In a new analysis in Crisis Magazine, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg examines “the shifting critiques” of the pontificate of Benedict XVI including the latest appraisal that the world is losing interest in the Catholic Church particularly because of its declining geopolitical “relevance.” But how do some of these critiques understand relevance?
On one reading, it involves comparisons with Benedict’s heroic predecessor, who played an indispensible role in demolishing the Communist thug-ocracies that once brutalized much of Europe. But it’s also a fair bet that “relevance” is understood here in terms of the Church’s capacity to shape immediate policy-debates or exert political influence in various spheres.
Such things have their own importance. Indeed, many of Benedict’s writings are charged with content which shatters the post-Enlightenment half-truths about the nature of freedom, equality, and progress that sharply constrict modern Western political thinking. But Benedict’s entire life as a priest, theologian, bishop, senior curial official and pope also reflects his core conviction that the Church’s primary focus is not first-and-foremost “the world,” let alone politics.
Read “Benedict XVI and the Irrelevance of ‘Relevance’” on the website of Crisis Magazine.
Galatians 2:10 reads, “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” This is the conclusion to the Jerusalem Council, in which Paul and the leaders in Jerusalem are reconciled and unified, and where is decided that Paul and Barnabas “should go to the Gentiles, and they [James, Peter, and John] to the circumcised” (v. 9).
The concluding point that both groups are to keep in mind in their respective ventures is that they “remember the poor.” This will have some important significance for Paul and the Jerusalem Christians later on, as Paul brings the gifts of support from the Gentile churches to relieve the suffering of the church in Jerusalem (see Acts 24:17).
The first volume of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture series includes Galatians, and includes some interesting considerations from various reformers on this text. Luther observes that “it is the task of a good pastor to be mindful of the poor. Wherever the church is there will be poor people, and more often than not they are the only true disciples of the gospel.” Wealth can be a powerful temptation.
But in the account of Wolfgang Musculus (a little-known reformer with whom I am well familiar) on this text, we find too that poverty has its own temptations. Musculus writes, “There was a great need of this advice concerning both the earthly life of the faithful poor and the nature of religion itself. There was a real danger that not only would their bodies succumb to hunger but also that their souls would succumb to the temptation to defect and revert to Judaism. Hunger is a dangerous persuader and the one most closely linked to poverty” (emphasis added).
Do as much good as you are able to men’s bodies, in order to the greater good of souls. If nature be not supported, men are not capable of other good. We pray for our daily bread before pardon and spiritual blessings, not as if we were better, but that nature is supposed before grace, and we cannot be Christians if we be not men; God hath so placed the soul in the body, that good or evil shall make its entrance by the bodily sense to the soul.
Concerning the HHS mandate, somehow getting lost in the shuffle is the primacy of religious liberty. Mollie Hemingway offers a good post at Ricochet on the media blackout.
Certainly, political partisanship and lust for power is clouding the centrality of the First Amendment. I recently heard two women chatting in a public place about this issue. They had convinced themselves that Rick Santorum wanted to snatch their birth control pills away from them. You have an administration ratcheting up the partisanship to mobilize their base for the reelection. Tuning into the 24 hour news cycle, one can watch punditry on the political right make embarrassing statements and then doubling down to defend it. If you jump on social media, so many are engaged in a “he said,” “she said,” but she said it even worse gotcha game about Rush Limbaugh, Sandra Fluke, and a host of partisan commentators.
Some are now or already have dug into the past of a Georgetown Law student to discredit her opinions, however goofy and misinformed they well may be. The fake outrage when somebody is offended is equally disturbing. It’s all for power, votes, and influence mind you. A friend pointed out: Would you really be sent into a tizzy if a stranger was called an inappropriate name, unless it was your daughter, wife, or a close friend? So much of politics is about symbolism and news bites, until the symbol is used up and cast away.
I know it’s all just a reflection of our modern culture and lack of critical thinking as lightning fast statements and words are rushed to the microphone or publication. That the current executive branch is unwilling to accommodate the Catholic Church on religious conscience is truly troubling. More troubling indeed is a real trampling of the “First Freedom,” religious liberty. It’s all largely lost and subservient to contemporary partisanship.
It used to be with some presidents that their word was golden. And I don’t mean to say we’ve never had a dirt bag president and certainly we will have some in the future too. Ronald Reagan and former House Speaker Tip O’Neal cut many deals in the 1980s over the bond of their word. I am currently reading a lot about Calvin Coolidge this year and in almost every election he ran, he refused to mention his opponent by name. After the election, he’d write his opponent a gentlemanly note praising his character, even if his opponent lacked character. Coolidge would then do everything to strengthen their friendship.
Partisanship is good and there are clear moral differences that have to reconciled through governing and the civil authorities. This country faces daunting issues that unfortunately, for the most part, are being sidelined or ignored. The federal debt is over $15 trillion. An alarming number of our problems are really cultural and moral problems and no amount of politcking will solve it. I think David Paul Deavel pointed this out very well in “One Percent or 33: America’s Real Inequality Problem” in Religion & Liberty .
It may not be cool as it once was to like George Washington in this country. But as a leader, he set the benchmark. Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee eulogized our first president stating: “The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues.” In a remarkable 2006 essay by David Boaz on Washington, he concluded by saying:
The writer Garry Wills called him “a virtuoso of resignations.” He gave up power not once but twice – at the end of the revolutionary war, when he resigned his military commission and returned to Mount Vernon, and again at the end of his second term as president, when he refused entreaties to seek a third term. In doing so, he set a standard for American presidents that lasted until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose taste for power was stronger than the 150 years of precedent set by Washington.
Give the last word to Washington’s great adversary, King George III. The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”
“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.
He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. — Matthew 5:45b (NIV)
This morning, did you greet the sun with thankfulness to God that he sent the warmth and light at the end of a long night? Did you consider that the sun rose for everyone whether they were God’s people or not? God cares for his creation on a daily basis. That’s common grace.
On February 16th, Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico spoke to an audience in Phoenix, Arizona, delivering an address entitled “The Moral Adventure of the Free Society.” We’re pleased to bring you the audio of that address via the audio player below: