The Catholic Thing
The Moment of Witness Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 29 July 2012

G. K. Chesterton’s saying “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried,” is both familiar true of every age. But perhaps in the twenty-first century, as at other times of profound transition in history, we are faced with the extra imperative to try it. In our time, it is less likely that we can just drift along without being brought to a decision point. So do I act like a Catholic or sit on the fence?

The changeover from secularism cum paganism (“An artisan made it, it is no god at all.”  Hosea) that was in some kind of balance with real religious practice to an exclusive secularism with the force of law is something that has been a long time coming. The Marxists did this in Russia and China. We did not learn from their history. The socialists here have moved along a similar path step by step.

Yet Christianity truly remains above all of that. Concretely lived out Christianity has a nobility and a grandeur that is rarely noted, but should in fact be a common experience. For example, when Benedict XVI spoke of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary during the audience on 20 October 2010, he said: "She is a true example for all who have roles of leadership: the exercise of authority, at every level, must be lived as a service to justice and charity, in the constant search for the common good. . . .Elizabeth diligently practiced works of mercy: she would give food and drink to those who knocked at her door; she procured clothing, paid debts; cared for the sick and buried the dead. Coming down from her castle, she often visited the homes of the poor with her ladies-in-waiting, bringing them bread, meat, flour and other food. She distributed the food personally and attentively checked the clothing and mattresses of the poor."

She was a queen who chose to follow the gospel. This is Catholicism lived out in its fullness. She was someone who chose daily to live as a Catholic. This is what happens when people act on their faith. Of course, it has to be real faith in God and his revelation in the Incarnation of his Son and in the Spouse of his Son, the Church – not the “faith” of madly clinging to our own imaginings. This real faith is based on divine revelation.

The Founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Saint Eugene de Mazenod preached: “First let us question the world. It will give you an answer in keeping with its prejudices, a senseless code that serves as their rule of life and in keeping with which it expresses its sentiments. . . . Come then and learn who you are in the eyes of God.” In this homily, De Mazenod started with the elites and their “senseless code,” the source of most anti-human movements and then turned to what is revealed in Christ.

           St. Elizabeth of Hungary Spinning for the Poor by Marianne Stokes (1895)

In Jesus Christ God actually showed what humanity becomes when it is lived.

What is manifested in the moment that a Catholic takes action is Christ Himself and not ourselves, daft as this may sound in a solipsistic culture. “The Christian lets himself be involved more than anyone else, because his [dialog] partner, perhaps his opponent, is like himself someone who is born from the crucified heart.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar)

This actual revelation of Christ was the foundation of what Vatican II set out to express. Back to von Balthasar:

The Council has undoubtedly made Church matters more difficult. Those who seek mitigations in everything and express delight at the “progress and growing “maturity” as each barrier falls do not understand what the Fathers were concerned with. It was to direct into the secular world through the Church, which is a divine mystery, the mysterious ray of Trinitarian and crucified love, wholly and completely.

The Fathers addressed their teaching to a sinful world and to sinful Catholics. Sin makes for resistance to what Christ (and the Council) came to do.  

Human nature being what it is, we should perhaps look for some illustration to help us answer the question: why do most Catholics not witness to their faith in what is becoming a palpably more hostile environment?

Well we could look at the history of Nazi Germany for some instruction. With the rise of Nazism (or in our case a hostile secular culture), few people stood up against it. Most turned a blind eye, being either bullied or bought off by some trifle And the rest actively cooperated with the evil in all of its forms. (If you think that Nazi Germany is too strong a parallel, we are killing 3000 people a day in this country and doing little to stop it.)

The materialism and the paganism of the Nazi’s, even before the war, drenched the most sophisticated people in Europe in hatred and inhumanity. There but for the grace of God go we. I think that there is a reason why the history keeps being placed before us. We ought to appreciate the magnitude of what lies before us.

As we can see from the life of Christ, actually being Catholic is going to be difficult.

Bevil Bramwell
, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.

