Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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Saturday, June 12, 2004The Cultural War Targets Religion
We are now in a society where casual heterosexual promiscuity and gay sexual relationships are openly accepted and celebrated as healthy and normal. We are in society where pornography and indecent fashion are everywhere accepted as part of the scenery. Just ask yourself: how many baby boomers are raising their kids to be chaste? The vast majority of baby boomer families will never raise the issue. It is not a surprise. If the parents don't believe it, never practiced it, and probably don't practice it today, how can chastity be transmitted to future generations? One major national political party and even some politicians, especially from the Northeast, in the other national political party view abortion has a fundamental civil right. All of these anti-Christian beliefs and behaviors are openly and aggressively pushed in our society. They have become noncontroversial for many.
Yet, if anyone invokes God or religion, there is a cultural problem. Religion is supposed to remain a private taste and search for spiritual self-fulfillment with no public impact. Religion is not supposed to be part of the national debate. And it is certainly not supposed to have a political impact. That's why George W. Bush is especially hated by liberals--because he does not hide his evangelical Christian faith. That's why the liberal media is up in arms over some Catholic bishops protecting the Eucharist from sacrilege and scandal.
One of the lies, parroted even by some people claiming to be religious, that plays a central role in this onslaught on traditional religion is the lie that sexual sins are just not serious sins. Some spiritual writers, including C.S. Lewis, have indeed correctly pointed out that passionate sins of the flesh are not as deadly as the more cold-blooded sins of pride and hatred. So much is true. But a needed correction needs to be made in our modern circumstances. Most spiritual writers who have correctly pointed this out lived in societies in which everyone knew that sexual sins were sins. They obviously occurred frequently, but no one claimed they were virtues or something to be openly proud of. Today, the situation is quite different because contemporary Western society rejects the concept of sin itself. And so sexual sin is not mitigated by a social consensus, by religious belief, or by shame. Instead, the bold pervasiveness of openly celebrated sexual sin has grown to huge proportions.
In my view, writers like C.S. Lewis and others, including Dante, viewed sexual sin as a weakness of the flesh due to our concupiscence--that is, in spite of our best intentions and ideals, we fell. They contrasted this weakness of the flesh with the more calculated and cold-blooded hatred exhibited in sins of pride and self-righteousness. But in modern societies, we do not tend to fall into sexual sin as a mere lapse but rather as an intended lifestyle. In our society, the fundamental option has been made by many that we are obligated to satiate consupiscence and leave it unchecked.
And so, today sexual sin is not so much about lapses, but a matter of consciously chosen lifestyles. That conscious choice is cold-blooded, not a product of momentary passion that is later regreted. The roots of that cold-blooded choice lie in our selfishness and our pride, in our callous exploitation of others for our selfish gratification. Now, in a society that misleads many into thinking that these lifestyles are good and normal, the person's subjective fault may not be clear, at least in the beginning. But, as all moral inhibitions are jettisoned, I submit that the harm done becomes progressively more obvious and subjective culpability increases. After all, we are rational beings. We cannot fail to observe the increasing injury done to others and to ourselves.
In addition to that selfishness, consider the self-righteousness of modern sexual immorality which refuses to question itself. Sexual license is viewed as a fundamental right that knows no limits--even the "contraceptive" killing of the unborn. This license has become an obsession and a tyrant. The sins of the flesh as practiced today are frequently rooted in an imperious self-righteousness that considers itself beyond good and evil. It is not the sort of momentary lapse that spiritual writers of another era were most familiar with. Sexual sin today exhibits a tyrannical self-righteousness that bridles at any dissent and refuses to blush.
In the face of this new tyranny, to invoke one's religion is equivalent to refusing to worship Caesar in the Roman Empire. It sets you distinctly apart. We are all supposed today to worship the secular Caesar of license in which religion is marginalized as a private self-help game. And even when you don't invoke your religion but merely argue for the right to life and for responsible behavior based on reason, human rights, and natural law, liberals will try to disqualify your views as religion in disguise. For liberals, the argument is won if any of your positions on an issue is consistent with historic Christianity. The only role liberals will allow for religion is as an inspiration for social work or "Peace Corps" work that duplicates secular inspiration.
