Sunday, July 31, 2011

Values in a Time of Upheaval Chapter 4 Conclusion: Heaven and Earth

In last week's post discussing Chapter 4 of the Holy Father's book, Values In a Time of Upheaval, I highlighted his reflection on the fact that for society, and the government whose task it is to regulate life in that society, to function properly, both society and government most first acknowledge the existence and preeminence of the transcendent Truth that precedes them.  The state is not the source of morality, nor is the will of the people in a democratic society able to "change" what is true.

Pope Benedict ended the chapter with a wonderful reflection, entitled Closing Reflection: Heaven and Earth.  In it, he took a step back from his previous discussion of the historical role of truth in forming the moral and ethical fiber of a society, to the eschatological perspective, the fact we are destined for something far greater, and a citizenship far more significant than that of our pilgrimage on this earth.  As St. Paul put it in his letter to the Philippians (3:20), "Our commonwealth is in heaven."

In his conclusion, the Holy Father pointed out that there has long been a perception among Christians that these two perspectives are separate, that our love and longing for the things of heaven is somehow opposed to and detracts from our "political task" here on earth, and vice versa.  But that perspective is mistaken.  The two are complimentary.  It is ultimately our love for the things of heaven that enables us to carry out the tasks laid before us here on earth.  In the Pope's own words,
"In reality, it is precisely this 'eschatological' attitude that guarantees the state its own rights while simultaneously resisting absolutism by indicating the boundaries both of the state and of the Church in the world.  Where this fundamental attitude prevails, the Church knows that it cannot be a state here on earth, for it is aware that the definitive state lies elsewhere, and that it cannot set up the City of God on earth.  It respects the earthly state as an institution belonging to historical time, with rights and laws that the Church recognizes....By both demanding loyal cooperation with the state and respect for its specific nature and its limitations, the Church provides an education in those virtues that allow a state to become good.  At the same time, it puts up a barrier against the omnipotence of the sounds the cry for resistance whenever the state might demand something genuinely evil and opposed to God." (p.71)
Jesus Christ did not come into the world--and he did not establish his Church in the world--to be a government in the political sense.  That is exactly what Israel expected him to do, but as our Lord tends to do, he defied and exceeded human expectations.  As he answered Pilate's continued interrogation, "My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews" (John 18:36).

On the flip-side, he also did not dismiss political activity and the political power of the secular state in the regulation of the affairs of men (regulation in its original meaning, to "make regular," including self-regulation and being very different than control).  Instead, he established the former as a leaven of the citizens of the latter and entrusted us with the enormous responsibility of maintaining the proper relationship between both.  The bottom line is that the Church was established to work within the world, as an outpost of heaven and a standard of his law and kingdom that will never end.  As the world needs God, so it needs the Church.  And, one step further, mankind needs a healthy functional relationship between the Church and the state.  It falls to Christians, who are both temporal citizens of earth and destined to be eternal citizens of heaven, to see to it that His work of bringing mankind to salvation is continued:
"The fact that Christians are journeying toward the other city does not alienate them.  In reality, it is this that allows us to be healthy and our states to be healthy.  For if men have nothing more to expect than what this world offers them, and if they may and must demand all this from the state, they destroy both their own selves and every human society.  If we do not want to get entangled anew in the tentacles of totalitarianism, we must look beyond the state, which is only one part, not the totality.  There is no antithesis between hope for heaven and loyalty to the earth, since this hope is also hope for the earth.  While we hope for something greater and definitive, we Christians may and must bring hope into that which is transitory, into the world of our states." (p.71-72)

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Glimmer of Hope: Texas Gov. Rick Perry Signs Bill De-Funding Planned Parenthood

I've been focusing a lot on the political implications of the faith lately, and it's not by chance.  As the Holy Father noted in his little-reported Advent address to the Roman Curia, it is difficult if not impossible, for anyone who has eyes to see, to look around and notice the sad state of affairs in the Church and in our society at large.  On so many fronts, its seems that we are descending into another dark age, not unlike that that followed the fall of the Roman Empire, as vice and lack of faith seem to be eclipsing reason and belief:
"For all its new hopes and possibilities, our world is at the same time troubled by the sense that moral consensus is collapsing, consensus without which juridical and political structures cannot function. Consequently the forces mobilized for the defence of such structures seem doomed to failure."
Michael Voris of highlighted the address in a December, 28, 2010 spot of The Vortex:

This program is from

Still, once in a while, we catch a small glimmer of hope in what seems like a sea of darkness.  One of those glimmers came this past week, as Texas Governor Rick Perry signed legislation into law defunding Planned Parenthood of $34 million annually in taxpayer money.  I have never been a fan of Governor Perry's sometimes heavy-handed style of governing and remain critical of many of his policies, but on this one he is dead on where it counts.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry Signs Bill De-Funding Planned Parenthood -

Score one for the Lone Star state!

