The Cost Of Being Catholic

Nowadays, “charity” conjures up various images, some of which are quite distant from everyday life. Consider the “nonprofit sector”—or government welfare programs.

Others images are more immediate—soup kitchens, or Salvation Army kettles.

But charity—caritas—is actually a supernatural virtue. As Saint Paul puts it, “now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” True charity—Christian charity is a gift, bestowed by the grace of God.

Christ calls all men to perfect charity—“Be ye perfect, even as my heavenly Father is perfect.” But fallen man can only strive after it.

Non-Christians are called to charity as well. The natural law inclines all men to exercise good will towards one another, even strangers. This is a virtue—a natural one. Aristotle calls it eunoia, acting with the good of others—the common good—in mind. Grace perfects what is in nature. So Christian charity perfects what we are already called on to do “by nature.”

But Aristotle also points out that an act cannot be virtuous unless it is truly voluntary. Clearly, an act of personal generosity qualifies under that definition; but does a government program?

Here arises a possible impediment. Christian charity must be selfless. Man must subordinate self-love—amor sui—to love of God—amor dei. In fact, for Augustine, self-love is the central feature of the City of Man, which “is ruled by the lust of rule”—libido dominandi, power-lust. And government programs, even welfare programs, can be self-serving—serving the interest of the government, not the governed. That is, a government “charity program” can be perversely designed to increase the power of the government, rather than to serve the common good. We don’t have to look far to find examples.

Are those politicians who are so generous with other people’s money truly selfless? Alas, merely to ask the question is branded as uncharitable.

The Beatles sang, “All we need is love.” They were wrong. As Augustine makes clear, the lust for power can be driven by love too—self-love. It is not by chance that Orwell chose to call Big Brother’s torture chamber the “Ministry of Love.”

Real Charity
This week the Church celebrates the feast of St. Stanislaus, the Patron Saint of Poland. As Bishop of Krakow, Stanislaus had a lot of run-ins with the government—in this case, the Polish king Bolesław the Second.  Stanislaus repeatedly reprimanded King Boleslaw for breaking the Commandments, for sending soldiers off to unjust wars, and for his cruelty to the people. Finally, Stanislaus excommunicated the King.

Bolesław responded by ordering his men to kill the bishop. They refused, so the king killed Stanislaus himself, with his own sword. (He then fled and died in exile.)

Saint Stanislaus offers us a model of the perfect charity that we are all called to emulate. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

This week Catholics also celebrate the feast of Saint Julie Billiart. Julie’s heroism surpasses anything you might find in a Victorian novel. At age thirty she was paralyzed by a mysterious illness. For twenty years she taught, counseled, and prayed—from her bed! The French Revolution forced her into hiding, but despite her travails, she founded the Sisters of Notre Dame, devoted to teaching the poor and preserving the faith that had been so persecuted by the revolution.

Please note that the marvelous works of Saints Stanislaus and Julie were carried on without government funding. Quite the contrary. Hostility in France caused Julie to move her motherhouse to Holland. There she inspired German sisters to adopt her religious rule. Then those sisters were thrown out of Germany by Bismarck’s Kulturkampf—so they came to the United States. Since then, thousands of Sisters of Notre Dame have taught millions of children all over the world.

Thrown out of France by the anti-Catholic government. Thrown out of Germany by the anti-Catholic government. Did that stop them? Not at all. Through all this adversity, God raised beautiful works of charity that today spread all over the world. And there are hundreds of religious orders with similar histories.

Times Change, Charity Doesn’t
The nineteenth century was the golden age of voluntary Catholic charity in America. Schools, hospitals, orphanages, churches, and other works of mercy flourished, supported not by government funding but by voluntary, even sacrificial giving from poor Catholic immigrants.

In the twenty-first century, things are different. Many of the Catholic Church’s charities—Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic universities, Catholic hospitals—now depend on taxpayer funding, billions of dollars every year.

When you pay your taxes this week, will you feel the thrill of performing a work of Christian charity? Did you seal your envelope with a fervent kiss overflowing with Christian love? When you render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, are you rendering to God what is God’s with the same check?

Is this our century’s version of charity?

Each age brings its own challenge to charity. Stanislaus and Julie, saints who confronted the challenges of their day with faith and fortitude, are models of heroic virtue. In our own day, just getting married and staying married seems to require heroic virtue. That’s tough enough, to be sure—but today’s challenge goes deeper, especially for our children.

