Yesterday I decided to briefly post some of my thoughts on the recent horror that occurred in Las Vegas on Facebook. In typical fashion, the abominable event has turned into a chance for political grand-standing. As a human being and as a Catholic, I have grown tired of this typical fight that inevitably does us no good. I say this as someone who has lived through a horrific event. I was stationed near DC on 9/11, and like my fellow service members on the same base as me, I thought that I was going to die on that day at 20 years of age. A couple of days later, I volunteered as a relief worker helping the families of those murdered at the Pentagon. So please, understand that if anyone understands the horror of post-lapsarian mass murder, it is me.
Here is what I posted on Facebook:
“Every mass shooting is a great tragedy and Sunday night’s is astonishing in its large loss of life and wide destruction. We keep asking ourselves why, but we never seem to get the answer. All we hear is more guns, less guns, as if this is primarily a political problem. When did we start worshiping the state?
The issue is moral, with the political only serving a small part. The problem lies within you and me and the darkness in our own hearts. A darkness that has to be ripped out of us by the Divine Physician.
We live in a culture in which people mistakenly think they are gods. *I* set truth. Might makes right as long as *I*have power. *I* don’t need anyone. *I* set the rules.
Our country murders its own children at an astonishing rate. Over 60 million to date. We have told men and women that they can murder their own child. How do we not expect the bloodshed to spill into our streets? If parents can kill their own children, then how can we not expect a psychopath to take advantage of a moment of power and murder in our streets? After all, the individual sets truth.
We have a deep heart problem and a loss of truth and morality problem. Please, keep making it about more or less guns. It makes us feel better about ourselves and gives us a sense of moral superiority. Meanwhile more lives will be lost, if not at the hands of a psychopath with a gun, it will be a psychopath with a bomb, a truck, or an airplane.”
Those who follow my writing and people who know me, understand where I am coming from in this post. As a graduate student theologian, I see how the philosophies that under-gird our society–nihilism, relativism, materialism, utilitarianism, secularism, etc.–have destroyed the fabric of our society. We can no longer decipher objective truth because everything has been reduced to the subjective. We are more concerned with the I than the we and the consequences have become dire.
More than anything, I meant these words from a Christian perspective. We have failed to evangelize our culture. We have failed to live the Good News so that we can bring the world into conformation with the Most Holy Trinity. This is our baptismal call as we share in the Divine Offices of Christ as priest, prophet, and king. My greatest struggle as a Catholic writer is that we focus too much on polemics and not enough on the call to holiness. The social order cannot be transformed if we are not working towards holiness by fostering the virtues in our daily lives. We must help people to see that we are made for beatitudo (happiness) and that happiness can only come from communion with God.
The necessity of the virtues is evident in how we respond to such great evil. If we respond emotionally in the wake of such devastation, then we will often respond hastily and run the risk of causing even more destruction. I think some of this can be seen in our response to 9/11. I also see this in my own life, since prudence is a virtue I very much struggle to foster day-in-and-day-out. We cannot resolve conflicts within our society through emotions. We must get through the grief and the pain and then make decisions guided by reason and faith. We must always appeal to the good, the true, and the beautiful as we seek out justice.
I think we forget that our battles are not just material in nature. We wage war against “powers and principalities” in the supernatural realm as well. Many Catholics–thanks to great misinterpretations of the documents of Vatican II–have become functional materialists. I don’t think they mean to respond in this manner. The response is always a form of of we must do something every time a great injustice occurs. There isn’t an immediate appeal to prayerful consideration of how to respond. What that something is does not tend to be guided by charity, authentic justice, an appeal to prudence, as well as intense prayer in order to see what we may be missing in a given situation. We must also consider that we wage intense spiritual battles.
I think anyone who has prayed at an abortion clinic can tell you that Satan is real and there are in fact demonic forces “seeking the ruin of souls” prowling about the earth. I had to laugh when a Jesuit theologian recently said that Satan was a mere symbol. I guess he hasn’t seen what I’ve seen or experienced of the Evil One. Regardless of such falsehoods, we must respond to evil with an authentic Catholic understanding of the world, not primarily as Americans. Our politics are down the list, after being Catholic and our vocation in life. It is not first. Politics are important, but they make up a small aspect of our daily lives, nor are they the primary instrument of change as we understand it.
This Facebook post was not considered largely objectionable among my friends, since many either agree, or know that I predominately write from the perspective of our need to grow in holiness, rather than politically. A friend of mine, however, decided to share it and inevitably I came under attack as some kind of Right wing person who loves guns and thinks people should die. First, I left the Republican Party years ago when I saw that it had abandoned truth. My pro-life stance has made it impossible for me to ever be a Democrat. In full disclosure, I consider myself to be most in line with the American Solidarity Party. What ended up happening–this is unfortunately typical–is many Catholics decided to judge me based on their own political ideology. This is a big problem in social media. We have allowed ourselves to be so overcome with our ideology that we believe our ideology is Catholicism. It isn’t. We attack our brothers and sisters in Christ who are merely reminding others of our need to fix the evil in our own hearts first and then tackle the world’s problems. Our Lord and Savior tells us the exact same thing in his discussion on splinters and planks. Remember?
