A Meditation for the Vigil of the Incoronation
of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Often one encounters a problem, the solution to which is not easy to see, precisely because the understanding necessary to solve it can only be had by comprehending many causes and their interrelationships.
Take, for example, the problem of driving from home to a place you have never been. Before the invention of geo-mapping applications on cell-phones or portable GPS systems, as were very popular in cars just a few years ago, you had either to take counsel from someone who had been to your destination, or ask those along the road. If you knew how to read a map, you could also use that.
Such a problem, that is, of traveling to an unfamiliar destination, was so complex of a problem, that for ages there have every been those who would prefer never to go beyond the world they knew, even if that self imposed restriction kept them from visiting the town next to their home town.
A similar problem exists when one confronts the problem of the de-Christianization of civilization, and considers just what has happened to Western Civilization since the time of the rise of Nominalism in the 13th century, the Protestant Revolt of the 16th century and the French Revolution.
This cultural transformation has effected every aspect of human endeavor and self-expression, which as a collective are termed “culture” by material Anthropologists.
When I went to University back in the 80’s, as I was considering becoming a missionary, I was counseled to obtain a B. A. in Anthropology to enable me to understand the different cultures of the third world. While I never went to the third world, I learned much about the developments in the science of Anthropology which have lead to a greater understanding of the material aspects of human culture, in different world civilizations throughout the centuries.
While I found the materialism of my professors to be laughably ignorant, there were some observations which they made which, extracted from their de facto atheism, were valid objective considerations.
Being nearly 50 years of age, I have come to that point in my life where I am taking stock in the great panorama of experience and study I have had during my life, and considering more carefully just what this world, in which I live is about. Being a man whose faith is central to his heart and mind, I have sought in such considerations some clues about just what is fundamentally wrong with modern culture, and why it is that Christianity in the West, since the end of the Second World War, has so visibly and manifestly disintegrated, inasmuch as so many who call themselves “Christian” and so many institutions officially recognized by society as “Christian” have departed from fidelity to Christ Jesus and have abandoned their loyalty to Jesus Christ.
There are several aspects of what constitute a culture which make the culture itself incapable of being comprehended.
First of all, a culture is the entire ensemble or complex of human expression or achievements which are used by the human persons who live in that culture. A Culture, such as Western Civilization, is thus something too large to see all at once, and too extensive to experience fully by any single person who lives in that culture.
To that extent, a single culture is a kind of sea in which one has always swam, or land in which one has never left. For this reason, just as it is that one who always lives in the same town, but who never leaves to visit another, conceives his world more by the limitations he unconsciously has about what is important in the world, so one who lives within a culture and never considers the causes which brought it in to being or the paths along which it is wandering, lacks an objective basis upon which to base sound objective judgements about the value of such changes.
This lack of objective orientation leads necessarily to a certain sort of despair. Because the man who despairs of something that can be achieved, does so first of all because he no longer holds that it can be achieved. And just as the prejudice which holds that my town is so self sufficient for me, that I need never travel to another, leads a man to preclude the consideration of just where he is in the world, since he cares not to compare his town to another, and thus excludes himself from the experiences which would enable him to have the information necessary to make some such sort of judgment, so the man who lives immersed in a culture all of his life, necessarily accepts the changing values of that culture, when that culture changes.
Even those Westerners who attempt to gain some sort of objective conception of Western Civilization by means of traveling to other parts of the globe, so as to experience other cultures, never obtain a truly objective view of Western Culture, merely for the fact that all other cultures dispose a man, at the material level, to the same sort of “I am the center of the world” mentality. And thus every human culture en-captures and entraps the human individual in a psychological environment which enables and facilitates the acceptance of the values that culture propagates in food, dress, language, arts, sciences, social organization, etc.
The only truly objective view of a human culture, therefore, can come from some sort of knowledge or experience which descends from a level of being which is above and outside of every human culture. If man were but to have such knowledge and experience, then he would be able to form objectively sound and universally valid estimations of the value of any particular culture or of all human cultures.
For man, this is impossible; but for God all things are possible. And this great knowledge or wisdom which enables the human person to transcend the material aspects of the culture in which he lives was in fact given to man by God. It is called the Catholic Faith.
This is because the Catholic Faith is nothing other than the knowledge the Eternal Son of God has in Heaven, which He has made known to us, His disciples with absolute sincerity and veracity, just as He said, “All that I have from the Father I have made known to you!”
Any culture, then, which would take the Catholic Faith as its highest and most fundamental principle for development, would, thus, be objectively the best of cultures and the most human and humane of cultures. It would also be the culture capable of understanding what is good and evil in all cultures and how all cultures can progress to a greater and more morally upright way of life.
The Catholic Faith does this in 2 fundamental ways: by imparting to believers the knowledge of Divine and human truths, which man could either never know by his own powers of reason, or which man could only know with difficulty. In this first way, man has exact and authentic knowledge coming from His Creator about the origin and nature of this world, of himself, and the purpose both have in time and eternity. With such knowledge believers are capable of forging a new civilization which is founded on eternally valid truths, and thus to establish a stable way of life which can endure the vicissitudes of the ages, despite whatever the passing of time might bring.
The second way the Catholic Faith enables a truly better human civilization is that it gives us certain knowledge of moral truths whereby man can govern his relationships with other men and with nature itself, so that his society be a truly honest and just one.
