“Special to the Catholic Business Journal by Thomas Loarie, reporting on the Napa Institute – Princeton Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Dr. Robert George, told a standing room-only crowd at this month’s Napa Institute that a Neo-Gnostic ideology is permeating Christian and Judaism teaching, and our institutions under the guise of social liberalism. “It is now being taught in schools to our children and this includes come Catholic schools. We must stand up and repudiate the transmission of this ideology and what it values. Sacrifices will be needed.” Continue reading . . .
For a link to all of the articles featured in the Catholic Business Journal, please click here.
I’ve been on the board of Catholic University for 12 years. Early on, I didn’t know a lot about their programs, but over the years, I’ve learned. Three years ago, I became a member of the board of visitors for Catholic University’s School of Business and Economics. I saw the opportunity to change the way business was presented in the educational format, to make it a place where students could have a conversation about what Catholic social teaching is all about. Others were willing to partner with us, which led to the $47 million gift.”
Read full article here]]>
Mr Busch writes, “The 125th anniversary of Rerum Novarum is a chance to bring the world into this dialogue about what a commitment to a just economy really means. The students and scholars at The Catholic University of America’s School of Business and Economics now have an unprecedented opportunity to do exactly that.”
Read the full article here: Reviving Catholic Teachings in Business
The school will be renamed the Tim and Steph Busch School of Business and Economics in recognition of their support for the University’s approach to thought-leading business education informed by the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
This donation will support the Maloney Hall renovation, academic programs in the business and economics school, and the new Institute for Human Ecology, which will take up Pope Francis’s call in Laudato Si to systematically study the relationships of human beings to one another and the world around them.
More information about this announcement can be found on the Business School website: http://business.cua.edu/
How Businesses Can Help the Poor by Matt Hadro
An Example for Christians by Kathryn Lopez
Revisiting Catholic Social Teaching by Hadley Arkes
A Synthesis of Cardinal Turkson’s Address from Vatican Radio
Capitalism is not a faith but an economic and political system based on institutions and virtues. Throughout my talk I use the word capitalism in the sense of principled and virtuous entrepreneurship in opposition to rent seeking. In other words, I use St. John Paul II’s definition of “good capitalism”: “an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector”, which we could simply also call “a ‘business economy’, ‘market economy’ or simply ‘free economy’.” (CA, 42) This form of capitalism is not fully realized in late or advanced capitalism or financial capitalism because capitalism, on my view, is about enterprise. Financial services are an essential and necessary part of this. However, over the last decades, a class of rentiers has reemerged because, for whatever reason, asset growth has become bigger than economic growth. Academics who are clearly in favor of good capitalism have affirmed that “the link between the size of the financial sector and economic growth weakens – or even reverses – once countries become rich and reach the technological frontier. Now rent seeking in financial markets can lead to great private gains but have little impact on economic growth. Growth is actually harmed to the extent that talented risk takers are drawn into the financial sector to engage in rent transfers, rather than starting businesses and engaging in rent creation.” These authors acknowledge that “there is no theoretical reason or empirical evidence to support the notion that all the growth of the financial sector in the last forty years has been beneficial to society,” because a major component of the growth of the financial sector has been “pure rent seeking,” i.e. activities that are only profitable for individuals without any correspondence to work or service to others. All this has led to what seems to me to be an enormous financial bubble of the whole Western economic system. Good capitalism, and with it the free markets, have thus entered into a political and moral crisis of legitimacy. Entrepreneurship and the creation of new businesses have been politically discouraged or at least not encouraged. Entrepreneurs do not need a lot of incentives, they possess enough drive of their own. What they need is protection of their time, energy, and capital against undue strain. Free markets and entrepreneurship need protection because they are a cultural achievement, not merely an economic fact, and much less the spontaneous outcome of evolution. Free markets are the result of hard work, diligence, moral convictions, institutions like the joint stock companies and insurance. Freedom is a precious and fragile good. Truth alone makes us free.
Here in Washington DC the statue of liberty stands on the Capitol’s dome. The original model of the statue wore a Jacobin cap, thought to be the symbol of freed slaves. Congress had the model redone with the argument that Americans are not freed slaves: We are born free! Are we really free? Are we still free? Have we become slaves to money, unordered passions or to welfare?
Moral change towards ethical capitalism is possible: the majority of moral, righteous business people must form a network of virtuosity. The single person feels overwhelmed, and is in fear of losing the material basis of life. I have heard the story of a boy lost in an enormous cornfield. The parents were desperately searching for him, then the whole village helped, without avail. Finally, a woman had the idea to form a chain by joining hands and combing the field. When they found the boy, he was already dead: if they had only had the idea earlier. Join hands, form a chain of virtuosity in business!.
I would like to show the impact of Christian faith and virtues on capitalism as a system and not only on the individual businessperson’s actions.
Please note that the Catholic religion (understood as institutionally organized faith) must not be instrumentalized as steward or servant of capitalism. Faith and capitalism are two realities that belong to different spheres – the sacred and the profane – although there are important connections between them. Putting faith to the service of capitalism would be idolatry, a dance around the golden calf. The paramount aim of life is to give glory to God. Usually we can do so by doing well. However, there are crises in which we as Christians must be willing to renounce all wealth, even life, rather than renounce God. Christ and therefore the Church is not espoused to any single social system – Christ is always more and bigger. We have just recently shaken off the lethal embrace of the Constantine model of the State – Church relationship, in which the temporal power benignly protected the Church, and the Church in her turn was expected to legitimize and support temporal power. We do not wish to become entangled in a similar embrace by any political or economic system, be it socialist or capitalist. Christ is the big disturber of our balances and systems; and Christians are prophetic shock minorities, simply by unapologetically being Christians: we are supposed to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. On the other hand, faith and reason are intimately united. The Gospel is not an immediately applicable social program but needs philosophy and social science to be rendered practicable. Religious enthusiasm without knowledge, experience and technology can be dangerous. In this sense, faith and virtues protect good capitalism as a human and cultural achievement.
Note, secondly, that I distinguish between social and individual ethics. Individual ethics describes the practices in which an individual person achieves the aim of personal happiness or flourishing. Social ethics is the way in which society is organized in order to achieve the common good understood as the rules of peaceful and just cooperation around a core of freely shared values. Virtues are also important for social ethics not only for the individual person, as I shall strive to demonstrate. Is present-day American capitalism a virtuous system? The answer is yes and no. There have been and there are many elements of virtue in American capitalism, but there are some negative aspects, which are actually alien to the original idea of capitalism. This is where we need a program of cultural transformation, and this is, I think, the mission of a Business School at a Catholic University. The late Cardinal Francis George explained new evangelization as a program of cultural transformation. I am convinced that it is a combination of values (truth), good practices (virtues), and institutions. Here I concentrate on the virtues.
