FOCUS (jul8fcs.htm)

July 8-10, 2004
vol 15, no. 157

The Two Faces of the City of Man

Father Lawrence Smith

    "Without God, neither we nor the world make sense. If there is no God defining sin as an offense against His Majesty, then there is no sin, we all are good, and our world is filled with the fruits of our goodness...?!?! Or if it is true, as the newspapers sometimes imply, that bad things happen now and then, then the denial of God and His absolute goodness operative in the world leaves one wondering about the wisdom of giving selfish, shortsighted, and sometimes silly people like us the right to say, print, or believe whatever we want. How can one account for evil in the world without a God forbidding it, or for good in the world without a God mandating it, or for truth in the world without a God revealing it?"

Heads, I win: There is no sin in the world.

      Why should anyone respect the laws which have you as their source
      if you will not respect the laws which have God as their source?

    Freedom of the press is ensconced in the Bill of Rights amended to the Constitution of the United States of America, guaranteeing citizens' activity in the marketplace of ideas without undue government interference. Notwithstanding the license some have taken to indulge in obscenity, incendiary polemics, and demagoguery, Americans hold sacred the right to print, broadcast, or transmit whatever is of moment, of interest, or of profit to society. The power of the word both to reflect and to shape reality is acknowledged as a fundamental principle of this and most democracies.

    Children frequently are introduced to the concept of press freedom by way of examining the elements of journalistic reporting and storytelling. The "who-what-where-when" complex of questions is presented to students to help them learn the skills of observation and the rules of rhetoric and articulation. So deeply ingrained in our social psyche is this approach to understanding our world that the products of such analysis are assumed to be accurate, self-evident, and incontrovertible. If it appears in print, on the air, or referenced at an official website, then it must be true. Violations of this trust can result in public shaming, lawsuits, and even incarceration.

    Untrammelled freedom to express in public whatever is on one's mind is predicated on the notion that either truth is the subject being propagated or the object being sought. It is no accident that such is the national attitude in the United States, given that this is a decidedly materialist culture, devoted to the advancement of science as final arbiter of reality, and dedicated to empiricism and technology as the means to explore, comprehend, and subdue the natural world. Truth as concrete reality is a primary good, hence, the expression of ideas consonant with or desirous of truth serve the good. A free press can not (and may not) hurt anyone, because truth is its matter and the truth ultimately is good to know and to share. Thus, lies and liars receive no protection under the principle of a free press.

    But is a half-truth true?

    America is rife with sources of information concerning "who-what-where-when" things happen in society. Raw data inundate our every day. How, however, is one to sort through and organize all of the facts, distinguish the falsehoods therefrom, and then determine the nature of the truth being espoused and one's response thereto?

    Or more simply put, why do things happen?

    It is the policy of reputable disseminators of information to restrict themselves to reporting verifiable, objective matters in the body of their stories. In other words, "who-what-where-when" is all that is considered -- just the facts, ma'am. Speculation is not deemed appropriate in a reportorial venue.

    Why is considered under the heading of editorials and opinions. Theoretically, everyone can agree on the facts, or at least on establishing a means to determine their veracity. What requires further thrashing out is explaining their origins, their ramifications, and their relative importance.

    As an aside, it is curious how much of newspapers, the broadcast media, and the internet is given over to advertisements. If truth is the ultimate goal of the press, one wonders what truth is held dearest by commercial interests. Those eager to point out that making money in homage to the almighty dollar is the major motivator of business would do well to ask whence comes the profit made by capitalists, and what motivates the customers of said capitalists to agree to supply them with so much capital. Who can be most trusted with discerning truth: manipulators of the market, or those in the market so manipulated? How can one be sure that a free press is free from manipulation?