Thus, it is no surprise that polls consistently show that greater church attendance correlates with voting Republican. Secularized society considers religion the greatest scandal while at the same time exalting real scandal as freedom. For Christians, the situation is hostile, but there is a silver lining. We are called to risk mockery for the faith. Today, it is easy to fulfill that call. All that we have to do is merely question the new tyranny celebrated all around us.
Friday, June 11, 2004Reagan Would Not Have Backed Destroying Embryos for Stem Cell Research
Today's N.Y. Times has an op-ed by William P. Clark, a former Reagan adviser and cabinet secretary, reiterating that Reagan was 100% pro-life. In the piece, Clark emphasizes that Reagan would not have in any way backed calls for stem cell research that requires the destruction of human embryos. Rather, Clark persuasively argues that Reagan would have shifted our attention to the promising potential in adult stem cell research. Clark, a Catholic, has great credibility when it comes to Reagan's views because Clark was for years close to Reagan.
Clark quotes from a 1983 speech by Reagan:
Source: N.Y. Times Online (free reg'n required), "For Reagan, All Life Was Sacred," by William P. Clark, Op-Ed section, 6-11-04.
So don't let anyone forget that Reagan was a pro-life President. Even more telling was that in his famous "Evil Empire" speech before the National Association of Evangelicals, also in 1983, he made these remarks about abortion:
Source: see link above.
And so the Soviet Union was not the only evil empire referred to in that famous speech. It is time to recognize that Reagan was also talking about another evil empire tolerated in our midst: the evil empire of abortion founded on Roe v. Wade.
Peggy Noonan on Ronald Reagan
Especially in light of the Clinton years, the title of Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan's biography of Reagan says it all: When Character Was King (Penguin Books, 2001). Noonan was a former Reagan speech writer who worked on some of Reagan's most memorable speeches. She is also a strong Catholic and admirer of John Paul II.
The book is one of those that you will eagerly wish to read through as quickly as possible because of its gripping personal anecdotes. Noonan likes the personal, as most of us do, and so she does not disappoint us.
Reagan's strong religious faith inherited from his devout evangelical Protestant mother is key to his character. Like his mother, he believed that everything, good or bad, happens for a reason known to God. That was the basis of his optimism, not raw nationalism. And so, he thought that his survival of assassination in 1981 was the will of God:
Noonan, pp. 193-94.
The intersection of these two men in history and in the collapse of Soviet Communism was no accident.
Reagan's great faith in divine providence brought to the world stage the role of his mother. This small, devout, busy Bible-reading Midwestern "church lady" helped to change the world (see Noonan, p. 20). She transmitted a faith-based optimism to her son, and he brought it to the world when the world needed it. As Mother Teresa would say, "Do small things with great love." Nelle Reagan practiced it, and the world reaped the benefits in ways she could have never imagined. Yes, the humble can be world historical. Our small acts of faith will have an impact that we will never fully know in this life.
And Reagan, the former heroic lifeguard who had saved 77 people in his youth, was pro-life. Here is an anecdote concerning Reagan's pro-life activism as recalled by one his assistants:
Noonan, p. 259.
Reagan and his character are not out-of-date. His character is needed today more than ever. And we are fortunate that the President who will preside over the ceremonies today is George W. Bush, another man of deep religious faith, optimism, and strong character. I believe it is no accident that Reagan left this world during this particular administration. A Reagan funeral presided over by a President Clinton or a President Gore would have been as jarring as having a papal funeral presided over by an atheist.
Near the end of her book, Noonan has a chapter in which she interviewed George W. Bush about Reagan. She gives her historical assessment of our current President Bush, an assessment that George W. Bush apparently shares. It is an assessment that puts the relation between Reagan and George W. Bush in the perspective of American history:
Noonan, pp. 309-10.
You will hear it again and again this week: Ronald Reagan ranks with Franklin Roosevelt in transforming the American landscape. We are fortunate to have Reagan's Truman in office: a very different man from his predecessor but similar in the one thing that counts--character.
