I have my issues; you do, too. Especially now when our youth is far, far behind us and whatever years are ahead of us seem murky and uninviting. Everyone on the face of the earth, from the Fall to now, to the future have, do, or will face suffering. Like at death, no one gets out unscathed.
The forms of suffering seem to be as varied as the people that populate the earth. Emotional, physical, mental, spiritual; these are just the easiest to point to but there are shadings and twists and unforeseen turnings to these ‘easiest’ sufferings. Suffering, like marriage, is the same for everyone – the same in overview and different in detail.
1Peter 4:1 and forward, speaks to suffering and how suffering may be a good thing because we turn away from practicing our sins and concentrate on our suffering. It’s an interesting chapter you may want to refresh in your memory.
Ok. So everyone has suffering. What do we do with it? If we’re Christians, we lay it at the feet of the Cross, “Here, Jesus, You deal with it because I can’t” or “Now I understand because I’m suffering, too, but not to the extent You did” or “Please, dear Lord, take this suffering from me!” or “Why me???” How do we speak to Jesus about our suffering?
We should, I suspect, ask Him what He wants us to do with the suffering we face. I think it is as important to share our suffering with others, like it’s important to share healings with others. They don’t know until we tell them. I’ve had two healings – one was during the foot washing at Maundy Thursday Mass; the other was at the Communion rail in church. The point is, everyone understands suffering – Christian or not; not everyone – even Christians – understand healing.
Bottom line – what will we do with our suffering? What will you do with your suffering?
A word of explanation from Neo. For some months, as many of you know, at NEO, I have had a new co-blogger. Audre Meyers. She brings something to my blog that it has missed since Jessica left, a lighter touch, perhaps a woman’s touch, and a bit of wandering off the reservation, which is needed.
The other day, she sent me a very pleasing draft, about a lesson from her Bible study group led by her priest. She is a Continuing Anglican, essentially an American Amglo-Catholic, and it shows. Her draft recalled something to me, which took some time to place. This is it. In it, she strikes many of the same notes that Jessica did in her best posts. Well, at least one of my commenters has remarked that she thought Audre was Jessica in disguise. She’s not but they do share an outlook and a style which I find very refreshing.
In any case, as I read her draft, I came to the conclusion that it belongs here, not on NEO. NEO too, has an underlying Christian ethos, but is far more political, and likely will continue as such at least until the election. Audre finds this collection of curmudgeons intimidating (I can’t imagine why!) something about the way we speak our minds clearly and robustly, I think. But I think we all also listen to that still small voice in our hearts and souls. That’s where I think Audre’s viewpoint comes from.
Eventually, I convinced her to let me post it here as sort of a guest post. So be nice to her, she’s my friend as well as co-blogger. Here’s Audre!
I’ve read my Bible front to back many times throughout the years. While I’m not good at quoting chapter and verse numbers, my understanding of what I’ve read is pretty sound. So imagine my surprise at Bible study yesterday when our priest gave a new insight into what we were reading in the Book of John.
The chapter is 3 and the verse is 30. “He must increase and I must decrease” (KJV)
This is obviously John the Baptist explaining to his followers, his disciples, that Jesus is the Man and he, John, just the herald; that he will be eclipsed by Jesus and that Jesus is the One to follow. Simple. Read it quick and move on. But what our priest suggested brought me to a screeching halt. He said he is impressed with John’s great humility. Humility? Our priest, Fr. Ellis, pointed out that John was very popular and had a fairly large following; he was, in effect, telling his followers that they must now follow Jesus and he himself was not the one they should be looking to. I hadn’t thought of the common, very human trait of ‘pride’ – there had to have been, within John, a sense of being important and noteworthy. Here he was, the momentary Elvis and all that it implies, saying, “I’m not going to sing anymore because you need to listen to Roy Orbison whose voice is way beyond that of mine.” Who does that sort of thing? Who walks away from fame? A very, very humble soul.
