Christian humanism

Paul Seaton writes on Alan Jacobs’s “The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis“. Here he writes on Christian humanism’s motivating concerns:

The Christian God, we’re told, delights in human variety and leaves man “in the hands of his own counsel” in many areas. These thinkers therefore pursued their different muses and put their talents at the service of their Lord, their fellow man, country and civilization. There is a second lesson to be found here as well: respect for conscience. These days, however, one needs to add: “informed conscience,” perhaps even “trembling conscience.” These men and woman were acutely aware that they were under their Lord’s judgment. Publicly rendered judgments about war and peace, social order and disorder, the formation and deformation of the human person, were not to be lightly offered. And talents were given to be exercised and to bear fruit. We will be “required to give an account of ourselves” is found twice in the New Testament.

The Christian God thus bestows gifts and freedom and conscience upon his favored creature and Christianity calls its adherents to employ them in tandem for His glory and the salvation of men. Moreover, since Christians belong to two cities, they owe duties to both. And finally, since Western civilization is a civilization deeply bound up with Christianity, having absorbed paganism and spawned modernity, its fate is of concern as well. Hence, something of a first sketch or indication of Christian humanism emerges: it is the thoughtful Christian’s response to his manifold duties and complex vocation.

It needs to be further specified, however. Christian humanism follows, and is a response to, humanism tout court. In other words, it is a decidedly modern phenomenon, a response of modern Christians to modernity itself. The rise of fascism, the outbreak of total war, the dangers to and decadence of the democracies—all these were parts of the modern phenomenon. These talented and thoughtful Christians tried to rise to the level of the challenges they posed. To do so, they draw from deep wells, while adapting them to the times.

Hence, Weil’s great essay on “force,” that is, on Homer’s Iliad, which showed the permanently illuminating power of the founding Western epic and its contemporary relevance. Hence too her caveat to her contemporaries not to become the enemy in combatting him. Achilles always needed the lesson that grieving Priam taught about our common mortal lot.

Hence, Eliot’s extolling of Virgil as the definition of “classic” and of Dante’s Comedy as the defining European poem; hence his study of “modernism” as modernity’s latest poetic revelation and as a form that contemporary Christian belief could employ to constructive ends. This would be yet another example of turning the gold and silver of Egypt into objects pleasing to the Lord.

Hence, too, the spirited Maritain’s diatribe against the founders of modernity (Luther, Descartes, Rousseau) in The Three Reformers, but also his coinage, “integral humanism,” to indicate the antidote to modern errors. Hence his efforts at reconnecting Thomism, modern science, and modern democracy on the basis of an updated ideal of wisdom and Christian personalism. Hence, too, his Education at the Crossroads, a critique of “the American system of education.” Man must be considered whole and free and his education, designed for the whole free person. The spiritual nature and destiny of the person must be front and center, even, or especially, in an industrial and technical age.

And, hence Lewis’s 1943 classic, The Abolition of Man, itself a critique of contemporary pedagogy, this time in England. The title indicates the stakes involved in getting education right. If there is a single phrase that sums up the apprehensions of these Christian humanists, this is it. One pedagogical path led to “men without chest,” the other followed “the Tao,” the common moral wisdom of mankind. Grace then would have a dialogue partner that was open to its message of forgiveness and elevation.

I’m fascinated by the foresight the Christian humanists showed in realizing that, despite the necessary nature of World War II, the Western powers weren’t morally prepared for the post-war implications of our victory. And that a descent into a technocratic model of international governance was not a laudable turn of events, for its inevitable interest in further grinding down human distinctiveness in the pursuit of a standardizable social order. I’ll be reading Jacobs’s book before the end of the year to better understand his view on Christian humanism.

“Christian humanism follows, and is a response to, humanism tout court. In other words, it is a decidedly modern phenomenon, a response of modern Christians to modernity itself.”