Thursday, June 10, 2004Michigan Bans Partial Birth Abortion
Recently, a federal judge declared the federal ban on partial birth abortion unconsititutional. But, in Michigan, 460,000 registered voters signed a petition banning partial birth abortion as a matter of state law (see Detroit News story, "Late-term abortions banned," 6/10/04). The Michigan legislature today comfortably passed the ban presented by the citizens' petition. The petition process was necessary because it allows the legislation to bypass the pro-abortion governor, who had previously vetoed a prior ban passed by the legislature. Now, the pro-abortion governor is out of the loop.
The pro-abortion and pro-partial-birth-abortion governor is Democrat Jennifer Granholm, who receives Holy Communion in the Catholic Diocese of Lansing. She claims that she cannot impose Catholic teaching on Michigan. 460,000 registered voters, Catholic and non-Catholic, want the ban on partial birth abortion. Comfortable majorities in the legislature also want the ban. It is not a matter of imposing Catholic teaching but of proposing and working for the protection of the most fundamental of human rights. The truth is that Gov. Granholm's reference to not imposing religion is a smokescreen. The reality is that she does not consider the unborn or partially born child a human person deserving of the right to life.
A brief comparison is instructive. In the recent past, the Vatican found it necessary, in response to complaints, to explicitly instruct clergy not to deny the Eucharist to individuals who choose to genuflect as a sign of reverence prior to receiving the Eucharist. In other words, some priests were in fact refusing the Eucharist to individuals that merely made a traditional gesture of devotion and reverence for the Body of Christ. Yet, today, many clerics say they just can't bring themselves to deny the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians. It is surely paradoxical that some were denied the Eucharist for being too devout, while pro-abortion crusaders like Gov. Granholm get a free pass.
The citizens of Michigan, with the help of the Catholic Church, successfully stood up to Gov. Granholm's fanatical devotion to abortion. Now, it is time for the Church to also stand up to politicians like Gov. Granholm in matters of sacramental discipline.
Media Poll Manipulation
One tried and true tactic of liberal media spin involves political polls. A biased and defective poll is a convenient way to make a partisan editorial favoring liberals under the cover of objectively reporting "public opinion." A biased poll is nothing more than a disguised editorial. The most recent example is the poll just released by the liberal Los Angeles Times claiming a Kerry lead of seven points over President Bush. Here is the strong response by Bush strategist Matthew Dowd as related to MSNBC's online First Read feature:
Source: MSNBC's First Read, June 10, 2004 (emphasis added).
What Dowd is referring to is the voter sample skewed in favor of Democratic voters. You will not get those background details from the L.A. Times.
For a reality check, see the latest Fox News poll ("Poll: Bush, Kerry Still Closely Matched," 6/10/04, by Dana Blanton), and the latest Rasmussen poll showing a tight presidential race.
Another poll that is, in my opinion, problematic is the Zogby poll which has shown a plummeting approval rating for the President in the recent past. The problem is that Zogby apparently does not ask its respondents directly whether or not they approve or disapprove of the President's performance. Instead, Zogby asks if the respondent views the President's performance as excellent, good, fair, or poor. I know because I have been one of the respondents in his interactive poll. Zogby confirmed to me by e-mail that he treats "fair" responses as equivalent to "disapproval." In Zogby's own words, "Fair = Negative!" (e-mail communication dated 6/2/04). For me, and I believe for most people, "fair" intuitively means satisfactory or O.K. That's what it means when I see it on a child's report card. So, in my view, Zogby's numbers on the President's approval rating are highly questionable.
According to pollster Scott Rasmussen, the CBS poll--which also tends, in my opinion, to put the President in a worse light compared to other polls--has had problems in the past with undersampling of Republicans (e-mail communication dated 6/5/04). In sum, the lesson is: before you take a poll seriously, ask around and research it. What is not disclosed may surprise you. At a minimum, compare with other recent polls. As President Reagan liked to say, "trust but verify." For Catholics, it's known as the virtue of prudence.
