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The Golden Age Cometh Print E-mail
By Fr. C. John McCloskey III   
Thursday, 05 July 2012

My friend, the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, was a Lutheran minister from Canada and a great Christian witness who converted to Catholicism. I was privileged to be at his ordination to the priesthood.

Fr. Neuhaus proclaimed in one of his books the advent of a “Catholic Moment” for the United States. As it turns out, he was twenty-five years or so ahead of his time. But perhaps today’s “Catholic Moment” is not exactly the kind that he foresaw.

Neuhaus (along with George Weigel and Michael Novak) was generally positive about the American experiment and its “exceptionalism,” especially in contrast with decaying and now largely post-Christian Europe.

In 1996, however, responding to the infamous Planned Parenthood v. Casey Supreme Court decision, Neuhaus published an essay by Russell Hittinger in First Things, which concluded:

In effect, the Court makes it impossible to have anything other than a procedural common good as a motive or purpose for political activity. There is a real possibility that the moral and religious motivations of some citizens will become not only actionable at public law, through constitutional suits challenging legislation informed by such motives, but also actionable at private law. Unless the elected representatives of the people can compel the Court to refrain from invalidating political activity merely on the basis of the citizens’ moral or religious motivation, the task of reform is blocked. Should that continue, the option remaining to right reason is the one traditionally used against despotic rule: civil disobedience.

Fast forward now to 2012. Hittinger appears vindicated, especially following the Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold Obamacare, although the lawsuits against the infamous HHS Mandate and the results of the November 2012 elections still lie before.

Given the despotic HHS administrative diktat, American Catholics may now find that the right to religious freedom founded in the First Amendment may no longer apply to them and their institutions. In fact, it’s possible that even the free practice of the faith may be moving toward de jure or de facto nonexistence.

Like Christians under the rule of Islamic governance or during the Roman Empire before Constantine’s edict of toleration, there may come a time when American Catholics become secondhand citizens at best, at risk of imprisonment or worse at the whim of the magistrates. We should continue to pray that such a day won’t come. But it is not impossible. Yes: It can happen here!


     The welcoming arms of Bernini’s Colonnade seen from St. Peter’s dome

I should clarify whom I am including when I use the word “Catholic” because, of course, there is much confusion in this area. I believe the best definition – full assent to the Faith – is neatly summarized in the RCIA’s Reception for Baptized Christians into the Church: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

Readers may judge from the polls how many among us really qualify as Catholics according to this definition, considering the high number of divorces and remarriages, the dwindling of Catholic births and baptisms, the vertiginous drop in Mass attendance, etc. But there are certainly far fewer than the 70 million or so often quoted, just extrapolating from the percentage of votes by nominal Catholics for candidates with views clearly opposed to Catholic moral teaching (and who presumably live accordingly).

May they all soon return to the Church, as unlikely as that may now seem. Currently, one in every ten Americans is a lapsed Catholic. And each year, for every one convert to the Church, three leave the fold.

But this is precisely where the going gets good for the Church in the United States. Increasingly, the Catholic Church is the only option for serious Christians here. Traditional Protestant denominations are shrinking and Evangelical Christians in many cases are attracted to the sacramental system of the Church and its authoritative teachings. We get their best, and they get our worst, who do not want to live up to the full range of demands on the Christian life.

The seminaries are now generally sound, vocations are on the rise, and the episcopate is mostly made up of men in line with the evangelizing Catholicism of Bl. John Paul and the deep liturgical teachings of Pope Benedict.

Catholic radio is increasingly present almost everywhere. Catholic publishing continues to grow on- and off-line. The Cardinal Newman Society colleges grow each year and with time will replace the apostate former “Catholic” universities, whose now-diluted Catholicism we don’t need.

Liturgies in our parishes are now more traditional – in many places the Lord is once again worshiped in a more reverent setting and adored in the centered tabernacle.

Finally, we face life-changing threats to the practice of our Faith, which, paradoxically, has its positive side. That may be our great opportunity to bear witness, as did the first Christians, and to draw converts, even if it means martyrdom.

I say: Bring it on, if it be God’s will. Just think of the reward! In any case, it would not be the first time we’ve had to face and overcome such challenges. The best still lies ahead.

 
Rev. C.J. McCloskey III is a Church Historian in his hometown of Washington, D. C. and a fellow of the Faith and Reason Institute.
 
 
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, July 05, 2012
Perhaps, if we are to imitate the first Christians, we should adopt heir definition of a Catholic for, as the example of early times shows, what the Church teaches can be a matter of dispute.

A Catholic is one who is in visible communion with the see of Rome. “No doubt,” as Mgr Ronald Knox noted, “this means the people who are so orthodox that Rome has seen no reason to excommunicate them, so that unity and orthodoxy still react upon one another.”

As a Church Historian, I am sure Fr McCloskey is aware that our practice of labelling this party as orthodox and that as heterodox in early Church history comes down to us from authors who were applying that test, and no other.
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written by Jon S., July 05, 2012
I hope Father McCloskey's last sentence is right. While I agree with everything else he wrote, I think he omitted important points. Yes, the diocesan seminaries seem to be better, but it will take a long time for them to outweigh the dissent that currently permeates much of the priesthood. And what about religious order seminaries and formation programs? Yes, there are better bishops, but they are generally ineffective at applying their own personal faith to the institutions in their dioceses where relativism, pop psychology, and political correctness still reign. And how many of the "better" bishops and priests tell their congregations that the fullness of the means of salvation objecively subsists in the Catholic Church and then give a compelling explanation of why this is true? Finally, the great majority of baptized Catholics under 55 have drunk the cool-aid of contemporary culture and will not financially support the Church to the extent that those over 55, even the dissenters, have. All of this is not to deny God's grace and previous renewal in dark times of the Church's past. But free will means a future more apocalyptic than Father McCloskey has presented is possible. May we all remain faithful to Our Lord regardless of what the future brings. Maranatha!
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written by Chris in Maryland, July 05, 2012
Michael:

Fr. M's definition make sense. "Visible communion with the see of Rome" seems utterly devoid of meaning in this day, obedience and assent having been sundered in many a "liberated or independent Catholic" mind. To wit, Nancy Pelosi says she's an ardent Catholic and gets to visit the Pope...therefore, she's "in visible communion with the see of Rome"? A loved one goes to Church on Sunday, and bosts rejecting Church Councils, and prefers to think for herself/himself. I parted thinking my own flesh-and-blood was not "in visible communion with the see of Rome."
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written by John McCarthy, July 05, 2012
I found this message to be encouraging and inspiring. I like essays like this that in the midst of the doom and gloom find much to be pleased with and much to be thankful for.
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written by Dave, July 05, 2012
It was Tertullian who wrote, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." Throughout the non-Western world, the blood of Christians is shed daily by enemies of the Faith -- and the Church is growing. Here in the West the Church's enemies are more subtle and astute -- for the moment, as Fr. McCloskey indicates -- and the Church is nominally large, but shrinking. The day may not be far off when resistance to the Agenda results in loss of civil liberties, house arrest, imprisonment, or worse -- which, as Father points out, is actually better, for the sake of the souls who suffer such fate for the Lord and for the sake of the Church herself.

Father indicates we should pray that such times never befall us, and we should. We should also exercise the civil liberties we enjoy, insisting in the public square on our rights, and working tirelessly with the faithful clergy to live and spread the Good News -- News whose truth and glory shines out, paradoxically, the tougher times become for us. Let it not be said of us at our particular judgements that souls perished because we failed in our duties of apostolate and citizenship.
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written by Religious seminarian in Washington, DC, July 05, 2012
In response to Jon S's concern about religious orders and their orthodoxy, I can speak from some experience. While many fine orders which used to be quite orthodox were deeply infected by relativism, pop psychology and occult-related practices in the 70s and 80s, there remain many more orthodox orders, even here in the West. The JP II generation of Catholics have founded many new orders and revived many older orders that had fallen away from orthodoxy back in the day, and far and away the newer vocations--be they religious sisters, brothers, or priests-in-training, like myself-- are solid and orthodox. In part, this is a direct reaction to the former heterodoxy that ran rampant for far too long. The young, while perhaps not always wise in the ways of the world per se, nevertheless hunger for objective truth, and they sense abundantly that such truth can only be found in orthodox Catholicism, founded upon the Truth Himself. There are simply almost no vocations arising among the progressive and heterodox orders, be they male or female orders. We know that God is always in control, and we can see the Holy Spirit moving through His Church in those orthodox young people attracted once again to the Truth, both young lay Catholics and those who are discerning religious vocations. We are often told in my order, the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, that our generation will most likely be the generation of priests and religious who are arrested and persecuted directly by the government, and yet we know that this is what God is asking of us now, so we are blessed to respond to His call to live out our vocations however He would have us do so. The Church has always had martyrs, both white and red, and if He calls us to such, then we are ready to respond and give our lives utterly and totally for Him. To whom shall we turn, for only Christ has the words of eternal life. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Viva Cristo Rey!
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written by Chris in Maryland, July 05, 2012
I recommend that all TCT readers read Pope B16's letter to US Bishops, 19 January 2012, on their "Ad Limina" visit to Rome.