But here’s the concept that rocked my boat. Fr. Ellis stated that the verse applies to us. Head snap. What? The verse applies to us today and forever. We are to decrease and Jesus is to increase. How is that so? We are so self-centric; life is, after all, all about us. Individually. What I want, what I need, what I like, what I think, what I have. The ‘great’ imperative. Me. We lament that our prayers aren’t answered, that things aren’t going our way, that we want change and we want it now. But He can only act in our lives when we give Him room. We believe we are the masters and captains of our lives and as such, we blunder, fail, hurt ourselves, hurt others, have a skewed perspective of the world around us. Just take a look at the world if you don’t believe me.
Things ‘come right’ when we decease. When we start to chip away at the ‘me’ and start to open up to Him. If we decrease, we open up space for Him to come in and fill us with all the love of the Father and all the aid and comfort of the Holy Spirit and a greater, deeper, sustaining relationship with Jesus.
So verse 30 applies to me – to us. I MUST (not a random word choice, it’s highlighted in the KJV by the format of the word)
I MUST decrease and He MUST increase.
Verse 30 is an instruction.
As St. Cyril said:
“If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist; and that Bread, Which is your God humbling and disguising Himself, will teach you humility.”
Gene Veith at Cranach had an interesting post yesterday on whether the Christian virtues can survive without Christianity. I think this ties in well to mine on NEO today on the immorality of Christian clergy supporting BLM, instead of continuing our own mission, the most successful in helping the disadvantaged in history, by far. Here’s part of Gene’s article.
Crucifixion, the Romans believed, was the worst fate imaginable, a punishment reserved for slaves. How astonishing it was, then, that people should have come to believe that one particular victim of crucifixion-an obscure provincial by the name of Jesus-was to be worshipped as a god. Dominion explores the implications of this shocking conviction as they have reverberated throughout history. Today, the West remains utterly saturated by Christian assumptions. As Tom Holland demonstrates, our morals and ethics are not universal but are instead the fruits of a very distinctive civilization. Concepts such as secularism, liberalism, science, and homosexuality are deeply rooted in a Christian seedbed. From Babylon to the Beatles, Saint Michael to #MeToo, Dominion tells the story of how Christianity transformed the modern world.
His book shows just how different Christian values and ethics were from those of the Greeks and the Romans and how the Christian mindset has prevailed in Western Civilization even among his fellow secularists. (Holland is an atheist.) The Greeks, for example, considered compassion, for example to be a weakness, not one of the highest virtues as Christianity made it. The principle from Christianity that all human beings have equal value was incomprehensible to the hierarchies of ancient Rome. Today we assume that peace is better than war, a legacy of Christianity utterly foreign to the ancient Greeks, Romans, and European tribes.
It’s something that is easy to forget, and mostly we have.
Holland appears to think that it’s possible to have the fruits without the faith, to have Christian influence without the Christianity. Strand, however, disagrees:
Christian ethics cannot be about merely upholding and claiming certain values that flow from the Christian faith. That would be to mistake the fruit from the tree. The very center of the Christian life is not what the cross teaches us morally but what the cross did for us in atoning for our sins and bringing us from life to death in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The transformation of the person from death to life and the ultimate union with the Triune God in the City of God is the goal of all Christians. Their works of mercy and sacrifice for neighbor and their culture-building over millennia are a testament of this transforming power. We make a mistake if we think the fruit is the goal or that we can separate the fruit from the tree that produced it.
I would say that although principles such as love, equality, compassion and the like are still dominant, even among the secularists, they are starting to fade. Certainly those who no longer believe in the key Christian teachings of atonement and redemption will have difficulty with the concept of forgiveness, and we are seeing that. Secularists today say they believe in equality, but they are also demonizing and deriding the worth of those with whom they disagree. And the strange embrace of abortion on the part of so many secularists, even liberals and progressives, undercuts their claim to be compassionate and supportive of the powerless. It is, in fact, a reversion to the Greco-Roman practice of infanticide, with everything else that implied about the value of human life.