Courage is the pre-formed inclination of our will to suffer when it is necessary in order to act well rather than renounce the good deed out of fear of pain. The virtue of courage avoids both recklessness and cowardice. Courage plays an important role in business in connection with risk. Alasdair MacIntyre has written that the inherent short-termism in finance destroys the inner good of courage: Learning to box is just as useless for a violin player as courage for somebody in finance because he is forced to take unreasonable risk. I cannot judge the factual truth of this accusation, however, I do think his principle on courage is sound. In order to be courageous, risk must be reasonable and at one’s own expense. We all tend not to want to suffer; therefore we prefer easy gain without risk, or at least that the risk might be borne by others. This is where moral hazard comes in. There has been too much moral hazard, created by a collusion of political and financial power: risks and negative externalities have been borne by others. In the aftermath of the last financial crisis, taxpayers have had to bail out bad management, at the same time witnessing enormous compensations for managers. This is something Pope Francis criticizes, and it destroys the trust in free markets because in a free market who makes the deal is the one who bears the risk. If you can’t fail, if your risk is minimized to zero, there is no free market only a quasi-market. Courage discovers moral hazard and eliminates it.
Courage is related to hope. In business there are ups and downs, crests and troughs: the dream of a linear upward growth line is an illusion. We need a motor to get over the troughs. Human hope keeps business going, supernatural hope keeps life going. The man who had been entrusted with one talent was not a thief or an embezzler. His crime was his fear of loss: he put his money in the safe, and was paralyzed by his lack of hope. This is the cause of his condemnation: “from the one who has not (the virtue of hope), even what he has will be taken away.” (Mt 25:29) Courage and hope help us start businesses.
The virtue of courage also avoids foolish debt for nonproductive reasons. There is such a lot of public and private debt. Throughout centuries the Church distinguished between money and capital. Capital was money in the hands of a merchant. It was productive, and therefore if he gave a loan he was entitled to interest. In contrast, money in a box was regarded as unfruitful. If somebody who was not a merchant gave a loan to a friend in need he was not entitled to any form of interest. This was strictly condemned as usury. This distinction was aimed at reducing unproductive, and therefore oftentimes foolish debt. Such a practice of debt avoidance echoes the Bible’s warning: “the borrower is the slave of the lender.” This leads us to the virtue of temperance.
Temperance moderates the attraction of material goods, and is thus central for business. The selfless self-preservation afforded by temperance grants us balance along a middle line: neither greed nor profligacy, neither ostentation nor stinginess. Temperance helps tackle the difficult question of how much is enough because it nips insatiability in the bud.
One of the strong moral messages of Pope Francis to Western economies is his attack on consumerism that brings “desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.” Francis defines consumerism as the “self-centered culture of instant gratification”: it takes “the waiting out of wanting” according to the slogan “Put it on not off!”
The Pope is not at all opposed to economic growth and consumption as such. Actually, his vision of an “ecology of daily life” portrays the dreams of so many people of a dignified life in a middle-class society. Consumerism, however, takes consumption beyond its reasonable and moral limits by buying new things just out of the urge of acquisitiveness, replacing gadgets, machines and other items that still serve their purposes well only for the kick of possessing something new. Consumerism reduces investment, thrift and savings, thus undermining the basis of a good capitalist economy. It is an evil that certainly stimulates production in the short run but soaks up resources through waste and weakens moral stamina and resilience in our society. In contrast, “Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little.”
((Unintended effects of taxation can produce consumerism for instance if taxes favor interest paid on debt or on credits.
Compensation: caps distort the market, however, there is a moral duty to give back to society, and a political claim for taxation in order to avoid social tensions.))
The virtue of justice gives to the other what is his or her due. Justice is the stable attitude of the powerful and mighty that converts oppressive power into empowering authority. Power is the capacity to coerce someone to do something against his or her will. Authority is the capacity to move someone to do something that the common good requires. Power is the force of the robber who takes my money; authority the legal force of the policeman that fines me the same amount. Authority binds consciences, power chains bodies. Justice becomes really relevant in asymmetric relationships of power, which are frequent in politics, economy, means of communication, the family, schools, etc. when power needs to be curbed. Just authority is a wonderful and necessary gift in any organization.
Applied to business the virtue of justice promotes a system that produces goods that are really good, services that truly serve, and wealth that really creates value.
In such an economy the product is the aim, profit the means and the fruit. ((The traveling peddler who sold razor blades: razor blades are for making money not for shaving.))
Practical wisdom is an intellectual virtue. It is a trained and permanent openness of our mind to know what is good. It is therefore the basis for all our moral life. Our moral convictions stem from three sources: first, from our experience of justice and injustice, of good and evil. We all have spontaneous moral experience. We then reason on it. This is the second source: reflection and reasoning, oftentimes in a non-systematic and non-scientific way. Many of our moral convictions stem from a third source: education and culture. All three sources of morality need to be developed and maintained open in business life. Moral experience requires the connaturality of virtue: only the virtuous person knows spontaneously what virtues require in a certain situation. Reflection needs time: Stop to think, every day, every week, every month: am I doing what is morally right, or am I succumbing to “necessities”, to the “rules of the (devil’s?) game”. We also need the lighthouse of the Church’s teaching. In a painful process the Church has learnt that she cannot impose her teaching but can only propose it as a free offer in a free society. She is like a lighthouse on the coast or a control tower at an airport: nobody in his right mind would consider it to limit his freedom – it shows the way to safety!
I have left the biggest virtue for the end: love. Bringing love into business, that’s the challenge. I would like to approach this challenge by posing a series of academic questions: Are we aware of the trade offs implied in modern capitalism? Are we aware that there have been many other forms of economy not based on gain? What does the enlightenment mean for us?
Modern capitalism is a fruit of the commercial society and the enlightenment. The two are not essentially the same but are historically connected. As Catholic intellectuals, we need to continue the serious reflection on the merits and limits of the Enlightenment started by Benedict XVI and many other thinkers. Vatican II has incorporated some of its elements into the Church’s teaching, for instance secularity or the emancipation of earthly affairs from ecclesiastical tutelage. The Enlightenment was a process of Cultural transfer and thus of cultural transformation of Christian values into a non-Christian (non Trinitarian) framework. Christian values, like human dignity, equality, freedom, and others, where transferred into a non-Christian epistemological framework that was not teleological, and excluded supernatural intervention in history, thus a form of Gnosticism. Let me refer to the icon of liberal economists: Adam Smith. Contrary to enlightened orthodoxy he was teleological in a Stoic sense, but he was a Deist and not a Christian thinker. That is why I do not agree with the continuity theory that draws an undented line from the Catholic School of Salamanca to the liberalism of Adam Smith. There is an enormous epistemological gap, which I cannot get into here.
The liberal system of the Enlightenment is characterized by harmony, mutual complementarity, and exchange in a commercial society. However, two tradeoffs pay for this new society: 1. justice – charity (love, benevolence, solidarity beyond family and friends); 2. loss of heroism.
