Sunday, August 23, 2015

More on the Shemitah

For the first installment click here.

I understand why the more mainstream Catholic outlets, whether they be left, right or center, hesitate to bring up the Shemitah. As I wrote previously, we live in a very rationalistic age, even inside the Church, so no one wants to be thought of as being "out there." We ignore things like the Shemitah, because the main proponent is Jonathan Cahn, "Jew for Jesus" (not because he happens to be a Jew, but because he's Evangelical, and if there's one thing traditionalists and progressives agree on is that those guys can't be right, though not for the same reasons). We also ignore the steadily approaching 100th anniversary of the apparitions in Fatima, which many in the prophetic "underground" Catholic press see as being a pivotal moment in the near future (2017, the centenary of the Fatima apparitions is also the quincentennial of the Protestant Reformation). Again, I get it. It's hard to deny that the Fatima devotion has a substantial fringe element coopted by sedevacantists and conspiracy theorists. I also understand that chasing after apparitions and religious phenomenon while reading the newspaper in one hand, with the Book of Revelation in the other hoping to figure out the day and hour of the Second Coming is futile and foolish. It is fair to ask, "How many storefront preachers must come and go predicting the end of the world and getting it wrong before we stop listening to them?" 

But I think there is something happening right now, and as I've said, one doesn't need to be clairvoyant to see it. Some, including Time Magazine, have questioned if 2015 is the new 1968; a milestone year of cultural change, political discord and social unrest. Only time will tell. It's in hindsight that we can see '68 as being a crescendo to the tensions building in the society over the previous years. Who knows, could '15 be just the build up to even greater upheaval in the future?

It's hard to look at the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign and not see a real upending of the political order taking place right now. On one side there's celebrity real estate mogul Donald Trump outpolling career politicians on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders, a self described socialist, making gains on the previously presumed Democratic nominee and Washington insider, the now very beleaguered Hillary Clinton. There are conspiracy theories, which I'm not ready to dismiss so easily, that the Trump candidacy is a Clinton plot to divide the Republican vote, similar to what happened with Ross Perot in 1992. The other is that Hillary's e-mail scandal only has legs because President Obama wants it to. The FBI and other governmental agencies don't investigate such things, so the reasoning goes, unless the president gives at least tacit approval. He wants to choose his own successor, and she's not it.

No matter what the truth is to such speculations, the public would not be responding the either "dark horse" candidate the way they are unless there was a deep unrest and frustration with the status quo. There are many people who don't believe that they are being listened to by the people they've elected. Whether they are progressives who believe Wall Street, major banks and big business run the country, or conservatives who believe the government is overly intrusive and coercive in the lives of the people, they don't believe the people they've elected to solve these problems are really doing anything about it. This has led to the almost chaotic situation we find ourselves in at this point of the election cycle. A year on the political calendar is like a century in real time, so much can change in the year before the conventions. But I won't be surprised if the respective party nominees aren't any of the current front runners, and might just be candidates who haven't even declared yet.

So where does this leave us with the Shemitah? 

I think there is a middle ground between a rationalistic approach to religion and one that sees heavenly signs in every thunderbolt streaking through the summer sky and burp in the stock market. As Christians Scripture supplies the foundation for how we should form our mind and conscience. It gives us an insight into how God relates to us which is not culturally conditioned, but eternal and universal. God speaks to us: through nature, through the events of our lives, both personally and corporately. He speaks to us through the rhythms of the seasons, and the ups and downs of the economy. If society is disordered, if it has rejected God's way, He doesn't have to send down fire and brimstone: the social structure will simply disintegrate under it's own weight. 

If the economy does go into a catastrophic free fall over the next weeks and months it will be because we set the process in motion by own greed and selfishness. The fall will come because we put money before people, convenience before respect of human life, political power before public service, our willfulness before the will of God. God won't be the cause of the reckoning, if anything He's been trying to help us avoid it. He speaks, and if we don't hear it's because some do not want to listen, and others simply haven't been trained how, much like when the child Samuel first heard the voice of God in the night, but didn't know what it was. 

