“America is great because America is good. When America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” These words have been tossed around for decades by presidents and speechwriters. Although who originally said them is in debate, the statement rings true. So, are we still great? Are we still good? Let’s face it, everyone knows we have slipped. Some say we are in a moral free fall while others are more optimistic. I tend to think we have lost our collective minds and can’t see the difference between right and wrong anymore. But faithful, God-loving Catholics feel bad enough about the condition of the world.
In general Christians have slacked off on the vigor that once propelled our country forward. In a world where the Muslim threat of terrorism is based on the religious beliefs that radical people are willing to die for, much of our western culture is not even willing to live for theirs.
We’ve heard all the bad news and may have started to shut it out. It’s depressing and after all, what can we do about it? It is a moral jungle out there. But hasn’t it always been that way? Imagine how stressful it must have been to be a Christian during the times of Roman persecution. Becoming dinner for a lion as a crowd of hecklers enjoyed the show was often the reward for public Christianity. Persecution was not a one-time situation in history. Catholics were not fed to ferocious animals during out country’s colonial period, but they could not even vote and were discriminated against in many ways. Around every corner of time and place, the persecution exists. Mexico, now a Christian country, once killed Catholic priests, as did England after Henry VIII took over and rejected Catholicism. Communist countries have always sought to destroy Christianity and World War II surely must have given people fears of religious annihilation. Even today in China, Catholic priests are imprisoned and Muslim countries still persecute and kill Christians.
The world is a bad place. And it’s a good place. That’s the way it has always been. Have things gotten worse? In some ways and in some places, absolutely it has gotten worse. The ultimate question, however, is not how the world is doing, but rather, how is our world doing? The Gospels never commissioned us to go out and save the world or our country, or even our hometown. Scripture is a personal message from God. Everything centers on putting ourselves in order with the understanding that once God is the center of our lives, He can emanate out to others. It begins with us; no more, no less.
Our task is not to fret about the world, but to be sure that our own world is in order – to be united to Christ. Colonial Catholics did not take the attitude, ”The Church of England defeated Catholicism and now we are doomed.” Instead, they bloomed where they were planted and boldly moved forward — planting ever-more seeds. Some were called to big things, such as Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Francis Cabrini, and others were called simply to live lives of good examples. All were called to be faithful and gradually enough answered the call that things changed for the better.
An Ebb and Flow
“Sin dwells here and spiritual warfare will continue until the end. There will always be those who seek to destroy Christianity; at our work place, at school, or in social settings, our Christian values may be ridiculed. Whether we lived during Roman times, the 1950′s or today, our lives should be the same — true to the teachings of the Church. Sure it’s harder to disapprove of an offensive movie or a song today than it was in the not so distant past when our culture’s shared moral values were higher. Nevertheless, it’s still easier for us to be Catholics today in this country than it is to be one in a Muslim country or to be a Catholic during Roman or even colonial times. And we are not alone. Plenty of other people are recognizing the same things we are.
In spiritual warfare there is always an ebb and flow. Fr. Gary Benz of Linton, ND shared a story of inspiration with me that reflects the importance of keeping the faith even in the face of overwhelming odds.
When Fr. Gary was a deacon, he helped celebrate a Mass in Bregenz, Austria. At one point, he looked up into the choir loft where two Dominican nuns in their nineties looked down over a church full of nuns. “It occurred to me how touching such a view must have been for these very elderly religious women,” he said, “because there was a time when they were the only two nuns left in their dying order.” Trying to run the compound with just the two of them, the nuns prayed that the property would not revert back to the state for secular purposes, as was the plan. Their prayers were answered. A new order founded in 1940′s Das Werk, (Community of the Work) could not find a compound to house their growing vocations. They came across the two cloistered nuns who were praying that the property could continue in the hands of a religious community. The nuns were able to continue as cloistered while the new community flourished and brought renewed vibrancy to the faith. ”It had been the end of one era but the beginning of another,” said Fr. Gary. “The faith might be dying out in one place, but there is always a renewal and rebirth in others.”
