cultural values through political connections. This is not intrinsically wrong and has many historical precedents. For many decades the Catholic Church unofficially aligned with the Democratic Party in order to advance Catholic social teaching related to civil rights, labor conditions, wages, benefits, etc. As those issues waned and labor unions become powerful (and all too often corrupt), attention shifted to moral issues in the wake of the sexual and cultural revolution.

The “legalization” of abortion in 1973 did not immediately cause a political realignment. But by the early 1980s the parties largely landed on different sides of the issue. Catholics increasingly found allies among Republicans regarding abortion and other family and life issues that were emerging in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision and the 60s revolution.

However, unlike the unofficial “partnership” with the Democratic Party during the heady days of labor victories and the Civil Rights movement, the alliance with Republicans has produced only limited victories and little more than a slowing of the erosion of the values related to family, faith, and life. And thus Levin notes here the general pessimism that pervades traditional ranks today. He continues,

But today’s cultural conservatives exhibit the wrong sort of pessimism about all this. They are too pessimistic about their cultural and political prospects because they are not pessimistic enough about the limits of human nature. A clearer sense of those limits should help us see not only why traditionalism never triumphs in the liberal society but also why progressivism can never suffice …

Ah! Here is an interesting reference to our fallen human condition. At the end of the day, government cannot remedy our fallen tendency to be obtuse, rebellious, greedy, and licentious. It is really more the role of culture and the presence of a strong, prophetic, organized, and effective Church that must, by God’s grace, work to remedy the worst of the ills we face. The notion of a large government role in creating a just society is too easily a form of utopianism.

Perhaps it is true that government, through laws and policies, can reinforce good behavior and punish bad or destructive behavior. But if the culture is really heading south (as it is), that culture will ultimately infect the very government some wish to engage as an ally. Why are there so many wicked, corrupt, and confused leaders in the civic arena? Why are even the better among civic leaders often weak and ineffective in boldly addressing the cultural decline? Why do conservative judges, on whom so many have placed high hopes, so often disappoint? Because, at the end of the day, these are the sorts of leaders (and people) our culture produces: deceived, often unscrupulous, weak, uncertain, ineffective, and easily swayed.

Sadly, the malaise has often reached the Church as well. For while the Church still teaches infallibly on faith and morals, and while her doctrine and Scripture provide a sure light, this guarantee does not extend to all her human leaders, who are also products of a confused, compromised, and darkened culture. Clear and courageous teachers and leaders among the clergy (as well as among parents) are becoming harder and harder to find, and all too often they disappoint.

What then are concerned and traditional Catholics to do? Levin offers the following:

[Traditionalists] should live out their faiths and their ways in the world, confident that their instruction and example will make that world better and that people will be drawn to the spark … And it means that traditionalists must be committed to the preservation of spaces for private life that are protected from the perverse shortsightedness of politics.

In other words, it means that we are going to have to persist in our fight to keep government out of our families and our Church. Increasingly intrusive government involvement needs to be seen for the danger that it is. Levin continues,

We should be intensely engaged in the struggle for the soul of our society—knowing we can expect no ultimate victory from politics, but also that we are by no means destined to defeat, and that by persisting in the struggle we make room for another generation to rise and thrive and seek to embody the good.

Many years ago, Venerable Fulton Sheen remarked that we have tried every means to change the world but one: holiness. Government cannot save us; only God can save us. And God works through grace and the transformation of world—one soul at a time. It is easier to put on slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth. So, it is time to cover our feet with the Gospel of Truth.

Holiness cannot remain an abstraction. It is time for traditional Catholic men and women to get married and stay married, to have larger families and raise them in the fear of the Lord. It is time to stop being greedy and selling our soul for the trinkets of the world, so that we can’t “afford” children. It’s time to pray and fast. It’s time for Eucharistic Adoration, and the Rosary, and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. It’s time to stop fornicating, remaining silent about the sinfulness of homosexual acts, and making light of any form of sinful rebellion. It’s time to dress modestly and live differently, visibly, in a world that has become increasingly coarse, immodest, and cynical. It’s time to heroically care for the poor and not just think the government should do what we ought to do. And we must bring the poor to the gospel, not just attend to their physical needs as yet another social service agency. It’s time for clergy and parents to be more courageous and clear.