In the feudal society, charity stood side by side with justice as a structuring social principle. Friendship was experienced as an element of the macrosocial structures not only of the microstructures (family and circle of friends): you did not work for gain but because you were born into a role and a position in society with its preestablished duties. In the commercial society justice is the exclusive social principle: We are a society of strangers that peacefully sell each other goods and services. In such a society, heroes are a nuisance. A commercial society basically consists of prudent men and women who take care of their own interests. I prefer the commercial society because it is difficult to be free in a static society, like the feudal one. However, we need to resolve the problem of social cohesion of our liberal societies. Without love this is not possible. Several solutions fall short.
Let me return to the mission of a Business School at a Catholic University: it is involved in the new evangelization of business, which is a program of cultural transformation. Its great challenge is to discover how to insert charity into the economy by offering a hermeneutic that makes us discover our brother and sister in the people we deal with, as clients, consumers, producers or in whatever capacity we might encounter them.
 Dennis C. Mueller, “Introduction: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” in Dennis C. Mueller (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Capitalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, 1–14, 7.
 See Luigi Zingales, “Does Finance Benefit Society?” http://www.nber.org/papers/w20894, 3.
 Prov 22:7.
 Francis, Evangelii gaudium, n. 2.
 Francis, Laudato Si’, n. 162.
 Ibidem, n. 147 – 154.
 Ibidem, n. 222.]]>
In preparation for the March 2016 conference on Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America, we turn to the great and timeless documents of church social teaching: Rerum Novarum, Centesimus Annus, and more recently, Laudato Si.
The Catholic business leader is called in a very unique way to collaborate in the work of Creation. Through practical wisdom and good business practice the business leader contributes to both the material and spiritual wellbeing of the community. Understanding the relationship between humans and their social environment – that is, human ecology – is critical in order to be successful in this venture.
As Catholics, we are particularly called to live out our faith together with our business life; to avoid the divided life which Cardinal Turkson has pointed out is the most significant personal obstacle to living out the vocation of the business leader. The division between faith and daily business practice can distort the goal of business, leading to a misplaced devotion to worldly success. A Catholic business leader should seek to understand the possible good and bad outcomes of his work, to judge each decision according to ethical social principles, and to put into practice the virtues and ethical social principles propounded by the Catholic faith in his work and business life.
The business leader has a serious responsibility to contribute to the common good. We are told that “from those who have been entrusted with much, much more will be demanded.” We, as successful Catholic business leaders, have been entrusted with very much. As a result, our responsibility to contribute to the material and even spiritual wellbeing of society is a significant one.
We can contribute to the material and spiritual wellbeing of society by managing and executing our businesses well. When business is executed well, the material wellbeing of our employees and stakeholders is increased, and by providing goods and services that are needed, we contribute to the overall wellbeing of our community. When we manage our businesses well, with principles that are rooted in fundamental ethical principles, we enhance the dignity of our employees, increase their self-sufficiency, and develop virtues in those that work for us and with us.
This is the vocation of the business leader, then: to use well what he has been entrusted with for the benefit of the common good, to be an effective collaborator in creation, and to live a life that integrates virtue with business practice for the benefit of society. None of this can be accomplished without first having a good understanding of human ecology.
These are some of the themes that will be discussed at the 2016 conference on Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America. I hope that you will join us as we humbly strive to understand and live out our vocations as Catholic business leaders.
Find out more about this upcoming conference here or access our complete conference guide.]]>
Equipping Catholics in the next America is a daily process that requires time alone with yourself and God. A re creation of the old self into a new soul with the intent of showing the face of God to a world that desperately needs to serve and love one another. Look at it as a gift of the precious moment and the power within that moment in time that you are given the opportunity to serve with openness and from love.
For the past 30 years Sport has been my life, whether I was the fiancée of an NFL player, a volleyball and football players mom, a coaches wife, a consultant to sport missionaries, or leading women in sport organizations in charitable giving and fellowship. The platform of sport is a very powerful gift that leaves me awestruck. Pope Francis states we are to “smell the sheep.” In the sport world you must first earn trust, and this takes actions and effort in mind, and soul. When the trust is achieved through the love of God, the fellowship is concrete, immediate and close at hand. A trust built on the battlefield lasts a lifetime, in sport it is deep and passionate.
Serving through a charitable event hosted by the National Football League or our family foundation with the mission of the needs of abandoned children both spiritually or physically, I have found these moments to be the most relevant significant moments and where I have felt true gratification. It has not been the Superbowls or the big games. True happiness in sport is serving in the community God has placed us in, the food kitchens, domestic violence shelters, Big Brother Big Sisters, Children’s Hospitals, Ronald McDonald Houses, and so many more charitable wonderful organizations to many to mention. We have had the opportunity to partner with organizations such as the Salvation Army, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Athletes for Christ, FOCUS Varsity Catholic. It is and will always be why I love embrace and am humbled to serve in sport. This past fall I was elected to the Board of Councilors in the American Association of The Order of Malta, my husband Jack is a Knight as well. The decision to throw my hat into the ring of serving on the Board for Malta was inspired by seeing the work done globally as a photographer in Rome for the Holy See Press Office. Malta internationally evangelizes through touching and serving millions of young and elderly in every event globally large and small. Malta is there.
My husband Jack, and I met with Bishop Barber of the Oakland Diocese within a week of accepting the job offer of Head Coach to request a team chaplain that would not only celebrate mass, but a young man that could also create communion and fellowship with our young athletic men. I asked one of our player wives to take the lead to form bible studies for the season. Sport wives move and have no support or family and are thrown into the fire very easily through the pressures of the media, and living life in a bubble. They need each other, and lean on each other. I always say my sisters in sport understand the trials of the sport celebrity life better than my biological sisters. This season we had several bible studies for the women and our team Chaplain, Father Derek celebrated mass twice a week in the Raider practice facility. He was available for confession or just to be a trusted good man the young players to talk to. For this is huge in the spiritual realm, our workday is Sunday and many young men and women in the world of sport are not getting the privilege of celebrating mass.
The business of sport is a huge corporation with talented executives that build cohesiveness and relations between employees. In the business world it is the same. Coaches and players, staff members, coaches and player wives welcoming newly hired wives or significant others to promote progress through union in all phases of our team. Everyone has the same goal just as any big corporation.
In Vatican City, The Council of Laity and Council of Culture both have Sport Divisions thanks to Saint John Paul II the great athlete. For several years, I have had the privilege of presenting at International Sport Conferences on the subject of faith family and sport . We globally believe sport is the great platform to reach all of humanity and through faith it can be God’s great interpreter.
