Mortimer J. Adler and Multiculturalism
DEAL W. HUDSON
JANUARY 1, 1995
I am surprised by people who do not recognize the dangers of multiculturalism. They don’t seem to understand that there is much more at stake than “learning about other cultures.” Neither do they see the harm being done to American education and to the future of our culture. How did this happen?
No doubt multiculturalists won much approval by employing the Western notion that it is desirable to know something about nations and other peoples. They have gained even more approval by appealing to the need for empathy, by insisting that it is not enough to know about other people, we should also know what those people think about themselves. In short, we should seek knowledge with the least possible amount of prejudice.
No place but the West, with its legacy of scientific knowledge and cultural toleration, could have spawned anything like multiculturalism. What is disturbing, of course, is that the multiculturalists have enlisted Western values to promote the denunciation of the West.
If all multiculturalists wanted was for schools to cast a wider net, then there would be no need for multicultural curriculums to match the ethnicity of the student body. If the multiculturalists were sincere in letting cultures speak for themselves then they would not be manufacturing psuedo-histories of African contributions to European culture.
Multiculturalism as it is being practiced promises to be more exclusionary and more prejudicial than any form of education the West has ever known. Both curriculum and pedagogy will henceforth be tailored to the political purposes of a bureaucratic elite. This elite meanwhile will seek to distract students from noticing the education they are missing with loud protestations of concern for their psychological well-being.
I have before me a 5th-grade history textbook from the community where I live, Mt. Vernon, New York. Our 6 year-old daughter is enrolled in public kindergarten. Under the leadership of former Gov. Mario Cuomo and Education Commissioner Thomas Sobol, New York State has aggressively mandated multicultural reforms in public education. The city of Mt. Vernon, with a majority of African American residents, was designated as a vanguard community for this project.
Millions of state and local tax dollars have been spent. And what is the result? If this book, co-authored by teachers in the school district, is indicative, the results are as dismal as one could imagine. It was supposed to be only a supplemental text, but many of the predominately African American schools failed to order the primary textbook, making it the sole written resource for thousands of students in this city.
Thus, at this very moment, many Mt. Vernon 5th graders are reading an American history textbook which portrays Native Americans as a peace-loving and religious people who were ravaged by greedy and cruel white Europeans. The unit on the exploration of America shows that whatever white European males did, black Africans either did earlier or better. Africans, for example, discovered America before Columbus, who “some historians believe” used a black pilot. The four-week unit on the colonial period is almost entirely about slavery. The unit on the Revolution chronicles the involvement of blacks who “had a big effect on the outcome of the war.” The discussion of the Declaration of Independence occupies 2 pages out of 67, while the section on the Constitution once again focuses almost exclusively on the slavery and treatment of the native inhabitants.
Nothing need be said about the rest. The story is the same throughout: the white man destroyed a paradise of native Americans, enslaved African Americans, oppressed women, and destroyed the land; there was no significant, positive step taken without the input and influence of African Americans, and no harmful act or trait that could not be traced to its white, European roots.
Surely there is more at work here than a concern to learn about other cultures, more than an honest correction of previous imbalances and oversights. The aims of the multicultural curriculum lead back to a world ruled by tribalist logic, where ethnic myth and custom reign, where the political obligations due to our common human nature are ignored. Multiculturalists evince no interest in the humancondition, in the study of human culture for its own sake.
Of course, multiculturalists will use the language of human dignity and rights while they turn our educational institutions into places where students cannot learn what those concepts mean. Listen closely to the sweet rhetoric of multiculturalists who continually seek a “language” the public will accept, leaving the substance of their agenda totally unchanged.
In short, there is nothing good in multiculturalism that is not already contained in traditional Western education: Understanding different cultures, grasping the self-understanding of others, appreciating indigenous cultures or marginalized groups, the need for teachers to appreciate the particular backgrounds of their students, all were curricular and pedagogical principles established long before multiculturalism. This is precisely what gives Western education its capacity for self-correction.
But if the leaders of the multiculturalist movement have their way there will be no turning back to the old curriculum and pedagogy. Imagine how difficult it would be for students from a 5th grade class in Mt. Vernon to enter, say, a traditional great books program in the 9th or 10th grade. Once you have filled a student with hostility and doubt toward the great books and great ideas of the Western world, especially at such a formative age, it is hard to turn back.