It is time to live differently. Our only real hope is holiness; only then can we be real leaven that will raise our culture out of the mess in which we are currently mired.

Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; … [Thus purifying your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart (1 Peter 1:13ff).


Here is a video that celebrates virtue:

28 Replies to “The Only Hope is Holiness: A Meditation on What it will take to Restore our Culture”

  1. Here are the words of the song in the video:

    1. King Jesus hath a garden, full of divers flowers,
    Where I go culling posies gay, all times and hours.

    There naught is heard but Paradise bird,
    Harp, dulcimer, lute,
    With cymbal, trump and tymbal,
    And the tender, soothing flute.

    2. The Lily, white in blossom there, is Chastity:
    The Violet, with sweet perfume, humility. Refrain

    3. The bonny Damask-rose is known as Patience:
    The blithe and thrifty Marygold, Obedience.

    4. The Crown Imperial bloometh too in yonder place,
    ‘Tis Charity, of stock divine, the flower of grace.

    5. Yet, ‘mid the brave, the bravest prize of all may claim
    The Star of Bethlem-Jesus-bless’d be his Name! Refrain

    6. Ah! Jesu Lord, my heal and weal, my bliss complete,
    Make thou my heart thy garden-plot, fair, trim and neat. Refrain

  2. WOW: yes, amen. Thanks Msgr.

    “Many years ago Venerable Fulton Sheen remarked that we have tried every means to change the world but one: holiness. Government cannot save us; only God can save us. And God works through grace and the transformation of world one soul at a time. It is easier to put on slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth. So, it is time to shod our feet with the Gospel of Truth. …”

    “It is time to live differently. Our only real hope is holiness, only then can we bee a real leaven that will lift our culture out of the mess and mire we are currently in.”

  3. Msgr Pope,

    Another great article. We need to hear more preaching on how we should be conducting ourselves as Catholics. Personal holiness is not nearly discussed enough in homilies…

    A couple of points in your opening paragraph that I would take issue with. (Note: while you characterize people in your piece as “Republicans” and “Democrats”, I prefer not to categorize people by political party, but by ideology)

    I will agree that most conservatives (you used the term Republicans) tend to agree with the positions taken by St Thomas Aquinas (e.g., S.Th II-II-64-2&3; SCG III.164) and St Augustine (e.g., Civ. Dei I.21) in regards to the death penalty, rather than the position espoused by the post Vatican II popes and that supported by the USCCB.

    Having said that, you state that immigration reform, care for the poor, etc., more closely line up with the Democratic party. I would submit that the position taken by most conservative Christians on those subjects line up far more closely with the Papal Magisterium than those taken by leftists.

    I know of very, very few conservative Christians (Catholic or otherwise) who object to immigration. Most of those with whom I associate have absolutely no problem with immigration: most of us object to uncontrolled, illegal immigration. While I acknowledge that most of the US bishops do not distinguish between the two, there is actually a distinction. I do not know of many who object to the terms of CCC 2241.2.

    Pope St John Paul II made three salient points in his Message for World Migration Day, 1996:

    1. Illegal immigration should be prevented
    2. It is also essential to combat vigorously the criminal activities which exploit illegal immigrants.
    3. The most appropriate choice, which will yield consistent and long-lasting results is that of international co-operation which aims to foster political stability and to eliminate underdevelopment. [NB: which would lessen the need to migrate for family survival]

    While there might be discussion among conservatives as to the State’s role in the third point highlighted above, I doubt that there is much argument about the first two points.

