“The Catholic thing – the concrete historical reality of Catholicism – is the richest cultural tradition in the world. It was born from Judaism and, through that spiritual parentage, even reaches back into the great ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. In its early days, it confronted, absorbed, and redirected what was then the most sophisticated society in existence, Greco-Roman culture. When that culture fell, Catholicism preserved what it could and rebuilt the rest over centuries, incorporating new influences from Northern Europe and, during the great age of exploration, from the entire globe. Today, it numbers over a billion souls on every continent. Despite its all-too-human imperfections, there is simply nothing like it.”
One month from today will mark exactly ten years since I wrote those words (in 2008). I wanted to describe the “deep background” from which we set out in publishing The Catholic Thing– and the cultural richness we hoped to bring to bear on the contemporary world. Things were already quite troubled in American and global culture, not least, as I then thought, because contemporary culture thinks of itself as quite sophisticated and “open.” But – advances in science and technology notwithstanding – has there ever been a shallower, narrower, more narcissistic, self-satisfied, and historically ignorant, spiritually impoverished, materialistic, impulsive, and unreflective culture than ours?
And does anyone think that the situation of the Church or the world is better, a decade later, than it was on June 2, 2008? Back then, we had no gay marriage; no “trans” craze; a Church that was clear on Communion for the divorced and remarried and that was still not quite considered a hate group; “smart” phones hadn’t yet erased much in-person social interaction. It’s almost hard to remember that world.
Despite all that, we’ve stayed at the task at hand, because to give up, despite the overwhelming odds against what we try to do, would be to capitulate to multiple forms of barbarism. It would also be a failure to stay faithful – to both the evangelizing and civilizing mission of the Church.
Culture is a difficult human reality to reform because, at bottom, no one is in control of it in the way someone can be of, say, a government or economic enterprise. Yet the cultural battle today is central, far more wide-ranging and urgent even than threats of war or environmental problems. Indeed, we won’t be able to meet those other challenges well unless we first know who we are and what we are called to do in this world
Our universities, for example, have become a-cultural – almost anti-cultural – preferring a facile mix of race, class, and gender clichés to their traditional task of forming young people to know something of the best of what has been thought and said by the best human minds. Who now learns there to reason carefully, and to understand the complexities and paradoxes of human life? Or to write, speak, and act with wisdom?
A slick popular magazine recently published a list of twenty-five classic books that are NOT must-reading, among them: the Bible. You don’t have to be a believer to know that this reflects unprecedented cultural self-mutilation. The Old and New Testaments have shaped not just religious thought but human history over millennia and around the globe as no other books. Not to know its stories and teachings is to place yourself outside the main dwellings of the human race.
There is no easy way to turn around a civilization that seems bent on committing suicide. But those of us who know Christian history and culture also know that a few individuals – Abraham setting out with his family from Ur of the Chaldees, Jesus of Nazareth (a provincial backwater) gathering together a mere dozen apostles – can change the world. It’s simply the case that people who boldly try to confront some crisis – a Francis of Assisi, Dominic Guzman, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola – can reform and revive entire cultures.
In our own modest way, we’ve seen the results of being faithful to the truth. We started out with a mailing list of around 2000 people who had been following the work of the Faith & Reason Institute, the parent organization of The Catholic Thing. We weren’t sure that even those 2000 would be interested in our daily columns. We now have over 35,000 daily subscribers, and there are days when 50,000 people show up at our site. We’ve had 23-million page views since we started.
I have to keep reminding people that we also appear regularly in five foreign languages – French, Italian, Spanish, Slovak, Portuguese, thanks to relationships we have with publications abroad. And we get almost daily requests for permission to translate from other nations. In just the past week alone, I’ve heard from Byelorussia, Argentina, Italy – and we’ve had requests from places like Brazil, even Kazakhstan and Denmark, among others.
And we don’t only do columns. Partly in overlap with the EWTN Papal Posse, we’ve provided daily reports on: the last conclave, the canonizations of John XXIII and JPII, both synods on the family, the papal trip to Cuba and the United States. And we’ll be covering the Youth Synod this Fall, the Amazonian Synod on the possibility of married priests, events related to the revisiting of Humanae Vitae, and much more.
For these and many other reasons, I come to you (only twice a year) to ask for your financial help. It’s quite easy to donate now, by check or credit card. You can click here and follow the instructions; or if you’d like to make some special arrangements just write us ([email protected]). All donations are entirely tax-deductible.
I’d like the next month, as we approach our tenth anniversary, to be a special time of reflection on our mission, but also a special show of support for the work. So please help us. There’s much yet to do for The Catholic Thing.