After my 66th birthday, I started to try new kinds of adult beverages. In Philadelphia en route to Gettysburg, I had my first Martini, also my second and third on successive nights. Years later, I tried an Old-Fashioned. During this past Christmas season, I drank another one. It was outstanding. When Christmas Eve came, one of my bonus granddaughters, presented me with a book, entitled, The Old-Fashioned: The Story of the World’s First Classic Cocktail.
The book, not the drink, inspired me to apply this concept to my upbringing. No one was more old-fashioned than my dad, who could be comfortable in the same outfit for days. He never used a wallet or a calculator. A paper clip and a pencil were good enough for him. While I am not exactly like that, there are enough similarities that lead me to believe I adopted many of his accidentals as well as his approach to thinking and life itself. Though the word conservative hardly has any valid meaning today, I believe its essence has been under attack for the last two generations.
Nothing has done more to publicly polarize this country than the eight-year presidency of Barack Obama and the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Obama’s arrogant and rambling criticism of Americans, who cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explaining their frustrations…or Hillary’s deplorables have divided Americans more since 1850. The advent of language censorship, cancel culture and the intensification of the culture war over abortion and women’s rights have dragged the country into a slough of despondency that soils our daily existence.
The Democrats’ targets are normal people, who are mostly the backbone, the taxpayers and veterans who have made this country a giant among nations. People of religious and moral fervor provide us with the spiritual and physical energy we need to stay strong. In many parts of our country, such thinking has been relegated to the trashcan and demeaned as the Dark Ages.
I have cast my lot with the traditional way of thinking most of my life thanks to both of my parents and my 22 years of formal Catholic education. It is not only these people that are under fire, but it is our past, our religious and national traditions that are facing extermination. Statues are being torn down, history has been rewritten to make our past unrecognizable, irrelevant and meaningless. They have buried Edmund Burke’s democracy of the dead.
The open-minded press has tried very hard to fathom these attitudes as they circulate in the political atmosphere. As usual Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal has some deep musings on this alienation. In her column, entitled This Isn’t Only a Trump Election, she attempted to fathom the chasm that divides the American people.
She bemoans the fact of a Biden/Trump election, opining that it echoes the words of G. K. Chesterton, what we all dread is a maze without a center. She is correct as we have lost our moral and political center. She pines for someone who can forge a true national stance toward the world…who can take on identity politics…who can reiterate the idea that we have national values. The trouble with us rests on the fact that the country has bifurcated into two societies, each with its own civilization. This is reminiscent of America’s antebellum situation in 1850, except now there is no sectionalism but more like distinct pockets of red, blue and purple that dominate our national landscape.
Two elections ago, Noonan wrote that the country had devolved into a protected class of the socially and influential vs. regular people at the mercy of the protected class’s favored doctrines and political decisions. Fast forward to the now, she sees new shadings. The gap between the political elite and the rest of Americans has widened. She cited the recent embarrassment suffered by the respective presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania, which show-cased the broad gap between them and us. They are so far away from most Americans that they seem to occupy a different planet. Their thinking lends credence to the belief that they live as some kind of self-satisfied robots. The unprotected at this point do not only feel ignored but…feel invaded…by the ideology with no name.
But Ms. Noonan whiffs at this pitch. It does have a name. All she had to do was read the piece beneath her, author David Satter’s A Century After Lenin’s Death, His Evil Legacy Lives On. He says Lenin’s legacy is a world whose moral equilibrium he helped destroy. The effects of Lenin’s thinking have spread around the world. The West’s blanket rejection of religion and a universal morality destroyed the hope for democratic reform. It has also given way to modern terrorism and has made several contributions to the weaknesses that have led many in the West to condone ideological crimes. Just witness the blatant defense of Hamas in the Middle East in our elite universities.
In these former monuments of higher education, students are taught what to think, not how to think. If they resist or even question the New Orthodoxy, they are pilloried and humiliated. This is the Brave New World of Huxley and Orwell’s 1984 rolled into one massive concentration camp. This is the true product of the New World Order, the Great Reset and the Woke Movement, all brightly wrapped in a Marxist modernism that threatens our national existence. In a phrase, anything or anyone old-fashioned is in their crosshairs.
This begs the question as to where the Catholic Church has been during these changing times and the transition from the past to the future. During the papacies of St. John Paul II and Benedict the XVI, the Church seems to have stayed on its traditional course. However with the advent of Pope Francis, the Ship of the Church has listed seriously to the Left.