A Jesus who agrees with everything

Samuel Gregg writes that Catholics are drowning in sentimentalism and that “faith and reason are under siege from an idolatry of feelings”:

Catholicism has always attached high value to reason. By reason, I don’t just mean the sciences which give us access to nature’s secrets. I also mean the reason that enables us to know how to use this information rightly; the principles of logic which tell us that 2 times 2 can never equal 5; our unique capacity to know moral truth; and the rationality which helps us understand and explain Revelation.

Such is Catholicism’s regard for reason that this emphasis has occasionally collapsed into hyper-rationalism, such as the type which Thomas More and John Fisher thought characterized much scholastic theology in the twenty years preceding the Reformation. Hyper-rationalism isn’t, however, the problem facing Christianity in Western countries today. We face the opposite challenge. I’ll call it Affectus per solam.

“By Feelings Alone” captures much of the present atmosphere within the Church throughout the West. It impacts how some Catholics view not only the world but the faith itself. At the core of this widespread sentimentalism is an exaltation of strongly-felt feelings, a deprecation of reason…

So what are symptoms of Affectus per solam? One is the widespread use of language in everyday preaching and teaching that’s more characteristic of therapy than words used by Christ and his Apostles. Words like “sin” thus fade and are replaced by “pains,” “regrets” or “sad mistakes.” …

Above all, sentimentalism reveals itself in certain presentations of Jesus Christ. The Christ whose hard teachings shocked his own followers and who refused any concession to sin whenever he spoke of love somehow collapses into a pleasant liberal rabbi. This harmless Jesus never dares us to transform our lives by embracing the completeness of truth. …

That isn’t, however, the Christ revealed in the Scriptures. As Joseph Ratzinger wrote in his 1991 book To Look on Christ: “A Jesus who agrees with everything and everyone, a Jesus without his holy wrath, without the harshness of truth and true love is not the real Jesus as the Scripture shows but a miserable caricature. A conception of ‘gospel’ in which the seriousness of God’s wrath is absent has nothing to do with the biblical Gospel.”

“This harmless Jesus never dares us to transform our lives…”

Distinguishing nothing from something

Brandon Vogt and Bishop Robert Barron had what I thought was a great exchange on the topic of creation and being with respect to Stephen Hawking’s argument that the existence of the universe does not require an explanation:

Brandon Vogt: Hawking seems to suggest that really, the only reason to believe in God, is if you think he’s necessary to explain the universe. That God would have been the only possible cause of the universe, and so the rest of the chapter aims to show why the universe could have been created without God. Hawking says explicitly, “I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing according to the laws of science,” and he later says, “The laws of nature itself tell us that not only could the universe have popped into existence without any assistance like a proton, and have required nothing in terms of energy, but also that it is possible that nothing caused the Big Bang.” What’s your take on that analysis?

Bishop Robert Barron: He’s doing there what a lot of his acolytes do, which is equivocate on the term “nothing.” I know it seems odd to put it that way, because nothing is nothing. But they really are, they’re equivocating on the meaning of the term.

Let’s stay within the philosophical frame. Within philosophy, “nothing” designates absolute non-being, right? The absolute negation of being of any kind. But when the theoretical physicists use the word “nothing,” they’re using it in a highly equivocal way. They’re not intending by that word absolute metaphysical non-being. They’re talking about really a very rich and fecund field of energy out of which these subatomic particles emerge.

The minute you say what they came from and what they return to, you’re not designating nothing. You’re not designating absolute metaphysical non-being. You’re pointing to this very richly textured field out of which these energies appear. And so it’s throwing the word “nothing” around as though it’s solving a metaphysical problem. What they mean by it is not like a measurable thing, so you might be pointing to a dimension of reality which is not a measurable thing in the conventional sense. If by that you mean “nothing,” fine, but see, what they in fact are indicating is a contingent state of affairs that therefore needs to be explained metaphysically. We still can ask the question, “What’s the condition for the possibility of that state of affairs?”

The thing that you read, that passage, when I read that on the plane, I remember I laughed out loud because: so the universe comes out of absolute non-being, but given the laws of nature. Say what you want about the laws of nature—they’re not nothing. The laws of nature are naming certain fundamental constants that the scientists are operating out of. That’s the epistemological context in which scientists are operating. Say what you want of those, but they’re not absolute non-being. So then the question arises, “How do you explain the laws of nature?” Which I think is a very searching question.

