Leading People to Christ in an Overly Political Age

Tintoretto – Christ and the Adulteress, around 1546 – 1547

Holiness is contagious. Human beings are attracted to those souls who radiate the love of Christ. They may not understand why it attracts them. That light may also induce fear and shame, but there is nothing more contagious in this life than holiness. Holiness does not, however, come about through an idea or philosophical system. We do not become radiant in love through our intellectual pursuits or our politics. Holiness begins with a radical encounter with the Living God.

The Church’s primary mission is to bring all nations into conformation (communion) with the Most Holy Trinity. To lead people on the path to sanctity, which answers the longing deep within every human heart to be loved and to experience joy. Holiness is communion with the Most Holy Trinity. It is to be a close friend of God’s. He wants all people to come to Him; to find their rest and blessedness (beatitudo). The Church does not primarily transform the City of Man through natural means, although she is called to do so through the missions and vocations of her disciples. She transforms the world through this call to holiness, through discipleship. 

The world today, especially in the West, poses unique challenges to our evangelical mission in a way the Church hasn’t encountered in previous ages. We are no longer primarily evangelizing polytheistic people who sought to worship transcendent gods outside of themselves. Instead, we are faced with the task of evangelizing peoples who have predominately caved in on themselves and been fed the philosophical lie that truth is set by the individual, thus rendering each individual their own god. Leading people from the darkness of relativism and nihilism—which dominates through the will to power—is extremely difficult.

The answer to how we evangelize always has the first starting point in every age: Jesus Christ. We must seek to bring Christ to all people. This cannot be accomplished through an over- reliance on political posturing or even moralism. This is not because the moral law doesn’t matter. It is because we cannot expect those around us who have not been given the supernatural gift of faith to see the truth clearly as we do. We must lead them to an encounter with Jesus Christ first.

The reason for our faith is not the moral law. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI repeatedly pointed out that Catholicism is not a philosophical or moral system. It is a lived encounter and relationship with Christ. The mistake many of us make is in thinking that the moral law is everything. We forget that our own conversion and our own daily conversion is difficult and it is only possible through our relationship with Christ. We love Him and we want to serve Him, so we beg Him for the grace to persevere in order to grow in sanctity.

One of the dangers in the Church today—as well as in previous ages— is to foolishly attempt to lead people to the moral law before Christ. It is nearly impossible to evangelize people without leading them to Christ Crucified and Risen first. People cannot know the truth until they come to love Jesus who is the Truth. They will not submit to what seems to be an arbitrary set of rules until they know God. A man and a woman come together in marriage because they love one another and they choose to sacrifice everything for the other. The same is true in the Christian life.

This same method is used when a primarily political understanding is placed above our evangelical mission. Political systems are simply another type of philosophical system. Politics aid us in bringing about the common good, but our political convictions are not the center of our lives. In our current divisive and vitriolic political climate, it is very easy to turn politics into a false idol. It is also impossible to evangelize through political means because it will automatically alienate the other side. The Church transcends politics even as she transforms society.

The reality is, we very rarely are able to convert souls to the truth in Christ Jesus through our political posturing. Instead, we often aid in the hardening of hearts because we forget that the truth is not primarily political and we forget that those who cannot see the evils of abortion, contraception, euthanasia, etc. do not have the full light of faith and truth to guide them. We expect from them what it is not in our power to give. We are guides, not the distributors of grace.

St. Paul tells us the Cross is folly to the wise. Why? The Cross we are called to is a total relinquishment of self in love to God and for our neighbor. Given that it is natural for human beings to protect ourselves from suffering, the Cross looks like pure insanity to those who do not have the supernatural vision of faith. How can suffering redeem? Why should I give up my contraception, premarital sex, and other pleasures of the world for a philosophical system?

Until someone has had an encounter with Christ, they will fight back against this relinquishment. They will not see that the Church says “yes” far more often than she says “no.” As Christ’s disciples, we must seek to lead people to Jesus Christ who is made present on our altars. This is accomplished through a life dedicated to holiness and the mission that Christ gives to each one of us through our baptism. Holiness is the starting place for transforming the world around us, not endless debates about politics or our vote.

St. Teresa of Calcutta did not stop to ask the political beliefs of the poorest of the poor. She sought to love and to serve united to Christ on the Cross. St. John Paul II boldly proclaimed the truth, but in a manner that was centered on the person of Jesus Christ. Both of these saints were radiant in their person. This radiance drew people towards the Living God who is Light Itself. We are called to be this light.

