The Catholic Thing
With Backs Unbent Print E-mail
By Fr. Phillip De Vous   
Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Editor’s Note: Tis the season to be jolly – and for your editor to remind you that publications do not live by holiday wishes alone. On January 2,
The Catholic Thing will be four-and-a-half years old – and during that period we never missed a publications deadline, though sometimes it’s been a close run thing. We’ve successfully battled diabolical, human, and technological challenges. And we’ve also managed to just cover our bills through the ups and downs of the economy, lately mostly downs. In 2012, we had a cutback from our largest donor and are still laboring to make up ground. A new donor in Chicago offered us a $15,000 matching grant a few weeks ago. If we can match that, we’ll come in at a perfect dead loss for 2012. But it’s the special charism of a non-profit to lose everything it takes in as effectively as possible. We think we’ve done our very best and it shows in our readership figures: TCT had as many visits from you in the first three quarters of 2012 as in the whole of 2011, which was itself already a strong year for growth. I have to ask you now to do your best in these closing days of the year. Please, make as generous a contribution as you possibly can to The Catholic Thing right now, while it can have twice the impact. – Robert Royal

T. S. Eliot once quipped, “paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space.” This, I think, is a significant reason why the pro-life cause continues to suffer setbacks or is sidelined, even as a majority of Americans, if polls are to be believed, identify themselves as pro-life. Eliot’s quip, uttered over a half century ago, reminds us that conglomeration of forces that constitute the “culture of death” are in fact what are informing citizen’s actual decisions, if not always their personal beliefs – a serious and difficult problem.

Often, because of the cultural deformation many of our citizens have undergone, the culture of death makes advances great and small under the guise of “equality,” “individual choice,” and even “liberty.” On the surface, these easy and empty slogans seem appealing and even correct to many. 

We must, however, never forget that liberty unmoored from truth invites disaster and destruction on a vast scale, the bitter fruits of which we are already seeing. The truth of the inalienable right to life for all is a moral red line that cannot be crossed without leaving behind civilization itself, and which must be defended anew in every generation.

In the wake of recent setbacks to the pro-life cause, there are many ill-advised calls for Christians to retreat from the public square and to retire to little, self-constructed islands of moral sanity. This, of course,  may be a special vocation for some people. But if adopted on a wide scale, it would be to ignore the Gospel commission to “go out” into the world with the message of the Good News of Christ’s redemption, and of the dignity and worth of every human life, made in the image and likeness of God. 

It’s precisely because our culture is becoming more self-centered, more materialistic, more hedonistic, and more uninterested in making the commitments and sacrifices the gift of life entails, that it has become even more imperative that Christians and all people of sound reason and good will continue the necessary fight to create, build, and sustain a culture of life. 

Now is not the time to withdraw but to advance even more vigorously. A nation founded on the principles of the preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness cannot long survive if two of the most fundamental human tasks – the begetting of life and caring for life – are ridiculed in the culture and dismissed from the public square without voices of protest. As Blessed John Paul II said: “For religious believers, our times offer a daunting yet exhilarating challenge. I would go so far to say that their task is to save democracy from self-destruction.” 

Let’s be clear: the work will be hard, to be sure, and we will not always be liked, loved, and popular in standing strong for truth in a culture that makes an idol of emotions, propagates lies, and even mandates mendacity. 

Much of our thinking, strategizing, and messaging on behalf of the culture of life and the Gospel in the present hostile environment will have to be done while “on the fly.” The allies and acolytes of the culture of death do not rest. We must learn and pray for the spiritual gift of being contemplatives in action, day in and day out.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once noted, there is no authentic Christianity without the Cross. So we in the pro-life movement will have to carry the Cross – a Cross that has likely gotten even heavier in recent weeks – in order to witness and remain faithful to the sanctity of life.

Participation in the Cross always requires us to accept some portion of loss, rejection, and ridicule as we hold high the standard of Gospel truth in our part of the battle. That is the only thing that leads us to the victory of Jesus Christ, our Life, over death and death’s allies.