I should at this point go on and add examples of my own, but two things, I think this is perfectly lucid, clear, and self-evidently correct. Our morality will never stand on its own, its foundation is in our hope of redemption, not in earthly values. To claim otherwise is sophistry and sophistry which history has shown to be false. Without the hope of redemption, we return to the dog eat dog world of Greece and Rome, where the only reason for doing anything is self-aggrandizement. We see that happening already in our so-called elites, who are mostly post-Christian, for not believing in God, they seem to only believe in earthly acquisition and what may be even worse, they seem to think this is a zero-sum game.
Well, Christ taught us better, as they will find out one day. After all, the Lord did say, “Vengeance is mine”. And as I’ve said a few times, without hell there can be no heaven.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
A WOMAN’S TRIBUTE
The Message of the Double Line of Khaki; From the London Times, October 18, 1921
In Westminster Abbey, yesterday, General Pershing laid the American Medal of Honour upon the grave of the Unknown Soldier of Britain. The bright sunlight streamed through the high stained-glass windows in long shafts of light that fell warm upon the grey stone of the Gothic arches, upon the quiet people in the Nave, and around the flower-strewn tomb, and that lay in a cloth of scarlet on the flag above the body of the Unknown Dead.
A thousand years of great history stood silent within those old walls. Close by are the tombs of Norman, Plantagenet, Tudor, and Stuart Kings and Queens, of the priests, and soldiers and the sailors, of the poets and statesmen that have made England great.
As the organ filled the sunlit spaces of the ancient church with its deep volume of sound, there marched up the aisle, with bared heads, a detachment of British soldiers from the Guard’s regiments. As they formed a line facing the centre, an equal number of American soldiers, bare-headed, marched up the other side, and turning, stood facing the British soldiers across the narrow aisle.
Both lines of khaki, both lines of straight and young and clear-eyed boys, both lines of men of Anglo-Saxon blood, of the same standards and of the same ideals they stood there in the sunlight in that shrine of a thousand years of memory, looking straight into each other’s eyes.
Between them, up the aisle, marched the choir in their scarlet vestments with their bright cross on high, the generals, the admirals, and the Ministers of the Empire, and the Ambassador and the Commanding General of the Great Republic but in all that they represented, and in all that was said in the ceremonies that followed, there was no such potent symbol as those two lines of khaki- clad boys, with the sun shining on their bared heads, their brave young faces, and their strong young bodies, looking each other straight in the face.Between them lay, not the narrow aisle, but a thousand leagues of sea, the building of a new world, the birth of a new destiny for man. But as they stood there where they could have touched hands in the old Abbey which was a shrine for their common ancestors, they were so amazingly alike in bearing and appearance that they ceased to be a detachment of soldiers from two different countries, and they became a symbol of the illimitable potentiality of a common heritage that heritage of which the ancient Abbey was a shrine the heritage of the ideals of freedom, of order, of self-discipline, of self-respect.
If any words spoken in the Abbey could have conveyed a hundredth part of what that double line of clear- eyed boys said in utter silence the world would have been a happier place to-day. The old strength and the new force of a common heritage stood in khaki in the aisle of Westminster Abbey bare-headed, to honour the symbol of supreme sacrifice to those ideals in the Cross of Christ and in the body of an Unknown Soldier.
The service included this.
Kind of the cousins, who have always been so gracious. I wonder if they also sang this, which was new that year.
It has been a very long century since that last quiet August weekend of the Edwardian Age. It has been filled far too often with the roar of the guns, and the rattle of musketry followed by the sounding of the Last Post. But the mission has been maintained, it will never be won, although we can and should pray that it will be less horrific going forward. But all around the world, freedom-loving people have learned of the steadfast valor even unto death of English-speaking soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen. We are proud of our part, yes. But we are equally proud to be your allies and friends.
Has it been worth it? The citizen of Ypres, Belgium seem to think so. Every night at 8:00pm since 2 July 1928, except during the German occupation in World War II, they have executed this ceremony, and when the Polish forces liberated them in 1944, they resumed, while heavy fighting was still going on in the city. While under occupation in World War II the ceremony took place at Brookwood Military Cemetery, in Surrey, England.
