Belief and Unbelief III: Advice to a Newly Married Son

In a world filled with wickedness, you have entered a state where new responsibilities to yourself, to your wife, and in time, to your children, will lead you into conflict with a dominant philosophy of godlessness. You will raise your family in a pagan society.

The change from a Christian to a pagan nation was under way when, 30 years ago, I married your mother. But for the most part, the underlying assumptions of our institutions were still Christian. I attended Catholic schools through college. My instructors were orthodox. I learned the truths of my faith. If I did not learn them as well as I should, that was my fault. In your 12 years at Catholic schools, you learned values clarification and situation ethics. The truths of your faith you learned at home.

Before your wedding, I fumbled words at you, trying to alert you to the dangers to come. All those years in Catholic schools failed me. I could recite dogma and explain the errors in various heresies. I could point out the Church’s teachings on questions of morality. What I could not do was come to grips with the morass of casually accepted evil that has become the behavioral norm in the world today.

Perhaps that is the reality of evil. You cannot come to grips with it. Try, and you will find it has no substance, no reality in and of itself. It is the absence of good. Evil cannot be destroyed. It is a vacuum which must be filled with the concrete reality of good. Is that what you must learn? Is that what I must learn at last?

Christ lived at a time of great evil. There were no abortion clinics in His day, but there were temples to the god Baal where babies were tortured and killed. Rome was His authoritarian state. Slavery wide-spread. But Christ did not address the specific evils of His time. His message was not about evil. It was about good. Christ taught where salvation lay. Damnation lay in ignoring His teachings. If the world turned from the sins of its time, but men still refused to accept the message of Christ, nothing would really have changed. A new menu of evil would take the place of the old. Humanity seems to have no lack of imagination when it comes to devising new means of debauchery.

Remove one evil and another will flow in to take its place. Unless, that is, the evil is not simply removed, but replaced by Christ’s message. We must convert the pagans of our time, and ourselves along with them. I know that sounds vaguely triumphalistic and pre-conciliar, but if our civilization is to survive, it must be returned to its spiritual roots. The pagan who works in the abortion clinic must be convinced that wickedness lies not only in the killing of an unborn child, but in the refusal to love and care for that child because it is God’s child. The secular lawyer must be led to know that there are objective truths, limits to behavior that are based on higher laws than the merely human ones he manipulates. Those who seek pleasure in drugs must be shown the true joy that comes with service to God. The businessman who puts profit above all must be taught the hollowness of earthly possessions; he must come to see success in the light of Christ’s teachings. Those men and women who worship their bodies as a source of pleasure without consequence must be led to an understanding of the value of their immortal souls.

Spell it all out, and it begins to sound like a sermon from a fundamentalist minister. That makes it hard to swallow. At least it does for me. The difference is, of course, that the fundamentalist is a law unto himself. He interprets Christ’s words as he sees fit. In so doing he must ignore that vital passage: “Thou are Peter….” There is an arrogance of putting self above God, of considering one’s opinion above all others. There is the destructiveness of a thousand different sects, each formed on the basis of a “private” interpretation.

This Protestant way of determining the meaning of Christ’s words is accepted by the overwhelming majority of believing Christians in America today. Unfortunately, many Catholics, religious and lay, some of whom would define themselves as “liberal,” are in that majority. To them, we are all “Christians” without distinction. The authority of the Church, the truth of tradition and the magisterium are lost. We Catholics are, at the same time, all lumped together with the fundamentalist and his narrowness, and, on the other hand, with the liberal mainliner who sees no evil other than true conviction.

We are not just another Christian sect. We are the true Church that Christ built upon Peter. “Thou art Peter…” in an unbroken line to “Thou are John Paul II….” The Methodists, the Baptists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses may do as they wish. We do not have that option. We must do as Christ commanded us to do. “Go forth and teach….” Teach truly, under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, what Christ, through His one true Church has taught.

Do you feel the resistance building up within you? I do. It goes against all my populist beliefs about the equality of man. How dare I tell another that my beliefs are right, his wrong? But what I am telling him is not quite that. What I am telling him is that Christ clearly and without equivocation founded a Church. I am telling him that clearly that Church still exists and that it is the Roman Catholic Church, that Christ promised this would be so. I am telling him that his opinion and mine are equally unimportant when pitted against the authority which Christ gave that Church.

Do I, in fact believe this? If I do not then I must accept the Church as just another very human organization of people with similar beliefs and attitudes, sort of a religiously oriented Elks Club or a political party. But if, as I believe, the Church is one, is true, then why do I hesitate to examine error in another’s belief?

It is the Church’s mission to present Christ’s truth in such a way that people may choose to accept or reject that truth as they are inclined. That means, at the very least, that it be presented clearly and simply, without ornamentation. The truth as stated by the Church is clear is simple. We must resist the efforts of theologians to alter that simplicity.

It is a curious thing that during His time on earth, Christ converted so few people. He spoke to thousands, but only a few came to believe, in spite of His eloquence and the wonder of His miracles. Can we expect to do better? The Apostles did. These simple men were able to convince a world that had seen their leader crucified that He must be believed and followed. Thousands were converted in a day.

How did they succeed where Christ seemed to fail? The answer must lie in the miracle of Pentecost. Prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit, men held fast to their wrong-headedness. They lacked the impulse to believe in a world beyond the world they saw and felt. If there was to be a messiah, then he was to be an earthly king. Some even believed that Christ was that Messiah, but when He refused to allow them to make Him king, they lost interest in Him. The Romans who crucified Him did so, in large part, because they believed He threatened their power to control the earthly affairs of the people. Even after He told them “My kingdom is not of this world,” they refused to believe in His otherworldliness. He had to die and return to life before the Apostles themselves began to get an understanding of what His message is. They fully understood only when the Holy Spirit came to them at Pentecost.

Then somehow things changed. They preached the message which they now could grasp, and the people, uninterested before, now listened and believed. All of this because the Being we call Holy Spirit entered into the affairs of humankind.

We sometimes forget Him in the modern Church. He is there, guiding us, empowering our faith. We pray to Him in our rituals, but He does not take His rightful place in our lives. We do not invite Him to do so.

If we are to change our world and fill the vacuum of evil with good, it will be done only through the power of the Holy Spirit. The forces of evil are far too powerful for us to overcome on our own. The apostles could not do it. We cannot either. We must learn to listen to the quiet urgings of the Spirit. We must acknowledge that our talents alone are not sufficient to the task. In humility, we must ask for His guidance, and trust that He will give it. We must prevail. With Him acting through us, we shall. Dedicate yourself to this task, and you and your bride will present to your children a world made better according to the measure of your dedication and the grace of God.

  • William J. Haskins

    At the time this article was published, William J. Haskins, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and father of five children, was president of an independent oil company in Denver, Colorado.

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