No one has better identified the threat to the Church’s 2000-year history of tradition than op-ed columnist for the New York Times, Ross Douthat. In his 2018 book on the current pope, To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism, he attempts to capture the thinking of the pontiff. Douthit, who is one of the very few Catholics, writing for the Times, summarizes the pope’s public perception when he writes …Francis has divided the Church by seeking changes, especially around marriage, sexuality and divorce, that many Catholics believe are impossible and betrayals not only of Church teachings but of the words of Jesus himself.
Professor Vincent Ruggiero has written a number of excellent essays on this subject for this publication. I read them as depicting this pope’s concentrated attack on the theology of the dead of our Church. It is very hard for me to understand why he is doing this. Pope Francis has denigrated traditionalists, like me as reactionaries and backward-looking. He has disparaged many of the Church’s leading advocates for the unborn such as Bishop Joseph Strickland, Cardinal Raymond Burke and defrocked priest, Frank Pavone, the founder of Priests for Life.
I have been personally impressed with Cardinal Burke, whom I met in Stan Musial’s private box, overlooking third base in Busch Stadium years ago when he was the Archbishop of St. Louis. I found him gracious and cordial to me and my wife Judy, especially when I unwittingly cut in front of him in the buffet line. He even promised to pray for her up-coming surgery. As for Father Pavone, I had interviewed him on my radio show years ago and have admired his apostolate among his fellow priests and the unborn.
Pope Francis has also written that doctrines evolve, change and progress. This sounds very much like the liberal doctrine of the Living Constitution, which dominated the Court until the presidency of Donald Trump. Chief Justice Earl Warren regularly abused his position by joining his fellow justices in drafting legislation, rather than adjudicating it, a clear violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers. Thanks to the introduction of clever phrases, such as penumbra and the manipulation of the language of our Constitution, Justices Harry Blackmun, William O. Douglas and William Brennan engineered the dreadful Roe v. Wade decision, arguably the worst ruling in the court’s 244-year history.
The pontiff’s use of the word change bothers me. I have also seen the word transform used today in the same religious context, echoing the thinking of Barack Obama. The pope also talks about challenging modernism. As Professor Ruggiero has opined, Pope Francis seldom gives any reasons as to why Church teachings need to be modernized. The Church has been having this conversation about confronting modernism since the late 19th century. Vatican II was primarily about St. John XXIII’s Aggiornamento, that is bringing the Church up to date. From my many years of studying this, I feel safe in saying that it is the Church, which has been modernized so that it bears only a slim resemblance to its before.
The Catholic Church used to say it was universal. Only recently, I was reminded that the universal choice of saying Mass in the vernacular, had, in effect, distorted the basis of that mark. I have attended Holy Mass in Corsica and Lake Cuomo where the local languages were French and Italian, respectively. Both were impossible to follow. I could have understood these Masses better, had they been in Latin, a rite that this pope seems to believe, belongs to the backward institutions he wants to eliminate.
In my essay Two Churches, I explored how I have been caught between two versions of the Catholic Church and liked several features in each one. I also did not like some things about each Church as well. However there was a balance, albeit it an uneven one but both versions were still the same Church. I am starting to wonder if this is still true under Pope Francis.
The pope seems to look at Vatican II as a watershed in Church history. His apparent attempt to sever us from our pre-Vatican roots, words and actions, taken as a whole, seems to say he is intent in cancelling the Church that formed me in the faith. And with that all I have learned from most of the priests and nuns I have encountered throughout my life. Though this sounds extreme, I also question whether old-fashioned Catholics are being de facto excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
This all begs the questions: Is Pope Francis the first authentic modern pope? And with this is he also the first Woke pope since he promotes a modernism alongside of his Jesuitical understanding of Catholic theology that suspiciously seems akin to his political counterparts? His thinking on man-made Climate Change is dangerous because at the heart of the Green Movement is population control, by any means possible. These unwritten means include universal abortion, euthanasia of all useless eaters and mass starvations. How else can they limit our carbon footprints?
And if my conjectures are correct, what lies in store for the Catholic Church and old-fashioned Catholics like me during the next generation? To ease my fears, perhaps I will start humming, Paul Simon’s pious lament for simpler times in his score for the Graduate, Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you…Given the Church’s circumstances I think that in the 21st century, the Yankee Clipper could almost serve symbolically as a Christ figure for us.