Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Response to my post on Fatima by Les Leicester

Here’s a most interesting post found at The Truth Will Make You Free, a blog by Father Robert A. Connor, Chaplain at Southmont, a center of Opus Dei in South Orange, New Jersey.  The conclusion or highlight of the post I have quoted below;

The Point of it all: Will the engendering of Christ again in all those who achieve the heart of Our Lady bring about the new culture and civilization that we are awaiting for the development of this third millennium of Jesus Christ? That is, will each of us become “alter Christus” in the ordinary life of work and family life such that the absolute truth of the human person (imaging the prototype, Jesus Christ) become the ordering principle of freedom.


The content of that truth of the person:

- “the person of the worker is the principle, subject and purpose of work.

-  “the priority of work over capital and the fact that material goods are meant for all.”

-  “a sense of solidarity involving not only rights to be defended but also the duties to be performed.:

  - “participation aimed at promoting the national and international common good and not just defending individual or corporate interests.”

  - “assimilate the methods of confrontation and of frank and vigorous dialogue.”



-         “the political authorities will become more capable of acting with respect for the legitimate freedoms of individuals, families and subsidiary groups.”

-         “ they will thus create the conditions necessary for man to be able to achieve his authentic and integral welfare, including his spiritual goal.”



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 Leicester Response:

Here is my reply (too long for a com-box),


Forgive my cynicism Father, but I don’t follow the last step in the transition to the new social order.  As the die-hard Marxists claim about the Soviet Union that true communism was never achieved, I would suggest that the capitalist west has been a bastardized form of free enterprise among men.  The ethos of the founders of America was lost sometime after it was codified in the Declaration and the Constitution.  The question of whether it was achievable is the same question that must be asked of every “system”, including those pre-existing the Enlightenment, although it is only since that the question of a “system” was even on the radar for the average man.


Rather than say that the American experiment has been tried and found wanting, I don’t think it has been truly tried.  Nor could it, because it is in the nature of concupiscent man to discover any means to make a system unfair, for the benefit of a few.  Monarchies of the past, to their credit, did not pretend that it was otherwise although there were wise and benevolent kings on occasion who saw the commoner as their responsibility, their charge.  Egalitarian and individualist ideologies believe it is possible to establish a system that, through one mechanism or another, can maintain the equality of every individual, however equality is defined.  The one common feature of them all is their failure.  That failure is rooted in the nature of men.


And that is where I cannot practically follow the step from the teaching of the Church as you have described it, and which is not debatable; to the world governed by that code or ethic, however it is described or called. 


In microcosm, we see the civilization of love in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, verse 44 and following.  They basically eliminated private property and followed the ethic that Karl Marx invoked;  from each according to his ability to each according to his need.  What held this together?  The common overriding personal faith of each in the Lord Jesus Christ.  (I would also suggest that it may have been in part the Apostles’ expectation of the immanent return of Jesus Christ.  It was later that the possibility became apparent that Jesus might not return in their life-time and I believe that was at the root of the situation St. Paul was dealing with in his second letter to the Thessalonians where he says in chapter 3, verse 10;


“In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.”)

So where is this civilization now?  We can actually find it in the monastic orders, and other Christian organizations throughout Church history.  But again, what does it depend upon?  The common overriding personal faith of each in the Lord Jesus Christ.  And, even so, the concupiscence of one and all makes such a life difficult by times and requiring a “rule.”


We see this occurring also in the natural order (natural law) in the family.  Once again, this group is bound together by a bond of love and when infused with grace is that much stronger.  And even so, one of its features is the hierarchy of authority, which, when undermined, destroys the unity.  We have seen this loss of unity at work among the Protestants as well for the same reason.


If this new civilization is to replace the old orders and ideologies of communism and capitalism presumably we are talking about the world beyond the family and the monastery.  Are we expecting the entire world to have the common overriding faith in Jesus Christ?  Great expectations indeed.  Is this the goal of the gospel?  Absolutely.  But even Christ himself pointed out that the way is narrow and few that are that find it.  Are we looking at a parallel to what is known as Dominion theology and resides mainly within a small group of Presbyterians?  In that ideology there is only a presumption of a majority of believers, such that they dominate not only the culture but the political sphere.