I pray that the Shemitah ends up being like Y2K: something we'll look back on and wonder why we got so exited. I believe, though, that it would be unwise to look at the current world situation and act like everything is business as usual. We shouldn't be fearful: just alert, and ready with lamps lit.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Shemitah Rising

There are three broadly defined camps in the world of Catholic journalism and blogging. One is a mainstream, nonpartisan, Catholic chicken soup for the soul variety represented by publications like Our Sunday Visitor. They are certainly not progressive, but not really traditionalist either. They are faithful to Church teaching, offering Church related news and human interest stories to inspire the faithful, but generally speaking stay away from controversial topics. Then we have the more conservative branch, exemplified by the National Catholic Register. They are going to be more outspoken on moral issues: the more partisan outlets will be critical of bishops, priests and theologians who propose a progressive vision, and can be very crudely described as the Republican Party at prayer. The other is the progressive wing of Catholic media represented by the National Catholic Reporter. They advocate for change on priestly celibacy and the all male priesthood. They focus on social justice issues, and look for a general relaxing of Church teaching on sexual morality. They can be described, again very crudely, as the Democratic Party at prayer. John Allen's new site, Crux, is a marvelous example of someone trying to bring all three camps together under one cyber roof. 

Along with these three prominent streams of Catholic media  and websites there is a fourth branch that operates quietly under the radar. I don't know hoe to categorize or name it, but concerns itself with what might be considered the more fringe topics of apparitions, super and preternatural phenomenon and prophesy. While just about all the writers in this category I've read can be safely described as conservative or traditional, they are either unknown to or ignored by most of the mainstream of all three stripes. They are best exemplified by Michael Brown who operates a site called Spirit Daily; a kind of Catholic Drudge Report. Like his secular inspiration (the layout of the main page is almost identical to Drudge's), Brown's page serves as a clearinghouse for articles from other sites. Not all, or even most of the stories he links to have to do with the extraordinary, but a good number either have direct or inferred connection with how what is seen and unseen interconnect. 

For the last year or so this "underground" prophetic Catholic blogosphere has been caught up with the possibility of a coming Shemitah (I've seen it spelled a couple of different ways). What is a Shemitah? It's a sabbath year occurring roughly once every seven when the economic deck is supposed to be reshuffled. The idea is that debts are forgiven, any ancestral lands that had to be sold revert to the original owner, and everybody starts from zero again. Ancient Israel was called to it, but never really did it. It's believed that if we don't do it, God will reshuffle the deck for us.

Jonathan Cahn, a messianic Jew, has been pushing the idea of a coming Shemitah for a few years now. His book, The Harbinger, is popular among both Catholics and Evangelicals who are interested in Biblical prophesy and how they might be playing out right now (I haven't read it myself). He predicts that this fall, September to be precise, is when it could hit. He is careful to say that it could because, as he explains, this is a cycle which God controls. It's foolish to try and tie the Shemitah to specific dates because God may decide to hold off, lighten its effects or cancel it all together if the people repent and return to him. He proposes that since 1967, when Jerusalem became the capital of Israel once again, we have been experiencing these Shemitah years. 1973, 1980, 1987, (1994 was a good year economically as far as I could tell), 2001, 2008: all these years saw great turmoil in the markets, and obviously 2001 also saw the 9/11 attacks, which directly led to the economic distress that fall. 

Roy Schoeman, a Catholic of Jewish heritage (he prefers being called a Fulfilled Jew rather than a "convert," but won't make a big deal about it) has also talked about the Shemitah, fleshing out that September is the month when Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for Jews, happens, so that a reshuffling of the economic deck during that particular month makes sense. This is especially true if we consider the Shemitah a chastisement for sins, both personal and social, as both men do. Adding a Catholic twist, he also finds it interesting that September is the month we celebrate the Exaltation of the Cross: Jesus' death on the Cross being the great act of atonement for humanity. Atoning for our personal, economic and social sins during the month of Yom Kippur and the Feast of the Holy Cross is no coincidence to Schoeman. 

