Our confused culture continues its descent into absurdity.
In our latest episode, the top three executives of the Commonwealth of Virginia are feeling the heat in the middle of winter. Two of them are facing blowback for insensitive party costumes from the 1980s and one for sexual assault in recent years.
Many on the right are looking upon the proceeding with a kind of restrained schadenfreude, wondering how the left will apply the standards of identity politics to perpetrators from their own party.
This triple-header in Virginia has placed a stark light on something people of all parties should work to address: the lack of moral character of so many people who hold high office in our country.
In one sense, this is nothing new. Rumors about sexual dalliances, financial impropriety, and improper use of political privilege have swirled around some of the most popular political figures in our nation’s history. Considering just the last 20 years of political scandals, it’s actually surprising that people can work up the necessary shock and moral outrage to get someone out of office (as of this writing, all three Virginia politicos have managed to hang on).
The United States is, after all, the one successful political product of the Enlightenment. As such, at its heart is the Enlightenment Creed of autonomy. One can make of oneself whatever one wants! The economy of the United States has always favored the rugged, risk-taking individualist with few binding ties. This hyper-individualism naturally wears away at the moral enamel of a society.
Are we really surprised, then, at the moral corruption of so many leaders? Where, after all, do they come from? In the United States, by design, the leadership class does not consist of landed interests or dynastic lines. This is a continent that never had a feudalistic structure! That means that the leadership is us. They come from our neighborhoods and schools, our families and social clubs.
If we have a big problem in our ruling class – and we do! – it’s because they are products of a culture which claims consent as the only real basis of morality (and as we’ve seen, in the case of an argument about consent, the more influential person usually wins).
Christians must not be myopic about any of this. Economic libertarianism and social liberalism are two sides of the same coin. In fact, one might say that they mutually support each other. As a result, Christians must first of all be committed to holiness in all aspects of their lives. We must also be willing to proclaim the perennial value of virtuous living for all.
The New York abortion law which skates dangerously close to openly permitting infanticide is a shameful piece of legislation unbecoming of a free people. To respond decisively is not playing the scold or telling women what to do with their bodies; rather, it is an expression of the Church’s grave duty to teach the truth about faith and morals — even when so many seem to have forgotten the basic principles of reason.
At the same time, our culture has no sense of redemption. We don’t really know what to do with it, because so few actions really garner widespread moral outrage. When one of these transgressions takes place, there is often a dramatic fall followed by a rehabilitation program engineered by PR firms — if the person has the necessary social and financial capital.
But redemption means more, so much more, than this. It is a reality purchased on the Cross. It is not a naïve proclamation that “anything goes!” It is also not a modern-day Puritanism which draws up lists of unforgivable sins and pursues transgressors with a dedication that would have made the Spanish Inquisitors blush.
The way of true redemption looks evil in the eye and calls it such — yes, even (especially) those actions which brand themselves as “victimless.” But because of this, and only because of this, the church can reach out in mercy to sinners as did her founder. One who recognizes himself as in need of forgiveness always has a place in the church. Jesus came to redeem sinners and give them a share in his divine life with the Father in the Spirit.
We need not be trapped forever by our worst actions — but only if we are willing to accept medicine from the true healer of souls.
We have grown schizophrenic because the foundations of our culture have collapsed. The bonds of church, family, and small associations have given way to the state and the individual. As our low birth rates, opioid epidemic, and #MeToo movement has shown, this is a recipe for spiritual decay. Since we have no permanent home on earth, may our eyes be fixed on the one which is to come.
Maybe, just maybe, our joyful gaze even in the midst of our own moral failures will draw others away from the pursuit of pleasure, power, fame, and money. Those gods never satisfy, and their devotees never forgive. God alone suffices. And he alone is the cure for the confusion of our day.
Father Eric J. Banecker is parochial vicar at St. Pius X Parish in Broomall.
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Well said, Father. Thank you.
Thank you Father Banecker for your commentary. As a mother of five, I can attest to how difficult it is to not only live out the faith. but also to show our children examples in society which emulate the values we uphold. Clergy and laity need to work together so that future generations come to see the value in a life of faith, in a society which emphasizes secular humanism.
