Bracing for a New Year

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The Fifth Day within the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord. We are bracing ourselves now for the New Year about to open and unfurl its surprises. A character in one of Tom Stoppard’s stories remarks, in the familiar cliché, that “tomorrow is another day.” To which another character responds that, “No, tomorrow, I find, is usually the same day.”

It is the measure of the year we’ve already borne that we could take it as a ground of hope if the coming year promised to be no worse. A year ago we were bracing for the decision of the Supreme Court to install same-sex marriage as a “right” grounded now in the “fundamental law” of the Constitution, the law that will give proportion and standing to all other laws in every jurisdiction in this country. With eyes unclouded we could see this coming.

What we could not foresee was a militancy on this issue, driven by a moral surety that runs even beyond the convictions that fueled the civil rights movement. Chai Feldblum, descended from a line of rabbis, rejected out of hand the possibility that the religious could claim some ground of exemption from a policy formed now from a sense of unalloyed moral rightness. We don’t give people religious exemptions – do we? – from the laws that forbid discriminations based on race. Why should they be any more tolerated on this matter of marriage and sexuality?

There is no need to rehearse the record that has already begun to unfold, with people losing their jobs or their businesses if they refuse to accept this new ethic as their own. Small Christian colleges will be brought to the point of extinction if they will not agree to cover abortion and contraception in their medical insurance. Or, if they drop their insurance, they may find themselves threatened with crippling fines if they will not offer an “outreach” program for LGBT – Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, and Transgendered. Transgendered. Paul McHugh, of the medical school at Johns Hopkins, showed that these were fantasies, untethered ideas, floated with theories, bearing no grounding in the world, and the nature, we inhabit. And yet, we find the administrations and trustees of leading colleges and universities signing on to this new orthodoxy as though it were indeed grounded in unbreakable facts and a moral doctrine no longer to be questioned.

It has become clear also that these ideas, nursed in the hothouses of American colleges, have made their way into the law schools. And from there they are already being projected into the federal judiciary. The federal courts have become a prime engine in coarsening our culture, for they’ve led the way in dismantling the laws that once applied a gentle, but telling restraint on pornography, contraception, abortion, and sexuality.

Darkness before dawn: World Youth Day 2013
Darkness before dawn: World Youth Day 2013

It should be clear to anyone with eyes to see that this movement would be brought to a level even more astounding if the party of the Left had four to eight more years to fill the judiciary with people who reflect, with sharp edges, this ethic that now holds them.

It was a mark of our politics so telling that the media chose not to cover it: At the end of September, 177 Democrats in Congress actually voted against the bill to punish surgeons who kill babies born alive, surviving abortions. The bill was passed by 243 Republicans, joined by only five Democrats. I’ve taken a back seat to no one in complaining about Republican leaders who hold back from making the pro-life argument in public. But it takes a special obtuseness for pro-lifers to rail against both parties, as though they cannot see just which one stands now as the conservative party in our politics.

The sense of distraction is deepened by the current, unaccountable romance, among conservatives, with a man who has cut his public figure by saying things once thought unsayable in public. This new figure has drawn an outsized following so far in a pro-life party without offering any reflections, precise and serious, on how he understands the issues of abortion and marriage – or what he is prepared to do in acting upon them.

The late, dear Charlie Rice of the law school at Notre Dame, used to buck me up and say, “Don’t despair; remember: you’re on the winning side.” And I would say, “You may be right, Charlie, but every so often it would be good to have a win.” He reflected here a Catholic joyousness and hope that ran to his core. It began with an angel saying, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”

We have seen ourselves the dramatic changes that have taken place, through conversion, in persons we know. And if it can happen with one, it can happen again, we know, with many. We have also seen recently the evidence of young people drawn by nothing more than religious persuasion, to a passion to sacrifice themselves in the slaughtering of the innocent. And if we know that can happen, why should we doubt that people can be reawakened, and summoned anew, by a religious truth that teaches the sanctity of human life?

We need, in this new year, a renewed hope, but it would help also to summon anew a certain clarity of mind.


Hadley Arkes

Hadley Arkes

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence Emeritus at Amherst College. He is also Founder and Director of the Washington-based James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights and the American Founding. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. Volume II of his audio lectures from The Modern Scholar, First Principles and Natural Law is now available for download.