For each two children born today, there’s a third child that didn’t make it. That sad fact accounts not only for the violence so prevalent in our society, but also the poverty.  That poverty is not material, but spiritual. “Any country that accepts abortion is the poorest of the poor,” Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta tells us.

America’s children grow up in fear and trembling today. Good Catholic kids are surrounded by a generation that is spiritually impoverished. As they grow, so do the challenges. Burdened by ideology, our schools don’t educate like they used to. Yet high-schoolers still vie to gain entrance to the college of their choice—and the prospect of acquiring tens of thousands of dollars in debt. After graduation, graduate or professional school means more debt, while the job market offers few prospects.

Young Catholics today have a mountain to climb. Many hope to marry, to buy a home someday, and to have children. Yet, many face the prospect of paying off their college debts all the way through their childbearing years. How can they afford a marriage? How can they afford a mortgage? How can they afford children?

The sexual revolution blind-sided our bishops fifty years ago. They’ve been off-balance ever since. Cardinal Dolan, president of the bishops’ conference, says they’ve had “laryngitis.” And yet, he says, our young people hunger for the truths of Humanae Vitae, the Church’s teaching on human life, marriage, the family, and, yes, sex. This encyclical was promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1968. It was immediately trashed by almost everybody.

Calling All Heroes
Humanae Vitae is the answer to our culture’s ills, but the roadmap requires heroic virtue. Not in great things, but in small things. Families. Babies. Sacrifice. The building blocks of a culture of life.

Today the Church must teach the poorest of the poor. According to Mother Teresa, that can also mean Americans who might think that they are pretty well-off.

As members of the Order of Malta, we resolve, every day, “to practice charity towards our neighbor, especially the poor and the sick.” In our age, it is the spirit that is impoverished. It is the intellect that is sick.

Our government seems to thrive on this, but our children are suffering. We must reach out to the spiritually and intellectually impoverished among us and help them—by word and by example.

We can no longer rely on the government to do this. For Big Brother, “Ignorance is Strength.” It’s up to us—to teach the truth, especially the unpopular parts, as Pope Benedict repeatedly observed, and to teach it in boundless charity—that supernatural virtue that is the greatest of all.

Editor’s note: This column is excerpted from a talk delivered to members of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta in Washington, D.C., on April 11, 2013—the Feast of Saint Stanislaus.

Christopher Manion


Christopher Manion served as a staff director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for many years. He has taught in the departments of politics, religion, and international relations at Boston University, the Catholic University of America, and Christendom College, and is the director of the Campaign for Humanae Vitae™, a project of the Bellarmine Forum Foundation. He is a Knight of Malta.

  • Edward Peitler

    And when the religious orders of teaching Sisters found that their charism no longer had applicability in American society because there were no llarge cohorts of European immigrants in the USA as there once were, what did they do? They stopped teaching and found jobs working in parishes and dioceses as just more another bureaucratic hacks.

    Instead these “teaching” Sisters should have regrouped and begun teaching the poor immigrants from Hispanic nations to the USA. Better still, they should have done like the Sisters did who were thrown out of Germany and France: ventured to Central and South America’s poorest regions and opened schools there. And you know what would have happened? Their numbers would have flourished, instead of plummeting to the point of non-existence. And they would have been better serving Christ and his Church instead of riding around on a bus supporting homosexual marriage, women priests, contraception and abortion. It’s what happens when you’ve lost your charism.

    • Amen Edward! The motherhouse for the SSND is in my town, and you would never recognize most of the nuns as having come from the same order as the ones that came here from Germany and France over 100 years ago. The few that have remained true to the order, as it was founded, are few in number now, and they suffer in silence. Instead of celebrating feast days of the saints, they celebrate the winter and summer solstices.

    • rightactions

      …should have regrouped and begun teaching the poor immigrants from Hispanic nations to the USA.
      Edward Peitler

      Start by teaching about the Cristero war of Masons and Protestants against the faithful in Mexico. Teach about the suppression of Christians and the outlawing of their faith in all other countries of the Americas, including the USA. And why teach only immigrants about those atrocities? Teach all Catholics in the USA about them.

      And why wait for religious orders of teaching sisters to begin the job? Bishops, get busy!