I have wondered what effect these students will have on the high schools and colleges they attend. Will the traditional curriculums and book lists survive the “demands” they are very likely to make?
What is being done to these 5th graders is shameful and irresponsible. It is adults, after all, whose responsibility it is to provide them with an education. Multiculturalism is a kind of educational welfare; it almost guarantees intellectual poverty for generation after generation. Multiculturalists who claim they are giving first priority to self-esteem are ignoring the clear evidence that there is no correlation (except perhaps negative) between self-esteem and academic achievement.
Because of multiculturalism, these students will be less able to make their way in the world, less able to carry out their responsibilities as citizens, and less capable of dealing with the unforseen moral and spiritual challenges of the future.
Who is Mortimer J. Adler?
Deal W. Hudson
January 1, 1995
A longtime friend Of Catholic education, Mortimer J. Adler, who celebrates his 92nd birthday on December 28, has been fighting educational battles since the 1930s. In those days the issue was not multiculturalism but pragmatism. Adler’s “Great Books” movement which began in the 20s left in its wake the programs at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland and Santa Fe, New Mexico; at St Mary’s and Thomas Aquinas College in California.
Last summer at the Aspen Institute a symposium was held in Adler’s honor, where the presentors included several Catholic scholars, including myself, Russ Hittinger, Ralph Mclnerny, Jeff Wallin, and Otto Bird. At the closing banquet, a toast was offered by Dr. Bird, a “great bookie” at Notre Dame for many years, in the name of all the Catholics who read and love Adler for his seeking the “truth” about things. Since “truth” is not a welcome word in polite company these days, his toast elicited some nervous jitters. But, of course, Bird was absolutely right, and Adler knew it.
Dr. Adler, as he has explained in A Second Look In the Rearview Mirror, was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church ten years ago. After decades of teaching Aquinas, and resisting the evangelical urging of his fellow Thomists, Adler found himself reciting the Lord’s Prayer in a Chicago hospital room and recognized his gift of faith. Many, including myself, have speculated on why he stopped short of Rome. But one thing is certain, Catholics owe him thanks. Adler’s Herculean labors as a philosopher, educator, and editor have long provided Catholics with a powerful ally in upholding the tradition of metaphysical realism, the tradition of our Common Doctor — St. Thomas Aquinas.
In 1982, before the present debates over multiculturalism and self-esteem pedagogy began to heat up, Dr. Adler founded the Paideia Project to reform American education from the ground up, from kindergarten through high school. He recognized that colleges and universities are unable to rehabituate students whose intellectual habits have been shaped by twelve years of previous schooling. Paideia’s purpose was not to impose a new curriculum but to mandate the kind of teaching that would inculcate intellectual skills, impart general knowledge, and foster good lives.
For Dr. Adler, a genuine liberal education does not need relevance tacked on to it by the consideration of social issues or the purposes of social engineering. A sound education shapes people who will be prudently disposed toward grasping the moral significance of social conditions regardless of circumstance. Such students do not need to be catechized in the correct opinions about today’s headlines. Adler’s constant appeal to the fundamental relation of liberal education to the good life and the defense of democratic government is advice we should continue to follow.
What’s in a Name?
DEAL W. HUDSON
MARCH 1, 1995
A number of people have suggested to me that the name Crisis should be changed. They worry about the magazine having a negative image. Beyond merely criticizing the present state of affairs, they feel the magazine should appear more forward-looking: the name Crisis doesn’t sound like a magazine showing the way toward a Catholicism for the next millennium.
It is easy to sympathize with this viewpoint; the morally higher ground always seems to belong to those who offer hope for the future. When all is said and done, the religious and conservative critique of contemporary culture must be completed by an integrated vision of familial, social, and ecclesial life. What we are for, after all, determines what we are against.