This move to the Bay Area was my 40th move in the NFL. For years I had heard about the Raider Family, but was astounded at the sense of brother and sisterhood within the organization. We hosted an impromptu alumni dinner in Napa during our training camp, 80 former players and their wives attended. Jack and I believe the single most important action we as leaders can take to motivate is to involve them fully in the progression of winning. In or out of a boardroom, on or off the field how blessed we all are when through the struggles and battles we finish victorious.
I believe in the perfect moment and that God makes no mistakes, He is where we are, and loves us as we are. Wherever you are drawn to serve God is there. The Victory is in the walk.”]]>
By George Weigel
It’s been a good reading year and I highly recommend the following to the readers on your Christmas (not “holiday”) shopping list:
God or Nothing, by Cardinal Robert Sarah (Ignatius Press): It was the book being discussed at Synod-2015 and with good reason, for this interview-style autobiography of a life of faith is moving, insightful, and a wonderful testament to the fruits of the European mission to Africa in the early twentieth century. As African Catholicism now challenges its Euro-parent to rediscover the gift of faith that Europe once gave others, God or Nothing is also an invitation to meet a man whose service to the universal Church may not end with his current post in the Roman Curia.
Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler, by Mark Riebling (Basic Books): It’s scandalous that this deeply-researched study of Pius XII’s involvement in plots to depose Adolf Hitler has been largely ignored by the mainstream press, but the reason why isn’t hard to guess – Church of Spies confounds the “Hitler’s Pope” rubbish that Catholic-bashers find useful. It’s a great read, so give it on those grounds; but it’s morally permissible if you give it to annoy the New York Times.
Vatican Council Notebooks, by Henri de Lubac (Ignatius Press): There are many Vatican II memoirs available, but Father de Lubac’s is more even-tempered than Yves Congar’s My Journal of the Council (Liturgical Press); the de Lubac volume is also a model of editing and annotation. Louis Bouyer’s Memoirs (Ignatius Press), recently published, include some interesting nuggets about Vatican II and its liturgical aftermath.
How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, by N.T. Wright (HarperOne): Sound, accessible biblical commentary that’s informed, but not distorted, by historical–critical scholarship is always welcome, and the former Anglican bishop of Durham is its leading practitioner in the Anglosphere. Give it to a bishop, priest, and/or deacon on your list, gently reminding him or them that expository preaching is essential, and that Dr. Wright is a master-guide to breaking open the gospel text so that we see the world more clearly through it. How God Became King also makes wonderful spiritual reading for Advent or Lent.
Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, by Ryan T. Anderson (Regnery): Your best guide to the debate that the Supreme Court has tried to end, but hasn’t.
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, by Jon Meacham (Random House): A splendidly crafted, richly detailed reminder that decency and chivalry were no obstacles to American high office in our lifetime.
Imperium and Conspirata, by Robert Harris (Gallery Books): Harris’s trilogy of novels about Cicero will be completed in January with a third volume, Dictator; there, our hero runs afoul of the nasty Caesars, Julius and Octavian, but that’s to get ahead of the story. The first two volumes will whet the appetites of those who relish first-rate historical fiction, in preparation for the denouement.
Devotion, by Adam Makos (Ballantine): The story of the U.S. Navy’s first African-American carrier pilot, Jesse Brown, and his white squadron-mate and friend, Tom Hudner, is touching in its own right and a timely antidote to the politically-correct madness of recent months on campuses and elsewhere. If you can avoid choking-up while reading what President Harry Truman said to Hudner when presenting him the Congressional Medal of Honor in the presence of Jesse Brown’s widow, Daisy, you have more emotional iron in you than I do.
The Inimitable Jeeves; Very Good, Jeeves; Right Ho, Jeeves; Thank You, Jeeves; The Code of the Woosters; and Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse (Norton or Touchstone): It’s going to be a tough year, 2016; it’s impossible to stay grumpy reading Wodehouse. So start now, and invite lugubrious or distraught family and friends to the party.
And, if I may note my own two recent offerings: The revised and expanded Letters to a Young Catholic (Basic Books) is intended for the young from sixteen to (at least) eighty-plus, while City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Kraków (Image) will, I hope, be welcomed by all attending World Youth Day-2016, in person or in spirit, in print or in the all-color-photography e-book.]]>
JERUSALEM. Walking through the narrow, winding streets of Jerusalem’s Old City on my first visit here in fifteen years, I was powerfully struck once again by the grittiness of Christianity, the palpable connection between the faith and the quotidian realities of life. For here, as in no other place, the believer, the skeptic, and the “searcher” are confronted with a fact: Christianity began, not with a pious story or “narrative,” but with the reality of transformed lives. Real things happened to real people at real places in real time – and the transformation wrought in those real people by those “real things” transformed the world.
The most transformative of those “real things” was the encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus, the one those real people had first known in this real place as the young rabbi Jesus from Nazareth. That encounter, and the radical transformation of lives that to which it led, remains, today, the greatest “proof” of the Resurrection. For how else would a ragtag bunch of men and women from the bleachers of civilization have found the commitment and courage to go out and change the world, had not something utterly unprecedented happened to them: something that shattered the boundaries of their expectations of the possible; something that demanded to be shared?
All that happened, just as the pre-Passion ministry of Jesus happened, amidst the daily give-and-take of life in the bazaar that the Middle East was, is, and probably always will be. There’s nothing ethereal-Gothic about Jerusalem’s Old City or its Christian focal point, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher: it’s all grit all the way down, as you walk past stall after stall of souvenir and curio stalls, their sameness broken by the occasional spice shop with its distinctive aromas of cinnamon and cloves, en route to the places where, according to ancient tradition, the events that changed the world and the cosmos took place – Calvary and the Empty Tomb. And the basilica itself is the very embodiment of grittiness, for there is no aesthetically pleasing symmetry here, but rather a hodgepodge of architectural and decorative styles, ranging from classic Byzantine to delirious-modern-Italian.
Yet none of that matters, really. For if the Son of God came into the world, not to fetch us out of our humanity but to redeem and glorify us in it, then the places most closely associated with the redemption should reflect the grubby diversity of the human condition. And so it is here, as pilgrims from all over the world hustle, bustle, and jostle their way toward the Twelfth Station, the site of the crucifixion, and the Aedicule that surrounds the Empty Tomb. The distractions don’t distract, though; the Twelfth Station remains the easiest place in the world to pray, in Brother Lawrence’s sense of prayer as “practicing the presence.”
Today, when the basic institutions of civilization are being deconstructed in the name of personal willfulness and “autonomy,” the Old City of Jerusalem is a powerful reminder that there are Things As They Are, and that the road to human happiness (which the Gospels call “beatitude”) lies through, not around, those givens in the human condition. At a parallel moment in history, when the newly-recognized Christian Church was threatened by a Gnostic heresy that denied the goodness of creation and imagined the spiritual life to be an escape from grittiness, the Dowager Empress Helena, mother of Constantine, came here to find the True Cross – the hard, tangible fact of the redemption; the emblem of Christianity’s utter groundedness in reality. What you find in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in 2015 has little to do with what Helena found here, in the sense that what you see here hasn’t much to do with what she saw here; it takes an extraordinary act of imagination to conjure up Golgotha and the rocky tomb in today’s ramshackle church. But the basilica is here because she came here and became a special witness to the fact that Christianity begins – and continues – with lives transformed by an encounter with the Risen One, who makes all things new.