It takes a lot of work for Catholic parents to fulfill their duty to produce well-formed, well-educated Catholic young adults. As B16 has warned, the way is getting narrower and steeper...especially inside our own "Catholic" infrastructure.
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, July 05, 2012
Chris

Loisy and Tyrrell would have claimed to believe all the Church teaches and would have subscribed any confession of faith offered to them. If you asked them, in what sense they subscribed, they would claim that you were imposing a new test and their interpretation of the formula was as good as yours.

Plainly, they ceased to be in "visible communion" when Rome excommunicated them; then, and not till then.
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written by RichardC, July 05, 2012
If Jesus calls on me to be a martyr, I ask for the strength to live up to His call. As an historical aside, 8 of the 9 justices that decided in Planned Parenthood v. Casey were appointed by Republican presidents. See How Tyranny Came to America, by Joe Sobran, http://www.sobran.com/articles/tyranny.shtml , for more information.
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written by Loiuse, July 05, 2012
Remember how Bl JPII used to talk about the “springtime” of the Faith he foresaw? I thought about that a lot, wondering what he meant. One day it occurred to me that he might be referring to the first springtime where martyrs abounded. That’s when I became a bit less enthusiastic about the new springtime…ok, I admit I am a weak sinner.
I’m feeling a bit more like: forget bringing it on (e.g. martyrdom). Let’s get our act together quickly and turn this around legislatively while there is still time. For once in a great while we have a pretty united episcopacy capable of leading us. And just look at all the lay intellectual and spiritual capital that has been amassed because of the weakness of the institutional church lo these many years.
Sometimes all it takes to overcome a bully is to stand up to him. Turning the other cheek is for the individual, not the body politic. I say, let’s get out the Christian and any other religious vote which appreciates the importance of religious freedom!
And if it comes to what Fr. M is saying, God’s holy Will be done. I pray that God will strengthen us all.
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written by jsmitty, July 05, 2012
I'm not sure I share the exact grounds for Father McCloskey's optimism, but I do strongly agree with the overall thrust of the piece. There is far too much doom and gloom today as many people in my mind excessively conflate the fortunes of the Church in America with those of the Republican party and movement conservatism.
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written by Katie, July 05, 2012
"The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church"; true-how willing are we Christians to die for our Belief?
Make no mistake, it is not only Roman Catholics who are being targeted by our government;if you are a Christian Believer and Live what you Believe you are not a friend of the government--of most any country.
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written by Randall, July 05, 2012
To Religious Seminarian in DC - God bless you, God bless you & God bless you! You are called to be a shepherd and the Shepherd lays down his life for his flock. God give you strength and through you encourage your future flock.
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written by Chris in Maryland, July 05, 2012
Michael:

If I understand you correctly, I'm not sure your standard makes sense. Per the standard you propose, "visible communion" only ceases when Rome (or other proper Church authority?) pronounces an excommunication. Under such a limited standard, when a Catholic publicly and gravely sins, (i.e., the grave sin is public through notoriety of fact) there is no operation of excommunication latæ sententiæ. Such standard seems very poor and incomplete, it seems incorrect that such person is deemed "in visible communion..."

I agree, on the other hand, that mere claims of obedience and assent are not sufficient to establish communion.
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written by Manfred, July 05, 2012
I doubt if Fr. McCloskey and Fr. Neuhaus were very close. Fr. Neuhaus's name was Richard John, not John Richard. Michael Novak also opposed Humanae Vitae for decades. America's "exceptionalism" was condemned by Leo XIII and came to be known as the "Americanist heresy".
I decided to forego the rest of the column.
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written by Magdalene, July 05, 2012
Yes, I also agree with the article. We live in exciting times, in a way, in that we may have opportunity to truly offer all we have and are to the Lord for the sake of our faith.