But I, for one, don’t think the name of this magazine is necessarily dated — there are still crises aplenty in the culture and the Church, and still the need to address them. Our culture has not yet reached its nadir; things are going to get worse before they get better. For example, if you don’t think that PC and MC (multiculturalism) have become mainstream, just wait until Disney’s new animated feature Pocahontas opens next summer. Assuming the preview is representative of the rest, we will soon be watching the deconstruction of Western Man set to music for our children to hum on the way out of the theater. Pocahontas promises to do for Eurocentrism what Bambi did for hunting.
How many parents will naively take their children to Pocahontas and accept without protest its depiction of white, male, Christian Europeans who bring violence and slaughter to a paradisical land populated by saintly native Americans? Robert Royal’s 1492 and All That, a brilliant response to the nonsense surrounding the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas, should be required reading for all parents before this next Disney onslaught.
Thus, the same sense of urgency that led to the founding of this magazine in 1982 still exists and, if anything, the advancing legions of the culture wars only heighten it. The possibility of transforming private and public life may end with the human heart, but it begins with the kind of critical analysis that has been presented in these pages over the last twelve years.
Let’s face it, many people still don’t realize that their cultural institutions have been corrupted, taken away from them by ideologues attempting to restructure society and recondition its citizenry along unrealizable, repressive, utopian lines. As Kierkegaard once said, the worst form of suffering is the one you don’t recognize. In spite of all the wake-up calls, including the November elections, we are still a society needing to recognize the mess it is in.
But Crisis means more than even this. More than the shortcomings of the state, culture, and Church, there is the perennial crisis of human life as seen from the cross of the Son of God. In this shadow, no temporal happiness, no political structure, no public policy, can claim finality. We are a people forever in need; we must pray for vision and for the strength to carry it out.
We must continue to test, measure, and discriminate in earthly matters, but without confusing the orders of nature and grace. Grace perfects nature, it does not destroy it, Thomas Aquinas wrote. This integration must be the guiding principle for the future of our humanism and our politics. We can give human nature its full due only by recognizing its fundamental need for divine help.
It is sometimes difficult to know which traditions and social structures are more effective than others in fulfilling human purpose, in encouraging ordinate pursuits of happiness. Yet to be reminded that our ultimate purpose is eternal happiness does not release us from our obligation to order all aspects of earthly life — economic, political, aesthetic, intellectual, scientific — toward this end. As a part of this task Crisis remains committed to articulating the advantages of both American democracy and democratic capitalism.
The question remains whether or not the positive contribution of Crisis and its contributors will be recognized in spite of its name and, one might venture, its reputation. Whatever its name may be, this magazine will continue its habits of debunking the secular faith and exposing questionable opinions and practices within the Church itself. But inspired by the spirit of John Paul II’s recent As the Third Millennium Draws Near, we will also offer opinion and articles about the shape of things to come. After the brambles have been cleared, it is once again time for planting.
DEAL W. HUDSON
MAY 1, 1995
Beauty has no trouble finding an audience. Truth and goodness pass by incognito while heads turn paying homage to the handsome passerby. Over a century ago Baudelaire’s poetry reminded us that through beauty we can move toward God or the devil. These days we need to be reminded that our hunger for beauty can make people a lot of money.
Why else did Miramax Films, subsidiary of the Walt Disney Co., plan to open its film Priest on Good Friday? Why else did Miramax go out of its way to invite Catholics to its previews? Obviously Miramax was hoping for the same type of outcry that greeted Scorcese’s laughably-had The Last Temptation of Christ. Given this kind of marketing strategy, judging Priest on aesthetic grounds takes second place to condemning the attempt to cash in on Catholic indignation. Only a director like Robert Altman could do justice to the scene where Miramax executives cooked up this strategy — “Hey, if we are real lucky maybe Act Up will charge into St. Patrick’s Cathedral again!”
The Hollywood establishment just doesn’t “get it” if they think that people are going to flock to movies just because the so-called “religious right” or “fundamentalist reactionaries” condemn them. Too many people have seen through that media smokescreen, too many people have come forward to affirm the traditional religious values so often mocked by the entertainment industry. By embracing wave after wave of left-wing causes, Hollywood has lost its power to provide the imprimatur for American morality and custom. The patina of political commitment, sought so eagerly by many actors and directors, has lost its luster. A movie director with a cause impresses us with all the sincerity of a Washington lobbyist.