  • Dave Fladlien

    There’s much truth in what you say. But I think a lot of the fault lies with us, the ordinary people. I realize many will disagree with me about what we were standing for, but please ignore that for a moment and consider: those of us who opposed it ended the war in Viet Nam, and ended the draft, even though war and the draft were far more popular in 1960 then abortion or same-sex “marriage” are today. We don’t win today in great part because we don’t demand performance from our leaders, and because we don’t stand together with others who share our beliefs. Specifically —

    1) it’s time we stop tolerating wimpy do-nothing bishops. If someone wants to live their properly formed conscience in private, fine. In my view they should. But when they use public office to lead an open rebellion against the Church, they can’t be part of the Church. Let’s *all* start demanding the excommunication of Pelosi, Biden, and the Supreme Court justices who supported same-sex marriage and Obamacare. Not just say it, tell our bishops to do it.

    2) Let’s stop worrying so much about whether we agree with other Christian religions on everything, and for the moment join with them to end the dominance of a small number of leftist writers and philosophers who use the lack of resistance from a bunch of sheep (us and our religious leaders) to rule this nation as if they were the majority when they are not. If all us Christians work together instead of fighting amongst ourselves, we will (relying of course on God’s Grace) get the job done.

    There’s more to it but for now, that will do. As we said in the 60’s: “The majority isn’t silent, the government is deaf.” Let’s make sure — only peacefully and lawfully, of course — that they start hearing us. How about that for our New Year’s resolution?

  • Rick

    Bracing? So true. The year hasn’t even happened yet and I think its epitaph has already been written. It’s hard to see hope during hopeless times. I am sorry to say it, but all I see is rot. I am so sick of the Kardashians, the Kaitlen Jenners, zombies, hip-hop, sexualized sitcoms, and unreasonable rate-of-returns on passbook savings accounts. Yet, I heard of a priest nearby who has reinstalled the communion rails at his church. Maybe I shouldn’t feel despair just yet…until his bishop makes him take them down.

  • Michael Dowd

    The best thing that could happen next year is for Pope Francis to become militantly Catholic or be replaced by someone who would. There has been little resistant by the Catholic Church over the years to the creeping culture of death. In fact, by watering down the faith the clergy has actually encouraged it and even, effectively, become an arm of the Democrat Party. I would not want to be a Bishop who acted in such a way come judgment day.

  • grump

    As a year ends, “hope” resurfaces like a drowning man desperately making a last futile gasp for a life preserver knowing full well that despite his cries for help he will inevitably sink to the bottom.

    I predict the first few weeks of 2016 will bring a spate of bad news and many New Year’s reservations, so firmly made in the first week of the month, will dissolve by month’s end as cold reality sinks in that human nature is unalterable.

    America’s descent in depravity and chaos is unstoppable especially if the liberals keep getting their way and Hillary takes the throne — a near certainty as the stupid and sated masses hold sway thanks to a complicit, groveling mainstream media.

    Lord Macaulay, addressing the US in 1857 was prescient:

    “Your republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by barbarians in the Twentieth
    Century as the Roman Empire was in the Fifth, with this difference; that the Huns and
    Vandals who ravaged the Roman Empire came from without and your Huns and Vandals
    will have been engendered within your own country, by your own institutions.”

    Abe Lincoln said pretty much the same thing a few years later.

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    You allude to Trump and Republicans who follow him blindly. Yes we need clarity of vision. What if the spiritual vision of a nation is clouded? “If then the light inside you is darkness, what depth of darkness will that be” (Mt 6:22-23). This blindness of a nation is a foreboding reminder of what happened during Germany’s Weimar Republic. If we weigh the outcome and annihilation of first gypsies, homosexuals, mentally handicapped, the deformed, communists, and finally Catholic clergy and millions of Jews to the annihilation of millions of innocent prenatal and many post natal infants and the dismantling of what it means to be a holy family the difference from a moral perspective is not great. We can add the impending incarceration of clergy and laity who will have the courage to resist and speak out. That was the prior death prediction of Archbishop George of Chicago.
    I shuddered when you spoke of new “surprises” bringing to mind the ‘spiritual surprises’ we have already endured and fearful of more to come. The image of Rio in darkness before dawn is a suggestion of hope. As Christians we remain deeply rooted in hope that doing our personal part in the works of grace, prayer and charity, we can change the course of history for the better.