Stay tuned later this week for the second installment of my series on the Holy Father's collection of political essays, Values in a Time of Upheaval, reflecting on the role that we as Christians are called to carry out as citizens of both Heaven and Earth.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cut, Cap, and Balance Is a Moral Duty - The American Spectator

This is a great piece by Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, about why cutting spending and balancing the budget is more than just a political duty.  It's our moral duty to reverse the out-of-control spending that has led us to saddle the next generation with $46,500+ in debt (and counting, from the time they leave the womb.  I may have to go into more depth on why in a future post.

Cut, Cap, And Balance Is a Moral Duty - The American Spectator

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Archbishop Chaput Appointed Head of Philadelphia

Archbishop Chaput responded with humble words that belie the vigor that he has infused in his archdiocese in Denver:

“Philadelphia is one of America’s truly great cities, rich in history and achievement, with an extraordinary community of Catholic faith that goes back to saints like John Neumann and Katharine Drexel,” he said. “I don’t know why the Holy Father sent me here, but I do trust his heart, and I do believe in his judgment.
“I know other bishops would have been smarter than I am, or more talented, or more connected to Philadelphia’s past. But I do promise that no bishop will love the people and priests of this local Church more than I will. No bishop will give more of himself than I will. And no bishop will try harder to help persons who have been hurt by the sins of the past, or work harder to strengthen and encourage our priests and renew the hearts of our people.”

Denver's loss will be Philadelphia's gain; hopefully the healing and restoration of the faith there will continue and flourish under his leadership.

Archbishop Charles Chaput Takes the Helm in Philadelphia

If you have not read it yet, don't miss Chaput's book, Render unto Caesar.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Values in a Time of Upheaval Chapter 4: What Is Truth?

Welcome to the first installment of a series of posts reviewing Values in a Time of Upheaval a little more closely.  As I mentioned in Saturday's primer, I'm starting with Chapter 4 because it is the most striking and aligns precisely with the singular question that drives right to the heart of all of our other questions.

Pilate questions Jesus in The Passion of the Christ
What is Truth?

Those three words, asked of Jesus by Pilate as he stood falsely accused (cf. John 18:38), reverberate through history.  They seem to be amplified today, at a time when so many in our culture searching for the answer without finding it, or worse, have given up asking the question altogether.  Despite the temptation to give up in the face of what seems to be so much diversion and misinformation, the question has to be asked and cannot be avoided, for Truth cannot be found unless it (He) is sought with sincerity of heart.  The greatest danger lies when the seeker asks the question as a "loaded" question, with unmovable skepticism, and refuses to believe that it can lead to any answer other than that it is unanswerable.

The question, and the scene that surrounds it, are the centerpiece of the Pope's discussion in Chapter 4.  He begins the chapter by reflecting briefly on the prerequisite condition of freedom, that eventually leads into the deeper discussion:
The participation of everyone in power is the hallmark of freedom.  No one is to be merely the object of rule by others or only a person under control; everyone ought to be able to make a voluntary contribution to the totality of political activity.  We can all be free citizens only if we all have a genuine share in decision making.
So, to be truly free, we must all be able to contribute our "two cents," and know that our opinions are heard, weighed, and valued.  But being free in the sense of society does not mean being free to act on whatever whim we choose.  That freedom itself has to be anchored, grounded in something:
...the freedom of the individual to order his own life is declared to be the real goal of societal life.  Community has no value whatever in itself but exists only to allow the individual to be himself.  However, if the individual the highest goal lacks contents, it dissolves into thin air, since individual freedom can exist only when freedoms are correctly ordered.
So our freedom must be ordered, or oriented, toward something in order to have meaning.  But, if we have billions of people, each a sovereign, what common goal or purpose can their freedom all be oriented toward?  Probably the most common and widely accepted answer is the "common good" (i.e. the best possible opportunity for each individual to reach their full human potential, not to be confused with the collective good of society at large). But even the "common good" of man remains vague and has to be further defined and grounded.

When it comes to evaluating the ultimate goal of a democratic form of government, digging deeper into the meaning of the common good leads to one of two positions.

