“And Jesus said:  For judgement I am come into this world; that they who see not, may see; and they who see, may become blind.”  John 9:39

What is so frustrating about the various responses one reads and sees in the media concerning the present crises facing America is that so many seem blind to to the lessons of the past.  

Those of us who are more than 30 years old (and I am certainly one of them)  have experienced so much and witnessed so much that it seems impossible that so many people are rushing headlong into repeating the mistakes of the past.

I am writing not so much about personal failures as about our failure as a society.  Individually and collectively we seem to be acting with a naivete
that is tantamount to moral and political blindness.  In the excellent reflection by Father George W. Rutler shown below, perhaps the best insight for us is where he wrote:


 Craftiness without innocence is cynical, and innocence without craftiness is naïve. The cynic mocks those who are naïve. It would be naïve to be surprised by the increasing mockery of religion in our cynical society.


Be not naive!



A majority of New Yorkers surveyed by a classical radio station think Beethoven was a dog. It is the price paid for isolation from a larger culture. Knowledge of what happened before us is not a hobby. To call someone a history buff is like calling someone a DNA buff. We are walking inheritances, and if we do not know about people who lived before us, we cannot know ourselves. Lacking experience of what Matthew Arnold called “the best which has been thought and said,” we cannot prudently reject the worst that has been thought and said.


   Prudence is the guide for its fellow natural virtues: it discerns justice, which in turn justifies temperance, which then tempers courage. Aristotle called prudence “right reason in action.”  Prudence analyzes experience, correctly judges what is right and wrong, and acts accordingly. It is imprudent to underestimate the machinations of evil. Christ requires prudence in a world hostile to Christ: “Behold, I am sending you as lambs among wolves; be therefore crafty as snakes and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).


The prudent remember, for example, that the Nazis began the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, a Friday, and that the British cabinet members were taken by surprise because “gentlemen do not start wars on weekends.” Better knowledge of history would have taught them that the Devil is not a gentleman.


Craftiness without innocence is cynical, and innocence without craftiness is naïve. The cynic mocks those who are naïve. It would be naïve to be surprised by the increasing mockery of religion in our cynical society. It would be imprudent not to detect cynicism in the current Administration’s opposition to the addition of a prayer to the World War II Memorial in our capital. The director of the Bureau of Land Management said that it would “dilute the memorial’s message.”


  That prayer, read over the radio by President Roosevelt on June 6, 1944, at the start of the Normandy invasion, ended:  “O Lord, give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment – let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose. With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace – a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil. Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.”


  Prudence knows that this prayer does not “dilute the message.” It is the message.


– Father George W. Rutler

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas

6 Responses to HOW WELL DO YOU SEE?

  1. revfrjpatrickserna says:

    Curt, nice reflections, thank you again. I’d like to address two topics mentioned by you, namely: 1-The relation of theology to politics, and, 2-Absolute Truth.

    1- To the First: Regarding the link between theology and politics, I am a full subscriber to that position. When “Catholic” Kerry was running for president back in 2004, I purchased and then distributed a few hundred yard signs which read: “Vote Catholic, not Kerry.” How could a “Catholic” politician be openly pro abortion, and still call himself a “Catholic”? How could a real Christian vote for a self proclaimed pro abort politico, when there was a viable alternative who was NOT pro abortion? My active ministry as a Catholic Priest in the diocese was severely jeopardized, as I knew it would be before I made that decision of distributing the signs. People from the parish were hating on me, as were many “brother” priests and those placed over me. That did not stop me. The false belief about “separation of Church and State” is talked about by me quite a bit, at the pulpit, at the barbecue pit, or in classrooms. I have jeopardized my active ministry as a priest many at time for reminding Catholics that we must vote pro life, and so on. While I might not have great hopes for the political situation in our country, and while the moral relativism in our country doesn’t seem to be getting any better, I am inspired to fight all the more fiercely, and my track record indicates as much. I remember the words of Mother Teresa: “God does not ask us to be successful, He asks us to be faithful.” I will fight, even when victory seems unlikely.

    Another hero of mine, Mary’s Doctor… Blessed John Duns Scotus destroyed Calvin’s theory of “no free will” a generation or two before Calvin was born. Spake Scotus: “You deny free will? Will you not beg me to stop hitting your face with the hope that my free will will choose to stop hitting you on the face? So, how can you deny free will?” Calvin was a puny intellectual lightweight vis a vis the real patristic and scholastic theologians!