The divisions of our day cannot be solved through deeper entrenchment in our political ideologies. We must seek to heal the ruptured communion that exists within the human family. Christ seeks out the lost, and our culture is lost. He admonishes the Pharisees most of all because they had been given the law and yet they failed to lead the nations to God. We run the risk of falling into this trap when we mistakenly believe that it is only the law that can save us. We run this risk when we place political ideologies above Christ. The Jews of Jesus’ day fell into this temptation repeatedly.

Christ issues invitations to sinners. He only flips tables once, but He repeatedly seeks the lost sheep of Israel and the world. The woman caught in adultery is an example of how we must approach the wounded and lost in our own culture. Jesus is not standing over her admonishing and chastising her. Rather, he is crouched down in the dirt. He admonishes those who want to stone this woman through his questions about their own sins. Each person present drops their stone and walks away aware of their own sinfulness. Jesus then looks up with His gaze of love and frees this woman from her sins. She is then transformed by His love. He is below her and looks up at her. His love reveals her sinfulness and she accepts His invitation of love. How often do we instead stand over our political or moral opponents Lording over them?

A few years ago, weeks after my fourth miscarriage, I was asked to help a woman who was considering an abortion. I was in the throes of intense grief at having lost another child, a son, after seeing his heartbeat twice on the ultrasound monitor. It was then that Christ showed me a woman in greater need than myself who was scared, unsure, and being pressured to get an abortion. Our lifestyles were very different. She had a past of petty crimes. Our moral understanding was polar opposite. She did not know Christ other than in the fact that she had heard His name, but didn’t know Him personally.

It would have been impossible for me to help her avoid killing her own child if I had used a philosophical or moral worldview rather than seeing her with the eyes of Christ. Instead, I had to walk with her and help her in whatever way I could. I had to be a radiant light in the darkness to her. I had to emptying myself completely out in love for her.

She chose life for her son and I was blessed to hold him in my arms shortly after he was born. Afterwards, she chose to end our relationship even after I tried to check in on her. I did not change her moral view. She didn’t have a radical conversion. Instead, I planted seeds and then had to leave them to God to tend. Her conversion isn’t up to me. It is up to God and His timing.

Screaming at one another on social media or around the family dinner table accomplishes very little in an age of division. As a mother and a spiritual mother, I’ve had to learn the hard way how often the only thing I can do is seek to be constant, loving, and patient with others. We can’t ram the truth down anyone’s throat. We can share it boldly in love, but we cannot force anyone. That isn’t love. God doesn’t force us to love Him and we can’t force others to love Him either. We can’t make people see what we see. We must pray for the gift of faith for others and for ourselves. More than anything, we must live the truth in such a way that any light within us leads people to Christ.

This is why I am against the over-emphasis on politics by so many Catholics today. Not because politics don’t matter. They do matter in the measure with which our political system can be directed towards the common good. Politics do not make up most of our lives, however. You couldn’t tell based on social media threads.

We cannot evangelize through a political lens, nor is being Catholic primarily political. We are Catholic because we have encountered Christ and fallen in love with Him. We want to serve Him. We want to dwell forever with Him in eternity and to lead all souls to Him. We see the truth because we have been given that gift from the Holy Spirit. We didn’t earn it. We accepted the invitation He has given to us. The same invitation we need to help others accept in the measure we are able to in accordance with God’s will and timing.

Catholic Exchange: Turning the Other Cheek in a Digital Age

The Internet and mainstream media have been set ablaze with the latest outrage that seems to be manufactured every five minutes. Each side rushes to judgment and paints the other group as the villain. Meanwhile supporters canonize the person or persons they agree with and the vitriol reaches an intensity that should startle every person of goodwill. Round-and-round it goes, this cycle of anger in our culture and even within the Church.

This piece is not specifically about the Covington Catholic controversy. Nor will I make any judgments about what transpired. The aim of this piece is to offer an alternative tactic that goes back to Our Lord Himself, but that is applicable in an age when any one of us could become the topic of a social media frenzy should a video be taken of us that could provide an ambiguous depiction of us that can easily be taken out of context or manipulated to appease the angry masses.