A Study in Contrasts on D-Day: Secular Humanism vs. Bibles
On June 6, 2004, the President of France, Jacques Chirac, made his remarks at Normandy commemorating D-Day. Chirac appropriately gave his sincere thanks to all that America sacrificed to liberate France in 1944. President Bush followed with his own remarks. The contrast between the contents of these two speeches tells us much about the difference between secular France and a United States in which many Americans still view themselves as religious.
Not once in his speech--as far as I can see--does the French President mention God. He never invokes the blessings of God on the free world, nor does he invoke God's mercy on the departed. Instead, Chirac, true to the heritage of secularism borne of the French Revolution, invokes "humanist" values:
Source: Available at this link (emphasis added).
In contrast, President Bush invoked the mercy of God on those who died on D-Day and ended his speech with a poignant reference to the many Bibles that were strewn among the dead American bodies that littered the French coast on D-Day:
Source: Available at this link.
Chirac's blatant secularism echoes the French refusal to incorporate any references to God in the European Union's new constitution, in spite of insistent pleas from the Pope and some other European nations. The French Revolution ushered in an era of instability, dictatorship, war, humiliation, and surrender for France beginning in 1789 and ending with the ignominy of Vichy France. In fact, the French Revolution is famous for its Reign of Terror. In today's world in which terrorists are the prime external enemies of the free world, France gave us the first terrorists in the Reign of Terror.
Something is radically wrong in a France where at a solemn occasion commemorating the dead the President of the Republic makes no reference to God. A growing Middle Eastern population and declining French fertility indicate that French society will likely face major demographic changes in the near future. In my view, such declining fertility is a function of secularism. Ironically, French secularism may very well lead to increased religious fundamentalism from its Muslim residents. The country that spawned the Reign of Terror may face increased anti-secular Muslim terrorist activity on its own soil. The Old Europe is sick, and the source of its sickness is plain for all to see: a visceral hostility to religion.
Wednesday, June 09, 2004Compare and Choose [Updated]
Let's get to the point, and evaluate the two candidates for President from a Catholic point of view. Bush is pro-life, while Kerry is a leading pillar of the abortion regime. Bush favors the death penalty, while Kerry apparently favors the death penalty for some crimes. As to the war in Iraq, the only difference appears to be that Kerry would have favored even more diplomacy prior to attacking Saddam Hussein--although it is hard to tell what Kerry actually thinks about Iraq. My view is that what Kerry says about Iraq depends on the latest polling and the latest campaign strategy meeting.
If we go through the issues one by one, we see that the Catholic choice is Bush. On abortion, Bush wants to return to the legal regime prior to Roe v. Wade in which the abortion issue was left in the hands of state legislatures with most states allowing abortion only in very restricted cases (see Abortion Law Before Roe v. Wade, by James S. Cole). Kerry of course favors Roe v. Wade as an essential civil rights landmark which made abortion on demand a federal constitutional right immune to tampering by state legislatures. While the Catholic position is no direct abortion ever, it is obvious that the Catholic voter must go with Bush, the candidate who wants to roll back Roe v. Wade's constitutional regime of abortion on demand.
As to the death penalty, neither candidate rules it out completely. Neither does the Church. The Catholic News Service runs an article where the Catholic distinction between abortion and the death penalty is clear: direct abortion is always wrong, while the death penalty can sometimes be appropriate (see Catholic News Service, "Church opposes abortion, death penalty--but experts see a difference," by Agostino Bono, June 8, 2004). Direct abortion is absolutely wrong, while the death penalty is more a matter of mercy mitigating a morally allowable option for society. It is impossible for a Catholic to put abortion and the death penalty on the same moral level, in spite of the misleading use of the "Seamless Garment" argument by many Democrats.
As to war, it is all a matter of how much diplomacy is enough. Like many, I consider that the President satisfactorily engaged in extended diplomacy to avert war and that he rightly took military action as a last resort. Kerry, at least for the moment, appears to disagree, but does not rule out eventually having attacked Iraq. So the difference here is one of political and diplomatic judgment. It is not a matter of fundamental moral absolutes as in the case of abortion. The war issue does not tip the scale one way or the other between these candidates. Consistent with Church teaching, the determination of a just war is a matter of prudential judgment for properly constituted civil authority (Catechism, section 2309).