Look, all of the sciences are predicated on the assumption that there is a fundamental intelligibility about being and “laws of nature” is just a way of saying that. That there is an intelligible structure to reality at the ordinary level of our experience and at the most fundamental level of theoretical physics. And Hawking is calling those, for sake of argument, “the laws of nature.” I want to know where those come from! I want to know how it’s just the case that reality is explicable in terms of densely complex mathematical intelligibilities. And all of the sciences assume it—they don’t prove it, they assume it, they rest upon it. Where did those come from? I want to know that.

And don’t play the game of saying, “Oh it’s coming from nothing, it just comes out of absolute non-being.” Oh, and of course conditioned by the “laws of nature.” I mean, philosophically speaking you’re just trading in nonsense there.

Conservatism and T.S. Eliot

Roger Scruton writes on T.S. Eliot, prefaced by this from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute:

Conservatism as understood by Burke and Eliot, isn’t blind adherence to tradition but the ability to immerse oneself in and clearly see present realities. Conservatism’s eye to the present makes it a modern animal.

What was T.S. Eliot about and why does his thinking resonate and endure? Scruton writes:

T. S. Eliot was indisputably the greatest poet writing in English in the twentieth century. He was also the most revolutionary Anglophone literary critic since Samuel Johnson, and the most influential religious thinker in the Anglican tradition since the Wesleyan movement. His social and political vision is contained in all his writings, and has been absorbed and reabsorbed by generations of English and American readers, upon whom it exerts an almost mystical fascination—even when they are moved, as many are, to reject it. …

Eliot attempted to shape a philosophy for our times that would be richer and more true to the complexity of human needs than the free-market panaceas that have so often dominated the thinking of conservatives in government. He assigned a central place in his social thinking to high culture. He was a thorough traditionalist in his beliefs but an adventurous modernist in his art, holding artistic modernism and social traditionalism to be different facets of a common enterprise. Modernism in art was, for Eliot, an attempt to salvage and fortify a living artistic tradition in the face of the corruption and decay of popular culture. …

The Waste Land was later republished with notes in which Eliot explained some of his references and allusions, such as that contained in the title, which alludes to the Fisher King of the Parsifal legend, and The Waste Land over which he presides, awaiting the hero who will ask the questions that will destroy winter’s bleak enchantment and renew the world. The allegory of modern civilization contained in this reference to the medieval fertility cults, and their literary transformation in Arthurian romance, was not lost on Eliot’s readers. Nor was it the first time that these symbols and legends of medieval romance had been put to such a use—witness Wagner’s Parsifal, to which Eliot refers obliquely, by quoting from Verlaine’s poem.

Nevertheless, there was a peculiar poignancy in the very erudition of the poem, as though the whole of Western culture were being brought to bear on the desert landscape of the modern city in a last effort to encompass it, to internalize it, and to understand its meaning. The use of anthropological conceptions parallels Wagner’s use of the Teutonic myths. (In The Waste Land there are more quotations from Wagner than from any other poet.) Eliot is invoking the religious worldview—and in particular the sense that life’s renewal depends upon supernatural forces—but as a fact about human consciousness, rather than an item of religious belief. In this way, he was able to avail himself of religious ideas and imagery without committing himself to any religious belief. As he was rapidly discovering, without religious ideas the true condition of the modern world cannot be described. Only by describing modernity from a point of view outside of history can we grasp the extent of our spiritual loss.

