November 20, 2000
volume 11, no. 237


Pat Ludwa's VIEW FROM THE PEW for Monday, November 20, 2000

The best and worst of times

    "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…." This is how Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" opens. A contrast between London and Paris at the height of the terror which came to represent the French Revolution. No doubt, the same sentiment could be applied to almost every part of our history as human beings. Even for the Church, these words could be applied to any part of Her history on earth.

    St. Augustine wrote about this 'dual citizenship' of the people here on earth. "The City Of God we speak of is the same to which testimony is borne by that Scripture, which excels all the writings of all nations by its divine authority, and has brought under its influence all kinds of minds, and this not by a casual intellectual movement, but obviously by an express providential arrangement. For there it is written, 'Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God.' And in another psalm we read, 'Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness, increasing the joy of the whole earth.' And, a little after, in the same psalm, 'As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God. God has established it for ever.' And in another, 'There is a river the streams whereof shall make glad the city of our God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved.' From these and similar testimonies, all of which it were tedious to cite, we have learned that there is a city of God, and its Founder has inspired us with a love which makes us covet its citizenship." (The City of God, Book XI, Ch. 1)

    We long to belong to this city, we pray for it. And here on earth, we are 'ambassador's' for that city of God. "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jeremiah 29: 5-7).

    So, we are part of the city of man, but not of it. We look for the welfare of the city of man, not for the sake of it, but for the sake of God, to bring the two cities together. "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven" (Matthew 6: 10).

    Even Christ told us to live 'with' the city of man, but not be a part of it. "'Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?' But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, 'Why put Me to the test, you hypocrites? Show Me the money for the tax.' And they brought Him a coin. And Jesus said to them, 'Whose likeness and inscription is this?' They said, 'Caesar's.' Then He said to them, 'Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's'" (Matthew 22: 17-21).

    But we're often at a loss to determine, to discern, what is to be rendered to God and what is to be rendered to Caesar. Do we bring God to Caesar or Caesar to God? Do we make the City of God appear more like the city of man, or do we work to make the city of man appear like the City of God?

    We often hear, form such groups as Call To Action and their ilk, that the Church, through Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, has to remake itself in the worlds image. That we have to 'update' the Church and the Word of God, to fit the world instead of the world fit the Church. "Call to Action (CTA), launched in 1979, is an independent, non-profit organization of over 16,000 laity, religious and clergy who believe the Spirit of God is at work in the whole church, not just in its appointed leaders. We believe the entire Catholic church has the obligation of reading the signs of the times, responding to the needs of the world, and taking initiative in programs of peace and justice." (from the CTA web site) Call To Action's agenda includes, but isn't limited to:

  • "the church should be a model of openness on all levels.
  • We call for open dialogue, academic freedom, and due process.
  • theologians and Catholic insitutions should be free in their search for the truth (
  • We see theologians silenced, constructive opposition condemned, loyalty oaths imposed and blind obedience demanded. ) [CTA's "We Are Church Referendum]
  • laity and clergy should be consulted in the formulation of church doctrine and discipline, especially on human sexuality issues (We call for extensive consultation with the Catholic people in developing church teaching on human sexuality, just as the U.S. bishops invited participation in developing their teaching on social justice for the pastoral letters on peace and economic justice.) [We Are Church Ref.]
  • priesthood should be open to married persons and to women
  • all people and clergy of a diocese should be consulted in the selection of their bishops" (CTA Web site)

    This is clearly a case of making God bend to Caesar rather than bringing Caesar to the truth of God. Making God and His Church changeable, according to the 'sign of the times'. But the Ciy of God is unchangeable. "To this Founder of the holy city the citizens of the earthly city prefer their own gods, not knowing that He is the God of gods, not of false, i.e., of impious and proud gods, who, being deprived of His unchangeable and freely communicated light, and so reduced to a kind of poverty-stricken power, eagerly grasp at their own private privileges, and seek divine honors from their deluded subjects; but of the pious and holy gods, who are better pleased to submit themselves to one, than to subject many to themselves, and who would rather worship God than be worshipped as God. But to the enemies of this city we have replied in the ten preceding books, according to our ability and the help afforded by our Lord and King. Now, recognizing what is expected of me, and not unmindful of my promise, and relying, too, on the same succor, I will endeavor to treat of the origin, and progress, and deserved destinies of the two cities (the earthly and the heavenly, to wit), which, as we said, are in this present world commingled, and as it were entangled together" (City of God, Book XI, Ch. 1.).

    Under the guise of 'prophets' of God we're asked to covet the citizenship of the city of man over the City of God. "Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream, for it is a lie which they are prophesying to you in My name; I did not send them, says the LORD" (Jeremiah 29:8-9)

    We are to believe that we are to be more like the world, and that Vatican II, particularly Gaudium et Spes, said that we were to change the Church according to the desires of the world. But GS doesn't say that. The mission of the Church has always been to bring God to mankind, not make God subject to man. "To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics. Some of the main features of the modern world can be sketched as follows.