As to stem cell research, Bush opposes expansion of research that would involve destroying human embryos. The Bush policy announced in August of 2001 was that such research could take place only on existing stem cell lines that did not involve the new destruction of human embryos (see Remarks by the President on Stem Cell Research, 8/9/01). Given the media spotlight on Alzheimer's disease arising from President Reagan's death, Kerry is seeking to exploit the emotions of the moment to push for removal of the ethical standards applied by President Bush on such research, even though experts say it is unlikely that stem cell research would lead to a breakthrough on Alzheimer's (see Associated Press story, "Kerry on Radio Promotes Stem Cell Research," 6/12/04). In contrast to Kerry's opportunism, Bush is resisting pressure from both parties in Congress to loosen restrictions on stem cell research that would involve destroying human embryos (see Reuters story, "Senators Ask Bush to Change on Stem Cell Policy," by Thomas Ferraro, 6/7/04).
And to top it all off, we now have the issue of gay marriage, which is, of course, contrary to Catholic teaching. Bush supports a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage as being exclusively between one man and one woman. Kerry rejects any such amendment because it would foreclose future court decisions legalizing gay marriage, as has already happened in Kerry's home state of Massachusetts. The gay lobby is, like the pro-abortion lobby, an essential part of the modern Democratic coalition.
In sum, because Roe v. Wade has made the widespread and routine murder of the innocent socially acceptable, the fate of this court decision is paramount: roll back Roe v. Wade or maintain and strengthen Roe v. Wade? Bush would roll it back, while Kerry would strengthen the reach of Roe v. Wade, as he has proven by opposing even the ban on partial birth abortion. If Democrats want the intelligent and conscientious Catholic vote, they have to begin by rejecting Roe v. Wade--something the Democrats will never do because it is a pillar of their party's very existence. The Democrats have written off the informed Catholic vote. We Catholics should write them off as well. Liberal Catholics, including some prominent clerics, who seek to obscure the obvious moral choice are playing a game of smoke and mirrors.
Update: Another reason to prefer Bush emerged today. Laura Bush affirmed that restrictions on stem cell research should not be relaxed, even in the face of the understandably emotional plea of Nancy Reagan for relaxing such restrictions. See Associated Press story, "Laura Bush Says Cannot Support Stem Cell Research," by Sue Pleming, June 9, 2004.
Tuesday, June 08, 2004Wojtyla the Prophet from 1960
While working on some minor revisions to the Catholic Analysis book Unpopular Catholic Truths, I saw once again how John Paul II was truly a prophet years before he became pope. Back in 1960, while a young bishop in Poland, Karol Wojtyla wrote Love and Responsibility, whose very title is the opposite of the "Lust and Irresponsibility" that the sixties would bring to the forefront in the way Western culture began to openly and aggressively view and organize relations between men and women. God gave us a prophet to warn us just before the cultural embrace of lust and irresponsibility and a prophet to guide us today in recovering from the disastrous physical and emotional legacy of decades of socially approved lust and irresponsibility.
In the book, I struggled with the issue of the primary ends of marriage and the issue of birth control. Liberals claim that with Vatican II the Church replaced procreation as the primary aim of marriage with "love." The liberals--whom, like Weigel, I define as those who believe in religion we make up, as opposed to revealed religion--love to make this claim as a justification for contraception and even for gay unions. But, of course, Vatican II did no such thing. And in Love and Responsibility, John Paul II gives us a key to interpret the passages of Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes, especially section 50, in which the Council speaks of procreation as the aim of "the true practice of conjugal love and the whole meaning of family life." In the same section, the Council also stated that "[m]arriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained to the begetting and educating of children."
So, clearly, Vatican II's own words, ipissima verba, show no deemphasis on procreation. But how to relate the prominence still given to the aim of procreation with the emphasis on conjugal love? Prophet Wojtyla easily cuts the Gordian knot. In Love and Responsibility, Wojtyla makes clear that the traditional aims of marriage in Catholic tradition have not changed: the "primary end" of procreation, the end of mutual help between the spouses, and the end of satisfying sexual desire still remain (Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility [Ignatius Press, 1993], p. 66).