Just this week, our President presented postumously to Colonel Rick Rescorla’s, the Great Anglo-American hero of 9/11, responsible for saving at least 2700 people that day, widow Susan, the Presidential Citizens Medal. Col Rescorla was a veteran of the British Army, a paratrooper who fought on Cypress and in Rhodesia, then emigrated to the US and led a platoon at the First Battle of Ia Drang, in Vietnam, in 1965. You will find his picture on the cover of We Were Soldiers Once, and Young. . To quote Nina Bookout of Victory Girls Blog,
Mostly he sang dirty songs that would make a sailor blush. Interspersed with the lyrics was the voice of command: ‘Fix bayonets…on liiiiine…reaaaa-dy…forward.’ It was a voice straight from Waterloo, from the Somme, implacable, impeccable, impossible to disobey. His men forgot their fear, concentrated on his orders and marched forward as he led them straight into the pages of history: 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry…’Hard Corps.’”
I would ad that voice was also heard at Roark’s Drift, for both at the Ia Drang Valley in 1965, and in the stairway of WTC 2 on September 11, 2001 he was heard singing this:
“”Men of Cornwall stop your dreaming
Can’t you see their spear points gleaming?
See their warriors’ pennants streaming
To this battlefield.
Men of Cornwall stand ye steady
It cannot be ever said ye
for the battle were not ready. STAND AND NEVER YIELD!“
– “Men of Harlech”
He was last seen heading back up the stairs of the tower. More, including the president’s remarks, here.
For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
Many of us have considered swimming the Tiber, some have swum the Bosporus, some, including one of our founders here, have swum both, looking for an authentic presentation of our Faith. Tom Raabe at Real Clear Religion has some thoughts on another aquatic journey. He thinks, perhaps, some Evangelicals [and perhaps others] might want to consider swimming the Mississippi.
Reasons for their aquatic activities vary. Some like the art and architecture associated with the ancient faiths. Some like the ceremonial aspects–the liturgies, the veneration of icons, the Eucharist. Some like the history that oozes from Catholicism and Orthodoxy, a history that travels through great saints of yesteryear–through Augustine, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and Gregory of Nazianzus–but goes largely forgotten in contemporary evangelicalism.
Church-switching among evangelicals has always been popular. It’s become even more so now that so much of the conservative Protestant world has fled so purposely from symbolic architecture and time-honored aesthetics, and has chosen to worship in big boxy rooms with giant worship screens, all-enveloping sound systems, and Chris Tomlin-wannabes singing from the stage. Catholicism and Orthodoxy certainly offer something different from what goes on in that environment.
But evangelicals interested in “swimming” to a different tradition should consider traversing a body of water much closer to home: the Mississippi River, on which is located St. Louis, Missouri, and the headquarters of the premier conservative Lutheran church body in America, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
He has a point, several in fact, one thing he says, and I want to emphasize is that when we do this we are not changing teams, at worst we are changing positions.
Go ahead and read his article linked above, in many ways, I think he’s got some very good reasoning on his side, especially as the world looks now.
In another although related matter, have you been listening to what Kanye West has been saying? What he is saying, and singing, I guess, not having heard his new album (or any others), sounds better than what many of our priests, pastors, bishops, archbishops, and sundry other Faith leaders are saying. Does he mean it, or is he trying to revive his career? Who knows, but we are the people who believe in redemption, so I think it incumbent to welcome him. One thing that struck Kylee Zempel at The Federalist, and it does me too, is that he is confessing, no he is proclaiming that Jesus is King, and we need to obey him.
I don’t know about you, but for me, that is one of the hardest things about Christianity. Obeying the Lord. If he actually lives that, or even tries, and so far he seems to be, that is a very long step to Salvation.
