Pollitt On Pope Francis and Catholic Conservatism — February 2017

The well-known face of Catholic conservatism and opposition to Pope Francis, Cardinal Raymond Burke, told a congregation in Kansas City recently: “When the shepherd becomes a wolf, the first duty of the flock is to defend itself.” This, again, is a sign that the honeymoon phase of this papacy is something of the past. Earlier this month posters appeared all over Rome depicted a stern-looking pope with the question: “Where’s your mercy?” printed on them. Some speculated that Burke was part of this campaign. And, on a Sunday visit to a parish in Rome, Pope Francis warned that a vendetta and talking behind people’s backs is “not Christian”. Will Pope Francis go head-to-head with his most vociferous detractors? By RUSSELL POLLITT.

It is no secret that Pope Francis’s reform of the Catholic Church, and his more pastoral approach to doctrinal issues, has allowed deep-seated tensions within the Church to surface. Tensions have always existed – even though some would never dare to admit this. The difference is that under Francis’s leadership these tensions have not been pushed under the proverbial carpet. During the reign of John Paul ll difference was frowned upon. In fact, John Paul ll clamped down on and silenced several theologians who proffered a different opinion. It was better to present a unified front even though tensions simmered just below the surface. Francis, on the other hand, has created a space in which people can speak their minds and, of course, differ. Hierarchs differing is one thing, but going all out to discredit the pope is another, though.

Pope Francis’s publication of Amoris Laetitia (his post-synodal document on family life) has caused strong debate for almost a year. Conservatives think that the pope has been too lax and opened the door for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Church’s sacraments. Progressive Catholics have appreciated the pope’s more pastoral and welcoming approach to the divorced and remarried and gay people. (The Catholic Church barred divorced and remarried Catholics from receiving communion unless they had obtained an annulment.)

Late last year conservative American cardinal, Raymond Burke, together with three other cardinals (Italian Carlo Caffarra and Germans Walter Brandmüller and Joachim Meisner), wrote a letter to Pope Francis in which they asked him to clarify his stance, especially on the issue of the reception of communion in the document. They raised five “dubia” (literally “doubts”) about what the pope had said in Amoris Latetia. Their concerns about the document centred on what they said it had provoked among Catholics, “uncertainty, confusion and disorientation.”

This is not entirely true. Many Catholics welcomed the document and liked the new approach which was regarded as reaching out to people and taking the reality of their struggles and lives seriously. Francis did not respond and so the four cardinals went public. Burke threatened to publicly correct the pope. He claims that the pope is basically in doctrinal error. In 2014 Burke said that the Catholic Church under Francis was like “a ship without a rudder”.

Burke himself is no stranger to controversy. He attracted lot of attention a few years ago when he made headlines for dressing up in archaic lace vestments and the now defunct cappa magna (literally “great cape”) – a voluminous long train which used to be worn by cardinals.

He had been removed by Pope Francis from a senior position in 2014, head of the Vatican’s highest court, the Apostolic Signatura. Francis appointed him to serve as patron of the Knights of Malta – an ancient chivalrous order that enjoys the international equivalence of a state and has observer status at the UN. The order maintains a worldwide prestigious membership and takes care of thousands of charitable causes. In short, it has something of the status of a sovereign “state”. Burke was also taken off the influential Congregation of Bishops – the department of the Vatican responsible for recommending new bishops to the pope for places around the world.

More recently he ran afoul with the pontiff for his involvement in a controversy with the leadership of the Knights of Malta. In December, the Grand Chancellor of the Order, Albrecht von Boeselager was asked to step down. The pretext for this was that, while in charge of the humanitarian wing of the organisation, other partner organisations funded by them had distributed condoms in AIDS prevention projects among the poor. Boeselager had long been investigated and cleared. Burke commissioned a traditionalist organisation to investigate and provide fresh evidence.

Initial reports claimed that the Order’s Grand Knight, Matthew Festing, had asked Boeselager to resign while Burke sat silently present. Boeselager claimed that the cardinal had invoked the pope’s authority for the dismissal. Burke denied this. Later, in the Austrian daily newspaper, Der Standard, Ludwin Hofmann von Runerstein, who was also present at the meeting, said that it was Burke who told Boeselager to quit. Pope Francis was accused of interfering in the sovereignty of the order and came under fire from traditionalists. (Ironically, when John Paul ll had interfered in the running of other religious orders, like the Jesuits and Franciscans, there was never an outcry from traditionalists.) It turns out, however, that it was not Francis but Burke himself who had violated the sovereignty of the order.

Eventually the head of the order, Matthew Festing, resigned in January – for seemingly colluding with Burke – and the organisation was placed under a papal delegate until a new leader is elected. This move, in effect, also meant that Burke was replaced by another prelate.

Days after the Knights saga played out it emerged too that Burke has met with right-wing Italian nationalist and head of the Northern League Party, Matteo Salvini, in early February. Salvini is a Donald Trump supporter and strong critic of the pope’s outreach to migrants and refugees. It is curious that Burke meets with political leaders like Salvini. The Vatican has a diplomatic machine that is quite capable of dealing with politics. It suggests, again, that Burke has an agenda. The Washington Post published a scathing attack on Burke under the headline “How Pope Francis can cleanse the far-right rot from the Catholic Church”. In the op-ed Emma-Kate Symons pointed out that Burke made “a flagrant political intervention on the side of the extreme-right racist grouping ahead of the Italian elections”.

Three days before Burke went to the US to speak in Kansas the New York Times revealed how Burke had met with the Trump administration’s White House strategist, Stephen Bannon in 2014. Bannon went to Rome looking for a correspondent for his alt-right Breitbart News. He found a correspondent and also met Burke. The New York Times article has, as its central thesis, that the election of Trump and the rise of Bannon is being seen by Catholic traditionalists as a chance to derail the agenda of Pope Francis. The article claims that Burke and Bannon keep in touch.

Days after Burke’s sermon in Kansas one of the members of the pope’s special advisory council – the so-called C9 – Cardinal Reinhard Marx (considered a theological and ecclesial heavyweight) reiterated that support for Pope Francis was “substantial”. Marx told journalists that there were tensions in the church because “differences of opinion have always been there”. He added: “It will be forever like this.”.The C9 had issued a statement in which they reiterated their support for Pope Francis. The cardinals – from Australia, Austria, Chile, Germany, India, Honduras Congo, Italy and the US – normally issue statements at the end of their regular meetings with the pope. The statement last week expressing solidarity with the pope was out of the ordinary. The statement may have been in response to the posters around Rome questioning the pope’s decisions – like not answering the “dubia” or placing a papal delegate in-charge of the Knights of Malta. The statement may also be a subtle response to Burke’s opposition.

What will Francis do? Will he defrock Burke? Being made cardinal is, after all, a privilege – it is conceivable that the pope could remove Burke. Church law says that this is possible for a “grave cause”. It is unlikely, however, that Francis will do this. First, he has said nothing about defrocking any of his detractors. Second, Francis is unlikely to remove him because he has stressed repeatedly the need for people to speak openly and freely and enter dialogue. Third, removing Burke would make him a martyr for the conservative cause, something Francis would want to avoid. Fourth, although he often grabs headlines, Burke represents, it seems, a small arch-conservative Catholic constituency (mostly American) with money, whose “influence” is unfortunately rooted in their ability to buy and maintain space in the blogosphere. In the greater scheme of things, he is not as influential as he may think or seem. Fifth, Francis had effectively “retired” Burke already when he removed him from his position in Rome and made him the patron of the Knights of Malta. The order simply does not matter much in the present-day Vatican.

So Francis will, most likely, do nothing. His closest collaborators, the C9, have come out in support of him. The wisest thing would be for him to leave Burke and his allies to get on with whatever it is that they are doing. Francis has made it clear that there are bigger issues at stake: the plight of migrants, the world economy, leadership and the plight of the poor. He played an important role in engineering the thawing of the relationship between Cuba and the US. He has a vision of a church that is much more engaged, open and welcoming. He is unlikely to be derailed by the likes of Burke.

Francis still enjoys worldwide popularity, and is respected by Catholics and non-Catholics. As many people recoil against the current right-wing populist rants of some powerful public figures, Francis may even gain stature, being the voice of reason, moderation and tolerance.

It is mischievous, but perhaps more apt to warn: when the shepherd wears lace, be concerned. DM

Photo: Cardinal Burke at Saint Francies de Sales for Solemn Te Deum and Benediction (Photo by Phil Rousin via Flickr)


Regis College educators training for same-sex issues

Regis College educators training for same-sex issues

By  Jean Ko Din, The Catholic Register

  • October 23, 2016

Regis College at the University of Toronto is training Catholic educators on how to provide pastoral care for students who are homosexual, confused about their sexuality or feel conflicted with their physical gender.

As part of the College’s Professional Development Certificate program, Fr. Gilles Mongeau is conducting a three-lecture series to unpack “Pastoral Guidelines to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation,” published by the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario education commission.

“Our purpose at Regis in offering this mini-course is practical,” said Mongeau. “Given the pastoral guidelines… How can the various actors in a Catholic high school implement practices that are appropriate to their role to ensure that LGBT students feel safe, are informed and receive the psychological and pastoral accompaniment that can help them flourish as persons and as disciples of Christ.”

Mongeau said educators within the Catholic high school system need to be equipped because it is within this age range that students begin to explore their sense of identity and sexuality.

Mongeau said educators and other concerned lay people are not without resources. This document, originally published in 2004 and updated inMay, is a good start.

“One of the real breakthroughs in the update of last May, there is an insistence that wasn’t so clear in the original document that we begin with persons, real persons,” he said.

Mongeau said moral theology is not a good substitute for good psychology. Discussions in moral theology within the mini-course, which began Oct. 13 and runs to Nov. 3, will not help the teacher or the chaplain who is in front of a teenager who needs to have a conversation.

Instead, the lecture series will provide workable teachings that will help educators understand their role in accompanying LGBT youth.

“We start from psychological health and from there, we invite people to a discernment on how they want to live their life and their vocation,” said Mongeau.

The Church does not take an official position on the psychological causes of sexual orientation or issues of gender identity. Therefore, Mongeau asserts that educators can look to what psychological studies are saying about sexual orientation and gender identity.

“First and most important thing to remember is that a homosexual orientation is not a psychological disorder,” said Mongeau. “I shouldn’t have to say that but the reality is that it is still, in some circles of the Church, understood and it’s even believed that the Church teaches… this is simply not what psychology tells us.”

Modern psychological studies agree that homosexual orientation does not lead to more or less maladjustment than those with a heterosexual orientation. As such, the role of the educator is not to correct or repair.

“Mainly, the educator needs to respect what’s going on in (counselling) and then accompany the student in terms of the faith dimension of that,” said Mongeau. “The educator will help the student that struggling with, ‘Did God give me this body that I struggle with, that is uncomfortable?’ That’s a big faith question and the psychologist can’t help the teenager with that but a good high school chaplain can.”

Mongeau said that because studies in gender identity and gender dysphoria are a new field of knowledge, this is a more difficult topic to address.

Gender dysphoria is when a person experiences persistent feelings of identification with the opposite sex and distress with one’s own biological sex.

During the three-lecture series, Mongeau aims to “debunk myths and break down nuances of understanding.”




Sunday, March 19th 2017, Third Sunday of Lent

Liturgy Resources, March 19-26, 2017, Day by Day Edition

Lectionary 28:  1)       Exodus 17:3-7;   2)   Ps 95:1-2, 6-9;   3)   Romans 5:1-2, 5-8;   4)   John 4:5-42 or 4:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42.


