Guarding Our Shrines as An Act of Political Realism
Ours is an era of both functional atheism as well as spiritual immaturity. When recent attacks occurred in France and Germany, it was amazing to read on my Twitter feed how many people shunned the notion of praying for the victims or for the countries involved. Perhaps most Twitter users are more of the secular agnostic or atheistic variety; more likely, they have drunk deep in their education and formative years of a soft relativism and non-judgmentalism, which–in reality–is a cover for not thinking. Indeed, one wonders how “good thoughts” or “good energy” or “good vibes” are preferable to prayer or even empirically demonstrated to be superior (since this seems to be the only way truth can be measured to this way of thinking). I suspect at the root of this aversion to a call for prayer is the notion that there might be a God and that God might actually have demands and a standard for the peoples of the earth.
These thoughts came to me with several key events this week. First, the close of the Democrat Party convention and the solidifying of the Clinton-Kaine ticket, with the predictable commentary attending to its conclusion. Some of it was humorous, as evidenced by the apparent onset of senility in a balloon-loving Bill Clinton; some of it serious, like the indignation at Donald Trump’s unnecessary comments towards the parents of a slain US serviceman; some of it, the predictable vitriol geared toward both candidates—by common consent, the most unpalatable candidates in recent decades.
Simultaneously in France, the barbaric beheading of a Catholic priest at Mass by two young Muslims in Rouen—the very town where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake—demonstrates the lengthening shadow of the creed of Mohammed upon the continent that once was the bulwark of civilization. This latter seems to have been made possible by several generations of Western European leaders—smarting from the scourge of the Second World War and desiring peace, while at the same time suffering an amnesia as to the reality of original sin. Hence, policies of ostpolitik towards communist neighbors and an immigration policy that made no demands of the newly arrived peoples to understand or integrate into the societies in which they were arriving. Of course, such a lack of realism and conviction as to the nature of the West and its foundations couldn’t have declined so rapidly in the last sixty years. The late Fr. Francis Canavan, S.J., a professor of political science at Fordham University, identified the issue in the early 1980s. He described our era as the “fag end of the Enlightenment.” Though I’m sure he didn’t intend the double entendre of his words, they are most applicable to Western Europe and the United States in 2016.
Contrast these incidents of the last week with Krakow, Poland where Pope Francis met and prayed with 1.6 million young Catholics at World Youth Day (WYD). In the strange designs of Providence, it was good that Krakow, Poland was the site of this year’s WYD. 1.6 million people joining in prayer is not negligible; in fact it is quite a contrast to the aforementioned “Tweeters.” It took place in a land imbued with the supernatural, the mystical—a land of suffering and, therefore, of saints. A land that was divided between rival empires throughout the 18th-20th centuries and one which uniquely suffered at the hands of godless ideologies in the 20th century. Yet it survived and while under assault from laissez faire ideologies from secular western Europe and the United States, it has somehow maintained the conviction of the foundation of its culture. Tom Piatak of Chronicles Magazine rightly called the Shrine of Jasna Gora, “the beating heart of Poland.”
Our Lady of Czestochowa has been the Mother and Protectoress of the Polish people for centuries. It is with great humility and pomp that the Polish people come to her shrine and beg her protection; and there is no contradiction between humility and pomp when it comes to Our Lord, Our Lady and the saints. G.K. Chesterton, rightly observed that
in Christendom apparent accidents balanced. Becket wore a hair shirt under his gold and crimson, and there is much to be said for the combination; for Becket got the benefit of the hair shirt while the people in the street got the benefit of the crimson and gold. It is at least better than the manner of the modern millionaire, who has the black and the drab outwardly for others, and the gold next his heart. But the balance was not always in one man’s body as in Becket’s; the balance was often distributed over the whole body of Christendom. Because a man prayed and fasted on the Northern snows, flowers could be flung at his festival in the Southern cities; and because fanatics drank water on the sands of Syria, men could still drink cider in the orchards of England.
There is a healthy realism that still obtains in Poland that is providentially on display for the rest of the Catholic faithful (especially the young) to see and experience. Far from the first world problems of infidelity and laziness that Catholic prelates seek to alleviate by theological slights-of-hand; or the trumpeting of education at a Jesuit school and service in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps as so-called evidence of Catholic bona fides in opportunistic politicians, the faithful Poles can teach us (in the United States) and the rest of Europe that the core of culture and civilization is reverence for (and humility in) the presence of God and His Holy Mother. Entrusting ourselves, our families, and our nation to Our Lady’s shrine might be a first step in pursuing a sane and solid domestic and foreign policy.
I suggest that this ought to be the strategy pursued by Catholics in this election and in our discourse. Some will object that this way of proceeding is unrealistic in the United States–that our society is by design secular and pluralistic and it is unrealistic to replicate Jasna Gora in America. In addition to disputing that assessment, I would recall the skeptical Catholic or Christian reader to the fact that our enemies are “principalities and powers” and that the solution to spiritual ills, are spiritual remedies. Likewise, as Chesterton noted, there should be no doubt that the prayers at Jasna Gora have a salutary effect not only in Poland but also in Europe, the United States, and the rest of the world. Perhaps, like the Poles, it is time to maintain, visit, and guard our shrines.
This article, Guarding Our Shrines as An Act of Political Realism is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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