And that makes all the difference.]]>
The saints and all of us
By George Weigel
ROME. Amidst all the Sturm und Drang of Synod-2015, something genuinely new in the life of the Church began, and it shouldn’t escape our notice. For the first time in two millennia, an entry in the liturgical books will now read, on the appropriate day, “Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, Spouses” – a happy addition to “Martyr,” “Confessor,” “Bishop,” “Religious,” “Pope,” etc, in the pantheon of vocations to sanctity. Spouses: a married couple, together on the tapestry that hung from the central loggia of St. Peter’s before, during, and after their canonization on October 18; a man and a woman, a dad and a mom, who were the parents of a saint, the Little Flower, and in whose married life mutual sanctification took place by cooperation with God’s grace.
Saints-as-spouses. There was something for Synod-2015 to ponder. And if insufficient attention was paid to this during the Synod, that’s no reason for the Church, in which millions of spouses are living lives of heroic virtue, not to take notice – and to reflect upon some old truths about the “canonization” of saints.
The Church doesn’t canonize saints for their sake. God takes quite good care of his holy ones, we may be sure, and being “raised to the dignity of the altars,” as the old phrase had it, does nothing for those so raised. No, the Church canonizes saints for our sake, so that we might have models who inspire us to be the holy ones we must be, if we’re to fulfill our Christian and human destiny. That’s why the Church sings the Litany of the Saints at its most solemn liturgical celebrations: the Litany of the Saints is the Church’s family album, the roster of those who form that “great cloud of witnesses” of which the author of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks so eloquently.
Another old truth worth repeating, with the holy spouses of the Martin family in mind, is that the Church doesn’t “make saints;” God makes saints, and the task of the Church, through the beatification and canonization process, is to recognize the saints that God has made. The process by which that recognition takes place has changed over time, from something resembling an adversarial legal procedure to something more akin to a doctoral seminar in history. The object of the exercise remains the same, though: to sift through the record of a life in order to find the traces and tracks of grace at work – as it is in all of us.
The lives of the holy spouses of Lisieux are also a great witness to the incredible capacity of the Catholic Church for self-renewal.
Louis Martin was born in 1823; Zélie was born eight years later. In other words, both were born a generation after the utter devastation of the French Church by the French Revolution. After the enforcement by state power of the Religion of Reason and the bloody slaughters of the Reign of Terror (a spasm of lethal Gallic craziness musically evoked by Francois Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites), who would have predicted that 19th-century France would be a seedbed of mission and sanctity, the effects of which would be felt from the hitherto-obscure village of Lourdes in the French Pyrenees to Francophone Africa to Oceania?
Yet it happened. Much of what we think of as “French Catholicism” today grew out from under the rubble of the Terror and the destruction of the Church of the ancien régime. Louis and Zélie Martin, and their daughter, the Doctor of the Church who gave Catholicism the “Little Way,” were all products of that astonishing flourishing of holiness and evangelical zeal that followed immediately after a period of unprecedented destruction. How did that happen? It happened because, life by life, men and women took the risk of fidelity. Ordinary people defied the claims of their putative ecclesiastical betters – too often heard during Synod-2015 – that asking the heroic is just too much.
No, it’s not. Summoning us to lives of heroic virtue is asking us to be the saints we – like Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, Spouses – were baptized to be.
George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
George Weigel’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Phone: 303-715-3215.]]>
The Napa Institute and CUA are grateful to EWTN for their support in spreading the message that our Holy Father has rightfully challenged us to live: that “Business is–in fact–a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life” (Evangelii Gaudium, 203)
CUA and Napa Institute invite you to save the date for our 2016 conference Human Ecology: Integrating 125 Years of Catholic Social Doctrine, commemorating the 125th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum. For more information, please visit http://business.cua.edu/humanecology or contact Jean Jacoby at 310.487.3480.
Any healthy society, any decent society, will rest upon three pillars. The first is respect for the human person—the individual human being and his dignity. Where this pillar is in place, the formal and informal institutions of society, and the beliefs and practices of the people, will be such that every member of the human family—irrespective of race, sex, or ethnicity, to be sure, but also and equally irrespective of age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency—is treated as a person—that is, as a subject bearing profound, inherent, and equal worth and dignity.
A society that does not nurture respect for the human person—beginning with the child in the womb, and including the mentally and physically impaired and the frail elderly—will sooner or later (probably sooner, rather than later) come to regard human beings as mere cogs in the larger social wheel whose dignity and well-being may legitimately be sacrificed for the sake of the collectivity. Some members of the community—those in certain development stages, for example—will come to be regarded as disposable, and others—those in certain conditions of dependency, for example, will come to be viewed as intolerably burdensome, as “useless eaters, as “better off dead,” as Lebensunwerten lebens.
In its most extreme modern forms, totalitarian regimes reduce the individual to the status of an instrument to serve the ends of the fascist state or the future communist utopia. When liberal democratic regimes go awry, it is often because a utilitarian ethic reduces the human person to a means rather than an end to which other things including the systems and institutions of law, education, and the economy are means. The abortion license against which we struggle today is dressed up by its defenders in the language of individual and even natural rights—and there can be no doubt that the acceptance of abortion is partly the fruit of me-generation liberal ideology—a corruption (and burlesque) of liberal political philosophy in its classical form; but more fundamentally it is underwritten by a utilitarian ethic that, in the end, vaporizes the very idea of natural rights, treating the idea (in Jeremy Bentham’s famously dismissive words) as “nonsense on stilts.”
In cultures in which religious fanaticism has taken hold, the dignity of the individual is typically sacrificed for the sake of tragically misbegotten theological ideas and goals. By contrast, a liberal democratic ethos, where it is uncorrupted by utilitarianism or me-generation expressive individualism, supports the dignity of the human person by giving witness to basic human rights and liberties. Where a healthy religious life flourishes, faith in God provides a grounding for the dignity and inviolability of the human person by, for example, proposing an understanding of each and every member of the human family, even those of different faiths or professing no particular faith, as persons made in the image and likeness of the divine Author of our lives and liberties.
The second pillar of any decent society is the institution of the family. It is indispensable. The family, based on the marital commitment of husband and wife, is the original and best ministry of health, education, and welfare. Although no family is perfect, no institution matches the healthy family in its capacity to transmit to each new generation the understandings and traits of character — the values and virtues — upon which the success of every other institution of society, from law and government to educational institutions and business firms, vitally depends.