FOCUS:          Christ offers all people the living water of salvation.To those who thirst for truth in this world, our Christian faith offers the living waters of baptism and life in Christ. So many in our world are like the woman in the Gospel, isolated and afraid, often living on the fringes, looking for something or someone in whom to place their trust and faith. Let us pray they turn to Christ.                                                                                                                                                       Jesus satisfies our thirst for eternal life (3). Through his Spirit his grace has been poured into our hearts (2). God satisfies the thirst of the Israelites (1) whose hearts had become hardened and rebellious (Ps).


In the first reading, fear and need cause Israel to grumble against Moses and the Lord. God responds with water flowing from the rock. The second reading reminds us that salvation is a gift, granted through the cross of Jesus. In the Gospel, Jesus encounters a broken woman at the well. His words renew her and change her life.                                                                                                                                            •      The first presentation to the elect is that of the Creed, made during the week following the first scrutiny (RCIA, 157-163).

PN Readings no. 236 (Ex 17:1-7 Ps 95:1-2, 6-9 in 4:5-42), together with the prop Pf of this Sunday, may be used on any Lenten feria this week, especially in years B and C, when the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman is not read on the Third Sunday of Lent.


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Monday, March 20, 2017       ST. JOSEPH Spouse of the Blessed Virgin

Mary – Solemnity

Lectionary 543:  2 Samuel 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16;  2)   Ps 89:2-5, 27, 29:    3)   Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22;   4)   Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a or Luke 2:41-51a.


 FOCUS:          Following the example of Abraham and Saint Joseph helps us lead lives that are right in the sight of God. The hand of God has ordered all things so that we may be right and just through his son, Jesus. It is by faith that we give our lives over to Jesus and to the will of God. We are blessed to have examples of faith that led to righteousness in Abraham and Saint Joseph. Following their examples, we can rest assured that our lives are right in the sight of God. An heir of David (1, Ps) and son of Joseph and Mary (3b), Jesus brings forgiveness (3a) through the gift of faith (2).


The first reading tells of God instructing the prophet Nathan to go tell King David that God would make his house and his kingdom endure forever. The second reading reminds us that faith is essential in order to be righteous before God. Today’s Gospel recalls Joseph being faithful to the Lord’s command spoken by an angel to take Mary as his wife.

Joseph: honored on 19 March since the end of the 10th c; declared Patron of the Universal Church in 1870 by Pope Pius IX and Guardian of the Redeemer in 1989 by Pope John Paul II; patron of workers and carpenters; also of Austria, Belgium, Bohemia, Canada, Mexico, Peru, and (south) Vietnam; mentioned in the Roman Canon.

PN It is the custom in some places today to bless bread, pastries, and other food and to give a large portion of it to the poor. For the Order for the Blessing of St. Joseph’s Table, see BB, nos. 1679-1700. See also HB, 140-141.



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Tuesday, March 21, 2017       TUESDAY OF THIRD WEEK OF LENT

Lectionary 238:  1)     Daniel 3:25, 34-43;   2)   Ps 25:4-9;    3)   Matthew 18:21-35.


FOCUS:          Let us approach the Lord with humble and contrite hearts. God does not desire that we offer grand gestures to express our love and reverence for him. Rather, we are to express our reverence through a humble, contrite heart that acknowledges our need for God’s love, mercy and goodness.  And then, as we are changed by God’s love and mercy, we are to love others and be ever-willing to forgive. If we wish to follow the Lord’s ways (Ps) unreservedly (1), we must forgive one another from the heart (2).


In the first reading, Azariah pleads for God’s mercy on behalf of the people. He acknowledges their need for God, and asks: Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy. In the Gospel, Jesus uses a parable to explain to his disciples that for one to be forgiven by God, one must forgive others from one’s heart.



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Wednesday, March 22, 2017  WEDNESDAY OF THIRD WEEK OF LENT

Lectionary 239:  1)     Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9;  2)  Ps 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20;                              3)  Matthew 5:17-19.


FOCUS:          Make God’s law known to your children. Obedience to God’s commandments leads to wisdom and right judgment. God calls us to learn and live by his law, and to teach others to do the same so that more and more people may come to know the manifold blessings from living by his law of love. Israel is exhorted to keep God’s covenant (1) which has been pro­claimed (Ps). Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets (2).


In the reading from Deuteronomy, the Lord tells his people that by living according to his statutes and ordinances, other nations will see them as a great nation that is truly a wise and intelligent people. In the Gospel, Jesus teaches the disciples that he has not come to abolish but to fulfill the law.



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Thursday, March 23, 2017      THURSDAY OF THIRD WEEK OF LENT

Optional Memorial: Saint Turibius of Mogrovejo, Bishop.

Lectionary 240:  1)  Jeremiah 7:23-28;   2)   Ps 95:1-2, 6-9;   3)   Luke 11:14-23.


FOCUS:          Fidelity to Jesus means fidelity to his authority. Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul. Like today, many then were trying to undermine the authority of Christ by calling into doubt his identity. So, for those present, Jesus made it clear that whoever was not with him was against him. He counsels us, then, to stay faithful to him or risk being scattered. Return to the Lord and be one with him (2). Listen (Ps) to his voice and obey his commands (1).


The first reading from Jeremiah recounts the infidelity of the people of Israel, who time and again betray their loyalty to the Lord. God sends Jeremiah to preach the truth. Jesus, in the Gospel, casts out a demon but is accused of doing so by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Jesus makes it clear that whoever is not with him is against him.

Toribio, †1606; from Salamanca; as a layman, he was the chief judge of the Inquisition at Granada; as archbishop of Lima, he presided over the III Council of Lima (1583); established the first seminary in the Americas; sought to alleviate poverty among the native population; contemporary of Rose of Lima; patron of Latin American bishops.



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Friday, March 24, 2017          FRIDAY OF THIRD WEEK OF LENT

Lectionary 241:  1)     Hosea 14:2-10;  2)   Ps 81:6c-11b, 14, 17;   3)   Mark 12:28-34.



FOCUS:          Love is the thread that weaves our lives together with our heavenly Father. Loving God with one’s whole being and loving one’s neighbor as oneself leads to keeping the rest of the commandments, for love fulfills the law. Understanding this, let us ask God each day for the grace to continually grow in our love for him and our love for others. By observing the two great commandments (2), you will walk in the paths of the Lord (1, Ps).


The first reading from Hosea exhorts the people of Israel to turn back to the Lord and ask forgiveness for their sins, which will bring them forgiveness, healing and renewal. In the Gospel, Jesus teaches that the two greatest commandments are loving God with one’s whole being and loving one’s neighbor as oneself.



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Saturday, March 25, 2017      THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE LORD – SOLEMNITY

Lectionary 545:   1)    Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:10;   2)   Ps 40:7-11;    3)   Hebrews 10:4-10;                                           4)   Luke 1:26-38.


FOCUS:          Let us willingly place our trust in God’s design for our lives. Today’s readings serve as a reminder that God’s designs for our lives exceed even our wildest imaginations. God invites us into co-creating our lives through our hopes and dreams. But, like Mary, our limited understanding cannot envision the totality of God’s grand design. And, like Mary, our calling is to trust God and willingly place ourselves at the disposal of that design. The Lord will give a sign (1): a child who has come to do God’s will (Ps, 2), shall be conceived by the Spirit (3).


In the first reading, Ahaz is invited by God to ask for a sign. Ahaz is fearful to do so. The second reading recounts that Christ’s sacrifice is the quintessential offering that saves the world. The Gospel reading is the Annunciation, in which Mary is invited to bear the Christ child. In humility, she offers her fiat.

  • Tomorrow, the second scrutiny of the catechumens may take place (RCIA, 164-170). The proper ritual prayers and intercessions are used, as found in the Roman Missal. The readings are as below, from Year A (31): the Man Born Blind.
  • The Fourth Sunday of Lent, is traditionally known as Laetare Sunday, so-called from the first word of the antiphon at the Introit (Entrance Antiphon). Laetare (“Rejoice”), taken from the Latin translation of Is 66:10-11, sets a tone of joyful anticipation of the Easter mystery, as does the permitted use of rose-colored vestments. Likewise, instruments may also be played at Mass and the altar may be decorated with flowers.



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Lectionary 31: 1)  1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a;   2)   Ps 23:1-6;    3)   Ephesians 5:8-14;    4)   John 9:1-41 or 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38.



FOCUS:          The blind man’s conversion of heart stands in stark contrast to the stubborn blindness of the Pharisees. Observing how a blind person negotiates his or her way through life is inspiring. Observing blindness of heart, however, is troubling. Those who are blind to the truth often stumble through life because of obstacles they place in their own paths. When we seek the truth of the Gospel, we are like the blind man who came to believe in the Son of Man. Samuel does not see as God sees (1) in the choice of David, who is anointed with oil (Ps). As Jesus cures the blind man (3), so too are we brought from darkness into light (2) through the grace of baptism.


At first, Samuel judges by appearances, then he is reminded by God to judge the heart in order to find a worthy candidate to anoint as king. Saint Paul challenges us to live as children of light. In the Gospel, we have a man, blind from birth, move from seeing Jesus as a prophet to seeing Jesus as the Promised One, while the blindness of the Pharisees remains.

PN Readings no. 243 (Mi 7:7-9 Ps 27:1, 7-9,13-14 in 9:1-41), together with the prop Pf of this Sunday, may be used on any day this week, especially when the Gospel of the Man Born Blind is not read on the Fourth Sunday of Lent.



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Reflection – Sunday, March 19, 2017 Third Sunday of Lent

The number of rules and conventions Jesus destroys in this Gospel text are almost too numerable to count. Throw­ing caution to the wind he sits with a Samaritan woman. Students of the Old Testament know what happens between women and men at wells. Now, of course, Jesus isn’t going to marry her, but a bond of truthfulness is formed. She grows to know him for who he is. Her self-hatred, doubts, and rigid rules are washed away in the flowing water of love. Do we allow the same thing to happen within us?               Today is the first Scrutiny for those preparing to receive the initiation sacra­ments at the Easter Vigil. The elect are called to discern in their life what needs to be washed away. Daily Prayer 2017, LTP, page 113.

March 19-25

Third Week of Lent

‘Within the Word

The Gift of Living Water

It is said that the next major wars will be fought over water, not oil. There are growing concerns over the increasing demand for fresh, clean water as the supply is decreasing. Today’s challenges about ensuring access to safe water for every human being is one entry point to reflection on Sunday’s gospel, which centers on thirst for living water that is eternally replenished. The account opens with a tired and thirsty Jesus asking a woman of Samaria for water. Like millions of women who even today spend hours of their day collecting water, the Samaritan woman comes, perhaps for a second time that day, to draw water. Most women would come to the well early in the morning, not at the hottest part of the day.

Most likely the Fourth Evangelist intends the noontime detail to be taken symbolically. In this gospel, light signifies coming to belief, while darkness corresponds to unbelief. In contrast with the preceding story of Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night, and who is unable to believe, the woman of Samaria comes at the brightest part of the day and will come to full belief.

Jesus and the woman enter into a deep theological conver­sation, laden with symbolism. As often happens in the Fourth Gospel, the two are cast as representative characters for the whole of their people. They begin by speaking of their thirsts, their shared human need, and this enables a conversation by which they can begin to break down the enmity between their two peoples. Elsewhere in the gospel, Jesus speaks of his thirst to draw all people to God through himself (12:32) and of his desire for all to be one (17:21).