    • Dave Fladlien

      Very well said, Father, to which I would add the very real danger I see that we may have to return to exclusively secret confession, lest all you Priests end up in prison for refusing to tell the authorities what you heard in confession.

      • Rick

        My confessions wouldn’t make it through the first script review of any of today’s top sitcoms: “Two and a Half Men”, “Big Bang Theory”, “Parks and Recreation”, “Keeping up with the Kardashians”, “Two Broke Girls”, “Obese Mike and Obese Molly”, etc, etc, etc.

        Of course, the worst thing to be in today’s world is a hypocrite. If you don’t believe in defined right/wrongs, nobody can ever accuse you of being a hypocrite, so, play it safe, be an agnostic.

  • James

    “We need, in this new year, a renewed hope, but it would help also to summon anew a certain clarity of mind.”
    Surely, this should begin in Rome, but as the past three years have brought us to realize, that is highly unlikely. Indeed, the upcoming years holds the promise of the pope’s concluding words on the recently staged synod. We all know what we can expect from that. Something between confusion, delusion and aberrance.

  • Rickage

    I am reminded of David Warren’s essay a few days ago. There is a battle going on in heaven. And we are reaping the results of our actions, or inactions. There is only way to win this battle said Warren, “With God, and alone with God, all things are possible. Without God, we are statistics: roadkill, merely.” The most dynamic religion of the last 100 years is secularism. 2016, an election year, portends more of the same.

  • Paul Ryan’s new budget, which trades fully funding Planned Parenthood for a few tax breaks for the rich, is all I need to know about the Republican party. We are living in an intensely anti-Catholic and anti-human society.

    • Chris Rawlings

      The fact that the GOP is marginally more pro-life than the Democrats does not in itself make the GOP a pro-life party. It isn’t. It is a marginally-more-pro-life-than-the-Democrats party, which, when you get down to it, is still really very dismal. Were it not for the unsettling fealty of pro-lifers to a party that spreads crumbs and dangles carrots in exchange for pro-life votes, our politics and the pro-life movement would be very different–maybe not much better, but probably more honest, which is something, after all.

    • TBill

      Justice Kennedy, a Republican appointee, put gay marriage over the top. The Republicans are the least bad of two poor choices. Best not to put our faith in princes.

  • I am not surprised at the slaughter of innocents, the deadening of hearts, the selfishness. That’s all to be expected. We are shattered into tiny pieces, pretending to be whole, making it up as we go from our convictions that our individual ways are always right. This is what Satan wants and too many of us are pleased to go along because it’s easier; our selfishness is combined with terminal sloth.

    Our job is to share the good news that there is hope despite the darkness. We are Christ’s and He is ours — what more do we need to hope? Christ has won the battle. Hope is His light in the darkness not halcyon days. The darkness is real, palpable, thick. It’s what we’ve been promised. And because the darkness is real, we can trust that hope is also real and that Christ will not disappoint us. So let’s keep busy with the Lord’s work.

  • Nancy Lynne

    Your worries are just like mine.

    • Faithful Catholic

      And mine also. I am not a supporter of Mr. Trump, but the issues brought up by Quo Vadis are more serious indeed.

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    Thanks to TCT for the beautiful rendition and photo collage of Palestrina’s Alma Redemptoris Mater. After today’s discussions it was a peaceful reminder of better things.

  • Fides

    The judicial acts of the SCOTUS in relation to the matter of defining marriage — was a long time coming. The Catholic Church specifically addressed this matter when they published the Beta version of the ‘New Catechism’ inaround 1993 — the compromise language in the translation regarding the identification of a subset of gender was well crafted to not state the truth of the matter asserted. The Church, and its leadership, is still struggling with the inability to address the truth of the matter being asserted. For instance in the California effort to define marriage — it was well known that the effort would lead to a review by the SCOTUS — the current fall out was not unexpected — it was anticipated.

    In 1976 it was made clear by Catholic leaders that the redefinition of gender distinctions was a non starter because anything less than male – female would fail in the procreation category and wither and waste on the roadside. The admonition at the time was that the issue was not about procreation but recruitment — that has not changed. There are many alive today that can attest to that fact both within the Catholic Church as priests and from within the lay community — arguing about procreation when its the recruitment was a defining moment among the young intellectuals who tried to remain faithful.