The continued ascendancy of the culture of death in our nation, among us, and within us is not inevitable. We, who defend the sanctity of life as the primary foundation of our republic, must take the long view as we seek to change and convert the country to the cause of life. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. offered this insight decades ago on another front in battle for the dignity of every human life: “Change does not roll in the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”

It’s good for us to remember that advice today. Surveying the land as it is, with all its present troubles and likely tribulations, with our task and goal always in mind, let us not be afraid to stand erect and hold our heads high – for our redemption is drawing near (cf. Luke 21:28).

Fr. Phillip W. De Vous is the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Crescent Springs, KY and adjunct scholar of public policy at the Acton Institute.
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Comments (7)Add Comment
written by William Manley, December 19, 2012
I personally have come to the conclusion that you do not recommend...that we retreat from the political arena, concentrate on individual repentance, and reform the church by abolishing the hierarchical arrogance, cowardice, and corruption that allowed the sexual abuse scandals to be covered up and to grow and fester for over half a century. Until we clean up our own institutional evils, we will be ineffective in preaching morality, especially sexual morality, to an increasingly anti-religious society. In stopping abortion, I do not see a political solution. The re-election of Obama is proof that espousing a pro-choice position is good politics. While Obama understands that a fetus is human life, he refuses to believe that it is a human life. Does anyone have any convincing arguments to get him to change his mind? This is the block wall I always hit in discussing abortion with pro-choice supporters. They always say the fetus is human life but not a human life. Is there a name for this clear logical fallacy? It is most frustrating to always bump up against this resistance to reason and love.
written by Ib, December 19, 2012
Is this a indirect attack on the work of Alasdair MacIntyre? At the end of his famous re-establishment of Aristotelian virtue ethics in "After Virtue", MacIntyre wrote that

"It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical
period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels
are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North
America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark
Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in
that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside
from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the
continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that
imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead -- often not
recognizing fully what they were doing -- was the construction of new forms
of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both
morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.
If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude
that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters
at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which
civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new
dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was
able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely
without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting
beyond the frontiers; they have been governing us for quite some time. And it
is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament.
We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another -- doubtless very different
-- St. Benedict." (p. 263, pub. 1981)

If it is meant as refutation of MacIntyre, it needs a lot more work. If it is not, then perhaps we need to listen once again to his work. The late seventies seems like an age ago in some respects, but in many ways we are revisiting that "Decade of Nightmares" (using Philip Jenkins' phrase). Personally I feel MacIntyre has diagnosed our present-day ills far more astutely than Fr. De Vous has. Perhaps he has never read MacIntyre?
written by Other Joe, December 19, 2012
Popular culture has been boiled down to its basic sludge, which is nihilism. Most people trudge along with the crowd like displaced persons on the way to their new camp, but the hyper-focused (we call them crazy) act out what everyone else knows and pretends to deny. The chatterers view the increasing frequency of murder suicide and ask, why? The committed nihilist who has sounded the depths of nothing asks "why not?" Destruction is already with us. Society’s majority has placed its faith in nothing. I guess the nihilist believes that when the next great evil knocks at the door, nothing will save us.
written by Justin, December 19, 2012
I appreciate your thoughts, Fr. De Vous, and I believe you are right, in part. Fortitude, faith, and hope are all very important virtues we must live, regardless of time and place.

The 'culture of death' is so ubiquitous, however. So much so that I think each of us (even the self-professed 'orthodox Catholics/Christians) must honestly admit to our own compliance in its growth. This anti-culture is taken as matter of fact, the sole ingredient for the 'good life', that the JPII and MK JR. quotes can (and are!) used by the same people we disagree with. There is a profound disagreement between so many of us (within Catholic and Christian circles, too) of what constitutes a good life, and more importantly, God's will.