    But that aside aside, the content of the media -- whether print, broadcast, or electronic -- conveys a certain image of the world. There is crime in the streets, corruption in government, and concupiscence in the population. What sells newspapers, boosts ratings, and generates website hits is the sensational, the intense, and the violent. What drives disagreements in specific controversies far exceeds the attention given whatever general principles on which parties agree that could provide a context for conflict resolution. Pornography is peddled, high culture is applauded, and Americana is celebrated -- indiscriminately and in fairly equal amounts.

    Why does all of this get ink, air time, and downloaded?

    Because businesses make money that way. Or because that's what the public wants. Or because the government is oppressive. Or because our schools are inadequate. Or because that's the way of the world.

    But why?

    What no one seems willing to admit is that the press is free to report any fact and to editorialize any explanation -- except that mankind is wallowing in sin.

    Imagine this as the beginning of a newspaper article: "Two men were convicted today of committing the sin of theft by robbing a bank..." Or this for the lead story on the evening news: "A new poll released today indicates that Americans consider the sin of adultery to be much more harmful to society than the sin of fornication..." Or a website with this on its home page: "Earn the highest possible returns on usurious investments in the Third World by taking advantage of loopholes in the tax code explained by our trained professionals..."

    It will be pointed out that bank robbery is defined as a felony, not as a sin. That not everyone agrees that fornication is immoral. That one man's sin of usury is another man's just return on a capital investment.

    But why?

    Are there no media executives who understand and accept the moral law? Is there no audience among the God-fearing who desire a no-holds-barred approach to describing the state of the world? Would the government persecute this kind of press freedom?

    An odd self-censorship is operative in America. No laws forbid describing illegal or immoral behavior as sins. The Establishment Clause applies to government (and schools and public squares and the politically correct), but not to media outlets. Yet the public forum is utterly devoid of a daily accounting of world events from the perspective of the Faith. The descriptions of reality ignore God, thus explanations, blame, and solutions for the ills of the world ignore God.

    But why?

    The aforementioned Establishment Clause is interpreted in such wise that the muzzle intended for government is self-imposed on the citizenry. Obeying the law of unintended consequences, our sinful elimination of God from the workings of government has resulted in the elimination of God in the workings of American life, including the expression of truth through the press. Fittingly, we neither admit the sin that removed Our Lord from our Constitution, nor the sins riddling our hearts. The Constitution is silent on the subject of God, the government is silent on the subject of God. We the people are the government, silent on the subject of God in our laws, our press, and in our understanding of the truth.

    So long as God's sovereignty is denied by our nation, our facts will be half-truths at best, and wholly useless toward attaining our supposed goals of life, liberty, and happiness. We deny life to the unborn, the ill, and the old. We are enslaved to bodily appetites, oppressed by one another's greed, and impotent to understand why. We have more money, more gadgets, and more health than any other civilization in history, and our whole economy is predicated on the idea that it is not enough, that better things will replace these things, that satisfaction and contentment with a sufficiency is impossible.

    Without God, neither we nor the world make sense. If there is no God defining sin as an offense against His Majesty, then there is no sin, we all are good, and our world is filled with the fruits of our goodness...?!?! Or if it is true, as the newspapers sometimes imply, that bad things happen now and then, then the denial of God and His absolute goodness operative in the world leaves one wondering about the wisdom of giving selfish, shortsighted, and sometimes silly people like us the right to say, print, or believe whatever we want. How can one account for evil in the world without a God forbidding it, or for good in the world without a God mandating it, or for truth in the world without a God revealing it?

    There are those who would tell us that all that is necessary is the "who-what-where-when" approach to reality. Therein, in the material, tangible, objective world, lies truth and our ability to recognize it and to agree on it. No more can be reasonably expected in a pluralistic and free society.

    So much, then, for a free press. The only purpose for having a free press is to allow the free exchange of ideas. These ideas can be tolerated so long as they pursue truth. Ideas can not be measured by, contained in, or subjected to instruments designed for empirical evaluation. If the only truth acknowledged is material, there is no need for free speech, free press, or free religion. All that is necessary then would be scientists, recording devices, and no-nonsense news readers to give us just the facts -- a town crier would do the trick.