In Closed on Sunday (Too bad you British let your LGBTQWERTY folks run out the best American fast food and a Christian company) he sings:
Raise our sons, train them in the faith
Through temptations, make sure they’re wide awake
Follow Jesus, listen and obey
No more livin’ for the culture, we nobody’s slave
Stand up for my home
Even if I take this walk alone
I bow down to the King upon the throne
My life is His, I’m no longer my own.
How many of us manage to live that way? If he can, then God is indeed working in him. And so, while I doubt I become a fan of his, I certainly hope we can welcome him to our fellowship. We’re due some representation in cultural matters.
This happened to catch my eye over at Father Z’s. While in my tradition we don’t do Saints like the Catholics do, we do respect the stalwart in faith who have gone before us. Amongst them is Mary Magdalene, the first witness of the Risen Christ, and her Feast day was yesterday. That is why she is sometimes called the Apostle to the Apostles, Christ himself charged her with going and telling the apostles that He was risen.
Well, I gather some think that the Church has rather shortchanged her and that her reputation has been sullied. Maybe so, not my department, but I keep in mind what Jessica wrote long ago about her on NEO, my blog. It was this:
Under Jewish Law the testimony of a woman was no testimony at all. The first witness to the Risen Lord was a woman – Mary Magdalen. She was tearful. There she was, come to the tomb to anoint Him, and there was the stone moved. Her mind went where most of our minds would have gone – someone had taken Him away. That great stone had not moved itself, and dead bodies don’t walk out of tombs. The grave-clothes were bundled up and there was no trace of Jesus. Hard to imagine her feelings at the point. Only two days earlier her world had fallen apart. The man whose feet she had anointed and whom she had followed so loyally had been taken, tortured and then crucified. She knew that; she’d been there (which was more than could be said for most of those Apostles). It was over. All that remained was for her to do a final duty to the corpse. But even that was to be denied her. They had taken her Lord away.
She ran back to where the disciples were and told Peter the horrible news. Typically Peter, he ran to the tomb, and equally typically was outpaced by the younger John. But John stood at the entrance, and when Peter arrived he it was who, impulsive and brave as ever, went inside to see that the tomb was, indeed, as empty as Mary had said. The men went back home, no doubt to tell the others; Mary, as is the way of women, wanted to stay there a moment longer, perhaps to gather her thoughts, perhaps to mourn a moment alone.
She looked into the tomb again, only to be met by the most amazing sight – two angels asking her why she wept. The answer she gave echoes down the ages: “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” As she turned away she saw a stranger, whom she took to be the gardener and asked where Jesus was. Then the man spoke – just one word, one word which shattered the world as she had known it and which echoes down the ages, even to the end of all things. ‘Mary’ was that word, the first from the lips of the Resurrected Lord. However much her tears had blinded her, that voice was clearly unmistakable: “Rabboni!” She said. Teacher, teacher, that was what she called Him. She went to cling to Him and He said: ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ He bade her to go and tell the others what she had seen.
The testimony of a woman was no testimony in Jewish Law, and yet it was to a woman that the Risen Lord first came. He had broken the bonds of death, He had conquered the power of death and of Satan, the hold of sin on mankind was broken; and these things He entrusted to the power of one who in Jewish Law could offer no testimony at all.
She was the first. Let us love and honour her for that this Easter morning: ‘He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!’
And there, on Easter morning itself, our Lord made his statement on the equality of women. We would do well to note that he made no case for their superiority, as so many these days seem to think, he made the case that women are valuable, and trustworthy, in their own right, which role is not the same as men but is complementary and equal to men.
In the Tridentine Missal, the Epistle is this (from the Song of Songs)
I will rise, and will go about the city: in the streets and the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, and I found him not. (quaesivi illum et non inveni.) The watchmen who keep the city, found me: Have you seen him, whom my soul loveth? When I had a little passed by them, I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him: and I will not let him go …
Would that we all (or any of us) were that faithful to the Lord.
Seven years ago today, a humble little Christian blog raised its head up to look over the parapet at an increasingly hostile world. It has grown much and occasionally waned since that day, but has never lowered its head, nor has it changed its mission from that first day, as expressed in our tagline:
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you … John 13:34.