Our careers could be ruined, our families and friends threatened, and we could become the target of the social media mob if we are not careful. If you think I’m overreacting, keep in mind that I happen to pray regularly at the Planned Parenthood where a teenager was assaulted during a 40 Days for Life campaign that made national news. A town of 90,000 people. That video became viral in a matter of minutes and people were ready to draw and quarter those involved depending on what political side they happened to be on. This is what it is like to live an an age of never-ending digital consumption and intentionally manufactured outrage. Someone is always watching, even when we don’t think that is the case.

There are some situations during which we can’t avoid confrontation. However, while I was at the March for Life, I witnessed and exercised an approach that will help us to avoid becoming social media fodder in the future. It’s how Our Lord responded to similar situations that arose during His ministry and Passion. It is one we seldom want to use because we all desire tangible justice.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

I Will Not Be Joining the New Pro-Life Movement Anytime Soon

I will not be jumping on the New Pro-Life Movement bandwagon anytime soon. Mainly because I find the constant bandwagons of the Catholic blogosphere tiresome and intentionally divisive. I have studied moral theology and Catholic Social Teaching in-depth. The two are intimately linked with the dignity of the human person grounding all other aspects of her teaching. That means the right to life holds supremacy and we work from there to achieve the common good through the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. There is a hierarchy and “seamless garment” arguments only work if the dignity of the human person is at the top of everything else.

Like most movements like this, it seems to be predicated largely upon straw men. The idea that the Republican Party is evil (of course it is, it is run by Fallen men, sin is a part of secular institutions just like the Church. The only thing that keeps the Church from collapsing under the weight of our sins is the Holy Spirit sent by the Glorified Christ) and the folks in the movement clearly support the sacrilege of someone like Fr. Pavone fuels their arguments. Never mind that there are fringes of all movements both inside and outside of the Church.

In reality, a great many of us left the Republican Party years ago sensing the immorality of both parties and decided to begin truly living CST and our mission–as explained in Christifideles Laici–on the ground rather than relying on an immoral and corrupt system in need of major change. We can only change the system from the ground up and that means evangelization, charity, and sacrifice. In-fighting doesn’t accomplish much at the ground level.

What many of these folks forget is that in bringing the Culture of Life to the world, God calls people to different missions under that umbrella. We cannot be stretched across the vast deep that is the Culture of Life. For instance, I have had four miscarriages and suffer from secondary infertility. I understand the gift of motherhood at an ontological level in a way many do not. I know what it is like to lose a child, four children. I also study philosophy and theology, so I can swim deep into the reality of motherhood, as a gift from God, and share it with others. God called me directly to the abortion fight, much like he calls others to slow the tide of euthanasia or other “medical” issues, soup kitchens, refugee ministries, inner city programs, prison ministry, etc.

The idea that those working against abortion–and are in need of saving from more “enlightened” Catholics–do not live CST is a straw man at best and malicious at worst. Our community lives the four pillars of Catholic social teaching by praying in front of PP in order to share the dignity of the human person made imago Dei with everyone. When someone comes into our care (whether a pregnant woman, boyfriend/husband, child, or abortion worker), we employ the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity with an eye on the common good by coming together to find these men and women work (many in our own businesses), medical assistance, childcare, adoption options, education programs, baby and needed items for living, food, financial assistance for debts, bills, or other issues, working with women newly out of prison, friendship and community to those from broken families with poor social networks, and any other need that arises well after the child is born.

I myself am in the middle of walking a journey with a mother who has the same due date that I would have had if Andrew had not died. Yeah, hardcore entering into the Cross and offering it up. I do it regardless of the pain and continue to do it through a lot of tears, but that is what Christ asks us to do. Self-sacrifice. Bloviating in social media does not equate to entering into the suffering of the poor, lonely, and struggling within our communities. And the figureheads of a movement do not automatically point to reality on the ground. I am also a writer, but I am under no illusions that my writing equates to works of mercy.

The idea that the pro-life movement on the ground is out of touch with CST is utter bunk. Many of us help the homeless, do prison ministry, and help in other ways as time allows us outside of the mission given to us by God. We can’t do everything and others have been called to work in different areas of poverty. We have an extensive Haiti mission in our church that I would love to join, but God has called me where He has called me. I see poverty up close and personal with my service to single mothers. Most of these women come from broken and dysfunctional homes, so the healing of marriage is essential, since CST goes from the individual to the family to the local community on up to the federal government and international community. That’s subsidiarity. We are trying, and failing at times, to be the hands and feet of Christ within our communities. I will happily continue to do work in the pro-life movement as we live it here in solidarity and I will continue to study and pray with the Church’s social encyclicals, documents, and the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching.