I started writing this post before Thursday's and Friday's 888 point cumulative drop in the Dow Jones, but the events of this week convinced me to follow through. I don't think one needs to be a mystic, though, to figure out that the economic situation internationally is a mess. The Eurozone crisis remains unresolved, China's currency is in flux, and the U.S. economy has been a house of cards for sometime. The West is increasingly secular and materialistic, rejecting Biblical morality with increasing speed. The Church exists in the culture, so as a result has absorbed a spirit of rationalism: many, including believers, have stopped seeing God as working with us through history. We don't believe that God chastises because it seems to go against the rational, gentile, if slightly detached, God of the contemporary theologian. 

But in Scripture God doesn't chastise to be cruel, but to correct and bring back. In the parable of the Lost Son, the father, who represents God, does lovingly embrace his wayward child upon his return. But he also allowed him to experience the humiliation of going hungry while feeding swine. He let his son wander, fall, thus permitting him to suffer the natural consequences of his folly. Once he comes to his senses the father welcomes him back home. One could argue the lost son, thinking more of his empty stomach than the wrong he had done, experienced "imperfect contrition." God accepts even imperfect repentance, though, as long as we come home. 

I won't go too far out on a limb here. I agree with Jonathan Cahn that making specific predictions is foolhardy. And I do have a natural aversion to reading too much into current events. The constant drum beat of wars, famines, earthquakes and recessions are not unique to our time. But if we see the signs of the times, and they do seem turbulent, more so than usual, we shouldn't be afraid to ask where God is in all this, and is he trying to say something to us. I'll have further thoughts on this soon

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Marshall McLuhan: My Latest Obsession. Does This Mean I'm Stuck Looking in the Rear View Mirror?

Marshall McLuhan in the mid-1960's

I've become fascinated lately with media analyst Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) since reading an article about his mysticism, and possible mystical encounters with the Blessed Mother. A fuller examination of his faith can be read here. I always knew that he was a convert to Catholicism (his brother, incidentally, was a Presbyterian minister), but never understood how faith impacted his work, if at all. And for good reason: he never explicitly spoke or wrote of his faith in public, or the influence theologians like Teilhard de Chardin had on his work. Author Tom Wolfe, a friend and supporter, thought this omission had to do with the fact that Teilhard was somewhat persona non grata inside the Catholic Church in the '50's and '60's for his writings on Darwinian evolution, but was still considered a strange Catholic mystic by the secular intellectual elite. McLuhan could't win either way, and so kept the connection hush hush. By all accounts though, he was a man of deep faith; a daily communicant who would sometimes "trick" others into going to Mass with him where he taught, at the St. Michael's College chapel. According to his son and frequent collaborator Eric, his father would suggest to guests a midday walk on campus just as the bells tolled, calling the faithful to Mass. Of course while we're here, he'd say, why not go in to spend some time with the Lord.

Marshall McLuhan, who was born in Canada and spent most of his professional life teaching at the aforementioned University of St. Michael's College in of the University of Toronto, burst onto the pop culture scene internationally in the 1960's: a literature professor turned media analyst, whose pithy, enigmatic statements are still in use today. The odds are you've heard our contemporary mass media dominated, computer driven, social media connected world described as a "global village," even if you don't know that the "medium is the message" or can't tell the difference between a "cool" and "hot" medium. All these catch phrases were McLuhan's. He analyzed how media like movies, television and print transmitted their messages, changing us both individually and collectively. He didn't believe that the message being communicated was the important thing, but rather how it was being communicated that made all the difference.