After The Waste Land Eliot continued to write poetry inspired by the agonizing dissociation, as he saw it, between the sensibility of our culture and the available experience of the modern world. …

Culture seems to me to be a necessarily directed thing, meaning that it’s not just a word used to describe community habits or ways of being together, but rather that culture and its roots in the cultus is concerned with elevating and holding sacred certain things, while marking out those things which are not life-giving. Scruton writes on how Eliot thought of culture and democracy as parallel and perhaps oppositional forces:

Eliot was brought up in a democracy. He inherited that great fund of public spirit which is the gift of American democracy to the modern world, and the cause of so much ignorant hatred of America. But he was not a democrat in his sensibility. Eliot believed that culture could not be entrusted to the democratic process precisely because of the carelessness with words, this habit of unthinking cliché, which would always arise when every person is regarded as having an equal right to express himself. …

Hence, the critic has, for Eliot, an enhanced significance in the modern, democratic world. It is he who must act to restore what the aristocratic ideal of taste would have spontaneously generated—a language in which words are used with their full meaning and in order to show the world as it is.

And Scruton on how Eliot thought of religion not simply as dogma, but as something with a rooted and timeless character:

For Eliot, however, religion in general, and the Christian religion in particular, should not be seen merely in Platonic terms as an attitude towards what is eternal and unchanging. The truth of our condition is that we are historical beings who find whatever consolation and knowledge is vouchsafed to us in time. The consolations of religion come to us in temporal costume, through institutions that are alive with the spirit of history. To rediscover our religion is not to rise free from the temporal order; it is not to deny history and corruption, in order to contemplate the timeless truths. On the contrary, it is to enter more deeply into history, so as to find in the merely transitory the mark and the sign of that which never passes: it is to discover the “point of intersection of the timeless with time,” which is, according to Four Quartets, the occupation of the saint. …

And finally here’s Scruton describing Anglican Christianity in a way I’ve never seen it described before:

For Eliot, therefore, conversion was not a matter merely of acknowledging the truth of Christ. It involved a conscious gesture of belonging, whereby he united his poetical labors with the perpetual labor of the Anglican church. For the Anglican church is peculiar in this: that it has never defined itself as “protestant”; that it has always sought to accept rather than protest against its inheritance, while embracing the daring belief that the truths of Christianity have been offered in a local form to the people of England. It is a church which takes its historical nature seriously, acknowledging that its duty is less to spread the gospel among mankind than to sanctify a specific community. And in order to fit itself for this role, the Anglican church has, through its divines and liturgists, shaped the English language according to the Christian message, while also bringing that message into the here and now.

Kevin Williamson wrote on Elon Musk and Eliot’s The Waste Land recently.

Higher Powers

Notre Dame’s 2018 Fall Conference was a good and worthwhile experience, focused on the theme of “Higher Powers”. I was fortunate to meet Ignat Solzhenitsyn and Rod Dreher for the first time, and many other good people. Here’s context on the conference:

What is the proper relationship between God, the human person, and the state? In a 1993 address, Nobel Laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn observed that, “having refused to recognize the unchanging Higher Power above us, we have filled that space with personal imperatives, and suddenly life has become a harrowing prospect indeed.” Twenty-five years after Solzhenitsyn’s address, and one hundred years after his birth, the Center for Ethics and Culture’s 19th Annual Fall Conference will consider how every human pursuit can be oriented toward higher powers and reflect on the true measures of social progress, the role of morality in law and politics, and the dynamics of liberty, dignity, self-sacrifice, and the good in public life.

Daniel J. Mahoney’s conversation/interview with Ignat Solzhenitsyn on “Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Art and Truth in a Fearsome Century” was the highlight of the conference for me. Other highlights were Alasdair MacInytre’s talk “Absences from Aquinas, Silences in Ireland” as well as Adrian Vermeule’s “Liberalism and the Invisible Hand”. Carter Snead moderated the closing colloquy on “Catholicism and the American Project“, which provides glimpse into a wide and deep debate within American Catholicism on how to Catholics are to move forward in this country in the 21st century.

The colloquium “I Shall Write My Law Within Their Hearts” moderated by Rev. Séan Mac Giollarnáth, O. Carm. was also very good. It featured Hon. Thomas Donnelly (Loyola University) who spoke on “Freeing Law from Legalism”, Marianna Orlandi (University of Padua) who spoke on “Judges Who Refuse ‘Higher Powers,’ and Judges Who Die for Them: An Italian Case on Assisted Suicide, and on Sanctity” and Bernard Prusak (King’s College) who spoke on “The USCCB and the U.S. Supreme Court on Cooperation with Evil”.