The Federalist: Are Pro-Lifers Who Grieve Miscarriage Merely Envious of Abortive Women?

I just realized that I never posted my most recent article at The Federalist on the blog. Please read it carefully. I am arguing the pro-life position while systematically examining a question that I have been asked many times: Am I envious of women getting an abortion because of my miscarriages? This article takes a very abbreviated Thomistic approach. Honest intellectual inquiry means examining the other side and drawing conclusions, and even, similarities. Here’s the article:

On the surface, it may seem the pain, grief, and suffering a miscarriage causes the child’s parents could blind their ability to serve at abortion clinics or within the pro-life movement in charity and truth. Some have a pronounced emotional reaction to losing a child in miscarriage. Grieving individuals can lash out at others and envy what they do not possess—namely, a child or more children.

It seems logical for a person grieving a miscarriage to turn in hate towards those who choose to abort their unborn children. These individuals of their own free will intentionally kill their unborn babies, and those grieving a miscarriage want a child. While the danger of envy and hatred exists, reality is much more interesting.

To Parents, Children Are People from Conception
From the moment a pregnancy test reveals a positive sign, the mother and father begin to plan and dream about their new child, a specific person. Men and women experience parenthood in different ways, but come together to discuss names, purchase baby items, contemplate how to rearrange the house if necessary, and plan for the future. They start to see their family with the unique person growing in the mother’s womb.

There is great joy in discovering that a new person has entered the world. Pope John Paul II’s letter to women, “Mulieris Dignitatem,” discusses the deep bond formed at conception:

“The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and ‘understands’ with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the ‘beginning,’ the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings – not only towards her own child, but every human being – which profoundly marks the woman’s personality.”

From the beginning, a woman unites to her child in the very depths of her being and understanding. It is possible to suppress this understanding, which occurs in abortion. Those who endure the loss of a child in miscarriage, however, often profoundly experience this understanding. There is no question in their minds that a child, their child, is lost. This is precisely why the grief is so profound, even if it is done largely behind closed doors.

Read the rest over at The Federalist.

I Have No Desire to Be an “Expert”

Our society is filled with “experts”. There are experts in politics, medicine, theology, philosophy, science, sociology, psychology, business, and the list goes on and on. An expert is someone who seems to know everything that needs to be known about a particular discipline. This should immediately put us on guard. Anyone who thinks they know everything that needs to be known about a subject, clearly knows very little. Humilitas is the hallmark of the wise. This is how we have been given the Socratic method.

Socrates is told by his friend Chaerephon that the oracle at Delphi told him that Socrates is the wisest man in the world. Socrates’ first question is: How can this be? How could he be the wisest man in the world? He is even more perplexed because the oracle cannot lie. So he goes on the mission of engaging with other philosophers and “experts” to discover the truth of the oracle. He quickly learns that most philosophers or sages of wisdom held themselves up in high esteem. They do not see their own limitations in knowledge or practice of what they teach. Socrates acknowledges his own limitations, and so, the necessity of humility in attaining wisdom is born. In this humility, Socrates proves to be wisest, precisely because he does not consider himself to be so. He recognizes that truth and wisdom are never fully exhausted. We must first come to know our limitations and then we can proceed on the journey towards wisdom and truth.

The expert is the exact opposite of Socrates. The expert holds up their knowledge as superior and ultimate. We watch news programs and are inundated with experts. The primary goal of all of these experts is to tell us how to think. How often does a self-purported expert tell people to study the matter in question for themselves? True, I am not going to delve into quantum physics at this point in time, but the opportunity is open to me should I decide to learn at least the basics.

G.K. Chesterton lamented the dawn of the age of experts. He saw immediately that it creates a power struggle and make us intellectually lazy. The expert removes our own responsibility in learning. We no longer consider whether or not what is presented comports with reality, which is truth. We are all called to be philosophers, or seekers of truth (Fides et Ratio). In fact, we are all naturally philosophers, that is what Pope Saint John Paul II meant. Every single person asks the question “Why?” on a regular basis. Why am I here? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the meaning of my life? Does life have a purpose? Is there an after life? And the list continues on.