    As to the subject of care for the poor, there is a profound difference between the attitude of conservatives and leftists. As I understand it, leftists wish for the State to provide cradle-to-grave care for everybody who is either unable or unwilling to work. Most conservatives with whom I speak believe that the Lord’s mandate in Matt 25:31ff is an individual responsibility, a corporal work of mercy, as opposed to something that is properly carried out by the State. I know of very, very few conservatives who would argue with the proper “Role of the State in the Economic Sector” as defined in Art. 48 of Pope St John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus. I cannot think of any conservative I’ve ever met who would disagree with the principle of the inviolability of private property as defined throughout Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. Likewise, the principle of subsidiarity defined in Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno 79 is just plain common sense to any conservative I have ever met (whether Catholic or otherwise).

    As Pope Benedict XVI stated in Deus Caritas Est:

    “The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. ”

    As for how well conservatives actually do with supporting private charitable efforts, I would encourage you to review the chart at this webpage ( ) to see the amount of charitable giving as a percentage of income by state. With few exceptions, conservative states are at the top of the list.


    I recognize that the above is going off on a tangent rather than addressing the thrust of your blog post, but the idea that the Church is lined up with conservatives (“the Republicans”) when it comes to morality issues but lined up with leftists (“the Democrats”) when it comes to social issues is something that seems to be accepted as a truism in many, if not most, Catholic circles; yet I don’t see that “truism” holding up to scrutiny when actual leftist policies are scrutinized in the light of the Papal Magisterium. This is especially true when we examine the impacts on society when those leftist policies are put in place over a period of decades.

    1. Mark,

      Thank you for your insights on these issues and for proving the point made above:

      “We should be intensely engaged in the struggle for the soul of our society—knowing we can expect no ultimate victory from politics, but also that we are by no means destined to defeat, and that by persisting in the struggle we make room for another generation to rise and thrive and seek to embody the good.

      Many years ago, Venerable Fulton Sheen remarked that we have tried every means to change the world but one: holiness. Government cannot save us; only God can save us. And God works through grace and the transformation of world—one soul at a time. It is easier to put on slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth. So, it is time to cover our feet with the Gospel of Truth.”

      I think that we Catholics really DO need to strive for the holiness and acts of mercy described in the article as a solution to our problems. And in our efforts to do so should remain charitable toward all while avoiding “hot button” labels like “leftist”, “radical right”, and so on. When we use these labels we push ourselves apart even further. Charity would help so much more. May God Give You Peace!

      1. Just one thing, Dennis and Msgr, I see faithful Catholics seeking personal holiness in their lives and families. But, I see few examples of evangelization. I know Msgr, you have a holy example in your parish, more of us need to learn to actually evangelize in our daily lives. Sometimes you have to use words! Thank you Msgr.

  4. The fundamental error has been the embrace of mass democracy and liberalism in general. The Catholic Church not only has has forgotten the teachings of the great pre-Vatican II social encyclicals but now actively promotes the errors they condemned. There isn’t much hope in either political party in America (the Republicans are indifferent and the Democrats are openly hostile to the Church) but there are some stirrings of life in Europe. Yes, we need holiness as a foundation for everything but we also need a society that doesn’t actively try and destroy people’s souls. That requires a politics that is Christian…..not democratic, not multicultural, not equal….Christian.

    1. Nate:

      I think it was St. Thomas More who said that “the times are never so bad that a good man cannot live in them.” Your hope for a revival of Christendom is misplaced, my friend; the Protestant movement ended that idea centuries ago. At best, we can hope (like St. Augustine) for a political system that maintains the earthly peace and allows Christians to practice their faith unimpeded.

      1. You are making a straw man argument. I did not claim that we will see a return to the Christendom of the European Middle Ages. I don’t think that is likely either. But it is possible to see explicitly Christian societies emerge in various places around the world. I do not subscribe to the belief that secular democracy/dictatorship or Islamic totalitarianism are the only choices for humanity. The Christendom of the Middle Ages arose from the ashes of the Western Empire. So too could another Christendom arise in places from the current, godless world order. But, as Msgr. Pope pointed out, it will take holy men and women to make that happen. All is possible with God!