My cynicism resides in the knowledge that mankind is free, whether or not we wish to acknowledge that in law (the point of Dignitatis Humanae) and political order, and his faith in Jesus Christ or lack thereof is his choice.  Thus, unless a very large majority of society are believers, this civilization cannot be achieved without coercion, which of course, would be antithetical to its very essence.  Even in a society that had a pre-existing Christian order, the influence of that order on the human heart was not necessarily convincing.  As I’ve quoted many times in the past, Pope Benedict (the Cardinal Ratzinger) in Introduction to Christianity makes this statement;


“And when today as believers in our age we hear it said, a little enviously perhaps, that in the Middle Ages everyone without exception in our lands was a believer, it is a good thing to cast a glance behind the scenes, as we can today, thanks to historical research.  This will tell us that even in those days there was the great mass of nominal believers and a relatively small number of people who had really entered into the inner movement of belief.  It will show us that for many belief was only a ready-made mode of life, by which for them the exciting adventure really signified by the word credo was at least as much concealed as disclosed.”


A ready-made mode of life.  Is that then what we wish to re-create in the new civilization of love? 


-         “the political authorities will become more capable of acting with respect for the legitimate freedoms of individuals, families and subsidiary groups.”

-         “ they will thus create the conditions necessary for man to be able to achieve his authentic and integral welfare, including his spiritual goal.”


They will?  How so?  What will motivate them?  You see, we cannot escape that fundamental pre-requisite of the individual’s faith, and we know having spent time in the confessional, even that is no guarantee of consistent proper behavior one to another.  How much less among those with only the veneer of faith or no faith at all? 


But suppose this were achievable even among those whose spiritual path is not ours, but who have recognized the philosophical wisdom of such an order.  Even if the goal is the same, is there no argument over the structure?  Is not every economic and political system devised for the ultimate good of mankind?  Did the communists set out with the express purpose of killing and enslaving millions, denying their rights and quenching their spirits?  No, they were trying to bring mankind to a higher way of life.  Does free enterprise as a system not set out to maximize man’s potential by freeing him to work to his own capacity and/or desire and live free, thereby creating a better society for all mankind?


I would suggest that the only criterion for judging a “system” or ideology is how it deals, in practical terms, with man’s concupiscence, and builds in checks and balances based on that foreknowledge.  I would also suggest that the closest to achieving that end was the American system.  The goal was not capitalism.  The goal was freedom.  In fact, per se, there was no economic system at the founding of the United States.  Economics was simply what men do, when they are free to do so.  Trade is what happens between men who work and produce and are allowed to keep what they create.  In a nation where freedom of trade is not the norm, the trade still happens, but it often stays underground.


To speak of “creating the conditions necessary” is already to pre-suppose that man is in need of governance.  If men were able to live as men in perfect charity, they would have no need of governance.  But since we know and have pre-supposed that is not the case, we have to ask the question, who governs the governors?


This was supposed to be the genius of the American Constitutional Republic.  It was first and foremost a system of governance with the starting point the natural law, the recognition that man’s free will pre-exists the state, coming from the higher source, the Creator.  The system was not primarily an economic system.  Economics was done beginning at the family level, wherein the primary assumption of free men was to ensure the security of that primary (Catholic) social construction and that through local government the subsidiary support and accountability was to be achieved in the first instance.  For larger concerns, the state governments were to act autonomously, with accountability, in support of their own people, again employing that principle of subsidiarity.  Finally, for only those concerns that affected all of the people of all of the states, the federal government was to tie it all together in support of the security and commerce of the states.  It was to be the weakest form of government, again in the principle of subsidiarity, with clearly delineated powers beyond which it could not go.  Therefore, in principle, the Catholic social doctrine was constructed in the founding documents of the United States of America, beginning with the highest good, the free man interacting with his Creator, his immediate family, his immediate neighbors and moving down from there (not up) in subsidiarity to the federal government.