Even though Disney still has to face the music over the flagrant multiculturalism of its upcoming Pocahontas, the entertainment conglomerate may prove itself a fast learner. After changing the opening date of Priest, Disney moved quickly to keep Miramax from distributing Kids, a movie about an HIV-positive teenager whose nickname is the “virgin surgeon.” Disney may want to retain its revered status in the eyes of our nation’s children after all.
In his ideal republic Plato thought that artists should be kept on a very short leash. While state control of the arts is not a good idea, it is to Plato’s credit that he recognized the unique power of artists to instruct the mind and shape character. How many of us have benefited from that power, as we enter the great cathedrals, listen to a choir, feel our eye drawn toward the rose window. Who would deny the continuing power of a cathedral or the liturgy to convert?
The beauty of Catholic culture, created by the work of its artists and artisans, still helps convert the heart toward God and Church. Among those who call themselves Christians, Catholics have the least suspicion of the beautiful and the greatest appreciation of the artist. Thus, philosopher Jacques Maritain advises us to protect the freedom of the artist from moralistic objections. The present furor over Priestdoes not constitute such interference. Miramax has obviously attempted to stir up and then to capitalize on Catholic backlash against their caricatured depictions of troubled priests. Movie-making is a business, and if Disney and Miramax want to manipulate and insult Catholics then they must be prepared to accept the financial consequences.
My daughter already owns two Simba dolls and one Nala from The Lion King, which my wife and I happily bought for her. But nothing will be purchased by my family to support the nonsense of Pocahantas. Priest should be treated the same way — just stay away from it — hopefully it will die quietly leaving both companies with a big loss.
Meanwhile, the best way to combat the worse is to reach for the better. You will have to look beyond the bestseller list to find that Catholic fiction is alive and well in work by Piers Paul Read, Alice Thomas Ellis, Jon Hassler, Torgny Lindgren, and Shusaku Endo. It is a pleasant surprise that the sacred music of Gorecki, Part, and Taverner has become widely appreciated, but now is also the time to rediscover the joys of older music, like Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, Durufle’s Requiem, and Palestrina’s setting of The Song of Songs. Listening to and reading such things makes Priest seem like the small beer that it is.
For Children’s Sake
DEAL W. HUDSON
JUNE 1, 1995
It’s a pity we teach metaphysics to students before they have children. There is nothing like the happy presence of a son or daughter to make us thankful for life, and to God for giving it. While delighting in our children, how easy it is to grasp the all-important distinction between essence and existence, between something thought and something actually there. Parents can remember the time before their children were born, and be glad for the love that brought them into being.
The presence of children puts most everything, but especially ideas, into perspective. Children help strip us of the foolishness with which we serve ideas, turning them into idols, as we act without regard for their lived consequences.
Children remind us that before we go chasing after abstract notions of happiness, rights, justice, or love we should think ahead to how these ideas will be incarnated in future generations.
We are at a crucial juncture in our cultural life: the abstractions of post-war politics are being called into question by the very children they were meant to benefit. Ideas about rights and entitlements, ideas which fueled both the civil rights movement and the “Great Society,” now encourage divisive ethnocentricism and nourish a permanent welfare class.
Explosive resentments are building on every side. Meanwhile, everyone claims they are doing what is best for children.
Many of us once sympathized with the liberal rationale that welfare provides people access to the basic needs of life and encourages their happiness. The reason we can no longer sympathize is simple — welfare has not worked: rather than provide equal access to opportunity, it has spread poverty and unhappiness among its recipients.
The appeal to rights has also lost its force in defending the status quo. To have a “right” once meant that other citizens could not obstruct your exercise of life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. In the mid-twentieth century a “right” somehow became the obligation of the government not merely to remove obstructions to exercise but also to guarantee outcomes for its citizenry, whether or not its citizens actively sought those outcomes for themselves.
Those who lament over a “country” that cannot educate its children, or make them happy, are confused. Countries do not raise children — families, friends, and communities do.
Our public policy tragically suffers from the same confusion, and, as a consequence, discourages children from growing up, from taking the initiative and providing for themselves. Any country or parent who proudly keeps children dependent and submissive is more concerned with displaying generosity than in doing the right thing.
It is clear that justifying further social assistance programs like those of the last thirty years cannot be done in the name of children. A nation that really cares about its poor can find a better way, one based upon a more realistic view of human motivation and aspiration. Otherwise, the nation will remain dysfunctionally mired in liberal guilt over the relative affluence acquired by the fortunes of birth, the care of families, or the rewards of personal effort.
There was a time when the happiness we wished for young children was different than the happiness we wished for older children. In their youth we wish them a happiness that includes not only prosperity but also a responsible, morally good life. When children are older, and have been buffeted by life’s disappointments, parents often consider their children happy if they “feel good” about whatever they are doing, about whatever they have done. These lowered expectations, the diminution of the meaning of happiness, seem to have become this nation’s wish for the poor. Surely the Catholic social teaching of a “preferential option” does not mandate treating the poor as if they were hopeless cases destined forever to be wards of the state.
At the core of our cultural confusion, and much of our public policy, is a misunderstanding about the end of human life. In helping people, we try to serve psychological and emotional needs to the neglect of the mind and will, the wellspring of human action. Veritatis splendor reminded us that true happiness requires “that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called.” The continuing political debate over welfare, and its effects on children, will require us to think about what this maturity means for loving our neighbor.
The Last Outpost of American Manners
DEAL W. HUDSON
JULY 1, 1995
The scene at the final hole at the Masters Golf Tournament—Ben Crenshaw weeping for joy, bent over, head in hands, while his caddy Carl Jackson comforts him.
In that image many of us noticed something almost lost, nearly extinct, in American manners—the gratitude of a pious man who loves his game. Among professional sports, golf is the last outpost for such a sensibility. Tennis had it, but lost it after condoning a generation of rude and spoiled behavior. Hockey players, who nowadays are so busy getting stitched up, probably never had it. Baseball players surely felt nostalgic when they watched Crenshaw win. Their ten months of shamelessness insures it will be a long time before they can recapture the honor of their game, if ever. Football and basketball players lost it years ago, drowned by their PR, along with the rock music that blaringly interprets their sport to the fans.
In that moment on the 18th green at Augusta National, we saw a man overcome by the joy of winning, a man paying honor to his sport, not a man consumed by his paycheck or his celebrity stature. Crenshaw didn’t walk off the green to record a TV spot for Disneyworld or Nike shoes. Instead he talked about his golfing mentor Harvey Penick, of Little Red Book fame. Just a few days before the tournament, Crenshaw had served as a pallbearer at his funeral. As he received the green jacket, the new Master’s champion credited Penick with helping him somehow throughout the final round— how rare a thing such piety has become!
Those who know Crenshaw and his love for the game and its tradition knew he was overwhelmed by his awareness of winning his second Masters, and taking his place in the history of golf. Manners like his require piety, reverence for the past, for tradition, for the accomplishments of one’s elders, for those who have made the institutions that nourish us today.
As the writer Marion Montgomery has put it, “Manners allow the soul to catch its breath.” Manners take over where self-conscious reflection and deliberation leave off. Golfers tee off in an order paying homage to the lowest scorer on the previous hole—this is rarely discussed, it simply happens. Perhaps this is why golf is so refreshing, it has not taken on the confusion of contemporary life, particularly its deep skepticism regarding privilege and honor.
An older friend of mine recently said, “Golf is the last sport where a young man can learn to be a gentlemen.” Remaining quiet and motionless while another player hits, tending to the pin for a partner’s putt, praising good shots, offering consolation for bad ones, lending good cheer to a round’s conclusion, regardless of scores, all are civilizing habits. They are hardly in evidence on our nation’s streets.
Golf remains the only major sport to resist the thug element infiltrating our public life. One reason is that you simply cannot play decent golf with bad manners—it gets in the way of the game. John Daly is the perfect example: when he gets his life together, and shortens his backswing, his amazing talents will fully emerge. Temper may help you make the downfield block but it won’t help you sink a short putt. Initially playing golf is about learning the proper swing; ultimately it is about learning self-command.
