The Long and the Short of It

Every few months, I receive a message from one or another of our readers thanking us for The Catholic Thing, but wondering why we chose such an ugly/vague/meaningless/inscrutable/squirrely name for this distinguished series of daily columns. And as we begin fundraising, as we must today, for our annual mid-year campaign (information on how to donate below), it seems a good time to explain, yet again, how and why we decided to step out into the world of online commentary under the admittedly somewhat odd banner: The Catholic Thing.

To begin with, blame Hilaire Belloc (G.K. Chesterton’s comrade in arms, the other half of the Chesterbelloc). Belloc was a brilliant historian who, had he not been quite so combative a Catholic, would have become a celebrated professor at Oxford, where he had distinguished himself as an undergraduate. The centrality of the Church to our whole civilization was something he understood in his bones. And he knew what disasters would arise in a post-Christian world.

Today, we see them all around us.

Only a concrete and living reality could ward off or reverse those corruptions. As he put the case in a famous passage:  “My conclusion – and that of all men who have ever once seen it – is the Faith.  Corporate, organised, a personality, teaching.  A thing, not a theory.  It.”

Those of us who were present at the creation of the Thing you are now reading – several (Ralph McInerny, Michael Novak, James V. Schall, S.J., and Michael Uhlmann) have gone to their eternal rewards – believed that it’s necessary to remind people of that concrete thing, the Faith in the world, day after day. As we will have done for fourteen years now, come June 2.

From the beginning, we knew we wanted to carry out a two-part mission – the long and the short of It – so to speak. The long game has become, if anything, even more important over the years. Because as American and, more broadly, Western culture slip from their Christian moorings into the incoherence of reason without truth and of faith without a definite object, there’s no alternative for those of us still alive to the older thing but to bring forward its discarded riches again.

Readers sometimes write me to say that with all the struggles we face, we shouldn’t waste time on art, history, films, fiction, philosophy, theology, etc. We’ve got to concentrate on the short term, the political and cultural clashes that might still be won. Sometimes within the Church Herself.

We have – and will. But it’s precisely because many people are trying to fight battles using inadequate tools that the larger culture of Catholicism – the Catholic thing – is as essential, even to our social tussles, as concrete action.

Belloc was quite aware of those short-term tussles – and the solution – in his own time. When he was standing for Parliament to represent Salford South, and someone challenged his faith at a campaign event, he said, “Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. This [taking a rosary out of his pocket] is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative.”

Politicians typically avoid such blunt truths. Belloc didn’t. The crowd cheered – and he was elected.

*

It’s long past time for us all to demand American Catholics, running for office, be equally bold and honest. The mid-terms this Fall are a good moment to start. Otherwise – like the sad cases, from President Biden on down – “Catholic” candidates will merely continue to disgrace themselves and to dishonor the very name.

We are likely on the verge of a post-Roe era, years and probably decades when abortion and other culture wars will continue at the federal level. And we’ll need to stay at that task. But we’re now entering a time when real progress can come at the state and local levels. And will demand clear heads and stout hearts.

It won’t be pretty. It won’t be peaceful. But we intend to be in those battles as well. It’s what we’re all now called to do.

But there’s more, much more.

Just this weekend, we witnessed tens of thousands of people, mostly ill-educated young women, noisily insisting in public that their wellbeing and the health of American democracy depend on recognition of the right to kill unborn babies.

We all daily move among millions of fellow citizens who, not seeing that claim for what it is, engage in rationalizations – masquerading as moral reasoning – about when and under which circumstances and according to what utilitarian calculations about race, class, and gender, hundreds of thousands of innocent lives may, year by year, be killed.

When you really face up to these concrete things in our world, the need for the concrete Catholic thing, in both the long and short games, becomes startlingly clear.

It’s strange, for example, that few people talk these days about real education – except when some controversy arises over something like whether it’s okay to introduce young children to “non-binary” sexual categories. Meanwhile, the longer-term questions of forming children and our entire society to truth and virtue – and God – go all but undiscussed.

If the adults are going to tackle those questions, they too need stronger formation these days. And we’re doing what we can on that front as well. Besides the material we provide here daily, we’ve begun a series of courses in classical Catholic subjects. I’ve already introduced several thousand of you to Dante’s Divine Comedy and Augustine’s Confessions. And we’ve got other sweets in preparation for this Fall.

Fr. Gerald Murray is this very week in the middle of teaching a course on his book Calming the Storm, which brings the fullness of Catholic thought to bear on the crises in the contemporary Church and the world.

And we’re now administering a wealth of online courses prepared for the International Catholic University – a brainchild of Ralph McInerny’s, whose course on Aquinas is one not to miss.

And we’re working on young adults (See Summer Seminar ad in the right column.)

In days to come, we’ll be working out some even bigger plans.

Which is why I turn to you our readers with confidence that, as in the past, you will do your part in this essential work. These are tough times economically. Those of us who can must do more than before. But any and all help moves many things along.

It’s easy enough. Click the “Give today” image below. Follow the simple instructions. Become part of this Thing we all cherish, and help us to make sure it goes on in this crucial year – and for many years to come.

 

*Image: Conversation piece (G.K. Chesterton; Maurice Baring; Hilaire Belloc) by Sir James Gunn, 1932 [National Portrait Gallery, London]

You may also enjoy:

David G Bonagura, Jr.’s Why Catholicism is the True Religion

Cardinal Gerhard L. Mueller’s On the New TLM Restrictions

Robert Royal

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.

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