When we abdicate our own natural inclination to search for truth and wisdom, we leave ourselves trapped in a type of adolescence where we wait for other people to tell us how to live, act, vote, or understand a certain discipline. As Catholics, we submit to Holy Mother Church, but that is because we have learned through faith and reason, that Christ established the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who gives her form (life),  and that the Church will guide us ultimately to truth. Our job is to swim into the depths and plunge deep into the truth of the Most Holy Trinity through the Church.

I do not write because I am an expert. Theological study has revealed to me just how little I know. If that is not how a person responds to graduate level work in the expansive mysteries of our faith, then they are doing it wrong and they missed Socrates’ lesson. In fact, every good theology program requires the reading of Plato’s, The Trial and Death of Socrates. Humility is a requirement of any good student of truth. That doesn’t mean we do not battle intellectual pride. That is a great temptation for any student, including the student who labors at home in the autodidact fashion, rather than through formal study at a university.

There is a very real and tempting danger in academia to desire the position of expert. I know that I have fallen into this trap at times. There is great power in knowledge, but it must be harnessed and ordered to the good, the true, and the beautiful. My desire for self-gratification is not a properly ordered understanding of the knowledge God has given me, nor the intellect He gave to me. I did not create this intellect. I did not create the truths I study. I did not create the universe. I merely share in a limited fashion what belongs to Him.

My purpose as a writer is to open up the world to my readers. We are sojourners. We are on a journey towards truth together. Teachers, writers, artists, etc. are not meant to be “experts” we are meant, first to be students ourselves, and second, to point the way in whatever limited way God allows us to do so. When I write, I want to point towards the ultimate Source. I want my readers to jump into the deep. I want you to open up great works of theology, literature, philosophy, Church documents, Church history, art, etc. Sure everyone’s intellect is different, but that does not mean we cannot learn something, even if we walk away somewhat baffled. We should all walk away feeling small and unworthy in the face of great mystery.

There is nothing more complex or humbling than studying the very limited theology we have on the Trinity. Upon reading treatises–what few there are–on the Trinity our brain should hurt, and yet, our souls should soar. Terms such as procession, filiation, circumincession, spiration, paternity, relations of opposition, and tota simul are enough to make a person’s head spin. They only scratch the surface of the great mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.

When we read an article or a book, we should look to the author as a guide and fellow traveler. We do not hold them up in some supreme place and presently halt our own thinking and philosophizing. Instead, we should mull around what the author is saying and truly come to understand within ourselves what is being said. In the case of Church documents, there may be times we are quite literally wrestling with God, as Jacob did. We all wrestle with God and we all lose, but we become closer to our true selves as we allow God to deepen our understanding of Him, even in the struggles.

When you read my work, no matter where it is found, never think of me as an “expert”. I want you to go read the resources I provide. I want you to learn more than me. I want you to swim deep into the truth. There are so many great teachers in world history and I only play at it. I am formed by my teachers: Aquinas, Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Justin Martyr, Benedict XVI, John Paul II. These are only a few in a very long and ever expanding list. Take my 1500 words and allow them to point you towards your destination: truth. That’s it. I want you to pick up the books I have read. The documents I study. That’s where I want you to go. The last thing I want is for you to think my 1500 words are good enough or the end of the story.

We live in a culture of instant gratification. We think 1500 words is good enough. It’s only good enough if we do not desire truth. It is only good enough if we want to remain trapped in mediocrity or to never try to understand why we are here.  If you read one of my articles and do not desire to plunge into the depths, then I am failing you as a writer. God bless you on the journey….

The Secular West’s Impotence in the Face of Radical Islam

We are now aware that the martyrdom of a Catholic priest, Fr. Jacques Hamel, has taken place in France. It was only a matter of time before ISIS began its assault on Catholicism in Europe, and eventually, the United States. Other than in the Middle East and Asia, Christians have not been the primary target of ISIS and other radical Islamic groups. It has largely been secular institutions that have been attacked.  Catholicism in the West is now a target of ISIS. The difference between the attack on Catholicism and the attack on secularism is that Catholics can win this war.

The West is largely impotent in the face of radical Islam. We do not seem to fully grasp this truth. We look to our political leaders for decisive action, but all we seem to get is the occasional air strike and hollow words. We Christians watch as our brothers and sisters in Christ are slaughtered and sold into slavery in the Middle East and Asia. There is no talk of the plight of Christians in Syria, Iraq, and even Saudi Arabia by political leaders in the West. Why? Quite honestly because the West has chosen to abandon its Christian roots for nihilism. (Oh, no. There she goes writing about nihilism again.) Quite frankly, we will never understand what is going on in Europe, and soon-to-be the U.S., until we understand the impotent, deadly, and destructive nature of nihilism that is the predominant philosophical influence in the West at this point in history.