Donnelly advocated the restoration of the U.S. jury trial to common practice and the habit of judges not hiding behind a technocratic method of rendering judgment, but instead fully engaging their cases as moral agents. Orlandi contrasted public disengagement from moral issues in the case of suicide by physician and contrasted this with the witness of Rosario Livatino, a young Italian judge murdered by the mafia who is now a Servant of God. Prusak spoke on the danger of all public questions of moral philosophy and moral reasoning being distilled to a narrow set of “religious liberty” issues in constitutional practice, making the point that many if not most so-called “religious” questions in American law are not properly theological disputes that are, consequently, unresolvable in law, but are in fact generally issues of moral philosophy and moral reasoning.

All Saints and All Souls

I’m at Notre Dame for the Center for Ethics & Culture’s 19th Annual Fall Conference. This year’s theme is “Higher Powers”. Since I got into town late on Halloween, and am marking All Saints and All Souls days while here, I thought I would pay my respects to the dead at Notre Dame’s Cedar Grove Cemetery on campus:

Cedar Grove Cemetery provides a dignified Christian burial to members of the Notre Dame community. By setting aside a holy place for burial, Cedar Grove Cemetery offers a fitting environment for full liturgical celebrations. Just as in life, we believe that in death the human body deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. We also foster a type of remembering that is enlightened by faith and sees death as a bridge to the Communion of Saints. Our bond with the believing is not broken by death.

We celebrated mass with Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana. It’s a beautiful time of year to be on campus.

‘You might be the source of your own pain’

Karen Swallow Prior, author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books, reflects in an unexpectedly beautiful way on the good life after she was literally hit by a bus:

Sin is like this in that one small lapse can cause great damage. The split second in which I did not see the bus resulted in the breaking of my body and the torment of physical and emotional pain—damage that will take months to heal. Likewise, even small decisions by those in positions of power to look the other way, to fail to see or heed, can result in a multiplicity of brokenness in the church body—brokenness that, like the fractures in my body, must be tended to with great care, time, and skill in order to prevent deformity and malformation from setting in.

Sin is like this in the way its consequences roll like a small snowball into a heaving avalanche. The moment in which I failed to see the bus rendered profound costs for many other people: the members of the medical teams serving in the ambulance crew, emergency room, and the trauma unit; the other patients sharing space and resources in an overcrowded hospital; the witnesses to my accident, one of whom, a fellow believer, connected with me through the increasingly small world of social media and blessed me with her prayers, but who needs prayers herself because of what she and her husband saw that morning; the family and friends whose lives are directly impacted by the care, concern, and service they offer now out of their love for me. Even when the original error seems small and insignificant, sin’s toll is infinite.

Sin is like this in that it’s terrifying to acknowledge that you might be the source of your own pain as well as the pain of others. Sin is like this in that it’s easy, when facing this truth, to become entangled by self-pity, regret, and a sense of helplessness.

And yet, the God of the universe doesn’t leave us alone in our own error. He offers help in the form of people made in his likeness, whether they be strangers who reflect the image of God by intervening out of compassion or brothers and sisters in Christ who serve as his hands and feet in our time of need.

God also intervenes through the person of Jesus Christ, who suffered on our behalf to remove our pain once and for all, not here on this old earth but in the new earth to come: a new earth where busy crosswalks will become streets of gold, where buses will be replaced by horse-drawn chariots, where medical personnel will make way for the Great Physician, and where every tear wrought by our own sin—and by those who have sinned against us—will be wiped away.

But to ignore our sin, to refuse to repent of it once it has been pointed out to us, is as disastrous as ignoring a massive bus bearing down on us.

What a gift she has to write in such a penetrating way after something so physically traumatic. I’ve had this excerpted for a long while sitting in my notes, and keep coming back to it.