But, in a brilliant move, Wojtyla preempts any potential conflict between this listing of the aims of marriage and the importance of conjugal love. He does so by making use of what he calls the "personalistic norm" by which he means the moral imperative that the "only proper and adequate way" to relate to a person is through love (p. 41). This personalistic norm is the "principle on which the proper realization of each of the aims" of marriage depends (p. 67).
As a result, none of the aims of marriage can be realized apart from love and, in fact, are "realized in practice as a single complex aim" (p. 68). Yet, Wojtyla still affirms that "procreation is objectively, ontologically, a more important purpose" than the other aims of marriage because the "possibility of procreation" is necessary for the flourishing of mutual help between the spouses (p. 68) and for the flourishing of the "spontaneity and depth" of sexual intimacy (p. 69). In sum, marriage "always remains above all an intimate bond between two people," but, at the same time, procreation always remains the primary aim of marriage. As others have pointed out, it is the difference between defining what marriage is and articulating the primary aim of marriage. There is no break with Catholic tradition as the liberals like to imagine.
The impact of Wojtyla the prophet and pope is only beginning. Recently, even the New York Times took note that the Pope's Theology of the Body is spreading:
Source: N.Y. Times Online, "Spreading the Pope's Message on Sexuality and the Spirit," by Mireya Navarro, June 7, 2004, N.Y. Region section (Isn't funny that the article is not in the "National" section of the newspaper where it should be?).
For recent generations who learned about sexuality through the pornographic lense of manuals like the inaptly entitled The Joy of Sex, the Theology of the Body is long overdue for rewiring our minds on sexual matters. For newer generations, it will save them from a lot of the heartache and personal tragedy arising from the sexual "sound and fury signifying nothing" offered by our secular culture.
Monday, June 07, 2004Ronald Reagan: A Superior Model for Aspiring Presidents
With the death of Ronald Reagan, there has been an outpouring of front-page headlines, of spontaneous tributes by average citizens, and of praise with non-stop, universal coverage by news outlets. All of this will continue at least throughout this week, culminating with a National Day of Mourning proclaimed by President Bush to coincide with Reagan's state funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. But tributes to Reagan had begun long ago: Reagan Airport in Washington, D.C., the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, and even a proposal to put his image on our coins. One news report noted that already numerous streets and schools have been named for Reagan. As a Cuban-American, I recall that in the eighties there was already a Ronald Reagan avenue running through Miami's Little Havana. Cuban-Americans knew that he was their friend. The news report also mentioned that there already is a Mount Reagan. Don't be surprised if you find Reagan's image someday in your pocket change.
From a wider perspective, the passing of Reagan offers a unique cultural and psychological moment. He is rightly praised for making America optimistic again during his term of office. He may now, in death, be working an even more beneficial transformation in the way Americans think by providing a new model for presidential leadership that can potentially be influential for generations.
For decades now, a fascination with the late President Kennedy has held sway with large numbers of Americans. But most significantly, this Kennedy fascination has had a strong influence on the generations of Democratic politicians that followed Kennedy. Bill Clinton, for one, idolizes Kennedy. It is clear that Kerry is of the same mind as Clinton. Numerous other Democratic politicians and rank and file voters, both Democratic and not Democratic, still view Kennedy as the model president. Reagan may change all of that for our culture.
The great Kennedy mystique is based on his oratory, wit, charisma, and looks. The Reagan mystique is more than a match for Kennedy on all of these points. Reagan's muscular oratory is unforgettable for its boldness and fearlessness in an age of political correctness. Reagan's wit and charisma are second to none. And, even in looks, it is hard to imagine someone better cast for looking presidential. Reagan's posture, stride, and demeanor bespoke presidential authority.
But, unlike Kennedy, Reagan survived the attempt on his life and served two complete terms. In those years, Reagan was able to do what Kennedy did not have the chance to do: to transform American politics. Reagan put liberalism on the defensive. He laid the foundation for the historic Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. Today, however tenuous, there is indeed undeniable evidence of the Republican realignment that began under Reagan. More voters identify themselves as Republican than ever in our recent history, and both houses of Congress are under Republican control. Kennedy, in contrast, inherited an already strong Democratic Party dominant in Congress for years before Kennedy took office. Radical changes in policy were left by fate to Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.
