Thursday, March 24, 2016
Tonight we Catholics enter the Holiest of Holy Days. We may be tempted, in light of all that's going on in politics (and at the Supreme Court, Kevin Walsh's post notwithstanding), to discouragement or even despair. The republic seems on the brink. And yet, there's this beautiful and enduring Truth:
Pange lingua gloriosi
Quem in mundi pretium
Fructus ventris generosi,
Rex effudit gentium.
Taking a cue from Pope Francis, it may be fair to put some of the blame on us -- well-formed, well-educated Catholics-- that we are now at a point in our country's history when some are at risk of not being able to live according to this truth, without significant financial penalty. As Catholic entrepreneur and philanthropist Frank Hanna memorably remarked at last week's conference on Human Ecology at CUA's School of Business and Economics: "Our problem today is two words: Frank. Hanna." But that surely is a bit of it, right? Most of us don't give credible enough witness to the faith. Christ reigns, always offering to live through us, but all too often, we are lukewarm. Secularization is on the march, and has been for decades, but for all our good arguments (and they are good arguments!), have we been the neighbors we've needed to be, the other Christs we're called to be?
Perhaps by now many MOJers have watched or read Yuval Levin's November 2015 First Things Lecture, published (online for subscribers) in the February issue of the journal, "The Perils of Religious Liberty." If not, do so. The entire thing is superb, as we've come to expect of Levin's work. But I wanted to focus attention on his call--similar to Rod Dreher's, I suppose, but just elemental to good Christianity (N.B.: Levin is Jewish)--to prioritize the shoring up of our families and communities to live our lives as credible witnesses. Levin well understands that our ability to do just this requires that we continue to take the political and legal fight to those who oppose religious liberty rightly understood and who oppose our way of life, but he asks that in doing so we not sell ourselves short. Admittedly, this is not my area of expertise, so I'm not as widely read as many who write (or perhaps read) on this blog, but this is perhaps the best piece I've read on religious liberty - ever.
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....
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 lies of our living moral communities--toward family, school, and congregation; 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.
I pray that we all may enter more deeply into the mystery of our faith tonight, seeking the wisdom and the resolve to ask God, day by day, to transform our families, our communities, ourselves. Christ will always reign, regardless of what happens to this beloved country of ours, but friends, our country needs us...
Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Praestet fides supplementum
Laus et iubilatio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
Compar sit laudatio.