A Catholic Civilization, therefore, is something valid for the ages, and the greatest boon for mankind, because it ensures in the fundamental values and manner of ordering society a stability, the only stability, that can weather the centuries of time and enable every person in that society, both believer and unbeliever alike, access and the benefits of the greatest common good: to believers the facility to live their faith, to unbelievers the facility to come to the faith; to both, a manner of life which is harmonious with the natural, moral and divine laws, upon which God Our Creator and Savior has established the universe.
Such a civilization by giving man true knowledge of the world and of himself, frees him from an infinite variety of errors which might deceive him about what constitutes authentic progress in society, science, art, religion, economics, etc.. It saves him from despair, when in the sufferings of life he is confronted with the seeming mysteries of suffering and death. It ennobles him to strive to ever be a being which is faithful to the spiritual values which mere animals can never appreciate.
In this way, Christ Jesus, not only merited the salvation of each and every human person who would ever live, He also, through the Apostles and Sacred Tradition, bequeathed to the human race a deposit of knowledge which would serve and can serve as the foundation of a human civilization which would be fit to be a dwelling for those called to eternal life.
This is the nature, the form, and the end of a Catholic Civilization.
However, when I consider the problems which have overwhelmed the West since the end of the Second World War, when applying this vision of Catholic Civilization, I see more clearly that many in the West are profoundly disoriented by a superficial consideration of their place in history, and limited by their all to facile reaction to certain challenges of their age.
The first consequence of this superficiality, is the loss of a proper sense of what constitutes human dignity, for we cannot lose the proper sense of where we are in history, unless we have first lost a proper sense of who we are. There is a widespread error that human dignity is by nature “sacred”. While it is true that the human life of a Baptized Catholic is sacred, in the sense that by means of Baptism that human life is consecrated to God as an adopted son of the Eternal Father, yet human life itself, before being Baptized is not sacred at all. In fact, in our conception we are conceived slaves of the Devil and are his property inasmuch as we are conceived in original sin and under the dominion of vice, sin and death.
If we say that all human life is sacred, we implicitly deny that the moral qualities of good and evil are the fundamental distinction between human persons, and thus are led to sacralize mere matter, without any consideration of its relation to God.
But matter is sanctified or consecrated only because it is made conform to God’s Will or dedicated to His service. And this requires the intervention of grace; nature of itself cannot achieve it. Therefore, if we were to take the oft-requoted phrase, “Human life is sacred”, in the strict literal sense, we would be lead into the error and heresy of Pelagius, the 4th century monk who believed the salvation and grace offered by Christ were helpful, but not necessary for human salvation.
We, Catholics, however, have always believed, and this truth resounds in the pages of the New Testament, that this world, by the sin of Adam, is a fallen world, and though by nature is good in the sense that God made it, morally speaking it has been turned to evil, inasmuch as it has been turned away from God.
Thus, for all those who believe in Christ, it is not only necessary to believe that He is Our Lord and Savior, but that we, sinners, were in need of salvation even before He came; and this, because of the original downfall of our race. If man’s problem was strictly personal, it would have been sufficient for Him to send us each an Angelic revelation; it would not have required the Incarnation and Crucifixion!
Man’s proper sense of where he is in history, then, is ontologically entwined with his origin, his One and Only Savior, and how he lives in accord with these. And just as this is true of the individual human being, so, consequently, it must be true of human society as a whole, since, in this case, the adage is true: the whole is the sum of its parts.
Hence, a true and just estimation of human cultures must contain and start upon the consideration of whether they are founded upon the truths of the Catholic Faith, obey the natural, moral and divine laws established by God, and live in an honest and morally upright manner in fidelity to these, for in this, the culture would be subordinated to the 3 great laws of the cosmos: The Divine Law, the Moral Law, and the Rule of the Faith.
A culture or society which stood in rebellion with any part of any one of these laws, then, would be doomed, for the mere fact that it was not in harmony with the Manufacturer’s instructions for humanity. Misused, man breaks; misconstructed, human society breaks apart.
From this point of view, we can see that there can be no toleration in principle of the validity of a culture or civilization which disagrees with any point of the Catholic Faith. While it is just as true that in practice we must tolerate in every human civilization something awry, that is, not in harmony with the Catholic Faith (for perfection in every aspect is only found in the Civilization of Heaven), this does not mean that we can become complacent with these deviations, or worse, devote our efforts to propagating what is incompatible with the Faith.
In this light, we have a theology of culture by which we can easily see that there is only a very limited reason for praising any human culture, and that the form of culture in which we live becomes less and less Christian the more and more it departs from basic Christian values and teachings.
For this reason, any effort or endeavor to promote the Faith must include a cultural aspect of implementing in human daily life, the truths of the Faith which are under attack or opposed by Godless forces in contemporary society.
Second, in any effort to promote the Faith we must be careful not to fall into the error of thinking that by employing errors or immoral practices we can succeed.
Third, we must take care not to react so quickly to problems, that our reactions themselves incorporate some of the errors of the Godless forces at work in our world today.
In a word, we must have a heart totally dedicated, out of love for Christ, to fidelity to Him; and thus, an intellect moved by love and faith, ever seeking the understanding we need to remain faithful. If we do this, we open the door to the possibility of becoming and remaining co-workers with Christ in the Church Militant, and merit His remembrance, at the hour of our death, in His Eternal Kingdom. Once opened, it remains only for us to step through.