Step by step Jesus and the woman reveal themselves more deeply to each other. They speak of some of their deepest thirsts: for worship, salvation, and the search for truth. They listen intently and allow their perceptions of the other to shift, just as we may need to change our former impressions of the Samaritan woman The focus of the dialogue is not on her marital history nor is she said to be a sinner. Jesus does not tell her to go and sin no more, as he does to the man at the pool of Bethesda who had been paralyzed (John 5:14) or to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11).

The woman’s understanding of Jesus progresses from the simple observation that he is a Jew to pondering whether he is greater than Jacob. Another step is her recognition of him as a prophet when he uses the marital metaphor favored by Hosea to speak of the peoples’ relationship with God. Finally, she arrives at the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah, which she shares with her townspeople, so that they too can enter into the process of discovery that will culminate in faith.

This encounter illustrates a process by which enmity can be transformed into friendship. The two start by focusing on common thirsts that spring from their shared humanity. They had to let go of their ingrained stereotypes of the other, and they had to stop avoiding each other. They had to be willing to stay in the conversation for a good deal of time and not give up when they stumbled over their differences. They had to be willing to overcome the objections of some of their own people. They had to be willing to stay with one another. As the waters of understanding wash away ignorance and fear, the gift of living water wells up within them, making each one a spring from which others who thirst may drink.

—Sr. Barbara Reid, Abiding Word

Barbara Reid, OR is professor of New Testament and vice president and academic dean at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.      Give Us This Day, Liturgical Press, pages 204-205.204-205.



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Reflection – Monday, March 20, 2017                                                             Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

This is the story of the solemn covenant made with King David. Despite David’s failures, God reaches out and makes a promise to him. We look to this story as we remember Joseph. The genealogy of the Gospel of Matthew says that Joseph is a descendent of David, but the contrast is striking. There is much writ­ten on David, little about Joseph. David’s sins are legendary; Joseph is peaceful. The faith of both men, though, is rooted in their relationship with God. When Joseph finds out Mary is preg­nant, he feels compassion and does not expose her to the law. He trusts in dreams. Where is our faith rooted? When temptations arise, where do we turn? Do we find solace in our heart or in laws and convention? Daily Prayer 2017, LTP, page 114.



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Reflection – Tuesday, March 21, 2017 Lenten Weekday

The Book of Daniel is set in the time of the Babylonian captivity. The people are removed from all that they know. In many ways they have been brought low and destroyed. But the covenant with God is not null and void. No matter what had happened, the author of this prayer knows that God is there. God is always there. Do we know this? Has this Lent revealed to us sins, deep and dark? Has our life become a shell of what it was? God is there. Are there pains and sorrows so hurtful we keep them locked away? God is there. Let us open our­selves to the Lord and allow God to sit with us in our pain.     Daily Prayer 2017, LTP, page 115.



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Reflection – Wednesday, March 22, 2017 Lenten Weekday

Memories. The Scriptures are based on them. Family dinners are filled with them. Memories tell us who we are. Moses, after telling the people to keep laws, urges them with even more vigor to remember. These memories are what shall be taught from generation unto generation. It’s more than history; it’s identity. What are your faith memories?                                                                                                                                     How do they define you? Sunday morn­ing Mass with a dinner afterwards? Your mother praying the Rosary when grandma was sick? Funerals filled with deepest mourning, yet still the Paschal candle stands by the coffin? First Communion and the party afterward? What were you taught and why do you remember?                                                                            Daily Prayer 2017, LTP, page 116.



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Reflection – Thursday, March 23, 2017 Lenten Weekday

Jeremiah hears the crux of the Sinai Covenant: “I will be your God and you shall be my people. However, the fun­damental problem is that the people do not listen. In the midst of their everyday lives they have lost sight of the basics. They cannot be faithful if they miss this essential point. Throughout Lent we fast

and abstain from meat on Fridays. Per­haps our parish participates in the annual Catholic Relief Service’s Rice Bowl program. Consider today why you participate in fasting and sacrifice.       Daily Prayer 2017, LTP, page 117.



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Reflection – Friday, March 24, 2017      Lenten Weekday

Worshipping a piece of stone seems silly to us. But don’t we do the same thing? We look admiringly at the rich and famous and long for luxurious homes and goods. There is no end to our desire for consumption. When a new phone, computer, tablet, or other technology is marketed, we often think we need it. Our wants are so often called needs and though technology was meant to free up our lives, we often find it hard to spend time with the Lord. Where is our heart? Who is our God? What are we realizing about ourselves this Lent?             Daily Prayer 2017, LTP, page 118.



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Reflection – Saturday, March 25, 2017                                                              Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

The liturgical year provides a vision of Jesus’ conception. Within a week we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph and hear of his role in accepting Mary’s pregnancy and the Annunciation and Mary’s “yes” to God. Both stories call for human collaboration. God’s will in the here and now demands our “yes.” Let us model ourselves after Mary. How is God asking for our involvement in the building up of the Lord’s Reign? Is it through working for care for the envi­ronment or a nonviolent world?                                                                 Daily Prayer 2017, LTP, page 119.



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Reflection – Sunday, March 26, 2017      Fourth Sunday of Lent

Most of us cannot imagine blindness. We’ve always been able to see. Spiritual blindness, however, is more common. For example, we look back in history and can’t imagine how people could own slaves and still consider themselves good Christians. Blindness still exists and we need to hear this reading often. The Pharisees’ blindness is called out by Jesus. What about our own? Do we judge others and not see our sinfulness? What about our prejudices? Do we hide behind language such as “hate the sin but love the sinner”? We need to be careful of our attitudes. Let’s start today with our blindness. Where do we not see our evil? Do we have the courage to ask another to help us see?                                     Daily Prayer 2017, LTP, page 120.



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 In the cycle of weekday readings (and in the Divine Office), Lent falls into two parts. The first part including the “pre-Lent” of Ash Wednesday and the rest of that week, runs through to Saturday of Week 3. In these three and a half weeks, the Gospel texts are taken from the Synoptics and the Old Testament readings are chosen accordingly. The message running throughout is a call to a life of Gospel conversion. The pericopes speak of beginning anew, of fast­ing prayer, and almsgiving; of conversion; of mutual forgiveness; of hardness of heart; of love of enemies; of absolute claims of justice and love over ritual and cult; of the call to holiness, and so forth. (Occasionally, what appears to be salvation history narrative is inter­spersed among these moral texts—a story like the call of Naaman or the workers in the vineyard, for example—but, in this context they are meant to be read as call to conversion rather than as referring to Christ or to the Easter mysteries.)

The readings for the second half of Lent are taken from the Gospel of John, beginning on the Monday of the fourth week of Lent at 4:43 and going through, omitting passages read on Sundays and during Easter, to chapter 13. It is clear that these readings from John do not constitute a kind of “crash course” in the life of Jesus, so much as a presentation of the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, of whom John says that all who believe in him will have eternal life. Christ is presented as the healer and life-giver, as the one who gives life through his confrontation with death and gathers into one the scattered children of God.

How do these two sections of the lectionary fit together and what can they tell us about the spirit of Lent? The shift from the “ethi­cal” to the “christological” is no accident. The purpose of the first part of Lent is to bring us to compunction. “Compunction” is etymo­logically related to the verb “to puncture” and suggests the deflation of our inflated egos, a challenge to any self-deceit about the quality of our lives as disciples of Jesus. By hitting us again and again with demands which we not only fail to obey, but which we come to rec­ognize as being quite beyond us, the Gospel passages are meant to trouble us, to confront our illusions about ourselves. “Remember, you are dust..” From this perspective, Lenten penance may be more effective if we fail in our resolutions than if we succeed, for its pur­pose is not to confirm us in our sense of virtue but to bring home to us our radical need of salvation.

It is in answer to this profound awareness of need that the lec­tionary shifts from the Synoptics to John, from the demands of disci­pleship to the person of Jesus. John presents Jesus as the Savior, but Jesus can only save those who know their need for salvation. Confronted with our sickness and powerlessness, we pray for our sal­vation.

Taken from “The Spirit of Lent,” Mark Searle, in Assembly, Volume 8:3. © Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Notre Dame, IN      Paulist ORDO 2017, page 60.


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“The annual observance of Lent is the special season for the ascent to the holy mountain of Easter. Through its twofold theme of repentance and baptism, the season of Lent disposes both the catechumens and the faith­ful to celebrate the paschal mystery. Catechumens are led to the sacra­ments of initiation by means of the rite of election, the scrutinies, and cat­echesis. The faithful, listening more intently to the word of God and devoting themselves to prayers, are prepared through a spirit of repen­tance to renew their baptismal promises” (Ceremonial of Bishops, 249).

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Yuval Levin warns against an individualist understanding of religious freedom.

On January 24, 1774, the young James Madison, twenty-two years old and two years out of Princeton, wrote an exasperated letter to his college friend William Bradford, who lived in Pennsylvania. In Virginia, Madison wrote, a season of intolerance had dawned. “That diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution rages,” and perfectly well-meaning men of religion were finding themselves imprisoned for expressing any deviation from the views of the dominant Anglican Church. He told his friend that he had “squabbled and scolded, abused, and ridiculed so long” about this that he had no more patience for the fight. “So I leave you,” he concluded, “to pity me and pray for Liberty of Conscience to revive among us.”

Of course, Madison ultimately did more than beg for pity and prayer. He made religious liberty a fore­most cause of his political action. And he enshrined in our Constitution, and so etched in our national consciousness, a principled and practical commit­ment to that liberty that has helped us remain a free society ever since.

These days, however, many religious and moral traditionalists in America can easily relate to the young Madison’s anguished plea for pity and prayer—or at the very least for a revival of liberty of conscience. In our time, too, a season of intolerance has dawned. Over the past few years, the Obama administration has actively worked to isolate, vilify, and intimidate opponents of abortion, for instance, making it increas­ingly difficult for them to run a business or operate in the public square in accordance with their convictions. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has declared the tra­ditional understanding of marriage anathema, and left wide open many vexing questions about the standing of individuals, groups, and institutions who continue to uphold that understanding.

Major corporations have launched brazen attacks on communities seeking to carve out spaces for com­peting views on such questions. The key organs of popular culture have declared dissenting views on sexuality and marriage unfit for polite conversa­tion, setting off occasional high-profile witch hunts against dissenters and enabling an environment of in­timidation well beyond those. Prominent academics and civil liberties organizations have raised the pros­pect of stripping churches of their tax exemptions and pursuing litigation to require private companies and civic groups to be led and staffed by people who pledge allegiance to the moral creed of the left. Major newspapers have begun to put the phrase “religious freedom” in scare quotes, as if everybody under­stands that it is just a cover for bigotry abusing the sacred name of liberty.

Much of this might have seemed unimaginable even a decade ago, and that sudden collapse in our standing in society has left many traditionalists reeling. For some, this dark turn offers proof that the American project of virtuous democratic capitalism has always been inherently untenable: Ever since the nation’s founding, if not since the dawn of the En­lightenment, the liberal society has been at war with its own moral foundations, they argue. It is now on the verge of demolishing them altogether, and the only real question is why it has taken so long. Now that the reckoning is upon us, we need to seek refuge for traditional ways of life where we can and accustom ourselves to the manners of exiles in our own society.

Others, on the contrary, see the rise of an op­pressive, progressive anti-traditionalism as a kind of betrayal of the principles underlying the American experiment and the practice of American life as we have known it. To them, recent years have involved a sharp break from our political tradition, and they call for a recovery—not only of our moral order but of our constitutional order, too.

Social conservatives in both groups have turned to religious liberty—whether as a shield or as a sword, as a means of guarding orthodox communities from the corrosive decadence of the broader culture or of reasserting the proper bounds of public power. Re­ligious liberty has therefore become the foremost public priority of social conservatives, and the im­portance of that first freedom has taken center stage in our case to the larger society.

This makes sense, of course. It is right that we should turn just where Madison did in the face of this new persecution. Religious liberty is plainly es­sential for the endurance of our free society and for the protection of the rights and freedoms of the many millions of Americans who dissent from the caustic Gnosticism that increasingly dominates our culture. The cultural revival we yearn for is only imaginable if we fight now against the suppression of dissenting views on moral questions.

But the unavoidable appeal to religious liberty is not without dangers of its own. The emphasis we are compelled now to put upon our first freedom risks distorting the moral message of religious and social conservatives in a number of important ways, and in the process undermining our case for liberty and tolerance. A deeper appreciation of the nature of that message could help us understand and minimize these dangers, and might also bring us to a deeper appreciation of religious liberty itself.

Key to such an appreciation will be taking note of the always uneasy relationship between theory and practice, or principle and action, in the life of a society. Both broad streams of traditionalist responses to the contemporary climate of oppres­sion—those who say our troubles are an extension of liberal principles and those who say they are a be­trayal of those principles—tend to jump too quickly from theory to practice, and so to treat the lived ex­perience of our society as a kind of working out of philosophical premises. Needless to say, however, the actual life of a society is not just a playing out of prin­ciples. It is an experience of living together, in com­munity and in conflict, within boundaries set by our moral and philosophical commitments but also under conditions determined by our vices and virtues, our character, our circumstances, and the habits of our variegated culture.

Both of the major camps of social conservative re­action to the challenges of the last few years are right in part: We have always had to struggle against the inclination of our liberal society to furiously pound itself into what Edmund Burke called “the dust and powder of individuality,” and to resist its elevation of choice above commitment. And we have always engaged in that struggle in part by calling upon the ideals of our founding—principles of both repub­licanism and liberalism, natural law and common law—and by carving out space for family and com­munity, commitment and responsibility, using the tools provided by our Constitution.

The distressing threats to religious liberty in recent years have therefore been both an extension of and a break with the principles of American liberty, because those principles are themselves not perfectly coherent. But these threats implicate not only our principles but our life together in practice, and it is in light of that practice that both the absolute necessity of a commit­ment to religious liberty and the dangers involved in such a commitment become most apparent.

For that reason, we might best reflect on those dangers by considering two arenas in which theory meets practice in the life of our society. One is the law—and the question of religious liberty is in an im­portant sense, of course, a legal question. The other, and surely the most significant arena where abstract philosophy must interact with concrete experience, is community life—where principle and practice come together on a personal, human scale.

The legal arena is where the case for reli­gious liberty seems most straightforward and securely rooted. The First Amend­ment to the Constitution declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free ex­ercise thereof.” These sixteen glorious words make for a sword, a shield, and a banner for today’s beleaguered believers. They seem to safeguard the right of every American to live by his convictions. But let us consider what they really demand, and on what grounds.

Our first instinct in the legal battles spawned by the progressive excesses of the last few years is to reach for the free exercise clause, which after all exists to protect religious people’s ability to live out their faiths in practice. It is easy to see why that seems like the right tool: Free exercise jurisprudence has frequently involved the crafting of prudential exemptions and ac­commodations—precisely the carving out of spaces—that could allow religious believers to act on their convictions even in the face of contrary public senti­ments or (up to a point) public laws. In their present circumstances, many religious traditionalists would surely benefit from such prudence and protection.

But the logic of free exercise is, at the same time, highly individualistic, while the problems traditional­ists now confront are frequently communal or (in the deepest sense) corporate problems. The free exercise clause offers a defense of religious freedom rooted in a defense of individual conscience and in turn in the broader liberal logic of individual rights. And those roots run deep.

The English tradition of religious toleration, which is the source of our legal ideal of the free exercise of religion, arose in the wake of long and bloody religious wars to secure some peace among conflicting sects by keeping individual belief out of the state’s reach. This was done in a nation with a strong estab­lished church, so that the freedom enabled by religious toleration at its origins was a freedom of private wor­ship and belief for dissenters, but not quite a freedom of common action in the public square. Religious free­dom was a very liberal liberty—a freedom afforded to individuals to keep them out of one another’s hair and so to keep the commons peaceful and orderly.

Indeed, the exigencies of England in the early Enlightenment meant that this toleration was itself selective: It was intended to protect Protestant dis­senters and Jews but to offer less protection to Catho­lics, and this aim meant that toleration quickly took on a particular form with troublesome implications for our own situation.

Perhaps the most blatant, if not comical, illustra­tion of this ambiguous character of English toleration at its origins can be found in John Milton’s noble case for freedom of thought and expression, which was also among the first explicit statements of the English mode of toleration. Milton’s Areopagitica, published as a letter to Parliament in 1644, in the midst of the English Civil War, was an impassioned case against censorship and the oppression of thought. When Milton applied his arguments to religion, though, he put the matter this way:

Yet if all cannot be of one mind—as who looks they should be?—this doubtless is more whole­some, more prudent, and more Christian that many be tolerated, rather than all compelled. I mean not tolerated popery, and open supersti­tion, which as it extirpates all religions and civil supremacies, so itself should be extirpate, provided first that all charitable and compassionate means be used to win and regain the weak and the misled.

Tolerate all, but not Catholics. Even the greatest statement of the early Enlightenment’s tradition of toleration, John Locke’s 1689 “Letter Concerning Toleration,” which is much more subtle on this point, draws a distinction that’s relevant today.

Locke argues there is no reason to ban the belief and profession of any article of faith, since beliefs can’t do any harm. “If a Roman Catholic believes that to be really the body of Christ which another man calls bread, he does no injury thereby to his neighbour. If a Jew does not believe the New Testa­ment to be the Word of God, he does not thereby alter any-thing in men’s civil rights.” Individuals may believe what they wish.

But institutions formed around such beliefs were not to be similarly tolerated if they were to exist for a purpose beyond the mere expression of faith. This was especially a problem for Catholicism, which is a uniquely institutional religion. And Locke intended it to be such a problem. Catholic beliefs could be toler­ated, but the institutional existence of the Church, and its hierarchy answering to the pope (a foreign prince, Locke says), could not. The Act of Toleration, enacted by Parliament in 1689, set out the same dis­tinction, which remained an element of English law until well after America’s independence.

This tradition of toleration, therefore, es­tablished a highly individualistic under­standing of the right of conscience and of the protection of religious practice. Thus the particular question that has been at the heart of a lot of our religious liberty cases in the past few years—the question of whether institutions in the corporate form are entitled to religious liberty—is not a new question for our political tradition, and the answer that tradition has often offered it is not always friendly to the cause of contemporary traditionalists.

In 2012, when the Obama administration first proposed the so-called HHS mandate, requiring em­ployers to provide insurance coverage that included free access to contraceptive and abortive drugs, it provided an exceedingly narrow religious exemption from the rule that echoed some of the distinctions first made in these earliest incarnations of the English tradition of toleration. An organization could only count as religious, the regulation asserted, if “the inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization,” if it “primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the organization,” and if it “serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization.”

This would effectively mean that only houses of worship, or institutions that otherwise serve the di­rect expression or inculcation of articles of faith, are to be granted religious liberty. Essentially no religious charities could qualify, no hospitals or schools, no adoption agencies—let alone private institutions run by religious people in the service of their convictions.

Religious practice, in this understanding, involves the profession of faith, but it does not extend to par­ticipation in the broader life of the society. It is es­sentially a private intellectual exercise. Freedom of religion here serves the ends of the liberal society, but it is not quite a constraint on the reach and power of that society over its members.

The case law arising out of the free exercise clause has long involved broadening such narrow definitions, which has resulted in requirements for accommoda­tions of various sorts for religious people in the pub­lic square. Accommodations for religious institutions have been somewhat more rare, and accommodations for private businesses owned by religious people all the more so. In this tradition, religion has rarely been treated as one of the things people do together.

And yet, there is in our tradition of re­ligious liberty a set of arguments and categories better suited to the kinds of challenges religious people now con­front. These arguments see religious liberty as demanding some essential limitations on the reach and power of liberalism itself, but they also point out the limits of religious liberty as a legal principle and affirm its breadth and reach as lived communal practice.

James Madison was among the original architects of such arguments. In his 1785 “Memorial and Re­monstrance against Religious Assessments,” written eleven years after his anguished letter to William Bradford, Madison put the point this way:

It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to Him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.

Religious liberty, in this view, is therefore not quite a liberal liberty. It is not a freedom to do what you want, but a freedom to do what you must. It describes a duty FIRST THINGS February 2016

of society to retreat and give its members space to act on what they deem essential; an acknowledgment not of a human liberty or right, but of a human obligation that precedes the social obligation and so shapes it.

Madison also recognized that near the core of re­ligious liberty is the freedom not to be coerced into doing that which your religion prohibits you from do­ing. He proposed that a liberal society should make room for a moral code that comes with constraints. Indeed, he seems to suggest that a society that refuses to allow its citizens to be constrained by their reli­gious convictions is an unacceptably coercive society.

But Madison advanced this case not in the service of a protection of the free exercise of religion but rather in opposition to the establishment of religion. His point was that no one ought to be compelled to af­firm as true a religious tenet he took to be false and that no one should be compelled to participate in a religious rite that violated his own understanding of his religious obligations. He was making what we would now recognize as a non-establishment argu­ment, one that was not exactly an extension of the traditional Anglo-American case for toleration. Like the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which Madison authored a few years later, it was a Madisonian addendum to the Lockean ideal of lib­eral toleration in a society with an established church.

Yet it is also the essence of the argument that, say, a wedding vendor who wants to remain free to refrain from participating in a same-sex wedding would ad­vance. The question of the definition of marriage is, for many people, a fundamentally religious question. It is also a civil question in our country. But some religiously orthodox wedding vendors are finding themselves compelled by the civil authorities to af­firm an answer to that question that violates their religious convictions on the subject, and some reli­gious institutions—from universities to social service agencies to private companies owned by orthodox believers—are finding themselves forced to take part in the enactment and enforcement of a moral code they are obliged to reject.

They would like to be relieved of that compul­sion, but that can’t happen, they are told, because the larger society’s understanding of the moral life overrules the understanding prescribed by their reli­gious convictions. If they want to participate as busi­ness owners or service providers in the life of that society, they must give ground. They are more like religious believers under compulsion in a society with an established church than like believers simply de­nied the freedom to exercise their religion. Only now the compulsive state religion, or at least our new civil religion, is supposed to be progressive liberalism.

Of course, liberalism is not literally becoming a re­ligion—but it is approaching the question of society’s moral order from the point of view of a dominant, established power that expects to command formal assent to its views in the public square. People are al­lowed to believe what they want, but when they act together in public, they must abide by the beliefs of the established order.

That liberalism is not an actual religion means the establishment clause will not generally avail contemporary tradition­alists as a legal tool; arguments in court must continue to make the most of the free exercise clause, which offers us vital protections. But Madison’s argument against religious establish­ment speaks powerfully to our situation, and can help those traditionalists understand it better.