Ambiguity, young people, and discernment

Pope Francis and the Vatican are hosting the Synod on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment” in Rome this month. Chris Stefanick suggests what Catholic engagement with young people requires right now:

A back-to-basics clarity. I’m not merely speaking about clarity when it comes to specific teachings, but in a more encompassing sense of the word: They want clarity on what, exactly, we have to offer for their lives. And if we can’t answer that for them, they want us to get out of the way.

Our message, the “thing” that we offer, is the Gospel, which, despite all the failures of the Church, remains the best news ever. It’s the news that the human person isn’t a cosmic accident whose destiny is worm food and then nothingness. It’s the message that we’re created with a purpose, redeemed by a loving God who has a plan for our lives, and destined for eternal glory. It’s the message that we’re called to greatness by making Jesus the Lord of our lives. We’re not just invited to call him “friend” and then do what we want. It’s the message that he loves us, even in our weakness, and that his love has deep and profoundly good implications for our lives.

The results are conversions. Every week. A young woman recently approached me after an event and said, “I had an abortion. You’re the first person I’m telling this to. And this is the first time since my abortion that I feel like God can love me again.” I walked her to her priest who heard her confession, and she left a different person. These stories happen all the time. …

Ambiguous language about hard moral issues won’t win souls. After the McCarrick debacle, frankly, vague language from our clerics attempting to be more open-minded and push the envelope on sexual ethics will just seem … well … creepy. (Now is definitely the hour for black-and-white clarity to make a comeback.) …

Creating a rift between new propositions and old moral teachings in an effort to go along with the times won’t make us attractive. It will make us look faithless and confused.

If we want to actually win souls in a world where young people are bombarded by 3,000 ads per day, we have to get back to the basics. We need to be clear about what, exactly, we offer the world. … We have to be known as the Church of the Gospel again.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput is in Rome for the Synod, and is a member of its permanent council. At gatherings like these, bishops offer statements called interventions and I’m excerpting from two of Archbishop Chaput’s interventions. First:

Who we are as creatures, what it means to be human, why we should imagine we have any special dignity at all — these are the chronic questions behind all our anxieties and conflicts. And the answer to all of them will not be found in ideologies or the social sciences, but only in the person of Jesus Christ, redeemer of man. Which of course means we need to understand, at the deepest level, why we need to be redeemed in the first place.

If we lack the confidence to preach Jesus Christ without hesitation or excuses to every generation, especially to the young, then the Church is just another purveyor of ethical pieties the world doesn’t need. …

In reality, young people are too often products of the age, shaped in part by the words, the love, the confidence, and the witness of their parents and teachers, but more profoundly today by a culture that is both deeply appealing and essentially atheist.

The elders of the faith community have the task of passing the truth of the Gospel from age to age, undamaged by compromise or deformation. Yet too often my generation of leaders, in our families and in the Church, has abdicated that responsibility out of a combination of ignorance, cowardice and laziness in forming young people to carry the faith into the future. Shaping young lives is hard work in the face of a hostile culture. The clergy sexual abuse crisis is precisely a result of the self-indulgence and confusion introduced into the Church in my lifetime, even among those tasked with teaching and leading. And minors — our young people — have paid the price for it.

And second, Archbishop Chaput on youth and vocational discernment in light of maturity:

In his opening Mass homily, the Holy Father described Jesus as “eternally young.” When I heard this, it reminded me of a song by the artist, Jay-Z, that was popular a few years ago. The song was entitled “Forever Young,” and it was a remake of a popular tune by the German group, Alphaville, from the 1980s. Jay-Z sang for the young – and for all of us – “I want to live forever and be forever young.”

The image of Jesus as “eternally young” is not only beautiful but powerful. As we deal with the many outside pressures on the Church today, and the problems we also face within our believing community, we need to remember that Jesus is alive and vigorous, and constantly offering his disciples an abundant new life. …

Of course, the Jesus who came into the world as an infant did not end his mission as a youth. He matured into an adult man of courage, self-mastery, and mercy guided by justice and truth. He was a teacher both tender and forceful; understanding and patient – but also very clear about the kind of human choices and actions that would lead to God, and the kind that would not.