Why is the West’s nihilism impotent in the face of radical Islam? Nihilism is a creed in which belief is predicated upon nothingness. I do not mean that nihilists believe in nothing, although material atheism does tend to occupy the thoughts of some nihilist adherents. Nihilism is the belief in nothing objective or concrete. This is best understood through the creed of relativism: What’s true for me doesn’t have to be true for you. This results in philosophical and moral incoherence. There is a reason Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke so much of the dangers of modern philosophies and relativism. Is it possible for all of us to have our own set of beliefs and not impact others? Obviously not. If relativism is true, then it is morally permissible for a jihadi to walk into a Catholic Church and slit a priest’s throat. This is the serious problem we face with secularism and its nihilistic principles. The belief in nothing results in a free for all and objective truth is abandoned. When grave evil rears its ugly head in history, the nihilists either turn a blind eye or end up committing their own evils. The problem is that this incoherence is defended over and over again in our culture. Rugged individualism tears humanity apart because it contradicts our ontological being. I hope this is blunt enough because we have got to get this through our Catholic heads. This is what we are facing in secularism.

Nationalism and democracy cannot possibly confront the grave evil and violence of radical Islam. First, nations cannot seem to come together to confront this evil, which is spreading worldwide at an alarming rate. Since we all have our own set of beliefs we cannot come together to form a solution, whether it be military or diplomatic. Although, in my mind, the time of diplomacy has ended. Nihilism and relativism destroy unity. There is no cause or good to fight for in these philosophies. This is why the West shuffles its feet while thousands are slaughtered worldwide. Second, just battles are waged for a sense of belief in the good. World War II was waged on two unified fronts because the Allies understood the dignity of the human person and the need to defend good. In the West, there is no objective good, so we cannot come together and confront the bloodlust of ISIS.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

What is Conscience?

In the United States it is a presidential election year, which means the word conscience will be thrown around in Catholic circles and in the culture. At times the use will be correct and other times it will be wrong as individuals fall victim to a desire for the subjective and an abandonment of objective truth. Conscience is an ontological reality for human beings, which means that conscience is part of our experience and nature. God has given us an intellect and a will. Our conscience gets information and processes it through the intellect and then decides on a course of action, which is the will. It’s important for us to understand precisely what conscience is and is not, our responsibilities in conscience, and our conscience as it relates to God and the Magisterium. I do not have time to give a thorough account, many books have been written on the subject and the Catechism of the Catholic Church covers the topic, but I want to briefly explain this much maligned word and aspect of our nature.

The West has fallen prey to a “dictatorship of relativism”, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI calls it. Conscience has become a catch-phrase and excuse for all sorts of behavior including intrinsic evil. It is up to the individual to set truth according to the clarion call of relativism. The problem, besides the obvious moral chaos that ensues, is that this subjectivism ignores the ontological reality of mankind. God made human beings for goodness and truth. Internally within the very depths of our being, we are ordered to love God, choose goodness, and live in truth. That truth is set by God as the Creator of the universe and of all human beings. He has placed that truth within us, even as we battle concupiscence.

In his book, Values in a Time of Upheaval, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI composed a series of essays on the state of the world. He devotes an entire section to the topic of conscience which has taken a prime of place in moral theology. He explains and clarifies what conscience means and what it does not because he sees a great danger of relativism even within the Church. He gives a stunning and beautiful portrayal of the two levels of conscience. He refers to them as: anamnesis and conscientia. Anamnesis is the ontological level of conscience, Benedict XVI writes:

Accordingly, the first level, which we might call the ontological level, of the phenomenon “conscience” means that a kind of primal remembrance of the good and the true (which are identical) is bestowed on us. There is an inherent existential tendency of man, who is created in the image of God, to tend toward that which is in keeping with God. Thanks to its origin, man’s being is constitutively in keeping with God, is not a knowledge of articulated concepts, a treasure store of retrievable contents. It is an inner space, a capacity for recognition, in such a way that the one addressed recognizes himself an echo of what is said to him. If he does not hide from his own self, he comes to the insight: this is the goal toward which my whole being tends, this is where I want to go.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Values in a Time of Upheaval, 92.

