Recently, His Eminence Francis Cardinal George of Chicago discussed the threat posed by secularism in our culture. “[T]he greatest threat to world peace and international justice is the nation state gone bad, claiming an absolute power, deciding questions and making “laws” beyond its competence.”[i] In today’s world, those who would dare question the secular program for establishing a “just” society are often criticized as pushing for theocracy (or simply of being out of touch with the times). However, as Cardinal George reminds us, there are those voices crying out in the wilderness such as the Servant of God Dorothy Day and our Holy Father Benedict XVI. Concluding his article with a reflection on the importance of the synod then gathered in Rome during this Year of Faith, Cardinal George notes the importance of the New Evangelization on re-forming our secular society in a new mold based on the Gospels. With civil war in Syria, terrorism in Libya, unjust wars abroad and mass murder of innocent children at home, the Cardinal’s statement that “the world divorced from the God who created and redeemed it inevitably comes to a bad end” rings true.[ii]
The vision of a just society preached by Christ is distinctly different than that forced on us by “Holy Mother the State,” to use a term coined by Dorothy Day and cited by Cardinal George. The ideal of a just society springs from the mission of the Church to “restore all things in Christ.”[iii] This task extends to both heavenly and earthly things, St. Paul affirms, drawing our attention to the fact that the Church’s mandate extends not only to the “divine mission of the Church, namely leading souls to God,” but also to that which flows from “that divine mission, namely Christian civilization in each and every one of the elements composing it.”[iv] It is this second aspect of the mission in particular which poses such a threat to the secular order noted by Cardinal George. It is also this aspect which the laity, by nature of their “life led in the midst of the world and of secular affairs” has a natural role to play as the “leaven in the world.”[v]
God desires that all men live together in peace and harmony. Our God is an interesting deity. He is a communion of Divine Persons and yet at the same time One God. For two millennia, the full meaning of this has puzzled those who pondered on this great mystery. What is less mysterious, though, is the fact that man, created in the image and likeness of God, has an intrinsic desire for communion and for love.
The Holy Father reflects upon the nature of love and our need as a Church to reflect Divine Love in our world in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est. Benedict notes that from the beginning, one of the major activities of the Church was the ministry of charity (diakonia) along with preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments.[vi] In a way, a Christian’s acts of charity are perhaps the most thoroughly human acts because, first of all, they reflect the love of God[vii] and, secondly give “refreshment and care for… souls, something which is often even more necessary than material support.”[viii].
Charity and justice in society are linked. The Holy Father notes that even in a perfectly just society, there is a need for caritas, “[t]here is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love” because there will always be suffering and loneliness in this valley of tears.[ix] A State, rejecting caritas, even the hypothetical “perfectly just State” would still be incapable of meeting the basic human need for “loving personal concern.”[x] In contrast to a bureaucratic, secular Leviathan, the Church offers the subsidiarity State of Catholic Social Teaching which “generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need.”[xi] Benedict notes that while it is the place of the government to ensure justice in society, “charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as ‘social charity’”[xii] and that this charity must be a “spiritual service.”[xiii]
Secular society however has other ideas, falling for the trap (which the Holy Father connects back to Marxism and with the Father of Lies) which holds that man can “live by bread alone.”[xiv] We are told that if we follow the right candidate, our hopes and desires for a changed world will be fulfilled. This most recent election saw a very wealthy candidate who (notwithstanding his numerous flaws) also happened to be very charitable in his giving attacked by two other very wealthy individuals as hating the poor. This reeks of the Marxist attack on charity that Pope Benedict denounced in his encyclical, the idea that charity is a “way for the rich to shirk their obligation to work for justice… while preserving their own status and robbing the poor of their rights.”[xv]
In the face of this Materialist view of how to help man and create a just society offered by Holy Mother the State, we are given the vision proclaimed by Holy Mother the Church. In Deus Caritas Est, the Holy Father reaffirms the link between charitable works and prayer.[xvi] This is a theme central to Jean-Baptiste Chautard’s work The Soul of the Apostolate. Quoting St. Isidore, Chautard notes that
“Just as love of God is shown by acts of the interior life, so the love of our neighbor manifest itself by the works of the exterior life, and consequently the love of God and of our neighbor cannot be separated, and it follows that these two forms of life cannot exist without one another.”[xvii]
The Year of Faith calls for us to deepen our own Faith and to spread the Truth to the entire world. Pope Benedict, like his predecessor, has called attention to one of the important reminders of the Second Vatican Council. All of us, as baptized Catholics, have a share in the mission of the Church to spread the Gospel. This is the active life which, Isidore and Chautard stress in the above quote, must be linked with a profound interior life of prayer.