      • I agree with you Mr. Peitler! The bishops shouldn’t worry about whether they can get government help.

  • Randall Smith had similar thoughts in a two-part series last year.


    And here:

  • hombre111

    Humanae Vitae? My state is famous for its low wages and has the highest percentage of minimum wage earners in the nation. How many babies can you afford on $7 an hour? They already make more sacrifices than this rich Knight of Malta ever dreamed of.

    • Natural family planning is upwards of 90% effective at spacing out pregnancies, not to mention that it is very inexpensive has other great benefits, too. 🙂

      • tedseeber

        Yes, but it’s the sad answer. The right answer, would be more living wage jobs and less wealth.

        • While I do agree with you, NFP can be a positive thing, regardless of a family’s income level. It opens up lines of commuication between husband and wife which leads to stronger marriages, it helps the woman become more in tune with her body, it’s environmentally friendly, it’s safe, it means that women like me will be loved more for who they are rather than feeling like their fertility has to be treated like an illness in order for men to get sexual pleasure from us, and the list goes on. What’s not to like about it? 🙂

          • schmenz

            Sadly, I must answer your last question. I did not open up the discussion on NFP, but since you did I feel I should respond.

            What’s not to like about it? I’m afraid quite a bit. The first and foremost problem with NFP is that it opens up a mental attitude on the part of those practicing it that they, not God, “plan” their families, that they know better about how many children to accept, that they don’t trust God to provide. That is the main, terrible fact about NFP that many well-intentioned people choose not to look into. Contraception involves two moral disorders. First it is abortifacient in many if not all cases; secondly, it deliberately frustrates the will of God. NFP doesn’t involve the first moral disorder, but it very much involves the second one.

            It is not my place to sit in judgment of those who use this method, which has quite properly been called “Catholic contraception” (just as the annulment farce has justly been called “Catholic divorce”). But I stare in absolute horror at the sight of how many Catholic clergymen high and low praise this thing, even demand the teaching of it to couples engaged to be married. I’ve been to those classes. They teach everything the world teaches: you can have it all, money, home, nice vacations, the newest cars, etc., etc. And if you need to “space” (aka, reduce) the number of children in order to have those nice things, well NFP is right there to help you, without the sin of using contraception. Funnily enough, they never mentioned the sins against charity, God’s providence and other serious matters that couples might be guilty of if they use NFP.

            Dr Jan Boyd has recently written a thoughtful, charitable, very kind and very honest look at NFP It is an excellent resource that is needed. There are two sides to EVERY argument. Your comments indicate that you are well aware of one side. I encourage you to investigate the other side, and Dr Boyd’s fine book would be helpful here.

            With every good wish…

            • Bono95

              NFP can be used for selfish reasons, but it is in itself a good thing. One of the possible selfish reasons is the idea that a couple knows better about family sizing than God does, and you pointed this out, but that attitude was created by and is much more excaberated by artificial contraception. NFP is intended as a moral response to that for families who honestly are not in an optimum situation to have (more) children. Perhaps you already know this, but NFP couples divorce far more rarely than contracepting couples, there are no health risks (breast cancer, blood clots, weight gain, shortened temper, etc) involved with NFP, NFP is never abortifacient, and NFP couples still give themselves to each other completely while those who contracept at least implicitly their fertility. NFP works with the natural (and thereby God’s) order, requires and encourages sacrifice commitment for both husband and wife, and very often enhances the couple’s trust and love for each other, contraception directly violates God and nature, can create a distance between the husband and wife, and may encourage infidelity.

              If you’d rather not use NFP, that’s totally OK, just let those who do wish to use it do so, and pray for those whose motives for using it are selfish.

              P.S. An annulment is not a divorce because an annulment is formal declaration that a marriage was invalid and therefore didn’t take place, while a divorce is an (impossible) attempt to break an existing, valid marriage. Certainly and unfortunately, annulments have been abused, and greater care should be taken to make sure that they are not easy to obtain or be obtained wrongly, but neither the abuse nor anything else makes them divorces.

              • schmenz

                Thank you for you kind response.