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Comments (9)Add Comment
written by Dave, July 29, 2012
May we awaken to the magnitude of the task, nor be overwhelmed by it, for only firm reliance upon the mercy of God, communicated to us in Jesus Christ through the sacraments, the Magisterium, and personal prayer, will give us both the insight and the fortitude to do what must, and what may yet be done. In addition to the lives lost daily to abortion, we have to reckon in those millions and millions of the incarcerated, millions and millions of broken families, millions and millions of dispirited people all of whom know something is terribly wrong and seem unable to rise from torpor and from states of dependence upon the State, in one form or another. It may well be that we see martyrdom in our own country, either white or red. What matters most is that each receive the wisdom and strength to act in accordance with the will of God, with rightly formed conscience, and with the demands that confront each, and then to put the wisdom and strength into action. There are enough people yet who are hungry for more than the empty promises our culture blandishes. There is yet time, though the hour be late.
written by Jon S., July 29, 2012
Father Bramwell's comments about Nazism have triggered questions I would love to see answered by him or another one of the great contributors to TCT.
First, is there a contradiction among orthodox Catholic thinkers on the nature of love, specifically with regard to the meaning of justice? In other words, do some (Aquinas, Leo XIII, and Josef Pieper come to mind) hold that while the Catholic thing is to live in the spirit of selfless love that surrenders one's own rights, it is also the Catholic thing to practice a justice that maintains one's own rights even if such maintenance does not alleviate the suffering of others, while others (John Paul II and Benedict XVI come to mind) hold that the Catholic thing is to surrender one's own rights whenever such surrender would alleviate the suffering of others? In terms of an example: Are there orthodox Catholic thinkers who say that God does not require of us that we risk our own lives by going into a burning building to save the life of a stranger, especially if we have a family of our own that is depending on us for their welfare, but other orthodox Catholic thinkers who say that God does require of us to risk our own lives by going into a burning building to save the life of a stranger, even if we have a family of our own that is depending on us for their welfare?
Who is right--those who would say that Christian love has not replaced justice or those who say that Christian love has replaced justice? Is anyone claiming to have Revelation on his side? Who really does have Revelation on his side?
written by Fr. Bramwell, July 29, 2012
Jon, the love justice question is not an either/or issue. Just look for example at Benedict's Lenten Message in 2010.
written by caroline Gissler, July 29, 2012
The fact that orthodox Catholic thinkers disagree on the subject mentioned above and other subjects as well says that they do not know the answer. When the experts can not agree, I have to have the courage to use my own judgment, and that is not something for which we ordinary people have been trained.
written by Jon S., July 30, 2012
Although I accept that I should be faithful to the Magisterium in matters of faith and morals (but not necessarily in its prudential judgments) in general and although I am a great admirer of Pope Benedict in particular, I didn't find the Holy Father's Message for Lent in 2010 as helpfulas I would have liked.
I would like to think his conclusion, "Strengthened by this very experience, the Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies, where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love," supports the position that Christian love has not replaced justice but adds generosity to justice, as Pieper has said more clearly. In other words, I still suspect that Pope Benedict thinks that the more we surrender our own rights, the more Christian/Catholic we are. That way of thinking is mushy and utopian. This side of the Parousia, sometimes the more Christian/Catholic thing to do is to be just instead of generous.
Back to your excellent column, do you agree that the moment of witness for which you rightfully call is going to involve Catholics asserting their rights as well as Catholics acting generously?
written by Fr. Bramwell, July 30, 2012
Yes Jon. Again I don't think that asserting one's rights is ungenerous. If we can be free to function as Catholics we are going to contribute mightily to our culture. Even if we are not free we are supposed to contribute to our culture - making the suffering Christ present will do more than some movie company or some politician.
written by Jon S., July 30, 2012
Thanks for taking the time to reply to my comments, Father Bramwell. I look forward to your next column.
written by Louise, July 30, 2012
Father, your last sentence says it all. It seems to me that the thing that most keeps us from spreading our faith is a lack of confidence in others finding it attractive due to the sacrificial nature. I suppose this is an indictment of our own lack of lived faith.
Jon S, in addition to Fr's comments I've always found helpful clarifications in the ccc's treatment of the 5th and 7th commandments
written by Gian, July 30, 2012
Jon S,
Saints are not distinguished from ordinary people in that the Saints did not do what ordinary people did i.e the saint is not merely one that did not sin.

But the things Saints do is what ordinary people even do not think of.
Since love is creative and is not the matter of following a moral code with Yes/No answers, it is more the matter of gracious living. Dorothy Sayers in The Mind of the Maker has a clear exposition of this idea.

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