This is what I see in my own experience. I'm 28, and after a returning to the Church last year (I never really left, I merely took the Faith seriously enough to spend time thinking and studying it) I have never felt more isolated in my entire life. Between my friends and family -- a mixture of Catholics, Christians, atheists and agnostics -- there is really no difference apart from some go to church, some talk of God more so and some actually believe in morals. A training ground for strengthening in virtue, no doubt, but an environment so fitting for compromise and indifference. Where do we go from here?

God be with you!

written by Graham Combs, December 19, 2012
On November 8th I woke up to the reluctant admission -- long held at arms length -- that not only the country but the Church was broken in two. I rarely meet fellow right to life "extremists." Most of the Catholics I know do not simply and firmly accept the Church's teachings on abortion.

Who has my back?

As for a majority being pro-life. I doubt that's true in the Church or in the country at large and again I think November 7th has demonstrated this and not for the first time. The president is an extreme pro-choice advocate and the hierarchy's response has been confused and ultimately ineffectual. Too many mixed signals and confusing images.

And in the Archdiocese of Detroit at least, I know no one who refers to the Dr. King as Rev. King. His relgious status has been quietly retired. Would Dr. King be pro-life today? Rev. Jesse Jackson no longer is. And the NAACP is emphatically pro-choice. As is Detroit's ministers'establishment.

These are the facts where I live. We don't talk about them. I will say again that in metropolitan Detroit after the election many who voted for the president and his views and politics and "moral" beliefs have been emboldened. The hostility is chronic, unveiled, and unrestrained by civility. How many Catholics will confront that? Not many in my experience.

I think that the survival of the unborn has never been at greater risk since Roe v. Wade and it is time that we at least considered that. There is no comparing abolitionism and the civil rights movement to restoring the right to be born. Restoring rights is a much more difficult than creating them. And the 1960s civil rights movement has developed into a coalition of a growing variety of movements and all hostile to the unborn and to the Church. It's a new world and it's a rare priest or bishop who recognizes this in my experience.

I"m tired of the Church and institutional America trying to drag me back into the 20th Century. It's over and we have more intractable and more insidious challenges now. I won't repeat Samuel L. Jackson's ugly and infamous exhortation but I appreciate his emphatic sense of urgency.
written by Ib, December 19, 2012

Who had the backs of the Cistercians at the monastery of Tibhirine in 1996?

Who had the back of Bishop Luigi Padovese?

Who had the back of Fr. Maximillan Kolbe?

Who had the back of Charles Lwanga?

Who had the back of ... do you get the point?

It's not about you. It's not about the 20th century. It's not about any century.

It's about God. Do his will or don't do it. That's the choice.
written by Miriam, December 20, 2012
Dear Mr. Graham Combs,

I once asked my parish priest if one can be a good person without believing in God. He had to think about it.

I think all of today's problems stem from the belief that it is possible to be a good person and not believe in God. Many believe it is possible to be a good person as long as one believes in love (i.e sex, of course, and not forgiveness). And many believe we are all deserving of love. And that all we need is love, love on demand, love for the planet, love without God.

And yet, when love is not forthcoming, we turn nasty and violent.

I had to find my own answer to the question I posed to my parish priest.

And, Mr. Combs, YOU know what that answer is. It is NOT so much that one cannot be a good person without believing in God. It is that it is impossible to truly love anyone without God's help.

God loves first. God loved me first. God loved you first. God loves first and always.

It would not be possible for me to love you or anyone if I cannot believe that God loves first. It wquld not be possible for YOU to love anyone for always if YOU cannot believe that God loves first.

Being a good person has nothing to do with God and everything to do with LOVE. But LOVE is not possible without God's help (And so, we're back to FAITH). The alternative is what you are facing now, despair at the futility of giving your best and finding that your best is not enough and never will be enough. But rest assured in God's love for you and you should recover the strength and the courage you need to endeavour to love once again. God is the only one you can count on to have your back. And He does and He loves you. Godbless.

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