                Allow me to answer a couple of points. I am fully aware of what an annulment is. But you mistake my point. I am saying that the easy access to annulments has basically the same effect as an easy divorce, and the Church by its inaction and some lousy clerics is essentially contributing to the breakups of families every bit as much as the divorce courts are. You might find it interesting to look into the history of Church annulments. In early centuries there was probably one annulment granted a year, if that. Now, it is a veritable annulment factory at work. It is the height of hypocrisy for these priests and Bishops to condemn divorce (which, by the way, they rarely if ever do) and yet allow this scandal of easy annulments to continue.

                The same is true of NFP. We condemn artificial contraception because, a)it chemically murders an unborn child and, b)it frustrates God’s will. Yet we promote a “natural” practice that also frustrates God’s will. You can say all you want about the goodness and righteousness of NFP, but the reality is that in most cases it is being used for conveniently avoiding children. My God, sir, have you never visited one of those pre-marriage classes engaged couples are forced to attend? You should do so and listen to what these young people are being taught.

                We practiced NFP like all the other dumbheads who were taught this by the pre-Cana gurus. Now, in our 60s, we sadly look back on the lives that never were.

                • Clare

                  Schmenz, those who use NFP to avoid children are in denial that they are being “pick and choose” Catholics. Yes, they are frustrating God’s will. However, those who use NFP to space their children after deep prayer and making prudential judgments are very much living God’s will. We are body and soul integrated into one. By our dignity as creatures made in the image of God, we are obligated to God to use our intellects, bodies, and wills as co-creators. This includes the exercise of prudence, a cardinal virtue and is, thus, always God’s will.

                • Bono95

                  Thanks, schmenz, I see your points better now. I’m not married and so have never been in an NFP class, but I can unfortunately picture with a fair amount of ease what you’re saying.

    • Trust in God and lean not on your own understanding. If if if you are a Catholic, hombre 111, follow Mother Church she will will for sure make it work. Nevertheless, “making it work” if not a three car garabe and three cars and a night at the ball park every week. It is no longer I that live but Christ Jesus that lives in me.

    • schmenz

      My friend,

      Please don’t take this as insufferable boasting but my wife and I managed to have ten children on an income that has long been classified as “below poverty level”, without food stamps or government assistance of any kind. It wasn’t an easy ride, to be sure, and we went without new cars, a big home, the best food, etc. Sometimes it was terribly hard. But we managed.

      It can be done. Somehow, God provided. I don’t know how else it could have been done.

    • AcceptingReality

      Hombre, cynicism is not a virtue.

  • Alecto

    Federal Reserve policies daily devalue our currency and the measure of what we earn and save decreases over time. This encourages reasonable people to incur debt, which is immoral. These policies seriously hurt the most vulnerable in our society: the poor, those on fixed incomes, minimum wage, unskilled individuals. It would be preferable to abolish it and have no need of these social programs. However, the purpose of such programs was never to “help” anyone, but to enslave the people and make them dependent on an all-powerful central authority.

    • Amen Alecto. I can think of nothing that has hurt our country more than the Central Banking system

  • HigherCalling

    “The real difference between Paganism and Christianity is perfectly summed up in the difference between the pagan, or natural, virtues, and those three virtues of Christianity which the Church of Rome calls the virtues of grace. The pagan, or rational, virtues are such things as justice and temperance, and Christianity has adopted them. The three mystical virtues… are faith, hope, and charity. … the pagan virtues are the reasonable virtues, and the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity are in their essence as unreasonable as they can be.

    …Justice consists in finding out a certain thing due to a certain man and giving it to him. Temperance consists in finding out the proper limit of a particular indulgence and adhering to that. But charity means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all. Hope means hoping when all things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. And faith means believing in the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.

    …Charity is the power of defending that which we know to be indefensible. … It is true that there is a thing crudely called charity, which means charity to the deserving poor; but charity to the deserving poor is not charity at all, but justice. It is the undeserving who require it, and the ideal either does not exist at all, or exists wholly for them.

    … charity is a reverent agnosticism toward the complexity of the soul. …Whatever may be the meaning of the contradiction, it is the fact that the only kind of charity which any weak spirit wants, or which any generous spirit feels, is the charity which forgives the sins that are like scarlet.”

    (Chapter XII, Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson, Heretics, –GK Chesterton)

  • GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I will copy/paste this to Word and send it off to the Von Mises folks.

  • somebigguy

    Humanae Vitae is, arguably, the greatest gift Paul VI left us. If only it had been embraced as enthusiastically and as widely as contraception and abortion were, we’d be living in a far different world today.

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