El Padre Carlos Ravert

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Pax et Bonum+Peace and All Good

Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II once famously said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Wise words. History is important. Our global history, Church history, family and personal histories all can teach us about who we are today. But, more importantly it can teach us who we can strive to be more like!

There is sometimes a tendency to ignore portions of our history that makes us uncomfortable. But ignoring those darker moments or writing over them will not improve our present or our future. Rather, ignorance of that past will inevitably lead to an even darker future. History, however, is not all backward or tragic.

There are shining examples of faith, humanity and hope that echo through the pages of history even to our own day! Over the next several weeks I’d like to invite you take a journey with me through a tiny slice of our collective history! This special series of articles will focus on events and personalities from Catholic Church history as well as American history and some World history to better allow that light to shine from the past into our present!

I choose to learn from history, the good and the bad. There are things that have happened in the past which I hope never come upon the earth again, but there are still other examples of virtue I wish would return.

Today it is popular to judge history through the lens of modern secular standards. This problematic method is called “Presentism.” Why is this problematic? A couple of reasons.

First, the moral standard of today is relativistic. Moral Relativism is the morality of the day. The secular world doesn’t hold truth as sacred and immutable, whether something is good or not is determined by one’s feelings in the moment. Have you ever heard a person say something like, “I need to live ‘my truth’” or “That might be true for you but that’s not ‘my truth.’” This is moral relativism.

So, since there is no central immutable code of ethics in the modern world, how can the modern world accurately judge history with a code of ethics? It can’t. What happens? Ethics and morality become trendy.

Whether something or someone is good or bad is judged by changeable and often false standards that may be popular now, but in time will fade from popularity and be replaced by a new set of equally changeable and perhaps false standards.

Another reason why Presentism is problematic is that it tends to oversimplify complex historical events, or judge history out of its context.

Another way to describe this is what philosophy calls the “Straw Man Fallacy.”

Presentism presents historical events and figures in the weakest way possible to more easily dismiss or judge those events and figures.

Finally, Presentism is problematic because it is very easily manipulated as a tool for agendas and the rewriting of history. Groups, or individuals can undermine or even destroy others by misrepresenting history. Presentism can weaponize its moral relativism and Straw Man arguments to injure other groups and individuals today.

As Catholics we should avoid Presentism. Not only will it damage our understanding of history, but it will also begin to damage how we view ourselves.

Our faith teaches us that there is one, immutable Truth by which we conduct our lives: Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ fulfills all of human history in his Passion, Death and Resurrection while also enlightening us with his teaching handed on from his Apostles. Christ is the standard by which we will all be judged.

So, when we examine history together over these next several weeks Jesus will be our light to guide our study of the past and the standard by which we judge ourselves.

History certainly has dark moments full of error and tragedy. Despite that darkness, the light of Christ shines brightly through the people and events of the past which have shaped us today.

Please join me over these weeks the Easter Season to deepen our understanding of history and see the light of Christ!


Father Charles Ravert serves as pastor of St. Ambrose Parish in Philadelphia.