1. First, the radical relativistic position, which makes the governing activity itself the highest source of good, by replacing the historical, Christian concept of good and goodness with the idea that will of the majority ultimately decides and comes to occupy the position of "truth."  This is the secular-humanistic view, and is the basis of pure democracy.

2. Second, the "truth first" argument that, to quote the Holy Father, "truth is not a product of politics (the majority) but is antecedent to political activity and sheds light on it.  It is not praxis that creates truth but truth that makes praxis possible." This is the Christian view, and is the foundation of the republican form of government that began to be explored even before the time of Christ by Plato and Aristotle, where certain preexisting realities (what our Founders referred to as inalienable rights) set boundaries on the power of the state, which derives its power, in turn, from the consent of the people.

In his conclusions, the Pope notes that, in order to properly fulfill its role of regulating society the state must "[create] a balance of freedom and good things that allows each individual to lead a life worthy of man." This requires some power to guarantee the law, but it must remain clear that the government must use its power to "safeguard the rights of each individual and the welfare of all.  It is not the task of the state to create mankind's happiness, nor is it the task of the state to create new men. It is not the task of the state to change the world into paradise--nor can it do so."

The bottom line is that, to preserve freedom grounded in truth, that state must "receive from outside itself the essential measure of knowledge and truth with regard to that which is good."  Further,
According to Maritain, the primary right of a people to govern itself can never become a right to decide everything.
This reality--the clashing of  two opposing views--plays out briefly and dramatically in the exchange between Christ and Pilate.  Referring to the German scholar Heinrich Schlier, who wrote against groups within the Protestant churches who cooperated with the buildup of National Socialism, the Holy Father notes that, according to Schlier,
...although Jesus in his trial acknowledges the judicial authority of the state represented by Pilate, he also sets limits to this authority by saying that Pilate does not possess this authority on his own account but has it "from above" (19:11).  Pilate falsifies his power, and...the power of the state, as soon as he ceases to exercise it as the faithful administrator of a higher order that depends on truth.
Jesus didn't comment on which specific form of government would best serve the needs of man and society, but he did lay out, in this exchange, what a government--no matter what its form--could never do.  It could never take the place of God or supplant his truths with the will of a fallible majority.  The minute it seeks to do so, and attempts to eliminate him from the position of ultimate authority, it loses any legitimate claim of power.

If you've made it this far, thank you for hanging in there.  Please chime in with your thoughts about how this political philsophy might apply to us today.  Until the next installment (chapter TBD), God's peace.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Coming Soon: Values In A Time of Upheaval

In January of 2010, shortly after starting this blog, I posted a brief book review of Values In A Time of Upheaval , a collection of essays on political philosophy by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI).  A recent conversation with a friend on Facebook prompted me to pick the book up off the shelf, dust it off, and read through it again.  So I did, as it became my source of intellectual stimulation during 30+ hours of air travel this past week.

As I mentioned in the review, the Holy Father’s collection is an incredibly timely book.  Upheaval seems to be exactly what we are seeing in our culture at nearly every turn. In the area of politics in particular, it seems every day that we are becoming more a nation of men and less a nation of laws.  The world, and our society, seem to be changing in so many ways, and few of those changes appear to be for the better.   So, as I was thinking and praying for my next blog topic, it struck me that reviewing the book in greater depth would be perfect.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be taking each of the Holy Father's essays, doing my best to summarize them (without sacrificing the rich genius of his work), and offer my humble commentary.  I’ll begin this week with the chapter that impacted me the most, Chapter Four.  This chapter, the fourth essay in the collection, entitled What is Truth? The Significance of Religious and Ethical Values in a Pluralistic Society, explores the relationship between truth and the democratic process, and how that relationship must remain in proper perspective in order for a society to survive.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks to explore this and the rest of Pope Benedict XVI's essays on political philosophy, and please chime in with any comments or thoughts about his work.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wednesday Quick Thought: Sails in the Wind

According to the Baltimore Catechism, we were created to know, love, and serve God.  To expand on that a little, we were created first to glorify him by loving him with all of our being, and to transmit his love into the world by being living reflections of that love.

To live any other way, that is, apart or distant from God, is to be like a sail that is furled and stored.  Before it is hoisted to catch the wind, it is a useless, sometimes rather heavy piece of fabric.  But once it is unfurled into the power of the wind, it becomes an incredible instrument of propulsion, able to move massive vessels over great distances and high speeds.

