Let’s Build, But Expect No Help

It’s clear to me that faithful Catholics can expect no assistance, or at best little and tentative assistance, from the institutional Church as we try to reform old schools, establish new schools, reintegrate good to great art and music (across cultural and folk traditions) into our worship, help to resuscitate or recreate some of the many genres of the arts and crafts that have been lost, reform or found institutions of social welfare, revive a genuinely Catholic and Christian intellectual tradition across the disciplines, and – most important when it comes to the laity and what they are directly responsible for – preach and embody the virtues that make for coherent and vibrant family life.

That last point will require us to take a deep breath and stand against one form of sad and pathetic madness after another, regardless of the predictable calumnies we will be greeted with.

It will be said that we care more for sins of the flesh than for sins against the poor among us.  We may point out that what makes our commitment to those family-making virtues most urgent is that their abrogation harms poor people first and most terribly, and that it is impossible to raise a generation out of poverty without them, that such Catholics on the left as Chesterton and Maritain used to understand these things, and that the virtues are good and beautiful in their own right.

It will not matter.  We will not be heard.

We may say that it is incoherent to call Jesus our Lord on Sunday, but on all the other days of the week, at school, at work, and in the habits of our daily lives, to pretend that some other institution has a prior and more pressing claim on us – most obviously and obstreperously, the State, which now mimics God Himself in its attempts to be omniscient, omnipresent, and omnicompetent.

We may say that in its malignant growth, the State has ceased to do even the fundamental things that States are established to do; just as a school that presumes to remake mankind and reset human history has ceased to perform the work of a school.  We may say things that would sweep the political deck.

It will not matter.

We do not give up trying to make individual persons see the light.  Institutions, supposing that they can see at all, are another matter.  It is not wise to spend your energy trying to shore up a wall that is no longer a wall, but a crumble of sodden plaster and rotten wood.  It is a waste of time, and you may end up exhausted by failure after failure, so that it will be tempting for you to conclude that God wants the wall to be like that; it is a wall of development and not deterioration; it is the wall of the future.

Let it be.  Meanwhile, the work of rebuilding must be done, now, looking to the past for inspiration, to the present for immediate needs and resources, and to God’s good time in the future for whatever measure of fulfillment we may be granted.


Of course, I do not mean that everybody must be involved in every feature of the recovery, which will likely be slow and fitful. The vast machines of mass politics, mass entertainment, and mass schooling are united against us, along with the bad habits that these things have led us to acquire.

Let the artist recover his art, step by slow and uncertain step.  Let the family home be more of a home and less of a flophouse.  Let us all learn to read again.  It will not be easy.  But wonders await us, like the beautiful things of the natural world that we have forgotten how to behold.

Meanwhile, if we get drawn into the fighting and snarling against fellow Catholics, some of whom may be of good will but simply fooled by the mass phenomena, we will risk our sanity and our spiritual lives, and nothing productive will come of it.

We must do at least something that we can do.

Is the Latin Mass suppressed?  I speak as someone who does not attend that rite: we can readily respond by redoubling efforts to pray the traditional hours, and to sing the chants together. This is not disobedience.

Are we being bullied into turning a blind eye to violations of the created nature of man?  We will have to redouble our efforts to teach boys and girls how to befriend one another in healthy ways, and to get them together in an innocent enjoyment of youth, preparing for marriage.

We must not lose our joy.  The world is now an astonishingly bitter and lonely place.  You can see it in people’s eyes when you ride the train.  You can see it in the listlessness of college students at even the healthier places.  You can see it in the near complete withering of the love song in our time; in the collapse of marriage; in the default method in our schools, which is to belittle the greats and to kill wonder.

We, by contrast, must be attractive in our health and our good cheer, our bounty of marriages, our children shouting at play.

Get away from the old grumps stuck in the seventies.  They have nothing to say that we haven’t heard hundreds of times.  They have accomplished nothing.  Their project of sexual license, secularization of the schools, and trust in political machinery for the needs of man has had its play, and it is worse than a dead end.  It is a road that ends in a pit.

But no more of it.  Time to build, and if you get distracted by the noise and the catcalls of people who can’t admit their mistakes, put the earplugs in, or move to another untended ballfield, and play.

To hell with the frustration.  Build, read, sing, learn, marry, have children, worship, play.


*Image: The Prisoners by Giulio Romano, c. 1528 [Chamber of the Winds, Palazzo del Te, Mantua, Italy]

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. Among his books are Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World, and most recently The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, in Warner, New Hampshire. Be sure to visit his new website, Word and Song.