The most astonishing aspect of the debate–that I waded into up to my knees and then decided it was not worth the aggravation–was that my appeals for us to grow in holiness to change the world were met with a scoff. “That takes too long!” I was told. Indeed, it takes a lifetime and is wholly dependent on God’s timing, not our own. What I find distressing is that this is the excuse we constantly give to others and tell ourselves so that we don’t have to put in the work. I’ve made this excuse myself when I find myself failing once again on the path. This is too hard! Of course it is! Holiness is too hard, but social programs or laws run by the government are immediate. Unfortunately, because we lack prudence–since we find the virtues too difficult–we often make huge errors in our response and harm even more people. We want immediacy, when in reality, everything takes time.
If we want to transform the world and our culture in particular, then we must focus on growing in holiness first. I cannot possibly provide proper solutions to the problem of evil if I have not first consulted the One who made me and asked Him how best to serve others. I cannot help others if I have not made the often unbearably difficult, but necessary, request for God to heal me of the evil within me. If I do not repeatedly fall at His feet begging Him to help me overcome evil then I will be unable to help my family, my neighbor, or someone in my community. If I do not bring the problem of evil to God and ask Him to transform me first, then I will be incapable of offering true help born of charity. In fact, I can even drag people down with me! Every single one of us must ask ourselves: “How do I contribute to the problem of evil in our culture?”
Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Along with St. Dominic, St. Francis transformed the 12th and 13th Centuries through nothing other than a genuine call to holiness. St. Francis radically changed the world because he lived a life mirrored after Christ. He served the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the lost. He was able to do this because he united himself fully to Christ in charity. It is through radical holiness that we can transform our communities one person at a time. The saints teach us this truth time and time again.
Most of us are not called to be presidents, Congressman, or world leaders, but all of us are called to be saints. I can’t change what happened in Las Vegas or on 9/11. I can, however, change the world by helping my family grow in holiness. In that holiness, we are then able to go out and serve our community one person at a time by revealing the face of Christ to them. We want major fixes that most of us in principle lack the power to bring about. This powerlessness leads to anger, helplessness, and despair. In reality, what we can change is ourselves and then help others. That is where we can make genuine progress in the battle against evil. Pray, receive the Sacraments regularly, foster the virtues, and beg God to make us saints. That’s how we begin. Yes, voting is important. Laws are necessary, but in the long run they will not radically transform our broken culture.
There will be many who will scoff and say that I am preaching inaction. No. I am reminding all of us that we cannot possibly hope to transform the world if we are not first confronting the darkness in our own hearts. Ask Christ to truly show you what you are capable of. I promise it will be horrifying, but then Christ will reach down, wash away those sins or proclivities, and bind the wounds so that we can live our lives following Him. He will guide us on the path to holiness and show us the way. He will pick us up every single time we fall and tell us to begin again.
I fear that far too many Catholics scoff at holiness and say it is a form of inaction. Too many, including many in leadership (no this is not a shot at Pope Francis, so do not take it that way), give the impression that holiness is too tall of an order in today’s world. This is a denial of what it means to be Catholic. We focus on the supernatural–the higher goods–first and the material second. Our souls must be conformed to God before we can be effective in the world. These Catholics are correct in that we cannot do it alone. Holiness does not come from our own power. It comes from Almighty God, creator of Heaven and earth. Holiness comes from the power of the Paschal Mystery and the gift of the Holy Spirit. We rely on God to succeed, not our own power. It is time to stop limiting God’s power. We limit His ability to bring about change through holy lives.
I never thought that my switch as a writer away from polemics to the path to holiness would be so controversial. Yes, becoming a saint is excruciatingly difficult. The second priest in Confession reminded me that becoming a saint is to be refined in the fire. Since Christ has had two different priests–years apart–tell me this while in Confession, I think He wants me to hear this message loud and clear. So, yes, it’s hard, but it is the proper ordering of reality. If we want to bring people to Christ, then we must do so by our lives, not just our ranting in social media. Holiness is attractive, it is contagious. Contemplate the face of St. John Paul II or St. Teresa of Calcutta. Afterwards you will be begging God to make you a saint. Their joy is infectious. The only way we can gain the upper hand against the widespread evil in our world is by giving our lives entirely over to Christ so that He can turn us into saints. St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic never would have said that holiness is too hard, takes too long, or is a form of inaction. May they both intercede for us on the journey.