    In some ways, the pathetic situation in our country can be cause for qualified rejoicing. After all, didn’t the first 300 years of Christianity produce the most saints on account of the blood they shed? How many martyrs were there AFTER Constantine’s normalization of Catholicism as the religion of the state? Not near as many as BEFORE, when the state was an enemy of God and His True Church. It is true, I might be a bit on the pessimistic side, but I’m no heretical Calvinist who denies free will, nor am I promoting apathy, but quite the contrary! Free Will and God’s Grace abound beautifully in this country I am proud to be part of. It would be so boring if there were no good fight to fight!

    To the second, Absolute Truth: For a couple hundred years before the birth of Our Lord, and for a few centuries AFTER the birth of our Lord, there was a philosophical school with disciples who were referred to as the “skeptics,” sometimes referred to as “the academics.” These skeptics promoted a philosopy of moral relativism, their philosophy denied absolute truth. How can one argue against a moral relativist? They were slippery and hard to catch. The natural law of Aquinas was not yet universally known yet, and these skeptics just could NOT be pinned down! Then came the great Saint Augustine, he challenged all the academic philosophers to a debate, hundreds of them against one lone Catholic philosopher. The showdown came, and Saint Augustine started the debate: “You skeptics say there is no absolute truth! So, you believe one of these positions, and you must choose: 1-It is absolutely true that there is ** NO ** absolute truth; 2- It is absolutely true that there ** IS ** absolute truth; or 3-Silence. The first two selections presuppose the existence of Absolute Truth, either selection proves that your philosophical system is not viable. The third selection of silence is a concession that you are wrong and I am right. Go now, you have been defeated by Absolute Truth.” I am reciting from fuzzy memory, the account was not in English, so I’m sure the details might be a bit off, the main point is dead on though. The great Augustine did alone what centuries of philosophers before him could not do, that was downright cool.

    Patrick Serna

  2. Curt Stoller says:

    Patrick, you brought up a great point about Our Lord’s refusal to bow to false humility. Your comment brought to mind something else in Sacred Scripture about the “lukewarm.” Thanks.

    I attended a Catholic university where after the Second Vatican Council, the Head librarian “purged” the collection of almost all Catholic books written before1966. She compared this to the discarding of obsolete medical texts. I am reminded of Fahrenheit 451, of Hitler’s “book burnings” and Pol Pot’s Year Zero. The courses offered to me as a theology major were: “Gandhi and Non-Violence,” “The Christian-Marxist Dialogue,” “Reinterpretations of Catholic Dogma,” “Atheism and God, ” Kierkegaard and the Leap of Faith.”

    Luckily an old Franciscan priest let us students have access to Denzinger, the writings of the Doctors and Fathers of the Church and other classics. During one class my professor taught that all Catholic doctrines are true ‘if and only if” reinterpreted in the light of modern liberal thought. When I disagreed with this, I was given a failing grade in the class. I went to talk to the professor who explained to me that the only way to disagree with him was if I “misunderstood” the goodness and truth of this new “reinterpretated Christianity” And how could he pass me if I misunderstood? Only my agreement would prove that I understood it!!! Luckily the Academic Dean didn’t see it this way. I was too ignorant at the time to realize that what I was facing was a kind of theological “judicial activism.” Sorry for digressing from politics, but theology and politics are connected.

    Ask almost any mathematician and he will tell you that the axioms of mathematics are eternal truths. But the liberal intelligentsia are embarrassed by the very idea of eternity, by the very word. The have the same distaste for the word “soul” or the word “supernatural.” To them all these words smack of mythology. The very concept of eternity is anathema to them. Roman Catholicism says that the Eternal became man in history, in that “past” that liberals hate so much. If Marxists want to sacrifice real flesh and blood men of the present for the sake of some “new man” in the future; then I think liberal progressives want to sacrifice the truths of the past for the sake of ideas of the present. But isn’t this what the doctrine of “private judgment” has always done: sacrificed the eternal truths for historical fashions? Even the famous logician Kurt Godel, best friend of Albert Einstein and fellow professor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University taught that there is more to Time than Time itself. And he was of Lutheran upbringing. Physicist Werner Heisenberg said something similar about Aristotle’s teaching of the eternal truth validity of the Law of Contradiction. Following what Patrick said, we need to stand up for the truth and not bow down to what is currently fashionable. What I think is really terrible is that men who have had the benefit of studying history seek to destroy the ability of future generations to do so. If you destroy the past, what are young people going to be left with: Wikipedia and CNN?

