Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXIX, No. 2
30th Anniversary Issue
by Mary Ellen Bork
As Women for Faith & Family celebrates 30 years, the challenges of the 1980s are still with us and, if anything, have become more imbedded in political and educational institutions. With increased hostility the purveyors of relativism have become more anti-Christian and aggressive in their attempts to marginalize the Church and its message. Helen’s inspired efforts to focus on the “hinge” issues of women, faith, and family and the Church’s teaching in these areas are even more important today as society proposes all kinds of fantastic definitions of women and their role, faith, marriage, and family, as if their proposals are more acceptable, more reasonable, and even more just than traditional views. Those who hold to the Church’s view and speak up are considered troglodytes or “knuckle-dragging cultural fossils” as my husband was once dubbed. He considered that expression a badge of honor. The cultural support the Church once knew is eroding quickly and the tendency to despair is strong.
We have to resist this insidious temptation, which is not new in the history of the Church. Saint Paul speaks of all of his many troubles in his letters to the Corinthians and says he has confidence in God because the work he is doing is given him through God’s mercy. It is the work of God in our time to teach the young the truth about human sexuality, the nature of faith, and the view that family needs a mother and a father. It has become more difficult because the underlying metaphysical vision of reality no longer informs these areas of our culture. We have been slouching towards Gomorrah for quite a while. It has not helped that many of the schools and colleges that formed older generations have closed or changed under the influence of the secular culture and no longer present the fullness of Catholic teaching.
The vision of human flourishing that we as Catholics cherish has to be shared in new and compelling ways. It was the vision of Vatican II that the laity must be more actively involved in witnessing to their faith and it is clear that they are needed to speak in a hostile culture. With fewer institutional resources we have to be committed to the effort to continue to educate ourselves and deepen our understanding of these issues and find new ways to reach out to those who often lack a strong formation in Catholic thought. That can only happen with the support of small, believing communities.
Pope Benedict XVI once predicted that Christians in the future would be living in smaller communities in a highly secularized society, one ruled by relativism. It is happening: our experience of Catholic culture is often found in small groups, reading groups, prayer groups, Catholic professional groups like the John Carroll Society, parish activities, and devotions. We are not drawn to these groups as a retreat to a comfort zone but rather as an oasis of the shared vision of reality and truth that confirms our faith and helps us to grow spiritually.
Parishes can play a large role in educating and supporting adults and children and encouraging their spiritual growth. From these small communities come people with new initiatives to reach out to young people and fallen away Catholics looking for real spiritual wisdom. My own parish, St. John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia, is an example of a thriving community serious about spiritual growth. We even have evangelization through barbecues, parish celebrations connected with anniversaries and feast days, as well as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and beautiful liturgies. Several other groups that are growing are Endow, Imago Dei, Women Speak for Themselves, Catholic Information Center, Lumen Christi, and many others. Some of these efforts are cultural and some are directly teaching and inspiring young mothers and fathers.
Those of us who have been privileged to live in the period after Vatican II should take up the teachings of Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict and make them better known because they speak to the needs presented by a secular culture — ideas like the culture of life and building a civilization of love and theology of the body. Saint John Paul II and Vatican Council II often taught that Christ reveals man to himself.
This profound orientation to life can help people discover that they are made for great things, deeper things than mere material flourishing. As Michael Novak recently wrote, human beings are called to higher aspirations than political freedom and possession of wealth… “Full human flourishing means striving toward beauty, nobility of soul, purity of heart, and great moral deeds.” Reminding people of the place of virtue and spiritual striving today is like singing a song on a cold dark night. Some will hear it and be reminded of the deeper truths that should guide their lives. We have to be those singers and reach out to moderns who have lost their way.
Ultimately, it is only in Christ that people can live out their deepest personal calling. C.S. Lewis says the Jewish psalmists were “ravished by moral beauty” and that is why they loved the law and studied it constantly. They loved going to the Temple and singing the praises of God. Christ is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets and is Himself the moral beauty that the world longs for. Our small initiatives and efforts — to bring Catholic teaching especially to the young — are, like the mustard seed, a real contribution to the Church and to society. We need to continue what Helen affirmed all these years so that John Paul’s teaching about the importance of Christ will bear fruit.
“Christ sheds light on man’s condition and his integral vocation. Consequently, ‘the man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly — and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being — must, with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter him with all his own self; he must ‘appropriate’ and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deeper wonder at himself.’” (Splendor of the Truth, #8)
Mary Ellen Bork, a member of the editorial board of Voices, is a freelance writer and lecturer on issues affecting Catholic life and culture. She serves on the Advisory Board of the School of Philosophy, Catholic University of America, and Christendom College. She is on the Susan B. Anthony List, and the Chesterton Review. For several years she has facilitated groups studying Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body. She is doing research on Catholic leaders during the English Reformation and 16th-century Catholic religious leaders. Her articles appear in the National Catholic Register, The Washington Times, Voices, and The New Criterion. Mrs. Bork, wife of the late Judge Robert Bork, lives in McLean, Virginia.
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