We see our freedoms erode. But we have brought it on ourselves with 50 years of dissent and silence in the face of evil. (not everyone, of course).

I spoke today with a pro-life leader in Kansas who is so fustrated by the lact of support of the clergy. That is getting better in some places but not in enough places. The tragic lack of catechesis and the condoning of birth control that has infiltrated most parishes led to ignorant and disobedient Catholics.

But it is for each one of us now to do our part! First of all a strong prayer and sacramental life is imperative. We start with ourselves...
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr. , July 05, 2012
Thank you, Jon S. for your courage and your eloquence. What I see out here in the vast, horrifying terrain of Novus Ordo Land (No, I'm not denying the validity of the OR) is a situation in which all of those Koolaid drinkers, including the older ones who really WERE acid heads, have their poor bishops balckmailed, since the prelates hesitate to fire a pastor when the planned priest shortage means that there will noone withwhom to replace the heretics. Perhpas it would be better if we had to drive an hour to find a place where our children would not hear nonesense that contradicts Chruch Teaching. A good place to start (and pardon me for trying to tell bihops what to do) would be for Chruch leaders to repeat what Pope Bendict said in response to the question of wheter he would excommunicate the proabort pols of Mexico: "There is no need to. They have exommunicated themselves."
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written by Raymond, July 05, 2012
Some aggressive politics may be in order, but I have been focusing on aggressive prayer, lately. Specifically, I pray that America will be consecrated to Mary and become a Catholic nation. I know full well that such a goal will be met by the blood of martyrs and great violence. Such a radical change in a nation does not come easy, history teaches us. I say with the others, "Bring it on!" I'm going to die of something anyway, and the only death that brings truly great reward with it is martyrdom. The only problem with this mentality is the possibility of Christians being a little too zealous to become martyrs, and recklessly looking for ways to get themselves martyred. I seem to recall reading in history that this has happened before, and it will probably happen again.

Anyway, when this HHS thing first came to light I thought that it may be the way that God would use to rekindle the Church in America. It just looks like the beginning of a new chapter in our history. I see it as the starting point for the consecration that I spoke of above,but know that it will not end well for a lot of Christians. The recent Personhood attacks in the news show what is coming.
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written by Bill Foley, July 06, 2012
From Bill Foley

May I suggest a reading of Victories of the Martyrs by St. Alphonsus, Doctor of the Church. It is amazing how many members of the laity gave their lives for the faith. Even children were among them.
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written by lisag, July 06, 2012
Will lukewarm Catholics stay or go if they are taxed for their beliefs, it they see their church being ransacked, if their children are harassed at school? Most of our lives are easy except for the cringes we may have when we read the paper. How will martyrs be made from Macy shoppers, latte drinkers, and those who deliver their children to various sports and music lessons. Will CNN or the New York times prepare them? How many have moved away from depending on the Lord to depending on their VISA. It is going to be interesting. I only hope to be prepared to do what the Lord asks of me.
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written by Greg, July 06, 2012
To paraphrase an tiresome, old quote from, I believe, A Tale of Two Cities - "It's (the) best of times, and the worst of times."
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written by Maria Byrd, July 07, 2012
@ Religious Seminarian: The truth does not belong exclusively to the young. There is a danger is claiming that one generation is the heir of the kingdom. The Holy Spirit does not claim division. Remember, the enemy seeks to divide. It is a misapproriation of the Gosepl to set oneself apart and above all of the people God has called unto Himself. The generation ahead of you has suffered in ways too numerous for counting,due to to the faithlessness of their Shepherds. Mercy, not pride, should propel us forward. Let us pray "that all may be one", yes?
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written by Paul Tobin, July 07, 2012
The American Catholic Shepherds have not served the Gospel well. There are some, among the many, who are regaining their "Spiritual" courage and leadership.
Yes, there are many, many more parish administrators who do not follow the prescribed formula to Eucharist and education of the young. There are many priests who are lukewarm on hard questions of abortion, natural family planning, chemical contraception, and sexual cultural advocacy groups.
The rudder of the Barque of Peter may have to by manhandled by the non-ordained. The Apostolic mantle may have to be worn by the Faithful masses in order to move the Church off left of center toward a severe right of center.
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written by Ukased in Illinois, July 12, 2012
Please forgive my puzzlement at some of this discussion, for I am not Catholic and thus not schooled in some of the seemingly intricate, even arcane, reasonings and references I see in play here.

