In Quod Apostolici Muneris (1878), Pope Leo XIII deplores those who “under the motley and all but barbarous terms and titles of Socialists, Communists, and Nihilists, are spread abroad throughout the world,” striving in alliance for “the purpose long resolved upon, of uprooting the foundations of civil society at large.” It may sound odd to our ears, that socialists, whose prescriptions for society are many and comprehensive, should be united with nihilists, who by definition believe in nothing. But Pope Leo, beginning as always from a rich view of human nature grounded in reason and elevated by relevation, sees the alliance we miss—and by implication he includes as well the fellow traveler, secular liberalism, friendlier to the free market but ultimately also an enemy to man.
How so? In this essay I will focus on two of the evils Leo discusses in his letter. The first is the denial of the body; the second, the severance of human law from divine law, effacing in citizens the sense of moral obligation. We obey such human laws because it is to our advantage, narrowly and materially conceived, to do so, not because it is right and just.
If the new evangelization means in part trying to bring the lax and the “no-shows” at Mass and Holy Communion back to their senses and practice their faith, it will take a lot more than speeches, programs, and homilies by the hierarchy. It takes exceptional efforts at prayer and penance on the part of the few to save the many.
Before one tries to restore truth to the blind of mind and the dull of heart, we must remember that exceptional graces for others require more than ordinary efforts. We know from our faith that no one can merit grace for others from the perspective of justice but only by appealing to God’s mercy in friendship.
When St. Catherine of Siena wanted to save several of her friends from dying unrepentant, she would beg God to send her the punishments due to their sins so long as he would grant her wish that they repent. After accepting much suffering often for many months, she would “win” back their souls, something some of us can admire but not imitate since it would be based on a great deal of false motives, especially presumption.
On the feast of Christ the King, we are called to acknowledge that Jesus is, in fact our King. It is one thing to say that he is our King because the song in Church we sang said that, or the preacher said that, or the Bible says that. Yes, faith does come by hearing. But there also comes a moment when WE must say that Jesus is our King. When we must personally affirm what the Church has always announced: “Jesus is Lord, and he is King, he is my king. He has authority in my life.”And this must become more than lip service. It must become a daily, increasing reality in our life.
St Paul writes to the Philippians of the glory that our currently lowly bodies will one day enjoy:
He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified Body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. (Phil 3:19)
I once spoke with an older woman who wasn’t all that pleased to hear that her body was going to rise and be joined again to her soul: “Oh, Father, you don’t mean this old decrepit body?! If this body has to rise I am hoping for an improved model!”
I once wrote a book called Music and Morals in which I tried to show that some music has a dispositive effect on the moral life. Music does not immediately or directly cause virtue or otherwise the beautiful works of Mozart or Bach that were played at the same time while the Nazis were killing Jews would have prevented such atrocities.
Like preaching itself, many works of music motivate to transcendence or degradation of one’s moral life. For example, listening to Gregorian chant or Palestrina at the Mass, all things considered, normally intensifies prayer because the mood is prayerful caused in large part by prayerful singers. If one understands Latin, then the sentences take on a richer meaning leading to contemplative prayer, more or less, depending on one’s spiritual life. It can introduce the listener to the praise and adoration of God himself.
By Adolfo Castañeda, S.T.L. and Felipe E. Vizcarrondo, M.D.
The mission of Christ entrusted to the Church is of a supernatural order. It is not primarily political, economic or social. From this mission, however, derive teachings for all aspects of human life. This is why the Church rightly claims “the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls” (CCC 2032).