Roughly 1964 to 1968 were his hay day as a public intellectual, when he was a best selling author, a much sought after guest on panel shows and did consulting work for ad agencies and major corporations. While his star had dimmed somewhat as the 70's wore on he was still seen as relevant enough to be called upon by the Today Show to give an analysis of the 1976 U.S presidential debates, from a purely media craft perspective (he found it wanting), as well as making a clever cameo as himself in Woody Allen's Annie Hall the following year. McLuhan was silenced the last 15 months of his life by a series of debilitating strokes that left him unable to speak or write. He died at the age of 69 in 1980.

He was, and still is frustrating to read or listen to because he wasn't a linear thinker. He liked to say that he worked in the intuitive right hemisphere of the brain, as opposed to the concrete sequential left brain. He left gaps in his thought, forcing the listener or reader fill in these gaps by using their "wits." He also didn't give opinions, he rather made observations, which led some to think he was enthusiastic about the emergence of mass media and instantaneous communication. This couldn't be father from then truth. His form of resistance was to understand the processes at work, the mechanism, if you will, so he could figure out where the turn off switch was.

He posited that the print dominated media of the preceding 500 years had led to the development of private identity as we understand it. Previously the oral tradition prevailed and information was passed on in a communal fashion, which resulted in a strong corporate identity among the people, but little or no sense of a private self. With the advent of the book each individual became the mediator of the information being passed on. Information wasn't so much memorized as take in, mulled over and understood one person at a time. With the coming of radio and television we were now regressing to that oral transmission, but with a difference. I could be wrong here, but he seemed to be saying that information now comes so quickly, from so many different sources and so primally that there isn't a chance to truly integrate what's being communicated. He used the language of computer programers of his day by saying, like a computer, when there is information overload our brains move into pattern recognition. We no longer truly comprehend but simply try to pick up on general structures and patterns of thought and hold on as best we can.  There is no private self any longer, since things are moving so fast that there's no time to process it all, to really come to understanding of what "I" believe, but nor is there a truly corporate identity either since the media are fragmented. Imagine, all he was dealing with was movies, TV and the radio. Telephones were still tied down by wires in the home or office, and besides, all they could do was make phone calls. Computers were still more or less tools for business and government usage, and the Internet revolution hadn't happened yet. If he thought we were heading toward a post literate world then, what would he think of the situation now?

If I can borrow from his method a bit, McLuhan works better on the "cool" medium of TV then the "hot" medium of books. His whole theory of hot and cold media is confusing at first because he's not using the words literally, especially in the case of cool. A so called "hot" medium is one that presents it's information at a high intensity level, in a straight forward presentation, leaving few gaps for the viewer to have to fill in. A "cool" medium, using the argot of Jazz, is low intensity, forcing the viewer to engage in a more intense way. TV was cool because it is a right brain intuitive way communicating, necessitating us to "fill in the gaps" more then movies or radio. Thus the Vietnam conflict was a hot war being played out on a cool medium. It being the first "televised war," people were repulsed by the images of carnage flooding into the intimacy of their homes and psyches. On radio or even the movies their "hot" nature forces the participant stands aloof, not needing to become too involved in the media itself, just as one stands apart from a fire rather than experiencing it from amidst the flames. So watching an interview with McLuhan is more profitable than reading him, at least in the case of the his 1967 classic The Medium is the Massage ("Massage" was a printer's error he eagerly embraced because it fit what was trying to say). Here he has text in his typical, almost beside the point, style mixed with images, some that make sense, others not obviously so. It can be a bit jarring to read if you're use to a straight ahead narrative or discourse. It's almost as if he's using a cool method in a hot medium. In the cool atmosphere of the talk show, where the interviewer can get him to try and clarify his thought (no easy task) he's a bit more easy to comprehend.

I wasn't intending this to be a summary of Marshall McLuhan's thought (at that this was very incomplete). But I am fascinated by an aspect of his educational theory. He believed that even those who are considered on the cutting edge are still looking at things through "the rear view mirror" of progress. If the latest gadget is in the hands of the public, or even the elites, right now it is a technology that is already obsolete, waiting to be replaced by the truly latest thing still haunting the test labs. With education, both in the '60's and now, we still more or less use a 19th century industrial model of education. The charter school we rent to has gone to a more module based, free form classroom set up where the students are free to move from one station to the next to work on tasks as they please. While the school director (good man that he is) probably thinks this is the latest in pedagogy, in reality they were doing this stuff at least as far back in the 1970's. So congratulations, they've moved from the 19th into the 20th century.