Our souls, like sails, are meant to operate and transmit the power of God's love into our world.  So long as we cooperate and "unfurl" our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies to him, there is no limit to what he can accomplish with us.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wednesday Quick Thought: Lessons Learned

Over the past week, Michael Voris has done a series of Vortex spots reflecting on the decimation of the faith that has taken place in Ireland.  In only two generations, the once-vibrant community of faith that thrived for 1500 years has faded into only a small remnant.  He compiled a few lessons learned, which we in the rest of the Church in the west-including America-should take to heart.

This program is from


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Independence Day: Rediscovering our Greatness

Tomorrow, July 4, 2011, we celebrate the day when 56 intrepid men were willing to risk "their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor," to sign a Declaration of Independence to King George III, notifying him in no uncertain terms that they no longer considered themselves to be his subjects.  While each of these men himself was a profile in courage (they all had the hangman's noose for treason to look forward to if things didn't work out as they hoped), I have always been particularly impressed by the boldness of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration.  Carroll, representing Maryland, signed his name "Charles Carroll of Carrollton," just in case there was any doubt should the redcoats come looking to round them up.

To the point: today, at a time when a majority of Americans believe that America is "off track" (60% according to a May 2011 Politico Poll), it is worth investigating what it took to get here, and what it would take to turn us around.

In a previous post from September of last year, I busted the myth of separation of church and state, at least it has come to be understood today.

MYTH: Church (religion) and state must be kept completely separate. Anyone who holds to the traditional standard as a matter of religious conviction should not seek to impose the traditional standard on the rest of a society.
BUST: The Founding Fathers were not ignorant or simple men. They were geniuses, the most highly respected and innovative doctors, farmers, and lawyers of their time. They were steeped in philosophy, history, and natural law, and drew from this enormous perspective and wealth of knowledge in their drafting of the founding documents (Declaration of Independence and Constitution). Although they came from many different faith backgrounds, almost to a tee they acknowledged and revered the authority of the “Creator God” of the Judeo-Christian faith tradition and the fact that the entire system of Western legal and political thought rested firmly on the foundation of this faith tradition.

While I specifically addressed the peril of abandoning our traditional, Judeo-Christian moorings as relates to the issue of legalizing so-called "gay marriage," the idea also applies in the wider historical context of our nation's past and future.  No nation that has ever completely abandoned its moral footings--in our case, the Judeo-Christian moral structure--has ever survived more than a few generations.  Not one.  More from that post:
Alexis de Tocqueville, in his 1837 documentary book, “Democracy in America,” noted that the strength and “verve” that pulsed so strong in the young country’s veins was due to its strong moral identity, based primary on the tenets of Christianity and Christian morality. He recognized that the churches played a critical role in informing American’s consciences, but also made an ominous prediction that, when the fervor faded with time, the strong and thriving society would descend into a relativistic, anti-religious (especially anti-Catholic and anti-Christian) state the likes of which had recently given rise to the Jacobin regime and the French Revolution.
While the First Amendment (wisely) forbade the establishment of any particular religion as the “official” religion of the new Republic, it also respected the right of citizens to live (not just to worship but to live) their faith, which includes the right to speak, act and vote—to carry out all aspects of living—according to their faith-informed consciences.
If we push the “Creator God” and the unchanging Natural Law that he has stamped as his sort of “fingerprint” on creation to the wayside, the only alternative is a descent into a state of being where fallen, sinful humanity attempts to make up or change the rules for itself, as popular opinion dictates. Man begins—as he has so many times in the past—to try to arbitrarily engineer the political and legal systems to codify his own happiness as an end in itself, rather than as paths to a just society as the Creator has defined it. He begins to “grasp” at happiness and a twisted sense of justice, rather than accepting the standard that has been laid down since the beginning of time. Isn’t that precisely the sin that the serpent tempted Adam and Eve to in the garden, that they did not need God and could make up the rules for themselves?
The Founding Fathers were well aware of this tendency, of its historical consequences (descent into tyranny with relativism as the historical societal standard). It is, in large part, why they went through such painful deliberations to carefully craft an intricate system of checks and balances.

So what do we do to turn this "ship of state," whose birthday we so proudly celebrate, back onto a safe and true course?  It's simple, but much easier said than done.  We need to reconnect with our moorings.  That is, we must rediscover our relationship with our Creator, and properly orient ourselves as his children and subject to his laws, in particular the Natural Law.  We must rediscover the true meaning of liberty and rights in the Christian sense; the freedom and ability to do as we ought, unencumbered by the man-made (and often arbitrary) laws of a government that would raise itself above its God-given role to claim the all-knowing and all-powerful role of God himself.  Our only hope is to return to being a godly and god-fearing people.