    The fact that these social changes being foisted are masquerading as tax or civil rights is confirmation that the leadership both within the Church and lay are unwilling to articulate and define the moral boundaries. Abortion, gender, education, immigration, environment and healthcare are but a few areas of focus —- for instance: Catholic Bishops and priest will advocate Cesar Chavez as an example of Catholic Social teaching — yet remain silent that his legacy endorses everything the Church opposes — no one even tries to reconcile the fact that Cesar was affirmative against ‘illegal aliens’ .

    Look, putting the tax status on the line to speak up for the truth of the matter was and is the call to make. The current paradigm is to pay for the abuse scandal — all the benefit of tax status lost has been lost— all because the leadership was wiling to allow gender confusion.

  • Alicia

    Will a lawyer, please, explain to me why the gay marriage decision by the Supreme Court, for only a few states, became the law of the land. Congress is the branch of government that passes laws and the Supreme Court is only supposed to make sure that laws passed by Congress are constitutional.
    If Congrees did not pass the the gay marriage law, why is it a law for the whole country ? The way I see it, it isn’t a law !
    Can this decision be appealed by anyone on the basis that it is not a law? By Congress ?

    • PCB

      Dear Alicia, I am not a lawyer, but I think your intuition may have placed you nearer to the truth than you may know; even more so than most of the judges and lawyers educated in the last 40 or 50 years; are you a student of Prof. Arkes? You may find his books to be very interesting reading.

      • Martha Rice Martini

        I AM a lawyer and agree that Alicia has a point. In principle, even the Supreme Court decides only the cases that come before it. If a decision lacks support in the Constitution, then, arguably, the President and the members of Congress, who are sworn to uphold the Constitution, can and even must ignore that decision. See Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address.

        • PCB

          Thank for your professional input – it is appreciated! I would only add, or perhaps state more explicitly, what I think is a logical implication of your assertion, that is, the President and Congress have not only the sworn duty to uphold the Constitution, but as a co-equal branch of the Federal government, they also have the prerogative, if not the duty, to interpret the Constitution – otherwise, the Supreme Court operates without checks, without balances – clearly not what the founders intended, (they couldn’t ever have intended to replace one monarch with nine oligarchs), but sadly, this is what has evolved due to a perversion of American Jurisprudence. So much, (and please do not be offended, it is not my intention to do so), has a clear understanding of the intent and foundation of the U.S. Constitution, and the origin of laws in general, been lost, that most in the legal profession are unable today to declare it with sufficient confidence, that this not in principle, but in fact, and not arguably, but in truth. If the Supreme Court is operating in any manner contrary to how it should act in principle, then it is most assuredly acting in un-Constitutional manner, and it should be publicly impeached by those sworn to uphold the Constitution.

          • PCB

            In due fairness, not to mischaracterize your statement, I should clarify, you are most correct (and as a lawyer, you know and understand this better than I) when you say, “In principle, even the Supreme Court decides only the cases that come before it.” Of course their rulings ripple out, in practice, in the form of precedent; and rightly so; however, this becomes an abuse by default or design, if/when the other co-equal branches, either out of ignorance or apathy, or political expediency, fail to check the Supreme Court, and they become (all three branches) equally in violation of the Constitution, in my non-lawyerly opinion.

      • Alicia

        Thank you, I’ll read Prof. Arkes.

    • Alicia

      Thank you PCB and Martha for your answers. Now I’m convinced the Founding Fathers must be turning in their graves.
      Sorry I didn’t write before but I was in the hospital and had emergency surgery. I’m fine now.
      Jefferson believed that people would eventually get it and put things right. But, when we have a president who, while smiling, proudly says that he doesn’t need congress because he has a pen and actually uses it to pass ‘ his own laws ‘ , then we’re really in trouble. It’s gone too far.
      God help us !

  • Parish Padre

    In my opinion, this Court opinion stands as the most insidious event of 2015.
    Not only does it eviscerating the meaning of marriage based in biology, but renders the Constitution meaningless in its restraint of the federal government.
    Is there anything the powers-that-be cannot now impose under the justification of “dignity”?

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    Actually grump I’d rather take my chances with Trump. She recently said Nationwide “Christians need to change their beliefs” to accommodate society. But then she does do a terrific fat lady laugh.