None of us who actively contribute here, were here that day. Scoop and I are probably the oldest contributors left, and I’m not very active at present, but my heart remains here.
If you are newer than we are, I’d recommend that you poke around in the archives, there is much to enjoy and much to learn, from many viewpoints.
All of those who are listed in our sidebar as contributors gave us much wisdom and remain in my thoughts and my prayers. Those no longer active are missed and I give thanks daily for those who have carried the load, before and now as well.
Mother Julian of Norwich, a great favorite of us here leaves us a couple of thought on this day.
“He said not ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased’; but he said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.”
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” ..
Both are important to keep in mind.
So raise a glass and thank God, that there are those who keep their head up and their eyes on the prize of Heaven, and then drink to the next seven years, that they may see us continue the Lord’s work.
As I said on my blog earlier this week, Eastertide is one of those times when I think of absent friends and family, whyever they are absent. One of the people I miss, of course, is Jessica, the founder of this blog. Some things are not in our hands, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remember what we have learned from them. Back in 2013, Jessica wrote a meditation on Good Friday for NEO that I found very moving. Some of you may not have seen it, and reading it again will hurt none of us, so here it is. [Neo]
We call it ‘Good Friday’. The altar in my church is stripped bare, and the crucifix is covered, and we leave with the smoke from the extinguished candles filling the gloom of an English spring afternoon; with temperatures stuck next to freezing, the shivers could have a number of causes; but meditating on the Passion of Our Lord is enough. The sense of sorrow is an echo of that first Friday at Calvary, and it is hard to know, at that moment what is ‘good’ about it.
But when we stop in prayer and think, we can see precisely what is good. It is the day on which all our sins are loaded on the Lamb of God, when He takes upon His shoulders your sins and mine. What wonder is this? What have we done to be so rewarded? How can this be? What wondrous love is this? Good? Yes, the best news mankind ever had or ever will have. Whatever confessional allegiances divide us, I like to feel on this day of all days, the Cross of Christ unites us.
I leave it to all the clever men to explain what in my heart I know is simple. Christ loves me. He loves us all. He did what He did, He suffered what He suffered willingly. He knew if would be terrible, and He would have preferred it if it had been otherwise; but that makes it all the more precious.
The American expression ‘when the rubber hits the road’ comes to mind. This is where our salvation was earned, and not by us. With every nail that was hammered in, as with every stripe He bore for us, we are being saved. If we find those sufferings horrible, we should know that is how God finds our sins; God did something about it – what are we doing?
It was through the breaking of that body on the Cross, and the spilling of that blood that we see what He meant on the evening of the Last Supper. His Body was broken for us; His blood spilled for us. Some of us believe that at the Eucharist we receive His Body and Blood as He said; others that it is in memory of Him. Well, Good Friday is no time to rehearse what divides us – yet more stripes we apply to His back. It is a time for prayer and contemplation.
Mine is that for all of us, the Spirit of Christ may be with us this Easter, and that we may know Him as Lord, and worship Him and be thankful for what He has done for us. What did we do to earn it? Nothing. What can we do to be worthy of it? Just heed His call to repent and follow Him in belief that He is the Christ.
In the shadow of the Cross we kneel and pray and give thanks – we are redeemed through His suffering. As the ancient hymn has it, let all mortal flesh keep silent. He has saved us. It is Good Friday – be sad and yet rejoice.
My dear friend Kathleen and I had a short discussion the other night on her blog, Catholicism Pure & Simple. It was as such things are both productive and friendly. One of the things we touched on was whether it is appropriate for a specifically Catholic or even a Christian blog to touch on things like Brexit and President Trump.
It becomes almost impossible to shirk the debate when our governments intrude on religious beliefs and practices, such as marriage, abortion, freedom of worship and practice.
