by Rev. Jerry Porkorsky
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."
An ideology is an “idea” or system, devised by man and, if possible, imposed on society by elites. Communism, socialism, capitalism, libertarianism, tribalism, nationalism, racism and even multiculturalism are patterns from the minds of men, proposed and promoted as templates for happiness in this life. Of course, there are many other ideologies. If left to the conclusion of their inner logic, however, every ideological social system is ultimately self-destructive because they all tend to be utopian, failing to take into account man’s fallen nature, a state that can only be healed by God’s grace. On the feast of Pentecost, the celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the church, it is instructive to consider the nature of the mission of Christ and His church and ask: Is Catholicism an alternative ideology?
Communism is a political and economic system devised to achieve human happiness through an alleged inevitable movement to a classless society, and a perfectly effective “dictatorship of the proletariat.” The problem, of course, is that the ideal of a classless society is never achieved even as millions are slaughtered by dictators to fit the demands of the Marxist socialist template.
Similarly, Nazism is a system promoting the supremacy of one nation and one race, with all human activity in its service. By the subordination of human freedom in the service of the state, the state is free to define the imperfect and even subhuman elements diluting the ethnic purity of the master race. Variations of Nazism and racism underlie modern pro-choice and population control industries. The one defines unborn babies as subhuman and thus candidates for destruction at the individual level; the other eliminates huge segments of generations and races at the whim of the wealthy and powerful.
Capitalism (and its variant libertarianism) is an economic system accentuating the primacy of the means of production and free market forces. As ideologies go, capitalism at first glance seems to disperse the tendency towards centralized power by means of fruitful competition. When it’s running well, there is general economic success, even as some businesses necessarily fail. But questions of business ethics — good and evil — remain even as capitalists insist that market forces will inevitably correct its excesses. While it is true that greedy capitalists may eventually fail in the marketplace, there is abundant evidence they may not. Without the seeds of virtue — as we all-too-frequently see — capitalism easily devolves into competition that is not particularly friendly (a long-forgotten term) but is, rather, viciously cutthroat. Paradoxically, successful capitalists often seek an alliance with the political power of big government to protect their positions in the marketplace. Happiness for this ideology is not limited to mere economic success; it includes the elimination of competitors and unrestrained profit and political power for some, and exploitation and economic dependency for others. And it gives rise to another ideology, consumerism, the “bread and circuses” of a lethargic populace.
Since the evil of racism, tribalism and nationalism is clear to see, i.e., the presumed supremacy of one’s ethnic or national heritage, a modern secular remedy, multiculturalism, is promoted, calling for an ultimately incoherent celebration of diversity while attempting to promote the equal dignity of every culture. But the multiculturalism ideology (as opposed to the Catholic concept of inculturation, whereby the faith recognizes and elevates all that is good in a given culture) collapses under its basic assumption. Not all cultures are equal, because every culture embraces varying degrees of good and evil. Some cultures have become cesspools of evil. But the political correctness that multiculturalism demands prevents us from pointing out the obvious. The highly advanced ancient Aztec civilization is a case in point. Who among us would celebrate the Aztec practice of human sacrifice even as we admire the architectural wonder of their pyramids, monuments to their mass murder?
Catholicism is often viewed as just one more ideology, an imposition of an ideal system from the outside. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus is a person, not an ideology. Christ is not a dictator, and His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Despite all expectations to the contrary, He imposed no political or economic system upon His followers. He insists His followers are His “friends,” not “slaves” (John 15:15). He teaches us to love as He loves (John 15:9), in freedom not in domination. The incarnation and Mary’s free response to the angel Gabriel reveal there is no forced compliance between incompatibles; only reconciliation and revelation. God and man are reconciled in His Person. Hence, to know Jesus means to begin to enter into the mystery of one’s self and others.
But even the life of Christ — His cross, resurrection and ascension into heaven — is incomplete without Pentecost. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and Mary. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). The Holy Spirit also transformed them. They were no longer selfish and timid, but men of great courage and faith. In the sacrament of confirmation, we likewise become "sharers in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4) and, hence, sharers in the divine mission. The transformative and liberating power of the Holy Spirit over our souls must be sharply distinguished from the often coercive and punitive powers of our rulers.
There is, of course, a need for legitimate if flawed social structures — and the church recognizes this need in her social teachings — but the church hesitates to be a proponent of entire systems, lest the essential mission of the church (“My kingdom is not of this world”) be derailed. The catholic faith is a universal faith ultimately revealed by Christ and animated by the Holy Spirit received on Pentecost and in the sacraments, nourishing us on our way. The faith transcends all human activities and ideologies, critiques them all and calls forth a conversion to Christ in freedom. Indeed, the teaching of Christ through His church is really a revelation of what it means to be fully human: Man is a child of God, created in the Divine image, called to virtue in this life and the everlasting happiness of heaven in the next.
Though we may seem to be mere pawns of ideologues, experimented upon in one utopian scheme or another, Christians are called to be the leaven or the yeast of goodness within the context of every human economic or political system (cf. Mt. 13:33). Not an ideological imposition, but a divine calling and mission.
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