Some of us might not only fret about faith seemingly dying out in our country, but perhaps it’s been dying out in our own family. In some families, children or even parents have left the fold. Fr. Gary encourages people not to despair even then, but to stay the course:
Jesus did everything right but He was still put on the cross. He could have said, ”Look what I did for them and they put Me on the cross.” He did all the right things but still ended up on the cross, Judas betrayed Him and his apostles except for John ran away. Parents often feel this way and so do pastors. We are the spiritual fathers of our congregations. It hurts to see kids go off and engage in bad behavior. We think, “Well, what did I do wrong?” I know what parents go through. But there are still prayers. There are kids who come back.
There was one boy in high school that I used to wonder, “Is there any hope?” This kid was an astounding athlete. But he deified his accomplishments and forgot his soul. Later on, he had suffered an injury and could not play sports any longer. I recently had his wedding. He is now a faithful Catholic.
Enthroning the King of All Nations
The truth is that we can really defend and change the world, but only by beginning with our own world — ourselves and our families — and moving out from there. As Catholics, our defenses are many: the sacraments, the holy sacrifice of the Mass, Our Blessed Mother and the rosary, prayer and fasting.
We can also engage in spiritual battle under the sovereignty of the King of all nations. An old devotion that is growing in popularity in this country is to enthrone the Sacred Heart of Jesus. By physically enthroning Jesus in our homes, we put Him over us in a concrete as well as physical way. Through this custom, we publicly proclaim our allegiance to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, placing our families, schools, churches, cities, etc., under His divine protection and guidance.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart has been a part of the Church throughout history. In 1956, Pius XII’s encyclical Haurietis Aquas (On the Theology of the Sacred Heart) showed how devotion to the Love of God has its roots all the way back to the Old Testament. He stated that this is one of the oldest devotions in the Catholic Faith.
Pope John Paul II said, “It is in the Heart of Jesus that the human heart discovers its true and unique meaning and destiny.” He urged us to, “Always keep [our] eye on the Sacred Heart of Jesus (for) from Him you will learn the great lesson of love so necessary for every Christian family”.
The enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a home comes from the promise Our Lord Jesus made to St. Mary Margaret Alacoque in one of her visions: “I will bless every house in which an image of My heart shall be exposed and honored.” The family consecrates themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, makes him Lord over all they do and displays a picture or image of the Sacred Heart prominently in the home. There are a number of ways to conduct an enthronement ceremony and people don’t have to be Catholic to do it. It is a public act of consecration in which the entire family is consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Who is inflamed with love for us.
Father Mateo Crawley-Boevey, born in Peru on September 18, 1875, began this tradition. At sixteen, he joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Valparaiso, Chile, and applied himself with zeal to promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart. Through his desire to spread the promises of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary, he conceived of the idea of drawing families closer to Jesus, the King of Love, by placing the image of His Sacred Heart in a place of honor in the home, thus bringing the family’s life into intimate relations with Him. On August 24, 1907, Father Mateo drew up his plan “to conquer the whole world for the Heart of Jesus, home after home, family after family.” Each of the five Popes who reigned during the life of Father Mateo gave full approbation and blessing to the work: St. Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, and John XXIII.
This recognition of the Kingship of the Heart of Christ over us is not reserved just for families, but is open to individuals, parishes, communities and institutions. The Enthronement is really a way of life. His Divine Heart is the center of attention attracting families and communities to live under the influence of His love.
This devotion is especially important for today’s world where people fret about the state of affairs. When we make a covenant with the Sacred Heart of Jesus to live under His Kingship we need not fear for we have the protection of the King of all Nations. We thereby accept His Lordship over our families, the world and over us. From that place of protection, we can move forward and fear nothing.
For an information package on how to enthrone the Sacred Heart of Jesus, call 1-800-851-5320 or go to www.sacredheartapostolate.com.