And so while CP&S has touched on these matters, I seem lately to write of little else, my self imposed remit is political with an American, and Lutheran foundation. That is part of why I’m rarely writing here lately, while congruent if feels just a bit unseemly, and a fair number of you read my blog as well. And there is no point in dragging my friends into the line of fire to no purpose, and that is pretty easy, as our friend Caroline Farrow‘s current problems with the British legal system indicate.
In any case, imagine my surprise as I’m looking around this morning to seeing Dr. Gene Veith of the Cranach blog working on exactly what Kathleen and I were discussing. He excerpted an article by British author Will Jones entitled: Progressives vs conservatives: This is why we can’t just all get along. British, American, British, American, British, Catholic, Lutheran, who says our problems are different. In any case here’s Gene, with Dr. Veith in bold:
. . .The divide [is] between those who believe the world has a given order that ought to be respected because it makes things go best in the long run, and those who do not believe this and think invoking such order is little more than a tool of oppression wielded by the powerful against those they exploit.
The social order, says Jones, expresses itself in institutions such as the family and the nation-state, along with the ideas and practices that support them, such as sexual morality and the rule of law. Conservatives support them–with religious conservatives seeing them as facets of God’s creation–while progressives find them oppressive.
This conservative respect for natural and social order contrasts sharply with the progressive outlook which is typically hostile to claims of inherent order in nature and society. Progressives tend to follow Marx in regarding such ideas as devices created by the powerful (in Marx’s case, the owners of capital, these days, more likely straight white men) to perpetuate inequalities and restrict people’s freedom of action.
Progressives and conservatives both say they want people to be happy, but they understand very differently what this involves. Whereas conservatives see happiness as emerging from respect for the natural and social order, for progressives almost the opposite is the case: the individual’s pursuit of happiness must as far as possible be achieved by not conforming to the social order. This is because to do so is to become complicit in oppression and to succumb to the ‘false consciousness’ of being happy when enslaved. . . .
Conservatives and progressives differ also in their visions of freedom. Conservatives seek the freedom that comes from respecting the boundaries inherent in the created order. Progressives, on the other hand, aim for freedom from the created order – from biology, from the family, from the nation, from God. As a consequence, progressive freedom has a strong authoritarian bent. This might seem paradoxical, but in fact it follows directly from the progressives’ need to oppose by force the outworking of the order of nature, and to silence those who attempt to point out the problems with this.
So how does Christianity fit with this?
Yes, Christians do believe that God has ordained the family. The “nation-state” is a relatively modern invention, unknown in the Middle Ages, classical antiquity, and tribal societies, but the “state” as some sort of social organization with earthly authorities that restrain evil and protect the good is indeed one of the God-given “estates” for human flourishing (Romans 13; 1 Peter 2:13-14). Also, Christians believe that moral truths are part of a reality built into creation and human nature (Romans 1-2). So by these definitions, Christians will tend to be conservative.
No one will be surprised that I heartily concur with them both, and with Kathleen as well. Here is part of one of my comments to her, which sums up my view pretty well.
As a Lutheran, I would point out that the Kingdom of the Left Hand (secular government) is also of God, although not as directly as the Kingdom of the Right hand. And so our governments on earth are also of concern to us. But while I straddle that fence, you, here, are more focussed. And, in truth, I don’t write much on the other blog for that reason as well, since I find my well pretty dry lately on church topics.
And Dr. Veith ends with this, which is certainly appropriate for us to discuss as well.
[…] The Christian’s hope is fixed not so much on this world, which will soon pass away, but on the world to come–on Christ who has atoned for the sins of the world and who will reign as King over the New Heaven and the New Earth.
Is this right? Am I missing something? How does this accord with Two Kingdoms theology?
I do think Jones’s analysis explains a lot, from our current political polarization to the behavior of people that we know. But does it follow that such extreme polarization is inevitable, that there can be no common basis for consensus and social unity? Is it impossible, in these terms, to have a “center”? How did we as a nation function in years past? Were there different ideologies at work? If so, might we bring some of those back?