How that structure was turned upside down in 200+ years is a study in concupiscence.  I would even add that Capitalism, as an economic system, was only possible because of that reversal of order of subsidiarity.  It, like its Communist nemesis, needs centralized power to enable its concentrations of wealth.  Free enterprise among free men is not equivalent to Capitalism and the first can exist without the second.


The conditions of that initial American system were the ideal for the realizing of man’s true nature and the nobility of his work.  Those conditions have already existed and have been lost.  It seems to me that any Catholic who would wish to realize the circumstances wherein Catholic social doctrine can flourish, should work for the return in America to the founding.



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Comment: I think the practical step from the doctrine of the person as “finding self by the sincere gift of self” (GS #24) is the actual achievement of personal holiness in the execution of work.

            This has not taken place for a number of reasons that extend beyond the presence of concupiscence in historical persons:


1) Clericalism: the Church has been a prisoner of clericalism from the Constantine emancipation of 313. Weigel quotes Professor Stefan Swiezawski that Vatican II marked “‘the end of the Constantinian epoch’ in which the Church was a power alongside other political powers,”[1] and the key to the political unity of the empire. Pace the distinction of Pope Gelasius I (492-496) between the two powers claiming the independence of the Church, the one society with two power extended – in Church doctrine – down to Leo XIII where the American separation of Church and State impacted doctrinally with final clarification in Dignitatis Humanae.  John Courtney Murray’s “Contemporary Orientations of Catholic Thought on Church and State in the Light of History” (Theological Studies vol. X, June 1949, no.2) is very enlightening here. Murray sees Leo XIII understanding that “In the medieval universe of discourse the root of the matter was not the unity of the human person, citizen and Christian, but rather the unity of the social body which was both Church and state, the respublica Christiana, whose unity required the subordination of regnum to sacerdotium… The medieval starting point was the Church, and it set the doctrine of the two powers in characteristic social perspectives… [Hence] the confessional stated with its ‘Union of Throne and Altar’… However, the Leonine starting point is not the Church nor are its perspectives social. Its starting point is the dualism within the human person, who is both child of God, member of the Church, and also member of the human community, citizen of a state…” (underline mine).[2]

            Therefore, I agree with you that “in principle, the Catholic social doctrine was constructed in the founding documents of the United States of America beginning with the highest good, the free man interacting with his Creator, his immediate family, his immediate neighbors and moving down from there (not up) in subsidiarity to the federal government.” David Walsh is huge here in his “Beyond Ideology” where he looks for the truth of the future world order to be grounded in an experience of Christ, no matter how unconscious or preconscious.


            You use the word “systems” several times whose “one common feature … is their failure. That failure is rooted in the nature of men.” I take “system” to be identical to “structure,” and it brings me to the “Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation” over Ratzinger’s name (1986). “#75: [The Church] considers that the first thing to be done is to appeal to the spiritual and moral capacities of the individual and to the permanent need for inner conversion, if one is to achieve the economic and social changes that will truly be at the service of man.

            “The priority given to structures and technical organization over the person and the requirements of his dignity is the expression of a materialistic anthropology and is contrary to the construction of a just social order.

            “On the other hand, the recognized priority of freedom and of conversion of heart in no way eliminates the need for unjust structures to be changed….

            “It remains true… that structures established for people’s good are of themselves incapable of securing and guaranteeing that good. The corruption which in certain countries affects the leaders and the state bureaucracy, and which destroys all honest social life, is a proof of this. Moral integrity is a necessary condition for the health of society. It is therefore necessary to work simultaneously for the conversion of hearts and for the improvement of structures.”


2) Positivism: The failure to “cross the threshold of hope” to the mysterious reality of the Being of the human person. (Neo-scholastic theology has not done it, and the philosophy that is apologetic defense against modernity.[3] )That is, the progressive positivism of the intelligence which has dried up the transcendental sense, in a word, the experience of the ontological self going out of self. Hence, we have been constructing and depending on rationalist ideologies that now, at the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3d millennia, have dried up. We are waiting for the appearance of the sons of God to appear.