For one thing, it brings into sharper relief the dis­tinction between individual and communal religious liberty. In calling for keeping our national life free of the overbearing power of one church, Madison was not suggesting that we should have no churches at all, but rather that we should have many. And by withholding public sanction from any one set of reli­gious institutions, his approach makes it possible for many religious institutions, not just many religious individuals, to populate our public life.

Madison’s implicit assumption, and that of the entire tradition of religious toleration until the last few decades, however, was that religious diversity and conflict would involve competing sects that dif­fer on some important questions of doctrine and practice but nonetheless share in common a basic Judeo-Christian orientation that is also, in very broad terms, our society’s implicit civil religion. The erosion of that common soil, that common culture, is the essence of our modern condition.

That erosion is also why an individualist under­standing of religious liberty is now less adequate, and more dangerous, than it might once have been. Dif­ferences of dogma in an essentially Christian society mostly call for giving individual believers the room for distinctions of belief while allowing genuinely dis­tinct (and inevitably very small) religious minorities broader latitude. Differences of fundamental moral premises in a society no longer unified by basic moral assumptions call for more than that. They require us to carve out broad protected spaces for traditional culture as such—for a way of life, not just a set of beliefs. And that means they require us to carve out spaces for communities, not just individuals.

In some important respects, moreover, carving out room for cultures and communities still shaped by a basic Judeo-Christian orientation is about more than protecting religious minorities. It is about sustain­ing our liberal society itself, and about producing the kinds of free citizens it needs. It is essential to the revival of a liberal society worthy of the name.

Modern liberalism assumes and requires a society with a certain moral foundation, but it does not always reinforce that foundation, and increasingly it under­mines it. This is what critics who argue that liberal­ism has always been driving toward a self-destructive moral chaos have in mind. And yet, American liberal democracy has nonetheless always made available the tools to nurture those essential moral foundations of freedom. This is what critics who argue that today’s progressive radicalism is a betrayal of the American tradition have in mind. The fact that both are right means that it is up to us to use the tools at our disposal to sustain that moral culture, and to cultivate in its soil a generation that will yearn for revival.

That is, without question, a much taller order than what Madison imagined his approach to religious lib­erty would be required to support. Indeed, his com­mitment to religious liberty was at least as much a function of his worry about domineering religious sects imposing themselves on the public square as of any concern about a loss of society’s fundamental moral character. But the foundation he established is nonetheless available now as a bulwark for tradi­tionalists, if we are willing to make the most of what it offers and build on it.

That work must be practical, not just conceptual. And it will need to be more than legal work. Our vital commitment to religious liberty must not blind us to this basic, daunting fact: Religious liberty is as much a product as a precondition of our free society. For that society to endure in a culture at war with the very foundations of its freedom will require more than space for alternatives. It will require filling that space with actual living alternatives—moral commu­nities that help us see what our freedom is for.

Community life is therefore the second arena in which we can appreciate the perils and the necessity of religious liberty.

As a practical matter these days, religious liberty is essential not so much because it protects people’s ability to believe and say certain things but because it protects people’s ability to live a certain way. That way of living—shaped by memory, bounded by tradition, directed to the future, formed to meet obligations both sacred and profane, and ultimately answerable to permanent truths—cannot be em­bodied in the practice of lone individuals, because at its essence it is about relational commitments. It describes a culture, and so can only be given concrete form in a community.

Therefore, in practice, religious liberty now fre­quently describes the freedom of a community to live in accordance with a moral vision shared among its members. This understanding of the practical mean­ing of our first freedom makes it easier to see why the practice it protects so easily outgrows the narrow bounds of the exercise of religion as envisioned by our legal system. And it also helps us see why religious liberty should be so controversial today. Everything about this idea of a morally meaningful community is now countercultural.

The very notion that a moral vision should be em­bodied in community life and relational obligations, rather than in the choices of any given individual, is a direct challenge to the ethic of expressive indi­vidualism that animates our popular culture. And the notion that culture can be local and communal, and so not merely popular, argues against the (closely related) centralizing tendencies of modern progres­sivism. This vision therefore pushes against both individualism and centralization, and seeks human flourishing in the fertile space between them.

Forcing the case for this kind of living moral alternative into the narrow confines of an argument that is just about religion and liberty makes the treasure we seek to pro­tect seem smaller and less significant than it truly is. And it causes traditionalists to underplay what we have to offer.

For one thing, to articulate that case above all in the parlance of religious liberty is to approach our society defensively. We thereby risk appearing to our neighbors to be a plaintive and inward-looking mi­nority asking to protect what it has and to be left alone. But what social conservatives “have” is a vi­sion of the good and a deep conviction that it would be good for everyone and therefore ought to be made as widely available as possible.

That doesn’t mean we can avoid first defending our­selves. A truce on the social issues has never been an option—and it surely isn’t now. But it does mean we should be more than defensive, and should always be careful to highlight the nature and the appeal of what we are defending, and so of what we are offering—the larger human good in the service of which some con­straints on our individual will and power are required.

The struggle for religious liberty is crucial as a means of making possible a more-than-defensive approach to the broader society. It is a prerequisite for the essential work of social conservatism. Its goal is to keep open the space in which cultural conserva­tives might appeal to their neighbors. Yet it must not substitute for that appeal.

This may be the greatest peril we face in championing religious liberty—the dan­ger that our call for sustaining a space for living out our moral vision might be mistaken for an argument that the sus­taining of space for ourselves is itself the essence of our moral vision. As Richard John Neuhaus warned three decades ago, in demanding exemptions, protec­tions, and accommodations, we need to be careful not to be understood as champions of universal non­judgmentalism, or of a naked public square.

The risk of giving that impression has grown great in the circumstances we now confront. In February 2012, at the height of the battle over the HHS man­date, William Thierfelder, the president of Belmont Abbey College, was interviewed by the Washington Post about the school’s legal fight against the man­date. Thierfelder wanted to be certain that people understood the limits of the claim his school was making, but in the process he exposed some of the dangers inherent in couching moral arguments en­tirely in the defensive terms of religious freedom. He told the Post reporter:

We’re not trying to tell anybody else how to live their lives. I, personally, I would hope people don’t seek abortions, but we’re not saying that. We’re being asked to violate our religious beliefs in our Catholic home.

He was right, of course. And he was also wrong. He was defending his institution, first and foremost, as he must. But the idea that a Catholic university is not in the business of telling anybody else how to live their lives can’t be quite right. It may not seek to compel people to live by its moral vision, but it does seek to persuade them to do so. It surely cannot serve its mission if it is not allowed, itself, as a Catholic home, to abide by Catholic convictions. But its mis­sion inevitably looks outward.

Social liberals are right to see institutions like Belmont Abbey as competitors for the souls of the young. If understanding our case as above all a mat­ter of protecting religious liberty rights means that social conservatives don’t think or talk that way any­more, then we are in great trouble.

This means we need to see that we are defend­ing more than religious liberty: We are defending the very idea that our government exists to protect the space in which various institutions of civil society do the work that enables Americans to thrive, and we are defending the proposition that this work involves moral formation and not just liberation from con­straint. That is an entire conception of the meaning of a free society that goes well beyond toleration and freedom of religion. It is ultimately about the proper shape and structure of American life.

Making that clear—to ourselves and to others—will require an emphasis not just on the principles in­volved (be they religious liberty or subsidiarity or the freedom of association), but also on the actual lives of our actual, concrete communities. It will require that we turn more of our attention homeward, away from raging national controversies and toward the everyday lives of our living moral communities—toward fam­ily, school, and congregation; toward civic priorities and local commitments; toward neighbors in need and friends in crisis. It will require us to see that we need to build more than protective walls; we need to build strong, thriving, attractive communities.

The purpose of fighting to defend religious liberty is therefore not only defensive but also missionary: It is to allow the ortho­dox to meet their obligations, and to show the country a better way in practice. And that better way can only be embodied in real, living communities.

Only such communities can model appealing al­ternatives to the lonely decadence of the popular cul­ture’s ideal of the life of a young American. Only such communities can create meaningful norms of respon­sibility and commitment that can help their neighbors see why family matters and what it can make possible. Only such communities can demonstrate how mean­ingful progress can be rooted in collective remem­brance rather than just individual desire, ambition, preference, or choice. Only such communities can give rise to a new generation committed to living out the virtues, or seeking out the wisdom of our moral and intellectual traditions, or continuing the struggle for a free society and a more just world. Only such commu­nities can embody for the broader culture the large, capacious vision of the good made possible by moral restraint and traditional ways of life—the vast and beautiful “yes” for the sake of which an occasional narrow or stern “no” is required.

This broader understanding of what we seek to de­fend should make social conservatives both more and less political than we have tended to be: We should be more political in that we do more than occasionally resort to legal appeals to protect our own freedom of action. We also must advance a compelling vision of society rooted in mediating institutions and a govern­ment that exists to sustain them.

We should be less political, however, in that we need to invest more of ourselves in those institutions. We need to build appealing subcultures rather than advance our own version of the Great Society or spend all of our energy on roiling national debates that stand far apart from the everyday experience of those Americans who could most benefit from what we have to offer.

With such a commitment to a genuine “plural­ism of communities” (in Robert Nisbet’s phrase), we would not treat our inheritance with contempt by insisting that our political tradition has always been headed for self-destruction. And we also would not appeal to any simple confidence that our political ideas, if only fully put into effect, would by them­selves resolve the crisis we confront.

Instead, we must seek solutions at the juncture of principle and practice—where ideals are turned into action in our everyday lives. The law can help us sustain the room we need to find those solutions, and our noble political tradition can reinforce the argu­ment for freedom understood as chosen virtue. But ultimately, it is in the institutions and relationships in which we learn to make those virtuous choices—in the family, the school, the synagogue and church, the civic enterprise, the charitable venture, the as­sociation of workers or merchants or neighbors or friends—that the fate of our experiment in moral freedom will be decided. We would be wrong to think that fate has long been sealed, one way or an­other. It is up to us.

What James Madison described as “that diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution” remains a pri­mary obstacle to realizing this vision of the free society. It has reared its head again in our time, and religious liberty can once more help us push it back. But we would be wise to remember that we require more Than the freedom to be virtuous. We require the will, and the spirit, and the faith, and the humility, and the wisdom to be virtuous, too. We require a culture of flourishing, which will only endure if we never stop building it. II     – Yuval Levin is the Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and editor of National Affairs. The funding for this essay was provided by the Hertog/Simon Fund for Policy Analysis.



The mountaineers of Hitler’s 16th corps

stood on Mt. Elbrus and admired the view,

confident that peace was near. Case Blue

had gone as planned. In one last blitz they’d tour

the storied Caspian—along its shore,

the vital oil of Grozny and Baku.

Russia would fall in 1942—

the stronger race deserved to win the war.

Though it was clear on Europe’s highest peak, the view was incomplete.                             They were too late: a Soviet collapse could only slow certain defeat.                                            That month, some of the weak—yes, many Jews—began to concentrate up on a mesa in New Mexico.        —Robert W. Crawford


First Things, February 2016, pages 29-36..


Mammon Ascendant – First Things June- July 2016


. . . . The history of capitalism in the history of secularism are not two accidentally contemporaneous tales, after all; they are the same story told from different vantages. Any dominant material economy is complicit with, and in fact demands, a particular anthropology, ethics, and social vision. In the late capitalist culture, being intrinsically a consumerist economy, of necessity promotes a voluntarist understanding of individual freedom and a purely negative understanding of social and political liberty. The entire system depends not merely on supplying means and satisfying natural longings, but on the ceaseless intervention of ever newer desires, evermore choices. It is also a system inevitably corrosive of as many prohibitions of desire and inhibitions of the will as possible, and therefore of all those customs and institutions – religious, cultural, social – that tend to restrain or even forbid so many inquisitive longings and individual choices.

