The schools, streets, news reports, and even the churches are filled with discontent and revolution in recent years. How are we to react?
Not long ago, we recalled the words of a great 19th century anti-revolutionary defender of Catholic tradition, Juan Donoso Cortés, to affirm the timeless lesson that social/political questions are always theological in their essence. (See Sisters of the Poor: Politics or Theology?) A subsequent Pastor’s Corner reminded us of the “titanic battle of two cities” described by St. Augustine, and directed our attention to examples of heroic resistance (St. Joan of Arc, Professor Lejeune, General de Charette) with the cry that “Nothing is ever lost!” for those who carry the banner of Christ the King.
In these troubled times of our own, the daily news is both a continual reaffirmation that all problems are religious problems, and a rolling chronical of the battle between the City of God and the City of Man. Anyone following closely (“watch and pray!”) may have noticed that a particularly aggressive and reprehensible tactic is increasingly being employed against those struggling to preserve the faith against social, political, and legal pressure. A recent report at LifeSiteNews published an “ever-expanding list of alleged anti-LGBT hate crimes that turned out to be fraudulent.” Describing these incidents as “hate-crime hoaxes” in which so-called victims manufacture their own false grievances, one commentator claims that “it is a terrible truth that you could fill a large book documenting fake…‘hate crime’ hoaxes.” The article goes into the details of a particularly egregious example involving a cake sold by Whole Foods in Austin, Texas. The “victim” in this case filed a lawsuit after buying the cake and claiming a slur was written in the icing. Whole Foods eventually released footage of a surveillance video that discredited the claims, compelling the “victim” to issue a written public statement of regret (but long after he had called a press conference to shed false tears over his “excruciating experience”). He now finds himself as the defendant in a countersuit by Whole Foods. We must pray for this poor man, but also pray that justice is rendered and serves as a deterrent against any further spreading of these odious ploys.
It goes without saying that these “signs of the times” are deeply troubling on many levels, not the least of which is their mendacity and audacity. However, these signs should also serve to remind faithful Catholics of another timeless lesson: the more things change, the more they stay the same (as the French would say, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose). To help us understand this lesson, we once again turn to our 19th century hero, Juan Donoso Cortés, the Marqués de Valdegamas.
In what is considered to be the clearest exposition of his thought, Donoso described the signs of his times in the famous “Letter to Cardinal Fornari” (1852). (See Donoso Cortés: Readings in Political Theory edited by R.A. Herrera, Sapientia Press.) In this letter, Donoso contended that the errors of his time had their origin in two negations: the denial of Divine Providence and the denial of sin. (Sound familiar?) He understood that when the natural goodness of man is presupposed, it will eventually lead to a denial of Redemption, the Church, and the Holy Trinity. Mr. Herrera summarizes:
Religion is reduced to vague deism. The Church is immured in the sanctuary, and God is imprisoned in heaven. This bodes ill for society, as society depends on those eternal principles of the religious, political, and social orders derived from a source superior to the natural order.”
The “Letter to Cardinal Fornari” is a short document so rich in content that must be read multiple times to fully appreciate. Donoso begins the letter with an attempt to explain the reason for his attention to political and social questions, noting first that they are theological in their origin and essence. He then identifies a crucial difference between errors of the past (which, if they were not found in books, they “could not be found at all”) and errors of the present “which are found inside and outside of [books], because it is in them and everywhere else besides: in books, institutions, laws, periodicals, speeches, conversations, classrooms, clubs, at home, in public, in what is said, and what is not said.” The word used by Donoso to capture the point he wished to make is one that still applies today: the atmosphere.
Dear reader, it is clear that God asks us to endure this present atmosphere in the battle for souls. It is clear because we cannot escape this atmosphere, and God does not give us more than we can bear. But we must take heart. The conflict between the City of God and the City of Man is as old as time. In fact, it precedes time as does the cry non serviam (“I will not serve”), and it will continue until the consummation of the world. Our day may offer a novel variety of enemy tactics, but the underlying conflict is the same as always. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. (An excellent explanation of the present crisis, of its roots and historical development, is a series of conferences available at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary Audio on Church, Christendom, and Revolution.)
What can be done?
We cannot escape the atmosphere, but we can confront it with prayer, sacrifice, and appropriate, courageous action. We must always remember that “he who has persevered to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). As Fr. Juan-Carlos Iscara explains in the conference noted above, the only antidote to the present atmosphere is Christ and His Church:
We have to restore Christ in ourselves; by the practice of the virtues, by working for our eternal salvation. But also, because we live in the world and our faith is not only a private affair, our faith has to be seen in our action, in our public life, in our social life, in our political life, in our jobs, in our homes, in our schools, in the streets, in the shopping malls. By these actions, each one of us will be working for the restoration of Christendom, which is what the Church wants. The Church wants that Christ reigns! That Christ reigns in our souls, that Christ reigns in our families, that Christ reigns in our nation.”
Finally, we cannot lose hope. For this, we return one last time to the Marqués de Valdegamas. It is said that Donoso’s “Letter to Cardinal Fornari” greatly influenced the composition of the Syllabus of Errors that accompanied Pope Pius IX’s encyclical Quanta cura. Faithful Catholics need only remember the line of great popes and magisterial teaching that followed: Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, and Pius XII. It may take more than a layman’s letter to fully expose the errors of our time, but we know where the only cure for the present atmosphere is to be found. This knowledge should compel us to more fervently offer the beautiful public prayers for the Church. At every Holy Mass, we must unite our prayers with the priest to begin the Canon. We must:
humbly pray and beseech Thee, most merciful Father, through Jesus Christ; Thy Son, our Lord, that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to accept and bless these gifts, these presents, these holy unspotted Sacrifices, which in the first place we offer Thee for Thy holy Catholic Church to which vouchsafe to grant peace, as also to preserve, unite, and govern it throughout the world, together with Thy servant our Pope, and our Bishop, and all orthodox believers and professors of the Catholic and Apostolic Faith.”