Consider these two statements from the article:

"Given the despotic HHS administrative diktat, American Catholics may now find that the right to religious freedom founded in the First Amendment may no longer apply to them and their institutions. In fact, it’s possible that even the free practice of the faith may be moving toward de jure or de facto nonexistence." (Fr. C. John McCloskey III)

"Should that continue, the option remaining to right reason is the one traditionally used against despotic rule: civil disobedience." (Russell Hittinger in First Things)

It strikes me as nonsensical (as a non-Catholic) that there is any uncertainty or timidity on this.

One of America's glories is that it is a hurly-burly of differing views and faiths. The Founders intended this and tried to guarantee it with the freedoms guaranteed in our 1st Amendment.

Do interest groups holding views different from yours hang back? Do various other faiths (which I refrain from listing) hang back, too diffident to assert themselves in our general public life? Clearly, no.

So neither should Catholics, either as a group or individually.

Rather than retreat from the significant challenge the current administration via the HHS diktat has forced upon you, I hope Catholics all across America will have the wisdom and find the worldly fight within themselves to unify behind the fiercest, most determined nonviolent opposition to this illegal mandate up to and including civil disobedience.

Am I missing some essential point, possibly from Catholic doctrine? I would welcome being set straight, or otherwise being led to greater understanding on this apparent conundrum.
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written by P McBride, July 12, 2012
Ukased
No you are not missing anything here. I think the posters on this thread are implying that we would rather not go down this road but if we are forced into complying with Obama's wretched HHS mandate, we are 100% in for the long haul; meaning he may be surprised to find how many American Catholics are willing to go to jail to defend the faith. This may be our time to prove to the next genration of believers that martyrdom is not some ancient novelty from the dark ages, it is alive & well today in America.
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written by Tom Perna, July 12, 2012
Another great piece from Fr. McCloskey. His piece from January was the final nail in my decision to start a blog that would help educate and evangelize the lay faithful. Many of the points he makes in this piece I have mentioned in my 60 posts over the past six months.

We are in for a fight! Let's work together as One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Christians and do all we can on this side of heaven to bring others back to the faith. Today's hierarchy is rooted in the theology of Bl. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. We are facing great times of persecution, but the Church has faced it before. She will never die with Jesus Christ as the Head. Viva Christo Rey!
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written by diane, July 12, 2012
It is sad and disheartening to find many of our brothers and sisters (including clergy and sisters) who are trying to change or "stretch" Catholicism based on our ever-changing social environments as they fall to the mob mentality rather than standing in unity with the Church, with each other, and in the word of God. As G.K. Chesterton said "Fallacies do not cease to become fallacies because they become fashions." You cannot change the Word of God no matter how well meaning or how fashionable or rewarding the band wagon is - as if we know better than Him. I agree that with all the negativity being spewed forth, hearing positive messages like this can only reaffirm our strength. Thanks for this article. Stand firm, pray always and trust in our Lord!
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written by David Carlon, July 13, 2012
Our powder is dry too... Viva Cristo Rey!
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written by Taif, July 22, 2012
Wonderful and uplifting article. This quote rang so true to me and I will certainly be sharing-->"But this is precisely where the going gets good for the Church in the United States. Increasingly, the Catholic Church is the only option for serious Christians here. Traditional Protestant denominations are shrinking and Evangelical Christians in many cases are attracted to the sacramental system of the Church and its authoritative teachings. We get their best, and they get our worst, who do not want to live up to the full range of demands on the Christian life." If you haven't seen 'For Greater Glory' go see it now.
Bring it on. Viva Cristo Rey!
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written by MAJ, July 29, 2012
Thank you, Fr. McCloskey. Thank you fellow posters. You boost my spirit. I have listened to Patrick Madrid's talk on the history and background to the Christeros. It is stirring and heart-breaking at the same time. I too am weak, but know that we must rely on the grace of each present moment to abide in the Will of God. Viva Christo Rey!

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