Even more important, from a Catholic point of view, than these political generalizations is the personal model of leadership that Reagan provides for future aspiring presidents. While Kennedy's ambition for the presidency trumped ideology, for Reagan conservative ideas were the reason to seek the presidency in the first place. The priority of ideas over manic ambition can be seen in the contrast between Kennedy the youngest man ever elected president and Reagan the oldest man ever elected president. Reagan was not an "ambition machine" on the fast track from an early age. Reagan acquired strong political convictions before he acquired presidential fever.
Here is how one historical overview described the very different Reagan route to the presidency:
Source: PBS's American Experience: The Presidents (Legacy, Ronald Reagan, 40th President).
On the more personal level, there is further contrast. While Kennedy is famous for his adulteries, Reagan is famous for star-struck devotion to Nancy Reagan. It is unimaginable that Ronald Reagan would have betrayed Nancy Reagan as President Kennedy casually betrayed Jackie Kennedy.
But, in my opinion, the most significant personal contrast between Kennedy and Reagan is in their very different reactions to the dysfunctions of their fathers. Kennedy's father, Joseph Kennedy, was severely dysfunctional in his own compulsive adulteries. Unfortunately, this dysfunction, and its accompanying damage to character and recklessness, flourished in President Kennedy.
Reagan's own father also had a serious dysfunction: alcoholism. But, in contrast to the Kennedy embrace of paternal dysfunction, Reagan emphatically rejected the dysfunction of his own father. Here is how Reagan rejected the flaws of his own father:
Reagan was no stranger to seemingly dismal situations. His childhood was marked by poverty, an alcoholic father and a long-suffering, "do-gooder" mother. Despite this, Reagan early on embraced an optimistic outlook that often defied the reality around him. In time, his rosy perspective and faith in better days ahead would win over legions.
Source: PBS's American Experience: The Presidents (Early Career, Ronald Reagan, 40th President).
Maybe, the lack of economic success of his own dysfunctional father, along with the presence of a mother determined that the pattern would not be repeated, made it easier for Reagan to escape his father's problems. In contrast, the Kennedy brood could not escape the shadow of the wealthy, successful, and dominating Joseph Kennedy. It is not the first time that a humble background turns out to be a blessing.
And so character won in Ronald Reagan's life from an early age. Reagan pursued an idealism integral to his character, not a superficial idealism founded on manic ambition. I submit that Reagan's model of idealistic character is a far better legacy for aspiring presidents than the Kennedy model of manic ambition combined with gravely wounded character. The Kennedy model gave us the highly flawed President Clinton. The Reagan model offers us something better. Let us hope that a paradigm shift occurs and that the better model replaces the tragic legacy of a mythic Camelot. That cultural shift may turn out to be Reagan's greatest contribution to the country he loved.
Sunday, June 06, 2004Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity: Proverbs 8:22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
The reading from Proverbs provides a hint of the full revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament. This reading speaks of the wisdom of God who participated with God in His creation of the heavens and the earth. In John 1:1-4, the fullness of this revelation is finally made clear:
In Romans, Paul mentions in the course of the five verses read today: God, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. In Pauline usage, the term "God" was traditionally and customarily reserved for the Father, even though both Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit were also unquestionably viewed as divine. The fact that all three, the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, are mentioned repeatedly in the same breath by Paul in his letters gives us the triadic reality which the Church would later come to call the Trinity.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus himself presents the triadic reality of God. Jesus declares that the "Spirit of truth" will guide the disciples to all truth. Jesus further states that this Spirit "will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you." Jesus then says that "[e]verything that the Father has is mine." Jesus thus links all the persons of the Trinity: whatever the Father has, Jesus Christ also has, and the Holy Spirit in turn will declare what they both identically have. And so from the mouth of Jesus himself we have three person in one Godhead--the Most Holy Trinity, a thoroughly biblical doctrine and teaching.