Athanasius Against the World
|St. Athansius of Alexandria|
I hate to use the now overworked term “perfect storm”, but the past few weeks I have felt like all the weather in the world was pouring down on me. I’ll share just a couple of the highlights, or lowlights. There was the recent Sunday when I found myself (not me personally, but me and people like me) berated from the pulpit for having the temerity to expect Catholic clergy to speak out in support of the Church’s moral teaching on issues such as abortion, marriage, serial adultery, etc. We were told we should be more like the Pope, and welcome everyone with a wink and nod and just stick to talking about Jesus (too bad Pope Francis didn’t get the memo: see here). Then there was a recent Friday afternoon, when I found myself trying to explain the Church’s teaching on human sexuality to a classroom full of fourteen-year-olds, to whom the idea that one need not indulge any and every sexual desire seemed novel and inexplicably bizarre. I began to feel a little bit like Athanasius contra mundum. Shouldn’t these kids have heard this somewhere before, or from someone, anyone, beyond their 9th grade religion teacher? Even students from church-going families seemed unfamiliar with any perspective other than the self-righteous libertinism of the popular culture, and not just in this particular group: I’ve been seeing it more and more over the years.
The Good Professor Says His Piece
Interestingly, when I arrived home that same day my lovely bride had an article by Anthony Esolen (“Who Will Rescue the Lost Sheep of the Lonely Revolution?” here) that she had just read, and that she was eager to share with me. Apparently, Professor Esolen is also getting rather frustrated with trying to reach students who have grown up immersed in the grim propaganda of the sexual revolution, often without even knowing that there was another (more excellent) way, or those who have heard the Truth, but see no examples of anyone celebrating it or living it out. He makes an impassioned plea to all the adults out here, including, emphatically, those with teaching authority in the Church, to “man up”, as it were (my term, not his), and speak boldly for the sake our young people who are being left to wither on the vine:
Let me speak up for the young people who see the beauty of the moral law and the teachings of the Church, and who are blessed with noble aspirations, but who are given no help, none, from their listless parents, their listless churches, their crude and cynical classmates, their corrupted schools. These youths and maidens in a healthier time would be youths and maidens indeed, and when they married they would become the heart of any parish. Do we expect heroic sanctity from them? Their very friendliness will work against them. They will fall. Do you care? Many of these will eventually “shack up,” and some will leave dead children in the wake of their friendliness. Where are you? You say that they should not kill the children they have begotten, and you are right about that. So why are you shrugging and turning aside from the very habits that bring children into the world outside of the haven of marriage?
The Self-Help Guy Agrees
Esolen makes a number of important points, particularly that our culture is toxic, that its moral corruption has very real material consequences, and, most damning, that we have largely abandoned our young people to it. Some years ago the late self-help author Stephen Covey pointed out (in only somewhat less emotional language) that raising morally sound and emotionally healthy children has become much more difficult in our current environment:
In the past, it was easier to successfully raise a family ‘out-side-in’ because society was an ally, a resource. People were surrounded by role models, examples, media reinforcement, and family-friendly laws and support systems that sustained marriage and helped create strong families. Even when there were problems within the family, there was still this powerful reinforcement of the whole idea of successful marriage and family life . . .
(Stephen Covey, The7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, p. 15)
That is no longer the case. In fact, society now actively subverts parents’ efforts to raise their children: it is, as Covey puts it, “family-fatal”. He marshalls an impressive array of statistics (he cites sources for all of these in his book) to support his assertion:
- Illegitimate birth rates have increased more than 400 percent.
- The percentage of families headed by a single parent has more than tripled.
- The divorce rate has more than doubled. Many project that about half of all new marriages will end in divorce.
- Teenage suicide has increased almost 300 percent.
- Scholastic Aptitude Test scores among all students have dropped 73 points.
- The number one health problem for American women today is domestic violence, Four million women are beaten each year by their partners.
- One fourth of all adolescents contract a sexually transmitted disease before they graduate from high school.
Since 1940 the top disciplinary problems in public schools have changed from chewing gum and running in the halls to teen pregnancy, rape, and assault.
(Stephen Covey, The7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, p. 16)
Covey’s book was published in 1997; I guarantee that these statistics have not changed for the better in the intervening 17 years. And these are only some of the more obvious bad consequences of what Esolen calls the “Lonely Revolution”.
Who Needs Those Goofy Rules Anyway?
If you’d like something more recent, here’s an item from last week, an article [here] from the Catholic News Agency called “Agree to Disagree: Why Young Catholics Pose a Unique Challenge For the Church.” It seems that a recent study commissioned by the U.S. bishops has found that young Catholics, even those who consider themselves devout, feel free to ignore “’goofy’ rules” that they don’t like:
If any Church teachings conflict with their own perceptions, young people simply “tune out” the teachings.
“They agree to disagree with the Church,” [Archbishop Thomas
Furthermore, young Catholics are sensitive to language that could imply judgment. “For them, language like ‘hate the sin love the sinner’ means ‘hate the sinner’,” Archbishop Wenski said.
The last sentence gives the game away, even if the article does not explicitly say which particular “goofy” rules are at issue: the conflation of the sin with the sinner, in conjunction with the damning charge of “judgmentalism”, is the preferred tactic of the storm troopers of the Sexual Revolution, and thus they often lead good Christians into error (see here, for instance). The Church, on the other hand, has always been guided by “hate the sin, love the sinner” and the old legal maxim Qui bene distinguit, bene docet, “he who distinguishes well, teaches well.” Notice that docet comes from the same root as doctrine: doctrine is the sacred teaching of the Church. If those responsible for teaching doctrine don’t teach, then those under their tutelage will be left to the teaching of the World, which, as we have seen, non distinguit. Is it any wonder, then, that our young people also non distinguunt? The Church is supposed to be a Sign of Contradiction (Luke 2:34), but if all she offers is a Nod and a Wink, then how is any distinction possible between her teaching and what the Conventional Wisdom has on offer? Do we not then give tacit assent?
Where's That in The Bible?
|The Prophet Ezekial|
The underlying problem is not a new one. Let’s go back a little into the past, to the Book of the Prophet Ezekial:
If I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved your life. (Ezekial 3:18-19)
All of us baptized Christians have a prophetic office, and the warning addressed to Ezekial above applies to all of us, as the Letter of James tells us:
My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
When it comes to guiding the young, our Lord himself puts the matter even more starkly:
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)
Avoiding unpleasant Truths, it seems, is not an option.
Go And Sin No More
To return to the homilist with whom I began this little excursus, he’s correct that we need to model the love of Jesus, but we do that when speak the Truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). When we distinguish between the sin and the sinner, we can show that we hate the sin because of our concern for the sinner. I recently tuned in to a Catholic radio station just in time to hear a host ending his show by saying: “The worst thing you can do for somebody is to allow him to wallow in sin.” That’s exactly right: it is more loving to warn a person about sin, with all its painful consequences, than to leave them ignorant of something that’s destroying them. And if we’re going to talk about Jesus, should we not mention that he suffered and died for the express purpose of saving us from sin?
I’m not saying we should be mean, or accusatory, or call people names. We do, however, need to recognize, as Anthony Esolen points out, that the currently popular sexual sins are not simply harmless “peccadilloes”: they destroy families and ruin people’s lives, and put people in danger of being lost forever. Jesus saved the woman caught in adultery from stoning, but he also told her: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). We all, and particularly those of us appointed as teachers, should be prepared to say the same.