Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Recent Unpleasantness

On November 6, the citizens of the United States re-elected perhaps the most anti-Catholic president in its history to a second term.
Even sadder, according to exit polls a majority of Catholics voted in his favor, even after they theoretically had imbibed the bishops’ message, conveyed from the pulpit and in various other media, that no Catholic should vote for a candidate who favors abortion rights and single sex marriage and does not support religious liberty.
What is going on here? Clearly, to borrow a line from the film “Cool Hand Luke,” “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Simply put, the U.S. is no longer “exceptional.”
In fact, the U.S. is no longer a Christian country. Our nation is in a spiraling decline, and the cause is neither politics nor economics but moral breakdown.
For the first time in human history the greatest health problem is obesity—read gluttony. Millions of men and even (believe it or not) women are addicted to pornography, and our birthrate is at its lowest in history. Cohabitation before marriage and multiple divorces are not unusual. Out-of-wedlock births are at an all-time high. And the holocaust of unborn babies by the millions continues.
Our country is morally as well as fiscally broke. Of course, these signs of decline are all interconnected. This is not the time to go into how all this came about, but to my mind the individual states have become too dependent on our central government for matters that should fall in their own purview, clearly and seriously violating and abusing the Catholic principle of subsidiarity.
The former freedom of action of individuals and families has been restricted by and over-regulated by Washington, DC. Remember, whatever the government can do for you, it can do to you.
In short, after witnessing the transformation of the American Republic into an Empire, we are witnessing that Empire’s fall. And as a Church historian, I do not know of any empire that ever collapsed and then revived.
I hope all this does not leave you too depressed: For my part, I am exhilarated.
To paraphrase a great American Revolutionary War hero, John Paul Jones, “We have not yet begun to fight.” Or as legendary Marine Chesty Puller put it: “They are in front of us, behind us, and we are flanked on both sides by an enemy that outnumbers us 29:1. They can’t get away from us now.”
This is the true “Catholic Moment” for our country, with apologies to my deceased friend Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Catholic convert and founder of First Things. Simply said, only raw, unadulterated, lived-out-in-the-middle-of-the-world Catholicism can save the United States and perhaps bring us back to a country that acknowledges the natural law, truly takes as its guide the American Constitution, and renounces the allure of empire, returning to its conception as the humble Republic our forefathers founded.
Our role models are the first Christians who suffered and flourished and grew under at least 25O years of persecution, in some cases bloody, in other cases consisting of ostracism and second-class citizenship, until the Edict of Milan under the Emperor Constantine. Less than 70 years later, Catholicism had become the official religion of the Empire. We know the rest of the story: the conversions of the barbarians to the Faith over seven centuries and the flowering of what became Christendom or the West.
But I must stress that, as mainstream Protestantism for all practical purposes is dead in the United States. It is up to lay Catholics to build a healthy Catholic culture here worthy of the nation’s founding. The means will be their commitment to the Sacraments, life of prayer, and meditation on Sacred Scripture, and their bringing the fruits of these to their work, family life, and fellow citizens.
The Second Vatican Council, whose fiftieth anniversary we are celebrating in this special “Year of Faith,” was quite clear that its main message for us Catholics was the “universal call to holiness.”
If we take that call seriously and we live it like the first Christians did, well, we may make America again merit the title of “exceptional,” not only in emphasizing freedom for its people but in showing charity and respect for the dignity of all human persons, born and unborn, from conception until natural death.
Perhaps our rejection of the Culture of Death in the United States will bring about what the Lord wanted and wants: “That all may be one.” Indeed this is the Catholic moment when we can   anticipate many conversions to the Faith from evangelical Christians and other truth seekers.
Consider what our most insightful observer, Alexis de Tocqueville, had to say in the early 19th century when he traveled extensively through the U.S.:
At the present time, more than in any preceding age, Roman Catholics are seen to lapse into infidelity, and Protestants to be converted to Roman Catholicism. If you consider Catholicism within its own organization, it seems to be losing; if you consider it from outside, it seems to be gaining. Nor is this difficult to explain. The men of our days are naturally little disposed to believe; but as soon as they have any religion, they immediately find in themselves a latent instinct that urges them unconsciously towards Catholicism. Many of the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church astonish them, but they feel a secret admiration for its discipline, and its great unity attracts them. If Catholicism could at length withdraw itself from the political animosities to which it has given rise, I have hardly any doubt but that the same spirit of the age which appears to be so opposed to it would become so favorable as to admit of its great and sudden advancement.
The future is ours! We can and must believe what Pope Benedict XVI told Americans in 2008 re-echoing the vision of the late Blessed Pope John Paul II: “God is preparing a new springtime for Christianity.”
Meanwhile, let’s get to work and remember to pray for the conversion of our newly re-elected president and vice president! Miracles happen!

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