Where families fail to form, or too many break down, the effective transmission of the virtues of honesty, civility, self-restraint, concern for the welfare of others, justice, compassion, and personal responsibility is imperiled. Without these virtues, respect for the dignity of the human person, the first pillar of a decent society, will be undermined and sooner or later lost—for even the most laudable formal institutions cannot uphold respect for human dignity where people do not have the virtues that make that respect a reality and give it vitality in actual social practices.
Respect for the dignity of the human being requires more than formally sound institutions; it requires a cultural ethos in which people act from conviction to treat each other as human beings should be treated: with respect, civility, justice, compassion. The best legal and political institutions ever devised are of little value where selfishness, contempt for others, dishonesty, injustice, and other types of immorality and irresponsibility flourish. Indeed, the effective working of governmental institutions themselves depends upon most people most of the time obeying the law out of a sense of moral obligation, and not merely out of fear of detection and punishment for law-breaking. And perhaps it goes without saying that the success of business and a market-based economic system depends on there being reasonably virtuous, trustworthy, law-abiding, promise-keeping people to serve as workers and managers, lenders, regulators, and payers of bills for goods and services.
The third pillar of any decent society is a fair and effective system of law and government. This is necessary because none of us is perfectly virtuous all the time, and some people will be deterred from wrongdoing only by the threat of punishment. More importantly, contemporary philosophers of law tell us the law coordinates human behavior for the sake of achieving common goals — the common good — especially in dealing with the complexities of modern life. Even if all of us were perfectly virtuous all of the time, we would still need a system of laws (considered as a scheme of authoritatively stipulated coordination norms) to accomplish many of our common ends (safely transporting ourselves on the streets, to take a simple and obvious example).
The success of business firms and the economy as a whole depends vitally on a fair and effective system and set of institutions for the administration of justice. We need judges skilled in the craft of law and free of corruption. We need to be able to rely on courts to settle disputes, including disputes between parties who are both in good faith, and to enforce contracts and other agreements and enforce them in a timely manner. Indeed, the knowledge that contracts will be enforced is usually sufficient to ensure that courts will not actually be called on to enforce them. A sociological fact of which we can be certain is this: Where there is no reliable system of the administration of justice — no confidence that the courts will hold people to their obligations under the law — business will not flourish and everyone in the society will suffer.
A society can, in my opinion, be a decent one even if it is not a dynamic one, if the three pillars are healthy and functioning in a mutually supportive way (as they will do if each is healthy). Now, conservatives of a certain stripe believe that a truly decent society cannot be a dynamic one. Dynamism, they believe, causes instability that undermines the pillars of a decent society. So some conservatives in old Europe and even the United States opposed not only industrialism but the very idea of a commercial society, fearing that commercial economies inevitably produce consumerist and acquisitive materialist attitudes that corrode the foundations of decency. And some, such as some Amish communities in the U.S., reject education for their children beyond what is necessary to master reading, writing, and arithmetic, on the ground that higher education leads to worldliness and apostasy and undermines religious faith and moral virtue.
Although a decent society need not be a dynamic one (as the Amish example shows) dynamism need not erode decency. A dynamic society need not be one in which consumerism and materialism become rife and in which moral and spiritual values disappear. Indeed, dynamism can play a positive moral role and, I would venture to say, almost certainly will play such a role where what makes it possible is sufficient to sustain it over the long term.
That is, I realize, a rather cryptic comment, so let me explain what I mean. To do that, I will have to offer some thoughts on what in fact makes social dynamism possible.
The two pillars of social dynamism are, first, institutions of research and education in which the frontiers of knowledge across in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences are pushed back, and through which knowledge is transmitted to students and disseminated to the public at large; and, second, business firms and associated institutions supporting them or managed in ways that are at least in some respects patterned on their principles, by which wealth is generated, widely distributed, and preserved.
We can think of universities and business firms, together with respect for the dignity of the human person, the institution of the family, and the system of law and government, as the five pillars of decent and dynamic societies. The university and the business firm depend in various ways for their well-being on the well-being of the others, and they can help to support the others in turn. At the same time, of course, ideologies and practices hostile to the pillars of a decent society can manifest themselves in higher education and in business and these institutions can erode the social values on which they themselves depend not only for their own integrity, but for their long-term survival.
It is all too easy to take the pillars for granted. So it is important to remember that each of them has come under attack from different angles and forces. Operating from within universities, persons and movements hostile to one or the other of these pillars, usually preaching or acting in the name of high ideals of one sort or another, have gone on the attack.
Attacks on business and the very idea of the market economy and economic freedom coming from the academic world are, of course, well known. Students are sometimes taught to hold business, and especially businessmen, in contempt as heartless exploiters driven by greed. In my own days as a student, these attacks were often made explicitly in the name of Marxism. One notices less of that after the collapse of the Soviet empire, but the attacks themselves have abated little. Needless to say, where businesses behave unethically they play into the stereotypes of the enemies of the market system and facilitate their effort to smear business and the free market for the sake of transferring greater control of the economy to government.
Similarly, attacks on the family, and particularly on the institution of marriage on which the family is built, are common in the academy. The line here is that the family, at least as traditionally constituted and understood, is a patriarchal and exploitative institution that oppresses women and imposes on people forms of sexual restraint that are psychologically damaging and inhibiting of the free expression of their personality. There is a profound threat to the family here, one against which we must fight with all our energy and will. It is difficult to think of any item on the domestic agenda that is more critical today than defending the institution of marriage and rebuilding a vibrant marriage culture.
What has also become clear is that the threats to the family (and to the sanctity of human life) are at the same time and necessarily threats to religious freedom and to religion itself—at least where the religions in question stand up and speak out for conjugal marriage and the rights of the child in the womb. From the point of view of many on the left, the taming of religion, and the stigmatization and marginalization of religions that refuse to be tamed, is a moral imperative. It is therefore not surprising to see that they are increasingly open in saying that they do not see disputes about sex and marriage and abortion and euthanasia as honest disagreements among reasonable people of goodwill. They are, rather, battles between the forces of “reason” and “enlightenment,” on one side, and those of “ignorance” and “bigotry,” on the other. Their opponents are to be treated just as racists are treated—since they are the equivalent of racists. That doesn’t necessarily mean imprisoning them or fining them for expressing unacceptable opinions—though “hate crimes” laws in certain jurisdictions raise the specter of precisely such abuses; but it does mean using antidiscrimination laws and other legal instruments to stigmatize them, marginalize them, and impose upon them and their institutions various forms of social and even civil disability—with few if any meaningful protections for religious liberty and the rights of conscience.