The wealthy societies of today’s world that style themselves as “developed” – including most notably my own – are in fact underdeveloped in their humanity. They’re frozen in a kind of moral adolescence; an adolescence which they’ve chosen for themselves and now seek to impose upon others.

[We need] to be much stronger and more confident in presenting God’s Word and the person of Jesus Christ as the only path to a full and joyful humanity.

I might share one or two more items as the Synod continues, but I’m following it as news filters from Rome. If there’s anything I’ve taken from this so far, it’s how true it is that relationships between different generations can be very difficult, especially for older generations. There’s a continual temptation to “read into” younger generations the same virtues or vices, the same spirit and passions, that characterized your own life, or your own entire generation at an earlier time. This sort of thing makes real encounter with others really difficult, because you’re bringing lots of psychological and emotional baggage into that encounter.

‘Strangers’ in Philadelphia

It was really great, late-summer-feeling weather in Center City Philadelphia yesterday. I’m in town wrapping up odds and ends, and as evening came on walked over to the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute at 19th and Walnut for the Collegium Institute‘s “Strangers in a Strange Land” talk/symposium.

Fran Maier led a fruitful conversation on the topic of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s book of the same name, released last year. While the role and place of Christianity in American life is increasingly in doubt, there’s no doubt about the necessity of the theological virtue of Christian hope.

I think the last Collegium event I attended was Roger Scruton’s talk at Penn.

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An evening conversation about Archbishop Chaput’s recent book and the future of American Catholicism.

Fran Maier: Senior Advisor to the Archbishop of Philadelphia and former editor of the National Catholic Register.

Michael P. Moreland: University Professor of Law and Religion, and Director of the Eleanor H. McCullen Center for Law, Religion and Public Policy at Villanova University.

Jessica Murdoch: Associate Professor of Fundamental and Dogmatic Theology at Villanova University, and member of the National Advisory Council of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Mission territory is all around us

In light of the scandal of Theodore McCarrick and the apparent pastoral failures of Pope Francis and others of this particular moment, George Weigel’s recent reflection (before the McCarrick revelations) on the Acts of the Apostles is something I turned to for perspective:

We live at a time when the surrounding culture no longer supports the transmission of the faith. On the contrary, as the contemporary experiences of Ireland, Quebec, and Belgium graphically demonstrate, the prevailing cultural climate can asphyxiate once-robust Catholic instincts—especially when Catholic leadership is weak, defensive, unenthusiastic about the Gospel, and seemingly embarrassed by Catholicism’s countercultural claims. In these post-Christian circumstances, the New Evangelization is going to have to unfold one convert at a time. …

When those conversions take place, they’ll likely do so in the most quotidian circumstances: in random encounters with open hearts in homes, recreational settings, and other everyday venues. U.S. Catholics older than 50 once thought of “mission territory” as places that got glossy full-color photo spreads in National Geographic. Acts alerts us to our true situation: Mission territory is all around us—at our kitchen table, in our offices, in our lives as consumers and citizens.

Christianity is inherently countercultural because Christians are always called to convert the culture. The great vignette of Paul on the Athenian Areopagus in Acts 17 reminds us of one evangelical strategy for cultural conversion: Appeal to a culture’s noblest instincts and try to demonstrate a deeper foundation for those aspirations—the foundation that comes from friendship with Jesus Christ. It’s not the only such strategy (and it didn’t work out all that well for Paul). But it was one of John Paul II’s favorite biblical metaphors for the Church in the twenty-first century, and it’s very much worth pondering in contemporary America. …

Over two millennia, shipwreck has always been a call to a deeper fidelity and a more courageous evangelization. So in 2018, perhaps Acts is calling those with ears to hear to get beyond the food fights of the Catholic blogosphere and engage in some retail evangelization—a challenge, to be sure, but also the bracing vocation into which each of us was baptized.

It appears that the most important sort of retail evangelization that is required at this moment is for faithful pastors, priests, and bishops to put aside their clerical fears and institutional hesitations, and live and celebrate the liturgy in a faithful way. In this moment, orthodoxy and tradition have become the counter-culture.