Cynicism still reigns: therefore, what to do?


I believe that all are called to holiness. So do you. I also believe that some are called to live holiness to a heroic degree now. Ratzinger’s whole mind about Christianity is the eschatological dimension. The Kingdom God is here now in the world. It is the Person of Christ and all who actually are making the constant conversion to self-gift in ordinary work in the world becoming “other Christs.” Being “other Christs” they are the presence of the Kingdom of God in the world “at the summit of all human activities.” They are achieving this in the exercise of secular work. It is not to take place in the monastic order only, but in the street where the Sacrifice of the Mass must be lived.


Christ is the meaning of man. Therefore, sanctity is for all. There is a most personal vocation extended to all. And there are concentric circles that affect each other in an ever widening cascade. There must be a few, of whom the majority are laity with a few priests serving them, with the vocation to radical self-giftedness which they “irradiate” (as yeast in the dough) in identity with Christ as worker. It is “irradiation,” not penetration (which would presuppose that sanctity originates outside the secular world). These few must reach the nerve centers of the society, particularly in affecting public opinion, i.e. the media.


            In a word, it is the apostolate of St. Paul at the Areopagus: “So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed alone, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you’” (Acts 17, 22-23).The Acts of the Apostles read: “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17, 21). This is the nature of the media. But, today, there is clearly a control of the lights and the microphone. That control is not Paul, nor the Christian experiencing Christ with a mind formed on the Magisterium who is a professionally first class journalist or news commentator. It would be most useful to reread John Paul II’s “Mission of the Redeemer” #37, c) on the “modern equivalents of the Areopagus.”


            Still cynicism. There is a work of the Spirit going on right now. There is a new springtime of the Gospel occurring. Consider Ratzinger’s entire work on “Eschatology” (CUA 1988), “What It Means to Be a Christian” Ignatius (2006) (his 1965 homilies on the Kingdom of God as the Person of Christ), his “Dogma and Preaching” on Advent: John the Baptist’s fulminating about the signs that should accompany the presence of God in history, and then the failure of any visible signs, his question to Christ, “Are you he who is to come or shall we look for another?” and finally the conversion necessary to understand that Love is, indeed, present. Christ answers: “Go and tell John what it is that you have seen and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who is not scandalized in me” (Lk. 7, 22-23).


            This doesn’t mean that we’re doing what it takes. We are not. I would say that it’s happening despite us. But it would help if we understood what was up and undertook the real steps to the radical conversion to be Christ Himself in the secular world with attention to getting into the media at all levels and growing a public consciousness (and therefore culture) of the dignity of the human person. Without being a Rahnerian, there is doubtlessly an anonymous Christian life lived by many when there is an integral human culture effected by a few working at the nerve centers of society.



[1] George Weigel, “Witness to Hope,” Cliffside Books (1999) 296.

[2] John Courtney Murray, “Contemporary Orientations of Catholic Thought on Church and State in the Light of History” Theological Studies  vol. X, June 1949, no.2, 220-221.

[3] Ratzinger: "(H)ere is the problem: Ought we to accept modernity in full, or in part? Is there a real contribution? Can this modern way of thinking be a contribution, or offer a contribution, or not? And if there is a contribution from the modern, critical way of thinking, in line with the Enlightenment, how can it be reconciled with the great institutions and the great gifts of the faith?


   "Or ought we, in the name of the faith, to reject modernity? You see? There always seems to be this dilemma: either we must reject the whole of the tradition, all the exegesis of the Fathers... or we must reject modernity."


He answers: "And it seems to me that this was the true intention of the Second Vatican Council, to go beyond an unfruitful and overly narrow apologetic to a true synthesis with the positive elements of modernity, but at the same time, let us say, to transform modernity, to heal it of its illnesses, by means of the light and strength of the faith" (From "Let God's Light Shine Forth" Robert Moynihan - Doubleday (2005) 34-35. I offer the book of David Walsh, “The Modern Philosophical Revolution” Cambridge (2008)and the scholarship therein on “German Idealism” as an answer going in the right direction.


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