  5. A million times AMEN! Thanks to you Msgr Pope for fighting the good fight.
    “Holiness cannot remain an abstraction.” You are so correct. Many view holiness as something for the Saints, or the Prophets in the bible, even as something that can no longer be attained (or necessary?) in this ‘modern’ era. But rather, holiness is what is so absolutely required in this day and age!

    Keep us inspired Father and help us to be Holy!

  6. Great point about the culture setting the course for values – St. JPII said likewise about Poland, and went on to use the Catholic culture against the Polish tyrants (“Witness to Hope”, by George Weigel).

  7. The start of October , with a calendar chock full of saints , reminding us , as the article too does, about holiness and the related capacity to love and be loved , in ways that really matter .

    True, many more amidst us, , need to trust that holiness is also about power, purpose and joy , esp. from being delivered from attitudes that can keep us estranged at a deep level from each other , such as in families whereas , by taking in the grace , with its capacity to empathise in the weaknesses , forgive and be merciful , prayerfully with trust , waiting for deliverance where and in whom it is needed – that such can bring lot more depth and meaning in relationships and all the good for society all around as well .

    In this month of Rosary , being with The Mother, to know that The Lord allowed all the outpouring strenght of the Holy Spirit love , in the sufferings in her life, to fit every need and ocasion of our lives ,
    thus to be filled with the same Spirit, in gratitude and trust in the goodness of God , to help us too, to love and forgive – no wonder how The Lord mentions how meditating on The Passion is a ‘short ‘ way to holiness .

    May same deliver us , our family lines, from the curse of pride and all that comes with it ( the deceptive, manipulative ways ) . the alienation from God and each other , instead , allowing the two edged sword of The Spirit ( ? The Two Hearts ) , to severe what is not of God , to fill us and those in our lives, with holy love for God and each other !

  8. A faithful Catholic has two political options in this country: the Party of Mammon and the Party of Moloch. In the end I agree with the good Monsignor: true change will come not through political means, but through cultural means. When that happens, our politics will mirror our culture, not drive it.

    Even more importantly, we cannot forget that we are but “strangers and captives” (as St. Augustine put it) in this City of Man. No what matter how much we might like to reform society, we need to remember that, in the end, our true citizenship is not of this world.

  9. “….It is time to live differently. Our only real hope is holiness; …”

    Summary, Please list those attributes of a holy person:

    1. 1. Know thyself and work to become more like Christ
      2. Maintain your soul in a state of sanctifying grace
      3. Love God, your neighbor and then yourself
      4. Follow the commandments
      5. Obey the Church
      6. Seek ways to serve others
      7. Always reflect on your motives and ask God to purify them
      8. Pray, hope and don’t worry.
      9. Always seek to give others the benefit of the doubt that their intentions are better than you might think
      10. Show mercy to sinners and saints alike

    2. teomatteo, There are only two. (1). Love your neighbor as yourself. (2) Love your Lord God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength.

      In other words, you have freedom of will for only one purpose, teomatteo. That is, to choose to do Gods Will. Any other use of our human will leads to separation and sin.
      How do I know Gods Will for my life? Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened to you. However once he gives you light you may need to pray for strength because His Will maybe hard for you in the current demonic culture of death. Don’t be afraid! Your guardian angel and the Holy Spirit are there to strengthen you.

  10. I think it is interesting now many people condemn Vatican II, but have never read the documents from it. They’re really quite beautiful.

    Consider if you will, that Vatican II was not the cause but the effect of social change.

    World War II lead to overwhelming societal changes across the globe. That Russia was not converted as requested by the Blessed Mother to the children at Fatima is likely the beginning of the cascade of moral decay. Though heroes were born and made in that war, families were changed. Mothers began to take jobs normally filled by men and did not return to the home when the war ended. Thus the family unit was weakened.

