Updated: Jan 12
Western Civilization is in a crisis. We are abandoning our patrimony and replacing it with radical individualism. We should be filling our lives with Christ, but instead we try to fill it with trinkets. Instead of serving, we consume. Our ship is on the wrong course and we need to get her turned around.
Western Civilization was once ruddered by faith, but we have grown suspicious of faith. The problem started with the rejection of Church authority in the 16th century. As people sought to replace the Church, ideas such as Cartesian rationalism sprouted and its influence has spread to disparage all thoughts of supernatural phenomena. Christ has been abandoned for scientism. “[I]mpiety prevailed on every side, many even of the children of the Catholic Church have strayed from the path of true piety” (Dei Filius). The problem has grown in later days as the Church is scourged with scandals and many reject her, not because her teaching was found wanting but, because of the poor example of her members.
God created the world "to manifest His perfection by the blessings which He bestows on creatures” (Dei Filius, ch 1). He gifted us with intellect so we might look at the world He created and see the creator reflected in it. However, knowing that the finite creation can never adequately demonstrate His glory, He also gifted us with revelation so we might know Him more fully to help us realize the supernatural end He has planned for us so we might persevere to the end (Dei Filius, ch. 2).
The Church hands on the truth of God, both as reason can demonstrate and more importantly in His revelation. It behooves us to gently remind the world that apart from God we can do nothing. Our Faith and reason are not at odds, but unified because the truth is one. The truth of faith and the truth of reason can never defy each other, but in fact help each other (Dei Filius, ch. 4). Sadly, there are many false prophets that attempt to drown out the truth.
The revolution of false prophets has rocked the world and the greatest victim has been the family. Our society encourages the rich to commoditize the poor or drives the poor to envy the rich (Rerum Novarum, par. 3-4). We set our society against itself and the smallest unit of society, the family, suffers. We tell mothers their only worth is their economic output. We tell fathers they are unnecessary. We separate sex from procreation. The entire fabric has been torn asunder and the only voice that tells them the truth has faded into the background. The only way to save the family, and all societies with it, is to remind society that the real language of love is sacrifice.
The Church needs to remind each of us that we are destined for something greater than greed or lust or power. We are called to a greater purpose than satisfying our desires. We are each created in the image and likeness of God from whom all goodness flows. We strive against our nature in vain for God has created us with a purpose and final end. Our charity needs to be directed toward reminding each other that every person has inherent worth that cannot be denied. Our external works are worthless without the truth that makes our dignity real.
In the 19th century, Leo XIII reminded the Church that although our ultimate end is God, each family has a right to the material property necessary for their well-being. No one person has absolute rights of private ownership such that all others suffer. However, private ownership is necessary for the preservation of life. The state must refrain from interfering with family life to the greatest degree possible. Rather, the state should serve the needs of families and encourage their flourishing. Hence, the state should not interfere with the legitimate acquisition of property nor allow her people to perish from want. Similarly, the Church should be free of state manipulation so she may attend to the needs of families, who need spiritual goods as much as they need material goods.
Leo XIII understood that “no practical solution of this question will be found apart from the intervention of religion and of the Church... But We affirm without hesitation that all the striving of men will be vain if they leave out the Church” (Rerum Novarum, par. 16). The Church knows the answers to our emptiness, but struggles to be heard. We cannot reduce the Church to a social justice organization, but society's demand for social justice can be the first whisper of Christ’s love, especially to those who have never heard Him. Love for our neighbor must reflect our love for God and our love for God should lead us to love our neighbor.
We must tenderly proclaim the saving power of Christ, not just in our words but in our deeds. In a world that is devoid of meaning, we must encourage people to listen to that which will save them. The words are important, but it is through our love that we demonstrate that Christ makes a difference in our lives.
Hundreds of years after England abandoned its Catholic roots, John Henry Newman saw a similar problem. He saw that the Church needed to rise from the ashes and he, and those who were like minded, needed to rebuild her. Not through their own efforts, but by Christ who strengthens them. He knew “we shall not be left orphans; we shall have within us the strength of the Paraclete, promised to the Church and to every member of it” (Newman).
“The world grows old, but the Church is ever young” (Newman). The faith of men grows dim, but the light of the Church remains. Time and again men have been unfaithful, but God remains faithful. He does not abandon us, but He nudges us to stand up for Him. We must preach His goodness, both in word and in deed. As the love of men grows cold, our love for Christ must rekindle them.
The Church needs to remind the world God loved them so much that He gave up His Son for their sake. It is a difficult task since our culture has regressed toward heathenism. The task has been made even more difficult because many of us in the Church have failed to live up to our calling. The quality of our charity must be even greater and our voice must firmly, but gently remind our brothers of the truth they once knew. We must be prepared for just as in Newman’s day, trial and trouble accompany the spread of the truth (Newman).
The Church has needed reform many times and reform has always been difficult. We need to serve others with great love. We need to remind our culture what beauty truly is. Finally, we need to show them that the truth will set them free. May God grant us the wisdom to speak and the fortitude to do what needs to be done. For those who love the Church inaction is not an option and without the grace of God we can do nothing.
Leo XIII. Rerum Novarum. The Vatican. The Holy See, 15 May 1891. https://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15051891_rerum-novarum.html. Accessed 8 January 2020.
Newman, John Henry. The Second Spring. The National Institute for Newman Studies, 2007, http://www.newmanreader.org/works/occasions/sermon10.html. Accessed 8 January 2020.
First Vatican Council. Dei Filius. Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith. 24 April 1870. https://www.vofoundation.org/faith-and-science/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Dei-Filius.pdf. Accessed 8 January 2020.