    But if ideas are good and what makes them good is their truth, then God must be acknowledged. This acknowledgment must be in the citizenry, in the press, and, yes, in the Constitution. Or put another way, God must be loved with one's whole heart, whole mind, whole soul, and whole strength. Denial of our obligation to obey this greatest Commandment accounts for our denial of the second greatest Commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves. Evidence of this two-fold denial is in each day's news.

    Denying God and neighbor, why should anyone believe in democracy and democratic rights? Why should citizens obey the laws of the land? Why should the government allow the press, the citizenry, or the faithful any freedom at all?

    Sin confessed tells us who is wrong: the sinner. Sin confessed tells us what is wrong: offending God. Sin confessed tells us where it leads: hell. Sin confessed tells us when the remedy will come: with repentance. And the final mystery is revealed in why repentance is possible: because Christ Jesus loves us unto death, even death on the Cross.

    Perhaps this makes no sense to empiricists and leaves them unsatisfied. To the world immersed in the senses and the nonsense of sin, grace is unfathomable. This world, our culture, is self-admittedly attached to satisfying perpetually insatiable appetites. Those who insist on nothing but physical existence as the meaning of life have the whole of their physical lives to pursue such happiness. At the end of this life, they will come to an end of happiness, and they will discover to their eternal horror that they forfeited their liberty when they exercised their "right" to be "free" from God. In the parlance of Madison Avenue, you can have it all -- but you can't take it with you. C.S. Lewis put it very aptly when he wrote, "In the end there are two kinds of people: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done', and those to whom God says, 'Thy will be done.'"

    Will someone please explain how the First Amendment obeys the First Commandment?

Tails, you lose: There is no grace in the home

    What makes you think that tomorrow will fulfill your present hopes
    any better than your present has fulfilled the hopes of yesterday?

    Modernity has expelled God from the body politic. This should not surprise anyone. God has also been made unwelcome in His own House, the Church. This should not surprise anyone. Most people have kept God out of their houses. Jesus could find no room in the inn, but at least Mary and Joseph were able to give Him a home in Nazareth. The modern world has made Our Lord homeless again.

    Since the Second Vatican Council there has been an ongoing and explicit effort to render mundane the Church's approach to worship, to ecclesial structure, and to activity in the world. Stencils, statues, steeples, organs, and communion rails have been removed from old church buildings or eliminated in the design of new buildings. Priests forego vestments in the sanctuary, Roman collars on the street (much less cassocks), and formal titles of address. Rock music, layman, and protestants have entered the sanctuary, while priests, altar boys, and the Blessed Sacrament have left the sanctuary. Bishops' conferences speak out vociferously on the subjects of Third World debt, AIDS, and refugees, but have very little to say to heterodox clergy, disobedient religious communities, or the laity absent from Sunday Mass, meeting with equally dismal results in their efforts to convert the ways of the world and to correct wayward Catholics.

    At the same time that priests refuse to wear priestly garb, lay "ministers" don albs and perform functions proper to the clerical state. Houses with "cathedral" ceilings are popular just as church buildings are constructed without vaults, arches, or acoustics. Homilies must not be given with references to "political" matters, but parishes must give parishioners IRS-mandated contribution records, observe A.D.A. requirements for building construction and renovation, and at times participate in insurance programs that fund contraception and abortion.

    Two recent Popes have addressed the United Nations, a body advocating abortion, contraception, and the masonic ideal of Church-state separation within a globalist governmental system, without taking the UN to task for propagating error and immorality. Bishops in Germany make regular and bellicose demands for open communion with protestants. Canadian bishops have mounted but tepid opposition to their government's imminent codification in federal law of sodomite unions. Not one bishop in the United States has yet disavowed the USCCB's (informal) declaration that Jews need not acknowledge Jesus Christ for salvation. Liturgical innovations and abuses such as communion on the hand, altar girls, and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist remain exceptions de jure but are habitual de facto.

