Friday, June 06, 2003

Culture Wars, II

John Da Fiesole over at Disputations has done a post in response to my Culture Wars comments. In his post he asks, what practical influence the bishops have in our lives. Good question. I believe that as Catholic laity we bear a huge responsibility for the state of the culture we live in and we can't blame our failure on our bishops and priests. As is clear from the Cathechism, it is our vocation to affect the temporal affairs and bring them under God's influence. Bishops and priests cannot do this for us.

However, the fact that very often our bishops have little practical impact on our daily lives is a glaring example of a pervasive problem that exists today. There are a couple of recent incidents that highlight the problem we have with our bishops. These problems to not exist with all bishops, my any means, but they do exist.

The most important event was Cardinal Arinze's Commencement address on May 17 at Georgetown University. I will quote from the Washington Post's coverage of the story:

"The cardinal was several minutes into his speech when he said the family 'is under siege' and 'opposed by an antilife mentality as is seen in contraception, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. It is scorned and banalized by pornography, desecrated by fornication and adultery, mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions and cut in two by divorce.'
After the cardinal said the words 'mocked by homosexuality,' associate theology professor Theresa Sanders, who was seated on stage, walked out. A few students also left, says Mohsin Siddiqui, a 2002 graduate who was at the ceremony.
'I thought what he said was incredibly offensive,' he said. 'With all due respect for the cardinal's opinions, I don't think he should have been voicing them. This came from out of the middle of nowhere.' "

I hope it is obvious to all that the Cardinal's remarks did not "come from out of the middle of nowhere" but straight out of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I think it is also interesting that this graduate from a "Catholic" university would think that Cardinal Arinze was simply delivering his "opinion", as if this was some merely personal point of view of his which might, under different circumstances, change in the next day, or week or month. And, I must ask, what kind of a "Catholic" university would tolerate a theology professor who would be so rude as to stand up and walk out on a Cardinal of the Church expounding the official teaching of the Church?

But this is exactly the problem; this kind of thing is common, almost unexceptional, in our modern secularist society. It results from two things, one is that those in a position to teach the truth have chosen to teach untruth, lies. Second, the bishops where this kind of thing is rampant have chosen to ignore it.

In order for the laity to resist and reform the culture, they must know the truth; many of them do indeed know the truth. The next question is, what do we do with the truth we know? We can either disregard it or we can shape our lives by it. As individuals we have this freedom to make this choice. If we make the wrong choice we are not free to influence others to make the same mistake. As Jesus said:

“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea”

All too often, today, we all, bishops included, ignore false teaching and just hope it will go away. It won't. Unless, that is, we take active steps against it. The lead for these kinds of active steps should be coming from our bishops. If the bishops were doing this, they would be playing a very prominent role in our daily lives by being our leaders and teachers in the faith. To the extent that this is not happening, we, the laity, are hindered in our struggle in against the culture in which we live.

The second of the two events I mentioned shows that having the courage of our convictions is truly possible.

In April of this year, the editors of Touchstone magazine published an article which said, in effect, that it was impossible to, at the same time, vote Democratic and be a Christian. They characterized the Democrat party as the party of abortion and sodomy. This article apparently generated a firestorm of criticism and a great many cancelled subscriptions. What did the editors of Touchstone do? I'll quote just one paragraph from their response:

“There has been much response to Touchstone’s April issue, in which the Democratic part) was characterized as godless, and portrayed a,, If having developed in recent years into some thing no Christian can in good conscience support. Subscriptions have been angrily canceled and declaration that we will be prayed for received. More attention has been given to this issue than any other we have published. The most common criticisms are that Touchstone, a religious magazine, is now dabbling in politics, where it has no business, and that the April issue was in fact a Republican party tract in which the editors displayed their political preferences more than their Christianity. What, one suspects, some of our off put correspondents wished to see in subsequent issues is some kind of muted apology that we were in some places a bit rough and high handed, along with a good natured admission that good Christians can have varying opinions on these matters. But we don't think they can. Things have gradually but surely come to the point where we must say that to the degree Christians have been co-opted by the Democrats, they are no longer good."

Would that more of us had this kind of courage.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Culture Wars

Fr. Rob over at Thrown Back has written a couple of good posts concerning the effect of culture on our faith, and vice versa. I'm not writing this as a criticism of what he has written, but rather to point out another way of looking at the question.

Fr. Rob had someone post a comment rejecting the idea that the laity bears any responsibility for the current state of the culture we live in. Fr. Rob posted a response to these comments to the effect that both laity and clergy bear significant responsibility for the problem and this is true. However, I think he is being too nice to those of us in the laity because I would say that, indeed, the laity bears, by far, the greater portion of guilt for the sorry state of the society we live in.

I say this based on the definition, found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church of the term vocation. This definition reads:

“The calling or destiny we have in this life and hereafter. God has created the human person to love and serve him; the fulfillment of this vocation is eternal happiness. Christ calls the faithful to the perfection of holiness. The vocation of the laity consists in seeking the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will. Priestly and religious vocations are dedicated to the service of the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation.”

According to the Catechism, it is the laity that has the vocation to bring the Kingdom of God to the world. We are the ones charged with making the society we live in Christian, not the clergy. The duty of the clergy is in service of the Church -- to support our efforts in bringing Christ to the marketplace. I would also say that, based on this definition, we the laity have failed miserably.

It should be evident to all that, rather than converting our culture, instead of transforming society, we are the ones who have been transformed.

It may be true that in the last 30 years or so we have not had the greatest support from our priests and bishops, but I would agree with Fr. Rob that this is more our fault than theirs. To paraphrase Barzun, perhaps we have the bishops we deserve.

We are not victims. We, as laity have failed our vocation because we have allowed the culture to overwhelm us. I don't think many of us could say that our lives look any different than those of our pagan neighbors, that we actively and unabashedly live our faith.

While it is true that many of the bishops we have are a somewhat sorry lot, we have no business whining and complaining about them -- our track record is no better. The priests and bishops of the Church cannot live out our vocation for us, they cannot do what we have the responsibility to do.

The solution to the problem, I think, is for us laity to admit there is a problem. There are a great many things we can do, once we have taken this fundamental step. We can begin taking our faith seriously and living as if it really mattered in our lives. We can spend more time in prayer and adoration of the Holy Eucharist, we can pray for our bishops and our priests, we can engage our neighbors in a loving way about the truth of the Church and Jesus Christ. We can, quite simply, be active witnesses to our faith. Who knows, doing this might be a positive influence on our priests and bishops and encourage them to change their ways. It might be the indication they need that there are indeed Catholics who are willing to truly be Catholic.

Until we can say we are doing all we can to live out our vocation faithfully we should not be complaining about what someone else is not doing.