Signs of Hope

The increasing secularization of our society is reaching unprecedented depths. The highest courts in the land are trumpeting the call to radical individualism, a narcissism that signals the end of our civilization. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy made the tragic comment in 1992 that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This attack on truth is not just an attack on the individual, but on the family. Above is Satan’s subtle, but best slogan to put an exclamation point on the synthesis of all modern philosophical errors. Change but a few words; substitute “discover the truth about” for “define one’s own concept of” and the diabolical becomes the divine. When the true heart of freedom is mistaken for the solipsistic slavery advocated by the blind judge, how can the breakdown of the family over these recent generations surprise us?

Satan and his minions know full well of the divine significance of the well-ordered family and that to imitate the Holy Family, each individual must answer the call to sanctity by sacrificial love, not by self-love. When a soul turns his attention away from the Creator and divine justice concerning his duty to his neighbor, there is no hope for a faithful participation in the buildup of the Body of Christ. Today, the deceit in the Garden has been repackaged for the modern age. Secularism is broadcast in ubiquitous abundance by multifarious media. Unfortunately, the world has been drinking it in to the point of intense inebriation. In a morally drunken stupor, we may miss that Satan has stricken us at our roots, the family!

In these well-lit dark times, we would be prudent to remember what Cardinal George said by way of warning about the encroaching secularism and its effects on Holy Mother Church. He said “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” This was not intended to be a prophecy, but a call to arms for the inevitable course of things as they go in this vale of tears. Cardinal George ended this call by proposing that the successor to the martyred bishop “will pick of the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.”

The Synods on the family are a preemptive strike concerning Cardinal George’s prescient comment and an attempt to pick up the shards of a ruined civilization before most realize that morally, Christendom lies in ruins. What remains of Western Civilization today is primarily illusory as an artifact of unprecedented material wealth that serves to obscure our spiritual malaise. My good priest Fr. Thomas, having spent many years in Rome, reminded me that the state of the family in Europe is even worse than here. He also reminded me that Holy Mother Church extends to all corners of the globe and that to see all the angles is all but impossible.

Though many are panicked about the synods, now is not a time to unabashedly criticize the efforts of Pope Francis and the work of the Church. There is more spiritual profit in the embrace of the 4th Beatitude to mourn for our own sins and the sins of the world. This ought to be our primary response not least because it holds out the promise of eternal comfort. The Church and Her faithful testify to the profundity of the 8th beatitude “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” We are now strangers in a strange land as we watch the Holy Father suffer deceitful insult by the media, by special interest groups and most tragically, by many Catholics as well.

Catholics on the left are clamoring that Pope Francis ought to change immutable Church Teaching. They have been misled by the shackles masquerading as rights promised by the false philosophies and their propagators amplified by a media incapable of truth in representation. The traditionalists have been led by a more intractable tyrant, their own intelligence that has also been fooled by distorted reports, out of context quotes, and hyperbolic commentary.

The Holy Father is a preacher. He is a man of principle not of calculation and when he speaks, he assumes that the faithful will take his words as faithfully inside the context of rightly ordered magisterial teaching. Did Christ calculate his words to impress the Pharisees? Why would the Vicar of Christ? Sadly, there is the tendency towards false attribution as both the right and the left try to hold the Holy Father responsible for the disorders of the media. Pope Francis is not on the left or the right, he is Catholic!

It is a sign of hope that Pope Francis called for the Synods on the pastoral care of the family. However, we ought not to lose sight of the object of hope: our end and the end of those around us in the heavenly country. There is perhaps no greater pastoral need than to bring so many lost sheep back into the fold. The Holy Father is not going to wait for the deceiving mass media to signal our end, or for the bishop martyred in the street before he begins to pick up the shards of destruction. He is doing just what his namesake was called to do: “Francis, rebuild my Church.” The Good Shepherd is going after the lost sheep, as is his duty.

But still, it would be disingenuous to pretend that the Synods are not embroiled in controversy. Certainly, no one would deny the disturbing nature of the interim report, but this is a working document. So before we take to the public square to air our complaints, we ought to prudently consider the right order of our remarks. We must be detached from vindication and we must guard that the problems in the Church do not affect our charity. We must take special care not to detract against the Magisterium. If we do end in speaking publically against certain characters and positions, we must be sure that we act out of charity for the love of God, that our statements are just and that they are necessary for the common good and the good of the soul against whom we decide to speak. No matter how bad it seems in the moment, we may determine it more prudent to wait until we hear the final word on the Synods before we make public corrections.

Pope Francis is the successor of Peter, the very rock upon which Holy Mother Church is built and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the “gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.” We have to believe this or divorce ourselves from Holy Scripture. What is called for from the faithful in these troubled times is patience, prudence, reflection, prayer, fasting and almsgiving, but most of all, humility. “Put not your trust in Princes.” If we are troubled by what we hear from the media, which is sure to be inaccurate, we ought to first turn to God in prayer. Then perhaps we ought to go the original documents in a prayerful and charitable manner.

Pope Francis is a “son of the Church.” He cannot and will not change the teachings of Christ. He assures us of as much. The law will be held by divine providence, not by human efforts, for our fallen nature makes that impossible. Faithful Catholics need not be afraid. The intention of this Synod is to ground our pastoral efforts in love. Let us remember the wise words of the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 13 when he explained: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” As Pope Emeritus Benedict would further guide is, love without the law dissolves into sentimentality, but the law without love is the legalism from which the Pharisee is born. We must embrace both in their proper order, but understand that in the end, all that remains is Love.

Our duty in this present and uncertain age is as it has always been and will always be until the end of time. We are called to colonize heaven. For the sake of God we are to make constant appeal by prayer and deed to our brothers and sisters to become authentic members of the Body of Christ. This is the aim of the Synods. To do so properly we must put on the mind of Christ and the armor of God. As we do this we ought to remember Christ’s exhortation to us in John 7:24 “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Let us not allow the Pharisees, the journalists or anyone else to sway us from our faith in the power of the Holy Spirit concerning these Synods. Pope Francis’ exhortation at the close of the 2015 Synod will give summary and clarification to these vitally important proceedings.

Let us take our Holy Father at his word at that time when we ponder the closing statements that ought to elucidate the outcomes of the Synods. And for now, by our prayers let us help fulfill the great hope of repairing families in order to bring our lost brothers and sisters home. It is likely that things will get much worse before they get better. If in this vale of tears we witness disasters from these synods, our duty remains the same. Let us constantly remind ourselves that our Faith is belief in the promises of Christ, not in the promises of men and that the object of our Hope is Heaven, not a heaven on earth. Pray my brothers and sisters, pray “that our petitions may be worthy of the promises of Christ.” Amen!

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Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg is the executive director of the 7 Institutes at the Veritatis Splendor HQ project. He is a senior fellow at The American Principles Project and a senior fellow at The Cardinal Newman Society. He is on the Teacher Advisory Council at Sophia Institute Press for teachers where he has written Catholic curriculum for the past 8 years, he also serves on the advisory council for Aquinas Learning. Steven is a writer and speaker on education, culture, and the Faith.

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