What might seem like an innocuous screed by a local priest is – if given a close reading – a disturbing commentary on a clerical mindset that a thinking laity would hope is on the wane.
• Please stop placing the Catholic Church in opposition to the Enlightenment. Before the multiple revolutions spawned by the Enlightenment, the Catholic Church in Europe was supported by the oppression of peasants as a part of the “Ancient Regime” of feudal landholdings, and therefore the Enlightenment sparked a morally commendable liberation for both the peasants and the Church.
• “Church, family and small associations,” I suppose is an allusion to Corporatism, the misguided political philosophy that was promoted in authoritarian circles in the early Twentieth Century. As implemented in General Franco’s Spain, Juan Peron’s Argentina, and in Monseigneur Tiso’s Slovak Republic, disgraceful regimes all. Regimes that co-opted the Catholic Church for vicious political ends. As some would do today.
• The MeToo Movement is lumped in with opioid addiction and abortion. Is it any wonder young Catholic women feel ambivalently about the Church? Male clerical misogyny is alive and well.
• “Pleasure” you condemn. Hedonism is condemnable, but pleasure itself. Oh, let’s bring back the hair shirts!
• Schizophrenic should not be used as a derogatory term, or even as a metaphor. It is a biologically based illness with a tragic impact on individuals and families. You wouldn’t use “cancer” as a derogatory term or a metaphor, would you?
• “Since we have no permanent home on earth, may our eyes be fixed on the one which is to come.” Oh, deliver me from this veil of tears. Is this even an accurate statement of Catholic Theology? See Karl Rahner, see Avery Dulles, see just about anybody who contributed to the Second Vatican Council.
We are not Gnostics. We are Christians. Embrace the world. Embrace modernity. Welcome the liberating power of the Holy Spirit that works to better lives of people through science, technology, medicine, genetics and yes, even, the Internet. All are capable of being sacralized in the miracle of the Incarnation.
Christianity is not a religion of the spirit. Christianity is a religion of the Incarnation: the infusion of the spirit into the flesh. More precisely, the fusion of the flesh and the spirit in the personhood of Jesus Christ.
Father, drop “the world, the flesh and the devil” schtick. And get out there and preach the Good News of the Incarnation. The transformative power of the Incarnation in this life to bring about the Kingdom of God in the here and now, not in its perfection, but in its genesis.
I find it hard to tell how a “close reading” of Fr. Banecker’s commentary could possibly lead to any of the conclusions that Mr. Tkac drew from it.
“Church, family, and small associations” is certainly not Corporatism – it’s standard Burkean conservatism. Through what chain of convoluted logic causes one to suggest that a strong family, parish, and community life somehow leads to Franco Fascism is beyond my comprehension.
As far as #MeToo goes: how is it possible to so badly misread Fr. Banecker’s use of it? Is it not obvious that he is pointing to the predatory behavior of powerful men as an example of the lack of moral character that he laments? Not the courage of women who call out these men! To imply that this priest is a misogynist is borderline calumny.
The Enlightenment project and modern technological advancements are not a package deal. Fr. Banecker is well within his rights to enjoy indoor plumbing, modern medicine, and the Internet while at the same time questioning the consequences of Enlightenment philosophy on our conception of the human person.
It’s a shame that Mr. Tkac seems to have in mind some kind of caricature of a neo-Jansenist scold of a priest pounding the pulpit and scowling at his congregation. I actually know Fr. Banecker because I am a parishioner at St. Pius. I can tell you that he is an affable young priest with a sharp intellect who (not to worry) knows theology quite well. Mr. Tkac smugly suggests Fr. Banecker “preach the Good News of the Incarnation”. Well let me tell you something: Fr. Banecker has embodied the joy of the priesthood in every encounter I’ve had with him since he came to this parish. That joy can only come from a deep and abiding love for our Lord, and His people. And that’s far better preaching than some third-rate, amateur armchair theologian who comments on his articles in CatholicPhilly.