Some will counsel that commercial businesses and business people “have no horse in this race.” They will say that these are moral, cultural, and religious disputes about which business people and people concerned with economic freedom need not concern themselves. The reality is that the ideological movements that today seek, for example, to deinstitutionalize marriage and abolish its normativity for romantic relations and the rearing of children are the same movements that seek to undermine the market-based economic system and replace it with statist control of vast areas of economic life. Moreover, the rise of ideologies hostile to marriage and the family has had a measurable social impact, and its costs are counted in ruined relationships, damaged lives, and all that follows in the social sphere from these personal catastrophes. In many poorer places in the United States, and I believe this is true in many other countries, families are simply failing to form and marriage is disappearing or coming to be regarded as an optional “life-style choice”—one among various optional ways of conducting relationships and having and rearing children. Out of wedlock birthrates are very high, with the negative consequences being borne less by the affluent than by those in the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society.
In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Harvard professor who was then working in the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, shocked Americans by reporting findings that the out-of-wedlock birth rate among African-Americans in the United States had reached nearly 25%. He warned that the phenomenon of boys and girls being raised without fathers in poorer communities would result in social pathologies that would severely harm those most in need of the supports of solid family life. His predictions were all too quickly verified. The widespread failure of family formation portended disastrous social consequences of delinquency, despair, violence, drug abuse, and crime and incarceration. A snowball effect resulted in the further growth of the out-of-wedlock birth rate. It is now over 70% among African-Americans. It is worth noting that at the time of Moynihan’s report, the out-of-wedlock birth rate for the population as a whole was almost 6%. Today, that rate is over 40%.
The economic consequences of these developments are evident. Consider the need of business to have available to it a responsible and capable work force. Business cannot manufacture honest, hard working people to employ. Nor can government create them by law. Businesses and governments depend on there being many such people, but they must rely on the family, assisted by religious communities and other institutions of civil society, to produce them. So business has a stake—a massive stake—in the long-term health of the family. It should avoid doing anything to undermine the family, and it should do what it can where it can to strengthen the institution.
As an advocate of dynamic societies, I believe in the market economy and the free enterprise system. I particularly value the social mobility that economic dynamism makes possible. Indeed, I am a beneficiary of that social mobility. A bit over a hundred years ago, my immigrant grandfathers—one from southern Italy, the other from Syria—were coal miners. Neither had so much as remotely considered the possibility of attending a university—as a practical economic matter, such a thing was simply out of the question. At that time, Woodrow Wilson, the future President of the United States, was the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton. Today, just two generations forward, I, the grandson of those immigrant coal miners, am the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton. And what is truly remarkable, is that my story is completely unremarkable. Something like it is the story of millions of Americans. Perhaps it goes without saying that this kind of upward mobility is not common in corporatist or socialist economic systems; but it is very common in market-based free enterprise economies.
Having said that, I should note that I am not a supporter of the laissez-faire doctrine embraced by strict libertarians. I believe that law and government do have important and, indeed, indispensable roles to play in regulating enterprises for the sake of protecting public health, safety, and morals, preventing exploitation and abuse, and promoting fair competitive circumstances of exchange. But these roles are compatible, I would insist, with the ideal of limited government and the principle of subsidiarity according to which government must respect individual initiative to the extent reasonably possible and avoid violating the autonomy and usurping the authority of families, religious communities, and other institutions of civil society that play the primary role in building character and transmitting virtues.
But having said that, I would warn that limited government — considered as an ideal as vital to business as to the family — cannot be maintained where the marriage culture collapses and families fail to form or easily dissolve. Where these things happen, the health, education, and welfare functions of the family will have to be undertaken by someone, or some institution, and that will sooner or later be the government. To deal with pressing social problems, bureaucracies will grow, and with them the tax burden. Moreover, the growth of crime and other pathologies where family breakdown is rampant will result in the need for more extensive policing and incarceration and, again, increased taxes to pay for these government services. If we want limited government, as we should, and a level of taxation that is not unduly burdensome, we need healthy institutions of civil society, beginning with a flourishing marriage culture supporting family formation and preservation.
Advocates of the market economy, and supporters of marriage and the family, have common opponents in hard-left socialism, the entitlement mentality, and the statist ideologies that provide their intellectual underpinnings. But the marriage of advocates of limited government and economic freedom, on the one hand, and the supporters of marriage and the family, on the other, is not, and must not be regarded as, a mere marriage of convenience. The reason they have common enemies is that they have common principles: namely, respect for the human person, which grounds our commitment to individual liberty and the right to economic freedom and other essential civil liberties; belief in personal responsibility, which is a pre-condition of the possibility and moral desirability of individual liberty in any domain; recognition of subsidiarity as the basis for effective but truly limited government and for the integrity of the institutions of civil society that mediate between the individual and the centralized power of the state; respect for the rule of law; and recognition of the vital role played by the family and by religious institutions that support the character-forming functions of the family in the flourishing of any decent and dynamic society.
The essential point has been made by Republican vice-presidential nominee Congressman Paul Ryan. He recently observed that
a “libertarian” who wants limited government should embrace the means to his freedom: thriving mediating institutions that create the moral preconditions for economic markets and choice. A “social issues” conservative with a zeal for righteousness should insist on a free market economy to supply the material needs for families, schools, and churches that inspire moral and spiritual life. In a nutshell, the notion of separating the social from the economic issues is a false choice. They stem from the same root . . . . They complement and complete each other. A prosperous moral community is a prerequisite for a just and ordered society and the idea that either side of this current divide can exist independently is a mirage.
The two greatest institutions ever devised for lifting people out of poverty and enabling them to live in dignity are the market economy and the institution of marriage. These institutions will, in the end, stand or fall together. Contemporary statist ideologues have contempt for both of these institutions, and they fully understand the connection between them. We who believe in the market and in the family should see the connection no less clearly.]]>
According to www.truthandlove.com this conference will be held in order to “approach the complex reality of homosexual tendencies through the lens of the empirical and social sciences, the personal experience of homosexuality, the testimony of Sacred Scripture, as well as Sacred Tradition – the bi-millenial wisdom of the Catholic Church.”
This conference and others like it are both timely and extremely necessary if we are to open our hearts and minds to understanding what some of our brothers and sisters, children of our Father in heaven, are going through. Especially those with homosexual tendencies that desire to live out their Catholic faith to the fullest, but nonetheless deal with a powerful daily struggle that often times makes them feel marginalized and alone. May we all pray for this conference and for the Synod on the Family: that the Mercy and Love of God may be glorified by witnessing to the world that His church shuts no one out, but calls all to the fullness of the truth of love which, is found in Christ Jesus our Lord.
To view the featured speakers and learn more about this conference please visit www.truthandlove.com
September 15, 2015 the National Catholic Register released an article about our Clergy Hospitality program! Joseph Pronechen, of National Catholic Register, interviewed Hailey Smith who currently runs the program. Ponechen also interviewed a Clergy member who enjoyed a free stay at one of our Resorts. An interesting section is inclued on how Tim Busch was inspired to begin Clergy Hospitality.