This is what Marx genuinely admired about capitalism: it’s power to dissolve all the in Memorial associations of family, tradition, faith, and affinity, the irresistible dynamism of its dissolution of ancient values, it’s (to borrow a little some praise) “gales of creative destruction.” The secular world – our world, our age – is one from which as many mediating and subsidiary powers have been purged as possible, precisely to make room for the adventures of the will. It is a reality in which all social, political, and economic associations have been reduced to a bare tension between the individual and the state, each of which secures the other against the intrusions and encroachments of other claims to authority, other demands upon desire, other narratives of the human. Secularization is simply developed capitalism in its ineluctable cultural manifestation.

Mind you, part of the difficulty of convincing American Christians of this lies in the generous vagueness with which we have come to use the word capitalism in recent decades. For many, the term means nothing more than a free-market in goods, or the right to produce and trade, or buying and selling as such. In that sense, every culture in recorded history would have been called “capitalist” in some degree. And for many then, it also seems natural to think that all free-trade and all systems of market exchange are of a piece, and that to defend the dignity of production and trade in every sphere, it is necessary also to defend the globalized market and the immense power of current corporate enti­ties—or, conversely, to think that any serious and sustained criticism of the immorality, environmental devastation, exploitation of desperate labor markets, or political mischief for which such entities might of­ten justly be arraigned is necessarily an assault on every honest entrepreneur who tries to build a busi­ness, create some jobs, or produce something useful or delightful to sell.

But, in long historical perspective, the capitalist epoch of market economies has so far been one of, at most, a few centuries. At least, in the narrower acceptation of the term generally agreed on by eco­nomic historians, capitalism is what Proudhon in 1861 identified as a system—at once economic and social—in which, as a general rule, the source of in­come does not belong at all to those who make it operative by their labor. If that is too vague, we can say it is the set of economic conventions that suc­ceeded those of the “mercantilism” of the previous era, with its tariff regimes and nationalist policies of trade regulation, and that took shape in the age of industrialization. Historically, this meant a shift in economic eminence from the merchant class—pur­veyors of goods contracted from and produced by independent artisanal labor or subsidiary estates or small local markets—to the capitalist investor who is at once producer and seller of goods, and who is able to generate immense capital at the secondary level of investment speculation: a purely financial market where wealth is generated and enjoyed by those who produce nothing except an incessant circulation of investment and divestment.

Along with this came a new labor system: the end of most of the contractual power of free skilled labor, the death of the artisanal guilds, and the genesis of a mass wage system; one, that is, in which labor be­came a commodity, different markets could compete against one another for the cheapest, most desper­ate laborers, and (as the old Marxist plaint has it) both the means of production and the fruit of labor belonged not to the workers but only to the inves­tors. Hence the accusation of early generations of so­cialists, like William Morris and John Ruskin, that capitalism was to be eschewed not because it was a free-market system, but because it destroyed the true freedom of the market economies that had begun to appear at the end of the Middle Ages, and concen­trated all real economic and contractual liberty in the hands of a very few.

This is a system that not only allows for, but positively depends upon, immense concentrations of private capital and private dispositive use of that capi­tal, as unencumbered by fiscal regulation as possible. It also obviously allows for the exploitation of materi­al and human resources on an unprecedentedly mas­sive scale, one that even governments cannot rival. And it is a system that inevitably eventuates not only in economic, but cultural, “consumerism,” because it can continue to create wealth sufficient to sustain the investment system only by a social habit of consump­tion extravagantly in excess of mere natural need or even (arguably) natural want. Thus it must dedicate itself not only to fulfilling desire, but to fabricating new desires, prompted by fashion, or by seductive ap­peals to what 1 John calls “the lust of the eyes”—the high art of which we call “advertising.”

Now, without question, capitalism works. It is magnificently efficient at generating enormous wealth, and increasing the wealth of society at large—if not necessarily of all indi­viduals or classes—and adjusting to the supersession of one form of commercial production by another. But this is practically a tautology. That is its entire purpose, and it is no great surprise that over time it should have evolved ever more refined and compre­hensive means for achieving it. It generates immense returns for the few, which sometimes redound to the benefit of the many, but which often do not; it can create and enrich or destroy and impoverish, as pru­dence warrants; it can encourage liberty and equity or abet tyranny and injustice, as necessity dictates. It has no natural attachment to the institutions of dem­ocratic or liberal freedom; China has proved beyond any reasonable doubt that endless consumer choices can comfortably coexist with a near total absence of civil liberties. Capitalism has no moral nature at all. The good it yields is not benevolence; the evil is not malice. It is a system that cannot be abused, but only practiced with greater or lesser efficiency. It admits of no other criterion by which to judge its consequences.

This last point, moreover, needs to be particularly stressed, at least in America, where many of capital­ism’s apologists are eager (perhaps commendably) to believe that our market system is not only conducive of large social benefits, but possessed of deep structural virtues. This belief often leads them both to exaggerate those benefits and to ignore the damages, or to explain them away (like good Marxists preaching the socialist eschaton) as transient evils that will be redeemed by a final general beatitude (“rising tide” . . . “all boats” . . . “supply-side” . . . “trickle down” .. . “Walmart may destroy small businesses and force the formerly well-employed into inferior jobs, but, hey, think of the joy  that all those cheap—if occasionally toxic—Chinese goods produced by ruthlessly exploited laborers will provide the lower middle class in its ceaseless fiscal de­cline!”). But, given the sheer magnitude of capitalism’s ability to alter material, social, economic, and cultural reality, to cherish even the faintest illusions regarding some kind of inherent goodness in the system is to risk more than mere complacency.

Yes, venture capital built Manhattan—its shin­ing cloud-capped towers, its millions of jobs, its in­exhaustible bagels—but the cost of a world where Manhattans are built has to be reckoned in more than capital. And one does not even need to travel any great distance to assess some of the gravest of them. One need go no farther than the carboniferous tectonic collision zones of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky to find a land where a once poor but prop­ertied people were reduced to helotry on land they used to own by predatory mineral rights’ purchases, and then forced into dangerous and badly remuner­ated labor that destroyed their health, and then kept generation upon generation in servile dependency on an industry that shears the crests off mountains, chokes river valleys with slurry and chemical toxins, and subverts local politics. And what one must re­member is that all that devastation was not the result of one of capitalism’s failures, but of one of its most conspicuous successes. All the investors realized re­turns on their initial expenditures many thousands of times over. Those who win at the game can win everything and more, while those who lose—who more often than we care to acknowledge lose every­thing and forever—are simply part of the cost of do­ing business.

None of which is to deny that capital investment can achieve goods that governments usually can­not. While it is certainly not the case that, say, the world’s rising mean life span or the increase in third-world literacy are straightforwardly consequences of globalization, it certainly is the case that global in­vestment and trade have created resources that have made rapid medical progress, improvements in nutri­tion, and distribution of goods and services—by pri­vate firms, charities, governments, and international humanitarian organizations—possible in ways that less fluid commercial systems never could have done. There are regions of sub-Saharan Africa currently enjoying the kind of economic development that once seemed impossible because certain governments and businesses (such as numerous small technology firms) have set aside generations of post-colonial prejudice and finally begun building businesses there.

On the other hand, untold tens of thousands of Africans have died as a result of large Western pharmaceutical firms, concerned for their market share and their proprietary rights, exerting fiscal and government pressure to deny access to affordable antiretroviral drugs manufactured in Thailand and elsewhere. The market gives life; the market murders. It creates cities; it poisons oceans. And throughout the third world, as well as in less fortunate districts of the developed world, the price of industrialization remains (as ever) environmental damage of a sort that cannot be remedied in centuries, along with all its attendant human suffering. The World Health Orga­nization, on very judiciously gathered data, estimates that roughly 12.6 million persons die each year as a result of environmental degradation, particularly pollution from industrial waste products. This being so, it seems only decent to wonder whether a thriving market system might be run on more humane prin­ciples—which is to say, on principles alien to capital­ism as it has always existed.

Perhaps, though, I am allowing myself to drift away from my original point. Even if it were not so—even if fully developed capitalism, per impossibile, operated with­out any destruction of ecologies, communi­ties, and lives—it would still carry moral costs that would render it ultimately antagonistic to any but an essentially secularized culture. At least, it could not coexist indefinitely with a culture informed by genu­ine Christian conviction. Even the fact of the system’s necessary reliance on immense private wealth makes it a moral problem from the vantage of the Gospel, for the simple reason that the New Testament treats such wealth not merely as a spiritual danger, and not merely as a blessing that should not be misused, but as an intrinsic evil. I know there are plentiful interpretations of Christianity that claim otherwise, and many of them have been profoundly influential of American understandings of the faith. Calvin’s scriptural commentaries, for instance, treat almost all of the New Testament’s more consequential moral teachings—Christ’s advice to the rich young ruler, his exhortations to spiritual perfection, and so on—as exercises in instructive irony, meant to demonstrate the impossibility of righteousness through works. Calvin even remarks that having some money in the bank is one of the signs of election. But that is offen­sive nonsense. The real text of the New Testament, uncolored by theological fancy, is utterly perspicuous and relentlessly insistent on this matter. Christ’s con­cern for the ptõchoi—          the abjectly destitute—is more or less exclusive of any other social class.

What he says about the rich youth selling all his possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor, and about the indisposition of camels trying to pass through needles’ eyes, is only the beginning. In the Sermon on the Plain’s list of beatitudes and woes, he not only tells the poor that the kingdom belongs to them, but explicitly tells the rich that, having had their pleasures in this world, they shall have none in the world to come. He condemns those who buy up properties and create large estates for themselves. You cannot serve both God and mammon. Do not store up treasure on earth, in earthly vessels, for where your treasure is, there your heart will also be. The apostolic Church in Jerusalem adopted an abso­lute communism of goods. Paul constantly condemns pleonektia, which is often translated as “excessive greed” or even “thievery,” but which really means no more than an acquisitive desire for more than one needs. He instructs the Corinthian Christians to do­nate all their profits to the relief of the poor in other church assemblies. James says that God’s elect are the poor of this world; the rich he condemns as op­pressors and revilers of the divine name, who should howl in terror at the judgment that is coming upon them, because the rust of their treasure shall eat their flesh like fire on the last day. And on and on. This is so persistent, pervasive, and unqualified a theme of the New Testament that the genius with which Chris­tians down the centuries have succeeded in not seeing it, or in explaining it away, or in pretending that it does not mean what it unquestionably means may be among the greatest marvels of the faith.

But, again, even if it were not so—even if there is a way of possessing wealth purely as a blameless stewardship of God’s bounty, or if the system could function as well in a society with more equitably dis­tributed capital, or what have you—the problem with which I began remains. As a cultural reality, late capi­talism is not merely a regulatory regime for markets, but also a positive system of values, necessarily at odds with other orders of desire, especially those that seek to limit acquisition or inhibit expressions of the will. We may think we are free to believe as we wish because that is what our totalitarian libertarianism or consumerist collectivism chiefly needs us to think. But, while our ancestors inhabited a world full of gods or saints, ours is one in which they have all been chased away by advertising, into the hidden world of personal devotion or private fixation. Public life is a realm of pure elective spontaneity, in every sphere, and that power of choice must be ceaselessly directed toward an interminable diversity of consumer goods, and encouraged to expand into ever more regions of fiscal, moral, and spiritual life. We are shaped by what we desire, and what we desire is shaped by the material culture that surrounds us, and by the ide­ologies and imaginative possibilities that it embodies and sustains.

This is not to say that believing Christians, Jews, and other retrograde types cannot live peacefully amid the heaven-scaling towers and abyss-plumbing indulgences of late modernity. Believers of every kind are strangers and sojourners in this life, and should not seek to build enduring cities in this world. Still, all of us must make our livings, and seek to provide for others, and that means buying and selling, hiring and being hired, seeking justice and enduring injus­tice. That is the business of life, and conducted well, it can bring about many good things. And who knows? Perhaps it is possible to reimagine a real market econ­omy on a more truly human and humane scale, of the sort envisaged by E. F. Schumacher or various other religious “economists of the small.” After all, the ex­change of goods, the common commerce of everyday life, the community that exists wherever one person trades one “gift” for another—all of these are natural goods, part of the corporal grammar of community, and can usually in some way exhibit a generosity more original and more ultimate than any calculus of greed or selfish appetite. But, beyond that, the claim that capitalist culture and Christianity are compatible—indeed, that they are not ultimately inimical to one another—seems to me not only self-evidently false, but quaintly (and perhaps perilously) deluded. FT

FIRST THINGS, June/July 2016, David Bentley Hart, pages 34-38.





Of all our major columnists, Peggy Noonan has thought the most deeply about the anti-establishment sentiments roiling our political culture. In last week’s column, “How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen,” she puts her finger on the central issue. Ordinary people in Germany, Great Britain, France, America, and elsewhere aren’t just experiencing the dislocations of economic globalization. They’re not simply responding to cultural change, which is often driven by immigration. They’re losing their trust in those who rule them.

As Noonan puts it, over the last generation there has been “a kind of historic decoupling between the top and the bottom in the West that did not, in more moderate recent times, exist.” Those at the top of society no longer share the interests of those less fortunate. “At its heart it is not only a detachment from, but a lack of interest in, the lives of your countrymen, of those who are not at the table, and who understand that they’ve been abandoned by their leaders’ selfishness and mad virtue-signaling.”

I’ve written about this phenomenon in the American context. It’s striking how often our leadership, both right and left, punches down. Conservatives call half of Americans “takers.” Liberals call them “bigots.” I can’t count the number of columns Bret Stephens has written in the last six months expressing his unqualified horror over the ignorance and stupidity of the Republican voters who have the temerity to reject the political wisdom of their betters.

Noonan admits she hasn’t quite gotten her mind around this decoupling of the leaders from the led. I, too, am struggling to understand. It’s odd, as Noonan says, “that our elites have abandoned or are abandoning the idea that they belong to a country, that they have ties that bring responsibilities, that they should feel loyalty to their people or, at the very least, a grounded respect.”

Viewed humanly, yes, it is odd. We have a need to belong. Loyalty is a natural human impulse. But a recent book by international economist Branko Milanovic, Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization, has helped me grasp some of the underlying forces that are driving the leaders away from the led.

Milanovic draws attention to an “elephant graph,” so called because it looks like the hulking body of an elephant raising its trunk. On the horizontal axis, we see global income distribution. The citizens of very poor countries are at the elephant’s back end. Their median income is quite low. Those on the trunk-end of the elephant are the citizens of developed countries. The vertical axis charts the rate of growth of incomes. Here we see a very telling story. Emerging economies have given birth to a new middle class that has experienced rapid income growth. Meanwhile, the rich world is diverging. Middle-class wage growth is stagnant in the globalized economy, while the well-to-do have seen great gains.


Much of the story this graph tells is well known. We’ve heard a great deal about income inequality in recent years. But seeing the whole world at a glance shows something more. Those whom Noonan called “the protected,” which is to say the rich and powerful in the West, share with the rising middle class in the developing world a remarkable harmony of interests. Both cohorts benefit from the new global system. By contrast, in the West, the middle class is losing ground.

In short, the global system—which is committed to the free flow of labor, goods, and capital—works well for the leadership class in Europe and North America, as it does for striving workers in China, India, and elsewhere. It doesn’t work so well for the middle class in the West. Thus, in the West, the led no longer share the economic interests of their leaders.

It’s natural, therefore, to see a decoupling. We’re fallen human beings. We often develop convictions that conveniently correspond to our interests. When it comes to the rising nationalism in Europe, elites there see as much. They don’t interpret the striking new support for right-wing parties as expressions of patriotic fervor, but instead see patriotic rhetoric as a front for, at best, economic frustration, but more often racism and xenophobia.

What elites don’t see is how their own interests are dressed up as cosmopolitan idealism. Noonan points out that German elites compliment themselves on the moral rectitude of Angela Merkel’s decision to admit a million Muslim migrants. True, but they’re also insulated from the consequences. And more than insulated, they stand to benefit from lower labor costs.

Over time, the elephant graph predicts large-scale changes in democratic politics in the West. Elites now have a strong interest in weakening the nation-state, and thus diminishing the power of the voters to whom they are accountable. A radical ideology of open borders is one way to do that. Another way is to increase the power of international human rights tribunals. In a decade’s time I can easily imagine rulings that override national majorities that are deemed “unprogressive.”

But I need not evoke the future. For at least a generation, America’s most elite colleges and universities have explicitly refashioned themselves as global institutions. By implication, they are no longer accountable to America’s national interest. Their mission is more noble: the world’s interest. They same dynamic gets repeated in the corporate world. Silicon Valley answers to the world, not to America.

What goes unnoticed is the fact that a global mission provides reasons to discount the concerns of non-elites in America. Convenient theories about the inherent racism of ordinary people nicely discredit their opinions. The critical fire of a plastic, easily manipulated multi-culturalism can be trained this way or that to degrade patriotic loyalties. Meanwhile, a strict utilitarianism tells us citizenship is a construct designed to secure “rents.” Ordinary people feel abandoned and frustration builds, driving today’s populism.

Noonan is right. The decoupling of the leaders and the led is “something big.” The economic forces driving this decoupling are powerful. The ideological supports—a morally superior cosmopolitanism, a flexible multi-culturalism, and now dominant utilitarian thinking—are strong. As I’ve written elsewhere, odds are good that the democratic era will come to an end. The elephant chart suggests the future will be one of empire.

R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.

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UNC Study Shows Enormity of Abortion’s Impact on Public Health, Minorities

Study included abortion in nation’s mortality statistics

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL Director of Education & Research

OJPM5Public health statistics do not, as a rule, take account of the unborn lives lost to abortion when calculating mortality. A team of researchers from the University of North Carolina has challenged this omission and published a paper examining just how much the correction of this omission would change our perceptions of America’s most preventable health crises.

The consequences are enormous, across the board, but the impact is absolutely devastating on black and Hispanic communities. When one considers not only the lives, but the years lost, the loss is staggering.

Something missing from death stats

The paper, “Induced Abortion, Mortality, and the Conduct of Science” was written by James Studnicki, Sharon J. Mackinnon, and John W. Fisher and was published in the June 2016 online edition of the Open Journal of Preventive Medicine.

It starts with a statement both bold and obvious: “There is no credible scientific opposition to the fact that a new genetically distinct human organism begins with fertilization and that, simply stated, human life begins at conception.” The authors then affirm that, barring natural fetal losses (e.g., miscarriage), “conception usually results in a live birth.”

Given that, the authors draw the logical conclusion that abortion results in a human death.

Despite this undeniable truth, these deaths are not counted in the nation’s mortality statistics. When added back in, some astounding conclusions are revealed.

Research the major causes of death in the United States for 2009, as the authors did, and you will find that the top two causes are “diseases of the heart,” which accounted for 599,413 deaths, followed closely by “malignant neoplasms” (cancerous tumors) at 567,628.

Not surprisingly, cancer and heart disease are considered major health concerns, and with good reason.

But when one considers abortion as a cause, it is almost equivalent to the government’s top two causes combined! Using estimates for 2009 from the Guttmacher Institute, Studnicki and colleagues calculate that the 1,152,000 deaths from abortion easily make it the nation’s leading cause of death, responsible, when added back in, for almost a third (32.1%) of all the deaths recorded that year.

Abortion leading cause of death among minorities

While abortion has harmed society as a whole, the impact on minorities is even more significant.

As many pro-lifers know, abortion rates for minorities are considerably higher than they are for whites. Figures cited by authors from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), combined with data from Guttmacher, showed that 11.9% of non-Hispanic white pregnancies were aborted, 17.1% of Hispanic pregnancies, and 35.5% of those of non-Hispanic blacks.

Applied to the overall pregnancy figures, this translates into 383,000 abortions for whites, 252,000 abortions for Hispanics, and 445,000 abortions for blacks. Looked at in relation to other causes of death by race and ethnicity, this makes abortion responsible for 16.4% of white deaths–the third most significant cause behind heart disease and cancer. But abortion is by far the leading cause for Hispanics, responsible for 64% of deaths, and for blacks, at 61.1%– close to two out of every three deaths experienced by these communities.

Lost years as well as lives

The authors point out that much more is involved here than abortion simply increasing the numbers of deaths.

One of the reasons that mortality statistics are carefully collected and scrutinized is to determine how best to focus research and public resources. If cancer, heart disease, or the like constitute the leading preventable causes of death in the United States, it makes some sense to focus attention and funding on those conditions and diseases.

Another way researchers measure the impact of disease is to count not only the lives lost but the relative years lost. This calculates how many additional, potentially productive years of life people would have experienced if they had not succumbed to that particular malady.

“Years of potential life lost,” or YPPL, is the standard used by the NCHS, now pegged as “YYPL 75” to reflect the idea that 75 years is now closer to the average American’s longevity.

However, when abortion is considered and contrasted with other causes of death, the disparity is even more jaw-dropping.

For everyone in the U.S., cancer was responsible for nearly 4.4 million YPLL. Heart disease was responsible just over 3 million. All other remaining causes of death (accidental, homicide, diabetes, respiratory diseases, etc.) were responsible for only about 13 million YPLLs.

The calculations of these researchers on the years of potential life lost due to abortion? Even after subtracting for estimated “natural fetal losses” — a staggering 68.4 million years!

Minorities were hit the hardest. Of the 17.7 million YPLLs lost by Hispanics, nearly 15.5 million (or 87.4%) were due to abortion. Of the 29.4 million YPLLs lost by blacks, 25.4 million (or 86.5%) were from abortion.

The cost is extraordinarily high

No disease, no kind of violence comes close to having the impact on these communities that abortion does. Not only lives are lost, but years of creativity, productivity, and love.

Billions are spent to try to eradicate heart disease, to end cancer, to stop violence. To the extent we succeed and families enjoy a few more years with their loved ones, we all celebrate.

But if the figures are telling us that abortion is, by far, the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, wouldn’t the prevention of abortion represent one of the best possible uses of our time, resources, and efforts?




Francesca Aran Murphy argues that liberalism
and a market economy are based on Christianity

The only viable vehicle of conservatism in modernity is a market-oriented liberalism that regards freedom within law as the means to the common good. Some religiously engaged conservative intellectuals cannot accept this. What drives their animus against the only workable form of conservatism in modernity? They cannot accept that this version of conservatism is at all conservative.