  3. Curt Stoller says:

    I think what we are seeing is a new species, a perverse species of cultural Calvinism at work and I am afraid that it is influencing some in the American Catholic Church as well. The total depravity of human nature after the Fall taught by Calvin is now through some tortured logic being applied to the United States itself: America is totally depraved and deserves damnation. The “good” American doesn’t judge others [such as Islamic extremists, illegal immigrants, criminals, Catholic politicians who advance abortion on demand and receive the Blessed Sacrament]. Instead, the “good” American judges and criticizes America itself. This twisted logic with its mish mash of Calvinist and atheist secular ideas goes further. The “good” American who verbally trashes his country is doing a “good work.” This work doesn’t save him but somehow is a sign that he is among the “elect” intelligencia. How else to explain the self-righteous, almost Christian fervor with which these so-called progressive seek to undermine the United States. What does a Calvinist become when he loses his faith. I think he can become this. I know it is politically incorrect to say this, but Protestantism itself is not famous for it’s love of history and tradition. It keeps Holy Scripture but only as interpreted by private judgement in the present. We see where “private judgement” got the Supreme Interpreters of the Constitution in Roe v. Wade.

    In 1159, John of Salisbury wrote: “Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical superiority [eminentia corporis], but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.” I’m afraid that today we kill and bury the giants and praise ourselves for doing it. How sad and how dangerous!

  4. revfrjpatrickserna says:

    As Will Durant said: “An empire is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.”

    @ Andrew- Are we too far down the slippery slope? Which empire has ever gone to such lows and made a comeback? If there are none, then do we have what it takes to be the first? I often ask myself these questions, without much of an answer! Or at least, not much of an answer I’m wanting to hear.

    @ Curt- Right on. Did people hate Jesus and kill Him by twisting His words and judging of having motives He did not? Yes! Did Jesus bow to the false humility which you write about so well? No. We should imitate His example.

    Patrick Serna

  5. Viva Fr. Rutler!
    The progressive dismantling of our heritage, not excluding our public faith in God, is startling. Even the conservatives preserve remnants. No one seems to know how to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

  6. Curt Stoller says:

    Yes, that is so true. Besides a lack of prudence, I think many Americans are stricken with a sense of false humility. And as paradoxical as it may seem, I think this false humility is based on pride. Socrates always insisted that a discussion begin with a definition of terms. I think a good definition of pride would be this: the refusal to accept one’s goodness as a gift of God. So what is this so-called humility that many Americans have which asserts that everything Americans do is evil while everything everyone else in the world does is good? Here are some fallacies for you: “If people from other countries hate Americans, it must be because we are evil.” False. “If people attack this country, they must have a good reason. . . i.e., we must somehow deserve it.” False. You don’t need credentials greater than a passing grade in Logic 101 class to know those statements are false. In the first place, they are over-generalizations and over-simplifications.

    If you follow these people stricken with false humility, you will end up with your own little modernist creed: “America deserves crime because America itself is unjust.” “America deserves to have illegal immigrants break into the country because America is too rich.” “America deserves to be the victim of medicaid fraud because it’s economy is inequitable.” “Women deserve the right to kill their unborn children because women are treated unfairly.” False, false, false, false.

    I call this “false humility” a species of pride because the people who adopt it believe that their attitude makes them superior to others. It’s as if they are saying: “See how great I am, admitting how bad my country is?” Notice they don’t say: “See how great I am, admitting how sinful I am.” No, they are not sinful in their eyes. In their eyes they are wiser than Solomon and purer than the driven snow. It is America that is sinful. It is as if they are saying: “I am not like these poor patriotic souls who love their country.”

    Their attitude is so blatantly false that it can be illustrated with a joke: A man tells his chauffeur: Hey driver, I want to commit suicide. Drive off that cliff! He doesn’t even care that the chauffeur will also die! That is where false humility leads. What about all the people who lived and died to create America? What about all the future generations of Americans? These people don’t care about questions like this. On 9-11 when the terrorists flew into the Twin Towers, there were some people interviewed on television who said: “You know, we deserved this.” Let me translate this for you:”We deserve this means . . . I want to appear on TV as being superior to others in my open mindedness and so I don’t care how many people have to suffer and die so that I will appear thus.” They are not open minded. They are empty minded!

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