The Wrong Side of History

By James Matthew Wilson for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC

Berwyn, PA.  Cardinal George offers us the strong words — not of oracular prophecy, but of historical wisdom.  A few passages:

Communism imposed a total way of life based upon the belief that God does not exist. Secularism is communism’s better-scrubbed bedfellow. A small irony of history cropped up at the United Nations a few weeks ago when Russia joined the majority of other nations to defeat the United States and the western European nations that wanted to declare that killing the unborn should be a universal human right. Who is on the wrong side of history now?

Speaking a few years ago to a group of priests, entirely outside of the current political debate, I was trying to express in overly dramatic fashion what the complete secularization of our society could bring. I was responding to a question and I never wrote down what I said, but the words were captured on somebody’s smart phone and have now gone viral on Wikipedia and elsewhere in the electronic communications world. I am (correctly) quoted as saying that I expected to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. What is omitted from the reports is a final phrase I added about the bishop who follows a possibly martyred bishop: “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.” What I said is not “prophetic” but a way to force people to think outside of the usual categories that limit and sometimes poison both private and public discourse.

God sustains the world, in good times and in bad. Catholics, along with many others, believe that only one person has overcome and rescued history: Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, savior of the world and head of his body, the church. Those who gather at his cross and by his empty tomb, no matter their nationality, are on the right side of history. Those who lie about him and persecute or harass his followers in any age might imagine they are bringing something new to history, but they inevitably end up ringing the changes on the old human story of sin and oppression. There is nothing “progressive” about sin, even when it is promoted as “enlightened.”

You can read the whole essay here.

I have taken a hiatus from FPR, as my family and I settle into our new homestead in the village of Berwyn.  Even as I write this, I am suited up to go insulate the attic.  But I hope Cardinal George’s words will remind my more sympathetic readers of my series on Catholicism and localism, which will resume sometime next month.

The Cardinal’s essay rightly calls into question the worthiness of the nation state as the sovereign agent of political force, and I shall hope to consider whether such an interpellation leads us necessarily to Dante’s and Jacques Maritain’s dream of a temporal world government to complement the spiritual universality of Rome, or whether it may more fittingly be understood as a call to the relocalization of the political guided by a universal primacy of the spirit (also, incidentally, a position Maritain defended).  For my part, the maxim that guides my thinking has always been flippantly phrased, “I like my politics local and my Church universal.”  As Cardinal George suggests, the battles we fight in these troubled days shall not find their outcome in the chronicles of world politics, but in the book of life that records our one, true citizenship.  And yet, consciousness of our citizenship of the Kingdom of God is indeed the foundation, the informing principle, for good politics in the city of man.

A Blessed Feast of All Saints to all the saints and sinners out there on the internet!

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