So where I go from here is asking: at this moment of history, where we are still debating the merits of capitalism versus socialism or communism, where our collective consciousness is still shaped by Darwin, Freud, Marx and Nietzsche, are we 21st century people stuck looking into the rearview mirror intellectually at the 18th and 19th centuries thinking this is all new? When will the paradigm shift (and it will, eventually) and what will that shift represent? Will it be in our own time, or centuries from now? Obviously we can't answer these questions with certainty, but I would like to dig a little into these ideas next time, if not sooner.

Woody Allen (c.) Marshall McLuhan (r.) and some other guy (l.). From Annie Hall (1977)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Cecil the Lion and Planned Parenthood: Everything is Connected

By now anyone reading this knows about the Planned Parenthood videos, and the controversy surrounding their selling fetal body parts for Lamborghinis. I stipulate that a reader of this blog would know about the story, because you are more likely to be a reader of other faith based sites that, along with conservative news outlets, seem to be the only ones covering it. The MSM has generally loosed the crickets on this particular item, which sadly, should surprise no one. 

The story that has gotten a lot of coverage is the illegal killing of a lion in a game preserve in Zimbabwe. He even has a name: Cecil. The killer was an American dentist on safari. Western culture has progressed to the point that killing animals for purely sporting reasons is looked down upon, to say the least. The killing of Cecil the lion is especially egregious when when we take into account the fact that the poor animal was in a place specifically designated as a safe haven from poachers and thrill seeker. 

Many of my friends in the Pro-Life movement, of which I am a member, have seized upon this disparity of news coverage to ask why so much attention is being given to one lion half a world away when thousands of pre-born babies are being slaughtered and sold for parts right here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave? Isn't one human life, be it in utero, walking the streets or in a nursing home, worth more than any number of lions or tigers or bears? Where is the outrage at the ghoulishness of these Planned Parenthood doctors caught on camera?

The simple answer is that of course there is nothing more precious in the created world than a human life, and we should be outraged by the callousness and inhumanity on display in these videos. But as Mary Jo Anderson points out in Catholic World Report, many of our nominally pro choice friends who have great sympathy for the fate of Cecil will be put off by our critical comparisons instead of drawn in to see the disparity in the reactions to these two situations. I say "nominally pro-choice," because most people are less heated about the issue than the true believers on either side. They accept that abortion is legal (in the popular mind legal equals moral), and while they may have personal misgivings about it, they've bought the line that we shouldn't impose our personal values on others. They've also made the mental break between seeing the life inside the womb as something less then fully human, while the "inviable tissue mass" who happens to make that brief journey down the birth canal is a baby. We can only hope that things like sonograms and talk of fetal livers and hearts for sale can change hearts and minds. What won't work is heaping scorn and condescension on animal lovers who are scratching their head, wondering why we're picking on them. . 

There is a bigger point at work as well. In his latest encyclical, Laudato Si', Pope Francis has tried to emphasize that everything in the created order is connected. The disrespect for the human life in the womb is a sign of a wider disregard for the created order. As he puts it:
Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away”. (120)

The babies being torn apart and sold for scrap are an example of a culture that views human life, and by extension the natural order, as a commodity to be exploited. Rather than nature being a force to be harmonized with, it is a competitor to be conquered and controlled. Once subdued, it is to be exploited for its financial benefits. Nature has no intrinsic value to the consumerist, utilitarian mind, only a market value. Rather than human beings having an intrinsic value, it is a value predicated on productivity and commercial viability. 