Cardinal George chose a good example of this in Dorothy Day. She was a daily communicant, prayed the Breviary, and went to confession and adoration regularly. Typically, her first visit upon arriving at a new place on her trips around the country to Catholic Worker houses was to Christ in the tabernacle. Reflecting upon a former nun who told her she was tired of going to daily Mass and felt it a needless routine, Dorothy notes in her diary:
“[E]ating [is] routine, and many a time we had no appetite, food even seemed disgusting to us….When we take to heart literally the humanity of Jesus as well as his divinity,…then we should simply obey his commands. We are nourished by his flesh that we may grow to be other Christs. I believe this literally just as I believe the child is nourished by milk from his mother’s breast.”[xviii]
Dorothy was a woman of great Eucharistic piety, and Christ clearly plays a role as the source of her work with the poor. As the Church came under increased attack after the Second Vatican Council and the practice of the Faith, let alone orthodoxy, was seen as optional or dependent fully upon one’s “feelings,” her sadness becomes apparent in the diary entries near the end of her life.[xix]
If we wish to engage in Christian charity in the world, we must focus on forming our interior life. Regardless of our state in life, a well-formed interior life is paramount. Chautard says that our souls “should be flooded first of all with light, and inflamed with love, so that reflecting that light and that heat, it may enlighten and give warmth to other souls as well.”[xx] He draws attention to St. Bernard’s saying that we should be “reservoirs and not channels” since a reservoirs fills with water first and then, “without emptying itself, pours out its overflow, which is ever renewed, over the fields which it waters.”[xxi] Drawing upon Aquinas, Chautard also notes that “every cause is superior to its effect, and therefore more perfection is needed to make others perfect, than simply to perfect oneself.”[xxii] Lastly, drawing from common experience, Fr. Chautard sums his argument up by saying that “a mother cannot suckle her child except in so far as she feeds herself.”[xxiii]
Without making sure that our acts of charity are not divorced from God and from the spiritual needs of ourselves and our fellow man, the Holy Father notes that there is no hope of finding justice. Without paying attention to man’s spiritual/material nature, we do not see before us the reality of man, thus we cannot help him. Additionally, Fr. Chautard warns that the active life without the interior is dangerous to our own soul as well. This does not simply arise from the dangers of falling into various heresies (Materialism, Modernism, Marxism, etc.), but from the very fact of his active life sapping so much of his strength that St. Bernard could write to Bl. Pope Eugenius III warning him to temporarily withdraw even from his good works and governance of the Church, which for him had become “accursed tasks.”[xxiv] They were tempting him to fall into the trap of burning himself out. This is what he terms the “Heresy of Good Works” following Cardinal Mermillod.[xxv] The “feverish” activity of good works replaces Jesus and there is a confusion of means and ends.[xxvi]
Today, this threat seems to present itself in another form much more pressingly than just burnout. We are told that we can do good things without God in the forefront. This is the secular mindset once again coming to the fore, the destructiveness of which the Church knows well. She has seen this beast before. Pope Benedict recounts one example in Deus Caritas Est: Julian the Apostate.[xxvii] In establishing his revived paganism, Julian established a State-run charity network meant to replicate that of the Church and thus make them redundant, winning converts to paganism. Once again, in the modern era, we see similar moves happening in France. Chautard records instances of teaching orders of nuns who are faced with the choice of secularizing or losing their apostolate of teaching. Both Leo XII and Pius X responded by telling the sisters that they must maintain their spiritual life no matter the cost of that decision to their apostolate.[xxviii]
Today, we see a similar scenario unfolding. The Obama administration has set itself up as the supreme dispenser of “charity” in the form of welfare and “Obamacare.” Doubling down, they have made sure that the Church cannot participate in this new order through various tactics. Flat out denial in some cases[xxix] and in others by passing rules and regulations, such as the infamous HHS mandate, with which the Church cannot comply. The Church as an institution in this country is faced with a serious challenge. Comply and turn its back on the teachings of Christ or refuse to serve this new paganism and face whatever consequences may come. For most of us, this is not a battle in which we will play a direct part. However, each of us, as a part of the Body of Christ will be impacted by the outcome of this struggle and need to pray for the conversion of this country and the triumph of the Sacred and the Immaculate Hearts.
Each of us, however, is faced daily with the question of how to live out our lives as Christians. How can we better live our active life in this world as we seek the “extension and increase of the Kingdom of God in individuals, families, and society?”[xxx] Each of us is called to use our energy “for the good of [our] neighbor by the propagation of revealed truth, by the exercise of Christian virtues, by the exercise of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.”[xxxi] In short, we are called to exercise Christian Charity in our work in creating a more just and peaceful world. With four more years of the most pro-death president this country has ever seen, a man who seems to have a personal vendetta against the Church, it can indeed be very hard to continue to hold onto hope that we will ever see a just society built upon love. This is where the power of this Year of Faith comes in. With providential timing, we enter on this Year of Faith, which is focused on living the New Evangelization, at a very dark point of time in this world. The new paganism of our secular society is powerful, but it is a fertile field for missionary work. By deepening our interior life, looking to the examples of those like the Holy Father, St. Bernard, and Dorothy Day let us use this Year of Faith to the fullest, going forth into the world making disciples of all nations, keeping in mind the words of Cardinal George noting that after the depths of persecution his future successor will “pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”[xxxii]
Mr. Douglass lives in St. Louis with his lovely bride where he serves the community with a non-profit which provides free home repairs to low income, disabled, and elderly residents. An agrarian at heart, he is a fan of urban farming and liturgy.
[i] Francis Cardinal George, “The Wrong Side of History,” Catholic New World, 21 October 2012 www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2012/1021/cardinal.aspx
[iii] Ephesians 1:10.
[vii] “If you see charity, you see the Trinity”-St. Augustine, qtd in Benedict, 19. Also Ps. 145:7-9
[viii] Ibid., 28.
[ix] Benedict XVI, 28b.
[xii] Ibid., 29.
[xiii] Ibid., 21.
[xiv] Ibid., 28.
[xv] Ibid., 26.
[xvi] Ibid., 37.
[xvii] Jean-Baptiste Chautard, The Soul of the Apostolate (Charlotte: TAN Books, 2008), 61.
[xviii] Dorothy Day, The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, (Milwaukee: Marquette UP, 2008), 459.
[xix] Ibid., 390, 531, etc.
[xx] Chautard, 54.
[xxi] Ibid., 55.
[xxiv] Ibid., 78.
[xxv] Ibid., 10
[xxvii] Benedict XVI, 24.
[xxviii] Chautard, 48-9.
[xxix] Michelle Bauman, “Obama Administration Defunds Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services Work,” National Catholic Register, 14 October 2011, www.ncregister.com/daily-news/obama-administration-defunds-bishops-migration-and-refugee-services-work/
[xxx] Pius X, 3.