If you haven’t heard, Clergy Hospitality is a program, run by the Napa Institute in conjunction with Pacific Hospitality Group®, that offers the Clergy of the Roman Catholic Church an opportunity to stay at the Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa Valley or the Bacara Luxury Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara, free of charge. All the clergy member has to do is agree to celebrate daily Mass in the onsite Chapel. Soon the Estancia Hotel & Spa in La Jolla will also be added to the program.
CLICK HERE to read the article in the National Catholic Register about Clergy Hospitality.]]>
by George Weigel
At Christmas 1969, Professor Joseph Ratzinger gave a radio talk with the provocative title, “What Will the Future Church Look Like?” (You can find it in Faith and the Future, published by Ignatius Press). One of the concluding paragraphs was destined to become perhaps the most quoted excerpt from Ratzinger’s extensive bibliography, when Professor Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI:
“From the crisis of today a new Church of tomorrow will emerge – a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so she will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only be free decision…But in all [this]…the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world.”
Our soundbite world quickly reduced this vision to Ratzinger’s “proposal” for a “smaller, purer Church,” as if Pope Benedict, thirty-five years before his election, was already calling for – indeed, was looking forward to – a winnowing of the wheat and the weeds, long before the Lord’s return in glory. Echoes of this misreading can be found in certain Catholic circles today, where there seems to be a passion for writing Build-It-Yourself Catacomb manuals. Be that as it may, there’s real insight in Ratzinger’s 1969 meditations on the future, so some winnowing of the wheat from the misinterpreting chaff might be in order.
First, Pope Benedict was certainly not urging, during his pontificate, that the Church should deliberately downsize. No pope wants to shrink the Church. And in any event, the notion of the Church as a pristine, pure, unsullied community of the already-perfected is radical-Protestant, not Catholic, in character.
Rather, Ratzinger in 1969 was describing what he imagined to be inevitable in his German situation, given the acids of secularization that were then at work, often aided and abetted by avant-garde forms of Catholic theology. In a society increasingly defined by the pleasure principle and a culture whose first premises included aggressive skepticism about biblical religion, Catholicism could no longer live by the old ethnic transmission belt. In the future, people were not going to say they were Catholic because their grandmothers had been born in Munich.
And that was an insight with applicability far beyond Ratzinger’s native Bavaria.
The bishops of Latin America saw a similar phenomenon in their own countries, where Catholicism had long been “kept,” first by legal establishment and then by cultural habit. “Kept” Catholicism, they saw, had no future. So in 2007, the Latin American bishops called for the Catholic Church to rediscover its missionary character – to become, as Pope Francis would later put it, “a Church permanently in mission,” in which every Catholic understands that he or she was baptized into a missionary vocation.
This same judgment – Catholicism by osmosis is dead – and this same prescription – the Church must reclaim its missionary nature – are at the root of every living sector of the Catholic Church in the United States: parish, diocese, seminary, religious order, lay renewal movement, new Catholic association. And while it is true that the Church in these United States is going to have to fight hard, both internally and externally, to maintain the Catholic integrity and identity of what Ratzinger called those “edifices…built in prosperity,” there is no reason to think that that fight is already lost and that it’s time to head for the catacombs.
The further truth to be taken from Ratzinger’s vision of the Church’s future is that 21st– century Catholicism “will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members.” Lukewarm, pick-and-choose Catholicism will not survive the cultural and political tsunami that’s coming. All-In Catholicism can do more than survive; it can convert.
From this vale of tears, one can never be sure about the boundaries of acceptable behavior at the Throne of Grace. Is laughter at earthly foibles permitted? Encouraged? I like to think so. Which inclines me to believe that, this past June 3, Miss Mary Flannery O’Connor of Milledgeville, Georgia, was having herself a good cackle.
That was the day the U.S. Postal Service released a Flannery O’Connor stamp – a grand idea, unhappily executed by doing a Vogue makeover on Miss O’Connor. The iconic peacock feathers are there, but that doesn’t quite compensate for a portrait of the author that looks less like her than what someone fancied she ought to look like. And that, of course, would be another reason for Flannery O’Connor to laugh at her stamp. For if any modern American writer was better attuned to the foolishness of the modern cult of synthetic beauty, I don’t know who he or she might be.
In her fiction, Flannery O’Connor was one of the supreme contemporary exponents of Catholic realism. Like the less-remembered Paul Horgan, she believed that story-telling ought to help modern men and women see “things as they are,” cutting through the fog of a culture that tells us that everything can be just the way we’d like it to be. And here Miss O’Connor’s fiction was deeply influenced by her profound Catholic faith (another characteristic she shared with Horgan): she knew that an ice-you-own-cupcake world was a world that had forgotten its need for redemption, and an ice-your-own-cupcake religion was incapable of calling that kind of world to recognize the reality of sin and the need for conversion.
Flannery O’Connor’s novels and short stories are not everyone’s literary cup of tea; I once received an impassioned e-mail from a Polish priest who had read “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” after learning about Miss O’Connor in the Polish edition of my Letters to a Young Catholic – and had found the story appalling. How could I promote such things? I tried to explain that Flannery O’Connor was very hard to translate. But the real problem, I suspect, was that my correspondent couldn’t quite grasp how Miss O’Connor’s genius lay in describing the work of grace (and the wickedness that grace seeks to repair) through what seems, at first blush, repellant, even horrifying.
Asked why there were so many grotesques in her fiction, Flannery O’Connor, who could be tart, responded that, in the South, “we like to think we can still recognize them.” Thus the southern sensibility she shared with writers like Walker Percy and Shelby Foote worked in tandem with her sacramentally-based Catholic realism: the South, the part of America that knew defeat and had in a certain cultural sense been formed by defeat, was instinctively realistic rather than pie-in-the-sky romantic. Mix the Catholic part of Flannery O’Connor with her Georgia roots and life, and the result was a high octane literary cocktail – too bracingly realistic for some tastes, but widely recognized by serious readers and critics as something unique and brilliant in American literature.
It’s not the Postal Service’s job to honor great Catholic apologists, but that, too, was part of the Flannery O’Connor package. Her apologetics, best displayed in her letters (gathered in The Habit of Being), are of more value now than ever, given the unrealities of 21st-century western culture. For the roots of those myriad unrealities (now made unambiguous and unmistakable by the transgender movement) can be found in what the late Father Ernest Fortin called “debonair nihilism:” a blithe disregard for the givenness of things, an insouciance that leads people to live solely by the pleasure principle because they imagine that nothing – the world, sex, relationships, beauty, history – is really of consequence.
Flannery O’Connor saw this coming in the mid-1950s, writing to a friend, “If you live today, you breathe in nihilism…it’s the gas you breathe.” The way to push back, she understood, was through the Catholic Church. Why? Because the Church teaches us that everything is of consequence, for the Son of God became incarnate, suffered, and died to redeem everything.]]>