    Many, most, Catholics perceive none of these things as problematic, heretical, or of much importance. In fact, it is the tenor of the times that the Church has not gone far enough fast enough down this road of ecumenism, lay empowerment, and dialogue with the world. Any urge to criticize the Church on these issues is motivated by a desire for more of the same and more radical changes in keeping with the times.

    There are members of the Church who laud the Church's direction as progressive, if perhaps pusillanimous and at times too attached to tradition. Overtures by the Church toward the world, some think, will allow the Gospel to be spread where the Church's past rigidity and reaction made her incomprehensible, if not repugnant, to non-Catholics. By listening to the world, so goes this reasoning, the Church is opening up a two-way communication by which Our Lord will be heard by people and in ways never before possible.

    Certainly the world is being heard more by the Church. Vatican II declarations on religious liberty and ecumenism, and the postconciliar Mass are permeated with American sensibilities, modernist philosophy, and protestant spirituality. It has yet to be seen how the United States, the World Council of Churches, or academia have embraced Christ as King, Transubstantiation, and objective Truth as expressed by St. Thomas Aquinas.

    But what of ordinary Catholics? They have at last been "empowered" to bring their gifts to liturgy, church governance, and ministry in the community. No longer is Father's the only voice in the parish, or Sister's the only voice in the school. The laity have come of age. What effect has this had on Catholics at home?

    Declining attendance at Sunday liturgy is a well documented phenomenon in the postconciliar Church. The "Table of the Lord" has ever fewer people dining at it. They are sleeping in, golfing, playing soccer, shopping, doing the household chores left over from the work week. Although the people who are at Sunday liturgy do not understand that it is supposed to be a sacrifice, for the expiation of man's sins, to satisfy divine justice, it is claimed that their qualitative participation in liturgy is deeper, better, and more understood than before the Council. It is lamentable that so many miss Sunday liturgy, but it is not a mortal sin, so we are told.

    Sunday dinner is a rare occurrence in an increasing number of homes, as are family meals during the week. Mom is tired, the kids are at the mall, and Dad is watching football. Or during the week, Mom and Dad are working, Junior is at the library, and Julie is at soccer practice. When the family gets together for "quality" time or at the holidays, the fact that the television is going, the in-laws do not speak to each other, and much of the food was catered elicits but a passing nostalgia from the grown-ups about how much things have changed (for the better, for worse, who knows?) since they were kids. It is lamentable that families are together so rarely, so briefly, but there is nothing wrong with two-income households, electronic entertainment, and families with only one or two children, so we are told.

    That families eat together infrequently does not bespeak of impending starvation. Americans are sedentary, eat junk food, and eat too much. They do not persevere in exercise regimens, diets, or refraining from fast food. Although they eat alone, on the road, and not nutritiously, Americans eat very often. While growing fatter Americans neither miss their meals nor miss their families.

    Fewer and fewer Catholics go to Sunday Mass. More and more Catholics go to Communion at every Mass they attend. Fewer and fewer Catholics go to Confession. More and more Catholics are confused about what constitutes a mortal sin. Sunday Mass is likely a cesspool of sacrileges being committed.

    An odd phenomenon has resulted from this morass of inattention, misinformation, and lies. On the one hand, the lack of good Confessions has resulted in a spiritual tapeworm in the Body of Christ. Our Lord is being consumed, but His graces are refused by unrepentant sinners. Spiritual nourishment can not come to those attached to mortal sin. Starvation threatens in the midst of plenty.

    On the other hand, many are becoming puffed up with pride, spiritually obese from an inflated sense of self. No longer is Holy Eucharist an incredible mercy from God to man, but the nonchalant conclusion to an over-familiar experience. Communion is seen as something "owed" to those who attend Mass, rather than the astounding offer of God's grace to unworthy men. Those who "minister" do so with a sense of entitlement, instead of recognizing that only rarely and in unusual circumstances should the laity enter the sanctuary, and never touch the Blessed Sacrament. Grace so often received unworthily has resulted in the diminishment of pious humility, and a surfeit of profane hubris.

