Listers, at the year’s end many self-proclaimed Catholic sites pull their favorite bodies from the idealogical morgue and deliver the normal spate of women priests, LGBT issues, anti-contraception rhetoric, and the like. Other groups may suggest unrealistic reactions to Vatican II, and still yet the majority of conservative Catholic sites are settled into their roles as apologists and little else.
SPL is none of these groups. The following suggestions are not unrealistic reforms or heretical screeds, they are simply areas where the Church must be faithful to her own teachings. It is not a call back to some fanciful time or a cry out for some “new era” in the Church. We – the Church Militant – must engage our own time in fidelity and wisdom.
SPL humbly recommends the following New Year’s Resolutions:
1. Speak of Virtue
The Church has come under the destructive habit of speaking of values and not virtues. Values are relative. Even in attempting to explain what a value is, one must state a reference point. If one says traditional marriage is a value, the obvious question is to whom? Values are as easily defended as they are discredited, e.g., Republicans value traditional marriage and Democrats value LGBT equality. Each party arrives with its own reference points, its own standards, its own values. Values are a relativistic political mire.
However, Virtues are objective, and have stood as the infrastructure for Catholic political thought for more than a millennium. The Virtues need no subjective reference to grant them clarity or meaning. For example, the Cardinal Virtues:
Prudence – “very act of reason,” the “principal virtue,” which orders things
– Directs the virtues through right reasoning
Justice – the ordering of reason in operations
– Places all things in proper order according to reason
Temperance – ordering of passion: to curb the incites against reason
– Safeguards against that which would lure men from reason, e.g., lust
Fortitude – ordering of passion: to halt the withdraw from reason
– Safeguards against that which would make men flee reason, e.g., fear
Catholics should return to speaking in terms of the Virtues, and not in terms of relative values. The 2011 surge and call to arms of Religious Liberty has seen a deluge of “value” talk, but little to no appeal or education to Virtue.
2. Speak of Natural Law
To her own disadvantage, the Church in America has adopted the political framework of “rights,” especially religious rights or religious liberty. While rights language was an invention of early modernity – especially Hobbes then Locke – since Vatican II the Church has attempted to baptize the language of rights. However, the difference between how the world speak of rights and how the Church speaks of rights is lost on the majority of people, including most Catholics and Catholic clergy.
If each political body brings to the table its own values, its own standards, then it also brings to the table its own set of rights. We hear about Women’s Rights vs the Rights to Life or Unborn Rights, etc. In many ways, the Church has been lured into these false debates and pits its rights as religious body against those of say the state or the rights of LGBT. Still, if there is no common ground, no universal principle or standard for rights, then it does not matter how faithful American Catholics become, they are simply adhering to their subjective standards and perceived consequential rights – while other groups hold to their standards and their rights. The result – as currently observable – is the dawning of a rights war, which is a war of competing wills, popular vote, and attrition.
The Church in American needs to remember Nature and Natural Law. Man is by nature a political and social animal, and the political animal naturally gathers together in organized groups. The State or the polis as Aristotle called it, exists by nature. All men share in the same human nature. Natural Law was and still is the foundation of Human Society, as taught by the Catholic Church. Moreover, the virtues are nothing more than “good habits” or the actions which cultivate that which is natural and good in man. Nature, Natural Law, and the Virtues are the universal concepts that should be seasoning Catholic political speech.
In gist, the language of rights is only truly a legitimate political language if it carries a universal standard. The standard is Natural Law & Virtue, especially the virtue of Justice. Yet, the Church in America seems ever more willing to engage in a Rights War, and publish 30-page documents on Faithful Citizenship that are devoid of any mention of Nature, Natural Law, or Justice in any context of the political tradition of the Church.1
SPL Further Reading:
Political Animals: 7 Thoughts From Book One of Aristotle’s Politics
St. Thomas Aquinas on Classical Political Philosophy: 8 Comments on Aristotle’s Politics
The Best Regime: 5 Thoughts From Classical Political Philosophy
The Vatican (CDF) on Catholics Living in a Democracy: 10 Statements [Part One]
The Vatican (CDF) on Catholics Living in a Democracy: 10 More Statements [Part Two]
3. Cut Government Dependency
The social outreaches of Holy Mother Church have climbed in bed with the United States Government and a devastating divorce is on the horizon; however, in this divorce the Church will lose everything. Let us take Catholic Charities as an example:
Annual Revenue: 4.67 Billion
Government Funds: 2.9 Billion
Diocesan Contribution: 140 Million2
In 2011 the Church witnessed the death of its own outreaches to the poor and underserved as the US Government decided that Catholic services had to comply to immoral standards or quit serving the poor. The Church lost the ability to serve the poor – to serve Christ. We have become dependent on government contributions in an atmosphere of rising government/church tensions. In reality, a court decision could implode the social ministries of the Church overnight.
4. Continue to Restore the Liturgy
Holy Mother Church should only have one universal and unified liturgy. The third edition of the Roman Missal is an excellent step in the right direction, but the journey to a restored liturgy is far from over.
Key Liturgical Restorations: all must kneel for the Eucharist, all must receive the Eucharist on the tongue, the restoration of the ad orientum, and the restoration of sacred music, especially in Gregorian chant.
5. Continue to Develop a Quality Online & Media Presence
In the minds of many, “religious media” is concomitant with dated materials and lackluster presentations. However, many are severing that connection with quality media productions that are faithful to the Church and express her truths in a dynamic manner. As of late we have seen Fr. Barron’s Catholicism, the national surge of Catholics Come Home, the new Vatican News site, a Vatican embrace of the global Catholic blogosphere, and much more.
If the Church is serious about a “New Evangelization,” then her online presence is an absolute priority.
Happy New Years from the SPL Staff.
- Natural Law & Virtue: Again, this is no utopian wish of “if only we’d do this all would be better;” Natural Law & Virtue are objective standards, but not every tenant of natural law is as observable as the rest, e.g., murder or theft are universally held, but while abortion is contra-natural, even Aristotle held infanticide to be a legitimate practice. The point of seasoning Catholic political thought/speech is to correctly contextualize the conversation, while continuing to speak in relative values and rights might win some short-term battles but the overall “rights war” will be lost. [↩]
- Catholic Charities: the remainder is covered by investments, individual donations, etc. SOURCE [↩]