    Today, the human race is involved in a new stage of history. Profound and rapid changes are spreading by degrees around the whole world. Triggered by the intelligence and creative energies of man, these changes recoil upon him, upon his decisions and desires, both individual and collective, and upon his manner of thinking and acting with respect to things and to people. Hence we can already speak of a true cultural and social transformation, one which has repercussions on man's religious life as well" (Gaudium et Spes; Vatican II, Introductory Statement).

    Now, this is really nothing new. We have always been faced with false prophets and good men made to change to placate the 'will of the people'. "When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, 'Up, make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' And Aaron said to them, 'Take off the rings of gold which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.' So all the people took off the rings of gold which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made a molten calf; and they said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!' When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, 'Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.' And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. And the LORD said to Moses, 'Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!' '" (Exodus 32:1-8).

    Consider what Paul, languishing in prison in Rome, wrote to Timothy about corruption in entreating his disciple to join in the good fight: "there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. For among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses (ref. Exodus 7:11), so these men also oppose the truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith; but they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men" (2 Timothy 3:1-9)

    "This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, among them Hymenaeus and Alexander" (1 Timothy 1:18-20).

    For whatever reason, Aaron followed the will of the people rather than of God, even though he had SEEN the power and glory of God at Moses' right hand. Jannes and Jambres mimicked what God had done through Moses to lead Pharaoh astray and to harden his heart. Hymenaeus and Alexander rationalized away their conscience, and made a shipwreck of their faith, no doubt leading others to do the same. "the citizens of the earthly city prefer their own gods, not knowing that He is the God of gods, not of false, i.e., of impious and proud gods, who, being deprived of His unchangeable and freely communicated light, and so reduced to a kind of poverty-stricken power, eagerly grasp at their own private privileges, and seek divine honors from their deluded subjects" (City of God). "For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica;… Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will requite him for his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message" (2 Timothy 4:9: 14-15).

    As bad as these were, and as bad as the heresies, apostasies and persecutions of the past were, never before did they have the advantages afforded them by modern society. "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

    Thinking that they are creating a utopian society of openness and inclusion, the advocates of the 'spirit of the times' think they'll achieve an everlasting, earthly paradise. But that can never be. "But the earthly city, which shall not be everlasting (for it will no longer be a city when it has been committed to the extreme penalty), has its good in this world, and rejoices in it with such joy as such things can afford. But as this is not a good which can discharge its devotees of all distresses, this city is often divided against itself by litigations, wars, quarrels, and such victories as are either life-destroying or short-lived. For each part of it that arms against another part of it seeks to triumph over the nations through itself in bondage to vice. If, when it has conquered, it is inflated with pride, its victory is life-destroying; but if it turns its thoughts upon the common casualties of our mortal condition, and is rather anxious concerning the disasters that may befall it than elated with the successes already achieved, this victory, though of a higher kind, is still only shot-lived; for it cannot abidingly rule over those whom it has victoriously subjugated. But the things which this city desires cannot justly be said to be evil, for it is itself, in its own kind, better than all other human good. For it desires earthly peace for the sake of enjoying earthly goods, and it makes war in order to attain to this peace; since, if it has conquered, and there remains no one to resist it, it enjoys a peace which it had not while there were opposing parties who contested for the enjoyment of those things which were too small to satisfy both. This peace is purchased by toilsome wars; it is obtained by what they style a glorious victory. Now, when victory remains with the party which had the juster cause, who hesitates to congratulate the victor, and style it a desirable peace? These things, then, are good things, and without doubt the gifts of God. But if they neglect the better things of the heavenly city, which are secured by eternal victory and peace never-ending, and so inordinately covet these present good things that they believe them to be the only desirable things, or love them better than those things which are believed to be better,--if this be so, then it is necessary that misery follow and ever increase." (City of God, Bk. XV, Ch. 4).

    St. Augustine goes on to point out how, out of envy, Cain killed his brother Abel, so the city of man acts. He points to how the legendary founder of Rome, Romulus, killed his brother Remus. The way of the city of man is self empowerment, not the empowerment of God. It is also temporary. Firstly, in that we live only a short time here on earth, secondly, that the earth itself is only temporary. So, to work toward happiness in the city of man, is foolhardy. It would be like building your dream house on a flood plain or an earthquake fault.

    It is the best of times, it is the worst of times (so far). Never before in the history of mankind have we been blessed with so much. We can communicate worldwide in a second, we can see events occurring on the other side of the world as they occur. We can travel anywhere in the world in a matter of hours rather than days, months, or years. But all these things not only serve to make us more comfortable, they also serve to make it seem as though we can have Heaven on earth. Heresies can travel even faster and made to seem good. In the name of compassion and tolerance, we see indifference and intolerance. We see wars of words and ideas, leading, not to peace, but strife. "Then Jesus told His disciples, 'If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?'" (Luke 9: 24-26).

    As pilgrims, exiles, we long to go home, we, as citizens of the City of God, sojourn in the city of man. "…the two cities-the earthly, that lives according to men, and the Heavenly that lives according to God." (City of God, Bk. XV. Ch. 27)

Pax Christi,


November 20, 2000
volume 11, no. 237

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