But how conservative is it to refuse to act in and through the givens of our historical moment? Is the paradox of liberalism as the way of being conservative too whimsical for conservatives to wrap their bookish noodles around? Could it be rationalist irritability with the irrationality of liberalism? Is the conservative affronted by liberal­ism’s vulgar historical success, like a Ph.D. student who cannot enjoy a popular movie? Is he like the teenager in Little Miss Sunshine, who cannot bear the boisterous eccentricity of his family? Does lib­eralism’s cheerful, can-do lack of a rational founda­tion drive the conservative into dark Nietzschean foreboding? Does he share the Marxist’s contempt for the bourgeoisie who are at home in the market economy? Is he too logical to be persuaded that the only human beings who actually and historically ex­ist are individual persons?

The fact remains: For at least two generations now, the most politically effective conservatism in the West has largely been a conservative liberalism. This political success has not been accidental. As a social, political, and economic form of life, liberal modernity does justice to important truths about the human person.

At the origins of modernity lie the market economies of late medieval Europe. A mixture of the rule of law and respect for personal freedom enabled market economies to emerge. People readily took to the roles of buyers and sellers of goods, be­cause buying and selling involves the kind of role-play in which human beings flourish. The market econ­omy involves an exchange of goods in which both parties benefit. The seller trades his goods for what he really wants, payment, and the buyer hands over his money for what he really wants, the goods. Because they obtain what they desire, both buyer and seller gain more than they give. Appealing as that may be, market exchange has a still greater allure. However well-meaning the administrator, we would exchange an administered life for the tension of auctions, the drama of negotiations, and the stratagems of the salesman that test our self-discipline. Buying and sell­ing became a driving force and expressive feature of modern societies, because the clever play of conceal­ment and exposure through language and gesture it entails fits our social, dramatic natures like a glove.

Modern philosophers reflected upon modern eco­nomic practice. Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and Schelling took homo economicus to be “humanity” as such. They rightly drew the lesson that human beings are made for praxis, for action, and for dramatic role-playing. But these bookish philosophers were not men of action themselves. In their recoil from the sheer inscrutability of the free play of market exchange, they exaggerated the fact that exchange involves competition for marginal advantage. They mytholo­gized this into a conception of human culture as a life-and-death struggle, and reinterpreted the role-playing in free-market exchange as competition. That hypes up role-play into a battle of wills. According to them, the marketplace trains us to think of life in terms of winners and losers, masters and slaves.

In all of this we find part truth, part Gnostic fantasy. On the one side, our exercise of freedom in the particularity of daily life makes us enigmatic to others. A market society is built around this relative inscrutability. Whether the exchange takes place at the local fish stall or in large-scale transactions of complex financial instruments executed by comput­ers, buyers and sellers play their parts. Each seeks to take advantage of an exchange, wanting as much as possible without scuttling the deal by eliminating any benefit for others. Human nature is expressed in this serious play of exchange—the brinksmanship of negotiation, the uncertainties of market conditions—which liberal philosophies capture in their emphasis on freedom and its drama.

Yet the marketplace and our roles in it look like a Gnostic melodrama when the play of exchange is inflated into a metaphysical drama rather than a hu­man one. A German idealist like Schelling pictures God-and-humanity as the single “playwright.” The struggle to get the best deal on day-old bread becomes the engine of human history. For Hegel, God storms through history in the guise of strug­gling and ascendant human desire. Sellers seek to incite desires in buyers. Seventeenth-century vendors during the tulip mania in Holland asked, how can one do without the exotic tulip bulbs? Buyers seek to satisfy their aroused desires, often for goods they never even knew they wanted. This pattern of desire evoked is the fuel of a market economy. Hegel inter­prets the open-ended nature of our market desires as a metaphysical desire for divinization. He made the further assumption that we play for keeps, and thus the market game of angling for advantage becomes the struggle for mastery, which is the world’s story.

For two centuries, Christians have quarreled over how to deal with the mixture of imagi­native half-truths, philosophical errors, and Gnostic heresies that make up modern phi­losophy. Between Vatican I and Vatican II, Catholics tried to sort things out and develop a philo­sophically cogent and spiritually sound approach to modernity in two different ways. Fortified by Thomis­tic encyclicals from Pope Leo XIII, Thomists thought that the way forward required a rejection of liberal philosophies and a revival of the premodern philoso­phy of Thomas Aquinas. They assembled a litany of errors that they ascribed to liberalism: making man the major of all things, exalting will over cognition, denying are created nature and more. . . .  (Pages 39&40)

Article concludes on Page 45 with the following paragraphs:

. . . Do we encourage liberalism to remember its birth in a market economy that drew ordinary people into habits of free action for the sake of satisfying desires, or do we anathematize it for itself self-caricature as a Gnostic capitalist heresy? . . .

Liberalism is no heresy, and the market ex­change from which it emerges does not sin against the light. It is a healthy byproduct of Christianity, and the only means by which Christians can fight Marxist-capitalism, that stage-managed freedom in which the benevolent will of the powerful consults reason, discerns what people “truly” need and want, and then superintends over and administers the al­ways vulnerable freedom of ordinary people. If one were searching for Gnostic heresies, surely this tech­nocratic political economy, which is very much with us today, is a good candidate for anathema. RR

Francesca Aran Murphy is a senior fellow at FIRST THINGS.

First Things,  June /July, pages 39-45.



Family and faith. These are two powerful ways of belonging, one natural, and the other supernatu­ral. But they, too, are weakened by the dissolving forces of our time. Pope Francis’s recent Apos­tolic Exhortation on the Family, Amoris Laetitia, represents an effort to combat this trend. The document affirms many aspects of the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage, including permanence. But it also seeks to increase scope for pastoral discretion so that those in “ir­regular” situations can participate as fully as possible in the Church’s sacramental life.

The effort to be more pastoral characterizes this pa­pacy. Francis wants to emphasize the power of God’s love, even in circumstances when we’ve wavered, failed, and fallen. Unfortunately, Amoris Laetitia participates in the dissolving trends of our times rather than resisting them. This is an unwitting complicity, no doubt. But we can see it in the way in which the exhortation turns marriage into something we aspire to rather than a sacramental reality we can rely on. The Church seems to become a plastic instrument of mercy, not a stable anchor.

When the document was released, journalists fixed on chapter eight, “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness.” There, Francis takes up the controversial ques­tion of whether those in “irregular” situations can receive Communion, including those who have been civilly di­vorced and remarried, but have not received an annulment.

There’s been lots of commentary on just what is implied in the often technical and sometimes muddy verbiage of the chapter. Canon lawyers and moral theologians have parsed what Francis has written in different ways. But one thing is clear: Francis makes an ill-considered conceptual move. In order to create an atmosphere of flexibility and welcome, he speaks of marriage as an “ideal” rather than a sacramental reality.

This approach makes permanence itself into an ideal. Divorce betrays this, of course. As Francis writes, “It must remain clear that this is not the ideal which the Gospel proposes for marriage and family.” Moreover, “In no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur.”

These seem like decisive affirmations, but they’re not. Remarrying after divorce is an “objective situation” that the Church teaches is an impediment to the reception of Communion. The reasoning is straightforward. The Church does not recognize civil divorce, and therefore regards the first marriage as ongoing. Thus the second marriage (without an annulment) isn’t a marriage at all, but instead an adulterous relationship.

To avoid this summary judgment based on the “objec­tive situation” of divorce and remarriage, Francis implies that what really matters is the “ideal.” The driving ques­tions become subjective, not objective. Divorced and re­married? Yes, that presents serious difficulties. But there is a way out (perhaps). Are you appropriately penitent for the past failure to live up to the “ideal,” and now newly committed to the “ideal” in a sincere way? A person’s conscientious discernment of the answer to that question, Francis suggests, is what’s important. One’s relation to the “ideal,” determined in “conversation with the priest,” can open the way to further discernment about “what hin­ders full participation in the life of the Church and [about] what steps can foster it and make it grow.”

Will this process of self-examination mean that di­vorced and remarried Catholics will receive Communion in some circumstances? The debate goes on, and it’s an important one. Yet I find myself concluding that the most important dimension of Amoris Laetitia is found in the fact that Francis adopts and affirms what most of us now experience. This is not helpful. In our culture of divorce, permanence is only a distant ideal to which we can aspire. Marriage is no longer a trustworthy institution we can rely on.

What’s true for marriage is true for a great deal of our experience. We suffer an increasingly atomized, fluid, and vul­nerable existence, because we lack in­stitutions we can trust. We have plenty of ideals, some quite noble. But we have very few stable places to stand and little in the way of reliable permanence.

At one point, Francis writes about “the values of the Gospel.” One understands why. Values-talk is popular these days. It’s a way of signaling moral aspiration with­out focusing on the troublesome “thou shalt not’s.” Along with ideals, “values” allow us to imagine a moral outlook without law, moral failure without shame, and moral dis­cernment without negative judgments.

Which is why our therapeutic age is awash with ide­als and values. They’re in university mission statements. Corporations proudly tout their values, and “ideal­ism” becomes a marketing tool. Buy these shoes or that toothpaste, and Company X will make a contribution to eradicate polio, plant a tree, or bring Internet connections to Africa. It’s a dangerous misstep for Christianity to get into the business of marketing ideals and values.

Parmenides was one of the Greek thinkers who flour­ished before Socrates. His philosophical task was revealed to him when the goddess Justice whispered into his ear, “Cling to that which is and cannot not be.” “Unite your­self with permanence” was her message. That’s precisely what a man and a woman seek when they make their wedding vows. They desire a covenant that is, and can­not not be.

This desire is for a reality, not an ideal. For this reason, the Church’s teaching on marriage, strict though it may be by the standards of our time, is good news, a gospel in a way ideals and values can never be. We’re finite creatures, often sabotaged by our own deformed desires and bad choices, and always vulnerable to suffering and death. The sacrament of marriage anchors us, fusing our fragile lives to something that will not be eroded, will not fail us or betray us, even if we betray it. To refuse divorce, as the Catholic Church has done, is to reassure us that permanence in mar­riage is not an elusive ideal, but an accessible reality.

Francis misjudges our era. He seems to think we’re enclosed within rigid institutions and beaten down by legalistic systems. To my mind, the situ­ation is otherwise. We live in a dissolving era. The problem is not that divorce is judged harshly. It’s that young people experience marriage as a fragile institu­tion, one incapable of protecting them from the relentless flux of life.

This is part of life without a reliable inheritance. Few institutions are trustworthy today. The endless flow of power and money rules in our fluid world. Whatever per­manence is possible now depends upon steadfast personal commitments—a terrible burden for anyone with enough self-knowledge to recognize the unreliability of our fallen nature. It’s a sad irony that Francis gravitates toward no­tions such as “ideals” and “values.” They’re part of the contemporary toolkit for dissolving permanent truths. They serve the master-ideal of our time: the solitary in­dividual navigating on his own toward goals of his own.

St. Augustine observed that we’re all pilgrims in this world, journeying toward our home in heaven. But he did not think us alone and homeless. In Christ, God was made man, not an ideal. His sacraments make real what they sig­nify; they do not symbolize values. His Church is an “objec­tive situation,” a civitas with her own cult, rites, and laws.

Pope Francis speaks often and eloquently about “accom­paniment.” As so many other institutions weaken in our dissolving age, the Church’s greatest gift is to accompany us with a stubborn givenness, an inflexible permanence. Rusty R. Reno.

First Things, June/July Issue, pages 6-7.

“Food for thought as we work our way through gaining an insight into mercy, in this year of Mercy.” Editor’s Note.