Since we were made by and for God, there dwells deep within us the desire to live our lives in conformity to the good which is God. We are able to recognize what is from God and our own eschatological goal of Heaven. This of course can become blinded by sin, confusion, error, and our own will, but this interior reality is always present and the consequences are grave when we ignore this part of ourselves.

Conscientia is the act in response to a judgment in relation to the desire for good within us. According to St. Thomas Aquinas this act occurs in three stages: recognition (recognoscere), bearing witness (testificari), and judgment (iudicare). It is possible for an individual to not recognize a moral decision and to block their own will to the truth. The risks of doing this are great, as is evidenced by a history full of debauchery, violence, blood, and war. At times it is ignorance or disorder that leads a person to error and this can be corrected through a proper formation of their conscience and a realigning to God. A mistake in judgment is much easier to resolve than a person who has deadened themselves to their own ontological orientation to goodness.

What is the Church’s role in conscience?

Since human beings already have the natural capacity to do good within themselves, Jesus Christ the Logos, came to further clarify the truth which can be disordered within us by sin. As material and spiritual beings, we needed God to reach down on our level to fully teach us and guide us to Him. The danger of error is an ever present reality for mankind. We easily deceive ourselves and it is through Christ and His Church that we are given the clarity we need, so that we can always be pointed towards our eschatological end and our ontological desire for goodness. The conscience itself must find truth and dwell in goodness in order to retain its dignity. The Church guides us in the proper formation of our conscience. Truth is freedom.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Confessions of a Post-Ideologue: Why I am Now Anti-Ideology

Gods-Politics

I grew up in a firmly Republican household. We were also a family of debaters. My parents were debate partners in college and despite the fact that most debate partners loathe each other, they got married. They then had two of their three daughters enjoy and excel at competitive debate, myself being one of them. I also coached high school debate for a while when I was in undergrad. The art of argumentation and conservative politics was normative growing up; however, I joined the Navy at 18 and became politically apathetic. Most active duty folks know that it is the Republicans who give them a bigger paycheck, so that is how most of us voted, not all. Political activism is pretty much forbidden while on active duty and it wasn’t an issue when I was serving, like it is now. We worked long hours and fought wars. That was our focus.

I did absorb some military ideology that took me years to shake out and discard. Much to my shame, I supported the use of torture. Since I had personally witnessed the aftermaths of terrorism I felt that it was perfectly acceptable to use whatever means necessary to save lives. In all honesty it was tinged with a bit of vengeance for the family members I had served in 9-11’s wake. I worked in a field that demanded total allegiance and in my youth and naivete, I gave over willingly. While my particular job was not unethical, I had friends who worked in questionable missions. It didn’t matter. It was for God and country, right?

I did my 6 years in the Navy and got out when my first contract ended. I was burned out and sick of the politics. Plus, the whole point of my military service was to go to college, so that is what I did. While in undergrad I discovered my love of politics and current affairs once again. A good friend of mine volunteered and worked in various capacities for Montana Republican candidates. I got involved. I started to remember that abortion is the supreme human rights issue of my generation and I believed the lie that Republicans would follow through on their promises. I finished undergrad and was given a prestigious internship at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. This was a dream internship that would launch my career in politics. I was the National Defense Intern because of my job in the Navy. I understood the military, budgets, and the need for a strong national defense. I was willing to do what had to be done. That was in 2009.

While I was in my internship, something began to change. I remember when the scales fell from my eyes. I was sitting in a roundtable discussion with the Policy Analyst I interned for, Mackenzie Eaglen, high ranking Marines from the Pentagon, and a couple of Congressional Aides. We were discussing linguistics and the need for linguists on the ground. I knew this topic well. I had been a military linguist. We were carrying on an interesting discussion when the Congressional Aide began asking questions solely from the view point of statistics. I could see very quickly, he was also a Veteran, that people on the ground were merely numbers to him and whoever he worked for. He had no concern for their welfare. He had lost sight of his own service. It did not matter if people died. I left sick to my stomach.

Things went downhill from there. As I sat in Senate and House hearings I could see that nobody actually cared about people. It was all an abstraction, while I still remembered the faces of my friends who had been blown apart in Iraq. The friends I had wheeled around or walked with who had endured IEDs and gunshot wounds. I remembered my Marine friends at National Naval Medical Center, now Walter Reed, who had given everything only to be shoved in a broken down barracks with apathetic doctors. And now I was sitting in Congressional buildings looking at the same apathy. An apathy that had trickled down into the ranks. I couldn’t do it. People I loved, family and friends of mine, were still on active duty.