We are told that abortion is a matter of individual rights, specifically a women's right to personal autonomy. But the roots of the movement, and of Planned Parenthood (PP) in particular, are tied up in the eugenics movement of the early 20th century. The patron saint of the PP, Margaret Sanger was open about her desire purify the society of "undesirables." She certainly used the rhetoric of women's rights, but more so the desire to eliminate African Americans, Jews and Mediterraneans from the population. She also included "morons, mental defectives and epileptics" among those whose populations needed to be curbed through forced sterilization and segregation. I'll link here to some fascinating quotes from Sanger, and it will supply links to the original sources, just in case you think these things are being made up by Pro-Life "fanatics." My personal favorite is about the need to recruit Black ministers to get the community in line, lest the word gets out, "that we want to exterminate the Negro population," and their more "rebellious members" start to act up. 

These quotes from the 1920's and '30's, you say. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has made more veiled, but just as chilling comments about the topic of the poor and abortion in the last ten years.

So, for Margaret Sanger abortion was more than about personal autonomy, but about the control, "purifying" and submission of society in general. In her vision, human life is to be perfected through birth control and abortion, eliminating undesirables to ensure racial purity. Today it may be spun as a way of controlling poverty, not a matter of race, (which isn't any better in my book) but it's still curious that Blacks make up around 12% of the population and account for between 30 to 34% of all the abortions in the US, and Hispanics make up roughly 16% of the population but account for between 20 and 25% of abortions. Whites, who make up 63% of the population are responsible for between 36 to 38% of the abortions performed. Is this all by chance, or is it strategic planning?

That PP and other abortion providers are trying to make a little coin off the carnage should also come as no surprise. Once nature is subdued and conquered, it has to be exploited and commodified, and if it can be done in the name of science, better yet.

Going back to Cecil the lion, we are horrified at this senseless thrill kill masquerading as sport. We understand the intrinsic nobility of the great cats, and the animal kingdom generally. We are rightly disgusted at the thought of endangered whales being hunted to make high priced sushi for the rich, or elephant populations decimated to make ivory trinkets. We have a better understanding that nature has a worth beyond a dollar value. The created order is to be cherished, nurtured and harmonized with, not used, abused, and then discarded. 

The key to changing minds and hearts is not to ridicule those who morn Cecil, but help them to see the inter-connectedness of reality. The life growing in the womb is special, unique, and dignified. It has a value beyond price. While a lion isn't of the same dignity as a human being, they both come from the same creator God who imbued them with life. All creation points to the Creator, and the wonders of God. We can never hope to restore balance to nature or society if we fail to see the intrinsic, unique and irreducible value of every human life, from the moment of conception to natural death, and that life's interconnectedness with the whole of creation. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

First Impressions on Bishop-Elect Robert Barron

PLYMOUTH, MA -- I'm in the midst of taking a few days of R&R with my family, but just a quick take on the appointment of Bishop-elect  Robert Barron.

I was waiting for my flight early Tuesday at O'Hare when I got a text informing me that Fr. Robert Barron was named auxiliary bishop for Los Angeles. It was a day that I knew would come, I just didn't think he would be taken away from us in Chicago. As I posted on Facebook, it's Chicago's loss, but the Church's gain.

I was joyful, but also felt myself having to fight back tears. I've never met the man, but for many of us Catholic types either dipping their toes in the new media, like me, or diving in head first, Bishop-elect Barron is a hero. It felt like this was a great event, but that in a way, he's too good to be made a bishop. It's like a talented professor who gets swept up into the school administration. He deserves the promotion, but will he be using his real talents? If Archbishop Gomez is wise he won't have Bishop Barron spending all his time performing confirmations and sitting on finance committees, but continuing his media ministry.

The comparison is often made of Fr. Barron with Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and for good reason. Like Sheen, Barron has mastered the mass media of his age to spread the good news. Barron, like Sheen, uses a keen intellect and copious learning to craft a down to earth message. Both men connect well with audiences (Sheen has gotten a second career of sorts by way of repeats of his old programs on EWTN and posted to Youtube). There are many differences between the two, also. Barron doesn't have the dramatic flair of Sheen, or possess the late Archbishop's ability to spin a folksy tale or tell a joke. Like Sheen, Barron makes references to literature and other art forms out side of theology to make his points. In the case of Fr. Barron, he probably makes more references to popular culture, like movies and music, then Sheen did.

Fr. Barron is also less known outside the Catholic world then Sheen was in his day. Sheen's weekly program ran in primetime on a major network, and had incredible ratings. He was watched by Protestants and Jews as well as by Catholics. He appeared on gameshows and had his face on the cover of Time magazine when such a thing still meant something. Barron could have that broad appeal, but because of the fragmentation of the media, and the mainstream media's reluctance to put on overtly religious content, he has a tougher time breaking through to a larger audience. While he appeared as a guest commentator on NBC during the papal conclave in 2013, it was a struggle to get PBS to broadcast his Catholicism series, and at that it was presented in a truncated form. He may get hundreds of thousands of hits on Youtube, but it still hasn't made him a household name outside of Catholic circles.

Maybe that's why L.A. is his landing place, for now. It's a media capital, along with New York, and there will be great resources at his disposal. Hopefully, with God's grace, it will translate into more people hearing the message of the Gospel in a clear, engaging and relevant manner.

So, we say goodbye to Bishop-elect Robert Barron. May the Lord continue to bless his ministry and enable his gifts to be shared by the larger Church.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Some Thoughts on the Blessed Martyrs of Compi├Ęgne from the Apostleship of Prayer, and Me

I post video's from the Apostleship of Prayer quite often because they are topical, pithy and, being produced by a ministry dedicated to promoting the pope's monthly prayer intention, often feature words of wisdom from the Holy Father. Edgy is not a word I would use to describe the reflections prepared by Fr. James Kubicki, SJ and his team out of Milwaukee. They're usually a nice little cup of chicken soup; nutritious for sure, but also pleasant and comforting. This week the good Father has crossed into provocative territory by not merely highlighting the Blessed Carmelite Martyrs of Compi├Ęgne, but by suggesting that the Reign of Terror that took their lives could be repeated in our own time.

The French Revolution, which is usually thought of in romantic terms in the popular mind, had it's intellectual grounding in the Enlightenment, a period itself which is idyllically thought of as the birth of the modern rational world. In doing away with monarchy, and the entire established aristocratic order of which the Church was seen as a major part, the revolututionaries were seeking to establish a new order of liberty, equality and fraternity, founded on the rule of reason and science. While I can't vouch for the fraternity part, the other goals of the Revolution are still held up as the guiding principles of contemporary culture. What gets ignored amidst the high minded rhetoric and poetic sentiment is the Reign of Terror. This new age was to be brought about by the liberal use of the guillotine. Those who resisted, or even tried to simply live in passive indifference to the prevailing trend were enemies of the state, and of rational progress. So, quite simply, they needed to be eliminated.

For all the carping about the sins and excesses of organized religion (which usually means the Catholic Church) the New Atheists and their fellow travelers never seem to want to deal with the wholesale slaughter of the French Revolution.  They also go on as if the horrors of twentieth century communism and fascism never happened. They don't want to face that all these movements used reason and science to justify their atrocities.

It is easy to think that such a persecution could never happen here, but remember that France of the eighteenth century and Germany of the twentieth were among the most advanced cultures of their time. The movements that led to their crimes against humanity took hold quickly, almost without warning. In both cases fired by philosophies that put human beings at the center of reality, detached from any higher power that could keep us accountable. We were the judges, the jury and the executioners, all guided by enlightened minds and scientific knowledge. I won't even get into Soviet communism.

We think that we are very different. We act as if we have discovered some new concept. No, it is the same old song that's been sung since the Garden. We believe that we can best decide what is right and wrong without reference to God. How many more Reigns of Terror, or Holocausts or Cultural Revolutions must we endure before we realize that this way leads to death?