Monday, April 20, 2015

Cardinal George & Christian Hope

    Cardinal Francis George, one of the outstanding American churchmen of recent years, passed away last week.  Many commentaries I have seen in the Catholic press and blogosphere have, understandably, highlighted the following quote:

I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.  His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.

Cardinal Francis George

     The first part of the quote has generated the most attention.  Some people have dismissed it as overblown or sensationalistic, but I’m not so sure.  George Washington and John Adams warned that a people not grounded in the practice of religion and morality would be unable to maintain a republic as free citizens; our current age seems determined to put that assertion to the test and, quite frankly, the preliminary results are not promising.  And while we here in the U.S. are not facing the sort of violent persecution that our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world must endure, things have nonetheless reached a point that would have seemed unthinkable just a couple of decades ago, when anyone who suggested that American Christians might be forced to lose their jobs and businesses simply for living according to their faith would have been dismissed as a hopeless crank.
     The second part, about a successor who will “pick up the shards” and “help rebuild civilization”, has received a lot less attention, but is, I think, the more important part, the point of the quote.  After all, it is always difficult to be a committed and consistent Christian, even in an age when “everyone else” supposedly is a believer as well.  There is no shortage of saints who gave their lives because their insistence on taking the faith seriously led to conflict with their Christian monarchs (think of Thomas Becket and Thomas More), or even Christian neighbors.  One doesn’t need the gift of prophecy to see our society becoming increasingly hostile, nor is there any reason to believe that the trend is changing in the near future.  It seems to me that Cardinal George is pointing beyond our current troubles, or even worse ones that may come, to Christ’s promise that the Gates of Death will not prevail against his Church (Matthew 16:18), just as she survived the fall of Rome in the first millennium and and the heavy boot of communism in the second, in each case preserving essential elements of the society that existed before the cataclysm.  And of course the assured survival of his Church in this world is itself a sign pointing to the greatest victory of all, Christ coming again in glory at the end of time.  The assurance of that Triumph is the ground of our Hope as Christians.
      By placing today's sufferings in the context of our final destination, Cardinal George calls to mind what St. Peter said to the first generation of Christians:

Be sober, be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of you brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. (1 Peter 5:8-11)

     I have seen a few people proposing Cardinal George as an intercessor for persecuted Christians, and (not that I'm proposing his immediate canonization) we all could use such an intercessor, both for those of us in the West suffering what is now a fairly mild but still real threat of persecution, and those believers in other parts of the world suffering a persecution as brutal and diabolical as any unleashed on the Church since the time of Christ.  I would add something else: since in the quote above and other statements (see here, for instance, from Elizabeth Scalia’s blog, comparing the successors of the Caesars to the successors of St. Peter), Cardinal George made a point of situating persecution in the context of the ultimate victory of Christ, perhaps,  we should also see him as a Patron of Christian Hope.

This Week’s Links

I’ve grown accustomed to posting a weekly digest of posts every Sunday, but I’m having a hard time coming up with a clever, snappy name for it.  Well, no matter, here’s what I posted over the past week (with a couple of bonus days):

Morality and Poverty” There once was a left-wing rabble-rousing magazine that published an article detailing how immoral and irresponsible behavior exacerbated the problems of the poor, and how government programs incentivized said behavior . . . neither of which follows the part line.   

Is The Church A Political Animal?” There’s politics, and then there’s  Politics.  If you think the Church is just another political party, you need to check in with Prof. Ratzinger. 

Eucharistic Adoration: sitting at the Feet of the Lord”  A quick meditation on why Adoration is good for us and our Church. 

Mozart, Herbert, John The Baptist, and Why We Can’t BeAngels” An eighteenth century composer, a seventeenth century poet, and a first century prophet walk into a bar . . . o.k., not really, but they do join me in a discussion of why what (if anything) angels wear doesn’t matter, but it does for us humans 

Abortion Myth #10” Believe it or not, so-called “counselors” at abortion clinics still tell desperate pregnant women that the child growing inside them is no more than a “clump of cells”, to be disposed of at will. Here’s a quick run-down of some counter-arguments  

Our Eternal Destiny: Armed Robbery, or a Warm Place By The Fire?” According to some atheists, our view of salvation makes God look like an armed robber   

Finally, a couple of beautiful, joful music clips for the Easter Season: “J.S. Bach – Sinfonia, Oratorio” & “King’s College Choir –Thine Be The Glory (Haendel)”