    Economic prosperity following the war also lead to moral decline as the buying power of the consumer increased. As more things filled our lives, less space was left for God and the Church. Thus the family unit was weakened even more.

    Once God had been quieted, the 60’s free love mentality ushered in a rise in promiscuity and soon thereafter, “no-fault” divorce. A few short years later, slaughtering innocents became “legal.”

    We had a short respite in the 70’s during the fuel crisis, but Reagan era prosperity sealed the deal with gluttonous consumerism. We have never looked back.

  11. Monsignor, I agree that true change can only come through holiness, but why would you imply that the Republican Party is not concerned about “care for the poor”? Big government is not the only way to care for the poor. Charity works best at the local level and that is what the Republicans always worked for and advanced. Thank you for your informative posts.

  12. To “teomatteo” – Msgr. Pope wrote the paragraph, above, starting “Holiness cannot remain an abstraction.” That can be enlarged upon, but it pretty well nails the important items, I should think.

  13. It seems both major political parties have come to operate on appearances rather than facts. The drive to stay in power has become the moving factor behind the their votes on issues. Catholics politicians should be protecting the family unit and the church from the overbearing government intrusion into our lives. When so many Catholic politicians support anti life issues, homosexual agendas, and government service programs without limits they leave their faith at the Capital door. How can they not realize they jeopardize their souls? How many have they led down the wrong path of discernment? The politicians I vote for usually lose. They are maligned in the press and in popular culture. The old way to a voters heart was the pocketbook. If it was threatened enough by government they would revolt, but today there are so many on government assistance the people do not want government cut back. Their assistance is more important than their freedom. The government has become the family support system and their God.

  14. Our Blessed Mother is coming with 2 messages a month for us – ALL her children. The 2nd of the month message is for non-believers more specifically, the 25th of the month for everyone. A Friend of Medjugorje has written many pamphlets and books using her messages. But the 2 books everyone and especially Catholics, should read are Look What Happened When You Were Sleeping and They Fired the First Shot: 2012. These not only remind us how we should be acting but in the 2nd one it is telling us how to prepare our families for all the evil that is being perpetrated on US citizens and in the world. Our Lady has been warning us to pray and fast and say the rosary daily. We can’t count on politicians, our Blessed Mother is our only REAL hope because she is holding back the tide of God’s anger right now.

  15. Ah, the “which political party is better for Catholics” rant. I posit the following:

    1) The Catholic Church stops taking any and all tax dollars from Caesar. Being your parish is located in the belly of the beast, this should be obvious. The “Faith Based Initiatives” that W started was a clever ploy to ensnare and trap all religions into doing and saying what Caesar wanted. Defy the Emperor, and you will starve. This is the justification for the HHS mandate forcing all to provide free abortions. Take Caesar’s coin, dance Caesar’s dance. Or Else…..

    2) Take down the flag of the US at all Catholic churches and schools and replace it with the flag of the Vatican. The US Government has, in many words and deeds, declared war on Catholicism. They wish us ill. Take down the flag of the enemy! Fly the flag of truth and freedom! If nothing else, this act of rebellion in the heart of the Empire would send a message of hope to Catholics across the country. Are you listening, Cardinal Wuerl???

    3) Burn your government license to marry. It won’t be long before the Government requires all marriage officiants to perform the service for any who request it. Religions objections be damned! You will not change Moloch by cooperating with him. You must confront and defeat him.

    4) Instruct all your parishioners to stay away from the polls (not vote). Voting for a lesser evil is still voting for an evil! (I’m just sinnin’ a little, Jesus!) Not voting says, “I will not grace evil with my approval.” Accordingly, instruct them that politics will solve nothing, improve nothing, sanctify nothing. All political parties are nothing more than two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner.

    That’s my 2¢ worth….

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