I knew that I was pigeon-holed into defense policy by virtue of my intelligence background. I would have to start from scratch if I wanted to shift into religion or education policy. I realized very quick that I wasn’t cut out for politics. I don’t have the patience or stomach for it. I was also starting to question the talking points that I had ingested so willingly.

I can say that my Heritage internship was a great blessing and amazing experience. I was a bit old for it at 27, but I made the most of every opportunity and did find a niche for myself in attending the Tocqueville Forum at Georgetown University; the only vestige of orthodox Catholicism on that campus these days. I also came back to the Catholic Church during that internship after experiencing the Sacred Triduum at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Catholic University of America’s campus. Thankfully the Basilica is right off the red line on the Metro, so I could easily attend Mass there on Sundays. Much to my own surprise, I left politics for good when I left DC after that internship.

In the last few years an even greater shift has taken place in me. Yes, I got married and began living my faith seriously, but I also became distanced enough from my military service and my time in politics to begin analyzing what I had accepted. I started to shift to a Catholic perspective and realized that much of what I believed was because of my anger following my 9-11 relief work experience. I had wanted justice and retribution for the people I had served, but it really was vengeance I wanted. I had accepted the vast expanses of government in the wake of 9-11 and now realize that who I worked for has taken those policies to frightening extremes. I also now see that the greatest threat to my family is the attack on religious liberty in this country.

In changing my opinion and heart on these matters, I began to dislike ideology. I started seeing how divisive it is within the Church at a time when we must come together to face the growing threat of persecution in this country and the very real persecution going on overseas. This has been reinforced by my graduate studies. Our faith is not contingent upon our political leanings or preferences. Our faith rests in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church that he established 2000 years ago. What I believe comes from Him, not me. What the Church teaches comes from Christ, not me. In the end the only choice I have is to follow Him or follow myself. When we choose ideology over the faith, we choose ourselves. We choose division. I know. I used to put my politics above my faith.

I still agree with many things that The Heritage Foundation works on. They are doing great work on religious freedom, education policy, and traditional marriage. Many of these shifts occurred after my internship. I just don’t agree with the rugged individualism that they espouse. I am also firmly opposed to socialism in all forms. What this means is that I hold a thoroughly Catholic belief on economic and social issues. I have an obligation to help the poor. I must fight for the end of abortion that has taken 1 billion lives on this planet. If I want to see change then I must raise my family and serve my community. The lowest level is the best solution and pure capitalism uses people just like socialism. I am also proud of my military service and the friends of mine who still serve. All four of us who served in my family got out before doing 20 years. We all got out for the same reason: We hated the politics within the ranks.

Politics are important for bringing about change, but politics are inherently flawed and fallen by nature of the people involved. Politics can never supersede theology. I say this time and time again and many days feel like I am whistling into the wind. Our theology is supreme. We must usher in change and the Gospels through our faith first. Our beliefs, political and otherwise, must be shaped and formed by our Catholic faith FIRST. That means saying no to torture, unjust wars, pure capitalism, rugged individualism, expansive government, socialism, redefinition of marriage, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, etc. You will notice that these issues cross party lines precisely because whatever political party we are a member of is doing one or more things immorally. Yes, abortion is the supreme issue of our day and we must vote accordingly, but we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that our political party is the one of the Catholic Church. Quite frankly, the GOP will drop social conservatives on marriage and then we really will not have anyone to vote for in the coming years. That is the issue that will lead to our open persecution, in fact, persecution of Christians is already happening in this country because of our views on marriage. Both parties are corrupt and we must choose the lesser of two evils, if there is one. More than anything, though, we must start living devoutly Catholic lives in our communities.

The reality is that persecution is here, as Christ promised. People will hate us, call us bigots, and push us out of public life because of our views on marriage.Read the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus constantly warns that we will be hated, reviled, and treated as the enemy. It is already happening. We need to be focused on holiness, not ideology. Our ideology isn’t going to help us wait out this storm. Our ideology is more likely to force us to abandon our Catholic faith. That is why I am anti-ideology. It lessens our Catholic faith. It takes away from the Gospel and it weakens our position. I went from anything goes Veteran (I am not anti-Veteran), to hardcore Republican, to Roman Catholic. The latter is the only thing that matters now. To change the world we must grow in holiness. We must give ourselves completely to Christ and His Church. Then we know that we are on the right path.