    Immense efforts are expended to recruit lay "ministers" for the Mass, or for "ministry formation" programs. More and more laity are sought for work in the sanctuary and the chancery, but much less is done to draw the absent laity back to the pews. Still less energy is devoted to filling seminaries with men called to the priesthood.

    Thus, Father is not in his place as the head of the household. Women step in to fill the paternal role and leave the maternal role unfilled, ill-defined, and unappreciated. It is a scandal that such descriptions can be used to describe both modern Catholic homes and parishes. If it is the estimation of some that women as mothers have not received their due recognition from the Church and in society, will that recognition be more forthcoming when women devalue maternity and succumb to the same milieu productive of and caused by insensitive, competitive, promiscuous men? Will the forces that viciously drove men from the family farm and family business be revealed as somehow benign in driving mothers from the family hearth?

    The spiritual reality in the Church where Father is absent from and/or marginal in the family, Mother is bent on replacing Father, and both are indifferent to the presence and rearing of children is reflected in the contraceptive mentality embraced by married Catholics. The institutional Church is not disturbed by empty pews, closed parishes, sold hospitals, foundering schools, shrinking seminaries, abandoned confessionals, and invalid conjugal bonds. Likewise, Catholic parents live in ever bigger houses with ever fewer children, just like their non-Catholic counterparts. Parish halls, gathering spaces, and office buildings are being built by parishes that have closed their schools, convents, and sodalities. Catholic couples boast of homes that accommodate as many cars as children, use contraception with no more qualms than their pagan neighbors, and divorce at the same rate as their protestant friends.

    In the average Catholic home in America there is no Holy Water, no statue of Our Lady, no Crucifix. The Rosary is not a family devotion. Grace is not said before or after the rare family meals. What is present is the spirit of the world. Electronic equipment brings in pornography over the air and online, conversation does not avoid the indelicate or immodest, and purity is an unknown concept from a disregarded past.

    America is a new world wherein God may be denied, the Church may be denied, and children may be denied. There is an oft-repeated litany among parents today who have denied their children conception, birth, and an in-tact, two-parent home. Modern parents insist that children are not respectful, lack discipline and direction, yet can think for themselves and make good decisions. These same parents deprive their children of the guidance of Mother Church in matters of respect, discipline, and moral choices. Parents and children both have calculated that this equation adds up to pleasing the God they gave themselves permission to deny. He, they think, would never deny them their Heavenly reward.

    The Kingdom of Heaven welcomes the humble, the contrite, and the pious. Prayer and praise constitute the joy of the saints. God's children are those that accept their need for the Cross of Christ, and bear their own crosses with Him in obedience to our Father.

    The modern world is proud, brazen, and blasphemous. Men of the world seek pleasure, convenience, and wealth. Man on earth has wrought a world of barren marriages and orphaned children, where death reigns, mercy is unknown, and justice is reduced to brute force.

    Whether or not a particular individual in the world is judged by God to merit the Kingdom of Heaven is in the Providence of God alone. Each of us, however, is effecting now the raw material out of which our eternity will be made and judged damned or saved by God. One may be forgiven for honestly wondering if those who like modernity, license, and the cult of man can ever learn to like unchanging truth, self sacrifice, and the eternal reign of Christ the King.

    Modernity has shown repeatedly an antipathy for the full message of the Gospel. What sign can these times give us that they believe, speak, and live the Truth? The Church has many members willing to be thoroughly worldly; dare we think the world will ever return the favor and return home to the Church by returning the Church to the home?

Father Lawrence Smith, Sacerdos vagus
26 October 2003, The Solemnity of Christ the King

    July 8-10, 2004
    vol 15, no. 157