In England, and thus by extension the English-speaking world, we inherit a tradition which has been called the “Black Legend,” through which English Catholicism has also been viewed. It makes the Catholic Church the centre of anti-English activities, a cruel, intolerant organisation characterised by the Inquisition. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs provided a foundational text here, portraying Queen Mary I as “Bloody Mary,” a theme now so ingrained as to be to some extent immoveable.
In his influential “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples,” Churchill captures this legend in his treatment of England’s history as one of struggle against the Catholic Powers of Spain and France. The implication of a special English “destiny” was one passed into the American DNA via the idea of “manifest destiny.” All good stories have a villain, and the Catholic Church makes an excellent one in this narrative.
On top of these older narratives, we have a newer one, propagated via aggressive modern secularism, which is hostile to Christianity, but particularly so to the Catholic Church. This new narrative has widened its scope beyond the old victims, who were mainly white male; women and children have been included in the charge sheet. The Church is portrayed as anti-women because of its stances on abortion and contraception; indeed there are some areas where even praising this is seen as “offensive.” It is also hostile to “LGBTI” rights. And then there is child abuse and its cover up. As ever, there would be no smoke without fire, and on the last of these issues, the Church still seems a little tone deaf in some places, and, of course, the large areas where it is not get no attention from its critics.
All of this amounts to a sustained narrative which creates difficulties being a Catholic in the public square. So how do we tell a different story without simply being accused of a biased “revisionism” for its own sake?
In the first place we need to get our history right.
If there was a time when Christianity was alien to England, it was before the invasion of the Emperor Claudius in A.D. 43. By the time of the great rupture we call the Reformation, Christianity had been in these Islands for nearly 1500 years. It did not arrive in the seventh century with St Augustine. Bede is clear that it was already here, and what is sometimes called the “Celtic” Church seems simply to have been the Christianity that was already rooted here before the early fifth century when the Romans withdrew.
England, then Wales and Scotland have a longer history of being “Catholic” than they have of being anything else. Indeed, as Cranmer, Laud and the whole Anglo-Catholic tradition exemplify, a very large section of English Christianity saw itself a a reformed Catholic Church. Beowulf, Chaucer and Shakespeare are all products of Catholic culture, as is our education system, as is our law and morality. Reasons of State made it necessary for the English and then the British State to play up the separation from Rome; but that was not the same as separating from what Christianity had given to England, and indeed, Britain.
If we could examine our history afresh and tell this story, rather than the grand narrative of Churchill, then we should make steps in a positive direction. This is not about “revisionism” for its own sake, but it is, as with “Black” and “Women’s history,” a recognition that unless the story of a neglected group is told, it is hard for us to ass that group in a proper historical context.
I would suggest that viewed from this angle, the narrative is one that unites us. The story it tells is of the way in which the Faith created a civilisation with values and norms which are still needed; created an art which still influences us; and created a culture which still matters.
It is not, and never should be, a matter of denigrating in turn those who have denigrated the Catholic Church, but rather one of emphasising the values of the Faith and their positive legacy and continuing influence. It is of saying that Catholics is not “Irish,” or “Spanish” or “other,” it is part of the English spirit. But who will tell that story, who will write that curriculum for out schools, and who will promote the attempt to correct the balance? And equally important, who will do it in a non-partisan manner which recognises that no story is wholly black or white?
I would suggest that if prominent Catholics are looking for good causes, they might do worse than work towards the creation of an Institute that might begin and promote this good work.
We have schools and universities which are world-class, but we have inherited a tradition of reserve and perhaps have so thoroughly taken on board the need to “keep our heads down,” that we have hesitated to take the lead where we are able. We would not want to be accused of being sectarian, not least by those who are.
But there is nothing sectarian in capturing again the ways in which Catholicism is part of our heritage. In 1852 Newman delivered a series of lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England which repay study. He outlined the problem and part of the solution. We are still looking for Catholics who will go forward with the task he outlined then. Shall we, in our time, say the way is too hard and the task too difficult? It was in Newman’s day. It is harder now. It will get no easier.
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