People wonder why public civility is on the wane, why so little respect is shown toward tradition, the greatness of the past. Some of us have accepted this as the price of becoming cynical, of exposing much of past glory as counterfeit, as camouflage for greedy self-interest and class injustice. No longer believing in the accomplishments of the adult world we now venerate the scowl of adolescent rebellion. Why should our nation’s youth try to grow up and overcome an attitude that the adult world, in large part, has chosen to emulate?
Just like in golf, bad manners get in the way of living well. To grow, to mature, requires great effort and much help—we are helped both by God’s grace and the efforts of good men and women who have come before us. The essence of rudeness is not listening, in not knowing when to be quiet and to profit from those who know better. Ben Crenshaw’s bowed head, Carl Jackson’s fatherly consolation, the acknowledgement that help comes from beyond the grave—here are clear signs that manners are not dead, that they can flourish once again.
A Strangled Imagination
DEAL W. HUDSON
SEPTEMBER 1, 1995
Some people think that religious belief makes you narrow-minded, parochial. If you think so, try lecturing on human rights to high school teachers in Estonia, a county trying to recover from its period of Soviet domination. My Estonian audience listened uncomprehendingly as I spoke to them about natural right and human nature.
This was no mere academic exercise for me. To visit the site of the “Singing Revolution” of 1992, to talk with a people living freely for the first time in their lives, to put a face on the suffering inflicted by communism, this was my first real boot camp in political philosophy. Under the sponsorship of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, Judge Randall Rader and I tried to help the Estonians better understand the founding principles of American democracy, particularly the ideas that inform our Declaration of Independence—equality, inalienable rights, the pursuit of happiness.
Among the Estonians, however, there was a marked tendency to understand political struggle entirely in terms of competing ethnic groups. Their bottom line was the struggle of Estonians against Russians, not human beings rightfully claiming political liberty after decades of oppression. No doubt we can understand the painful weight of history that deters them from embracing the abstraction of “human equality” in favor of defending their small country against a historical aggressor. Abstractions, after all, the wrong abstractions, had held them hostage for fifty years.
But when I asked them to consider whether they would accept an Estonian dictator in the place of a Russian, the limits of their political imagination were exposed. They caught a glimpse of the principle invoked by Jefferson when he grounded the American call to revolution in the conviction that God is the creator of man, that he provides us with an endowment of “inalienable rights.” In other words, these Estonian teachers began to consider for the first time that political freedom is a natural right for all human beings, not just for a particular ethnic group rejecting the rule of another. Perhaps it was only a sign of my own naiveté that I was shocked at their attitude.
It has been the claim of twentieth-century Catholic philosophers, such as Jacques Maritain, Yves R. Simon, and Etienne Gilson, that Christian belief inspired many of the key breakthroughs in Western thought, ethical, political, and metaphysical. Maritain and Simon, in particular, have explained how Christianity provided the cultural “leaven” which directly stimulated the development of democracy.
My audience was filled with people who had been educated to regard religion as the enemy of political liberation and enlightenment. The notion that Christianity had a formative role in the development of Western democracy and freedom came as something completely new. I began to wonder if their lack of exposure to religious ideas, much less religious practice, had something to do with their inability to appreciate the political importance of our shared human nature. After all, anyone who believes in humans as creatures of God, and equal before him, are only a step away from understanding the political equality of man.
As I left Estonia, it became clear to me that by forcefully suppressing this country’s religious heritage, Communist rule had not only made it more difficult to pray, it had become also more difficult to imagine the natural right to political liberty, the right of all human beings to participate in their government. A Christian nation which believes in the creation of man has a natural advantage when it comes to affirming human equality. A nation deprived of this advantage can only imagine the struggle of nation against nation, and people against people, in other words, the politics of power rather than justice.
Lacking any help in viewing the universality of human claims against tyranny, these people are unprotected against the postmodernism now sweeping Western Europe and the United States. How easily it would be for the radical academics and bureaucrats now junketing through Eastern Europe to spread their gospel of multiculturalism and ethnocentrism. How easy it would be to take the native and well-founded Estonian fear of Russian domination and turn it into the ideology of an Estonian perspective on life which only another Estonian can understand or appreciate, thus impersonating Western feminism and Afrocentricism.
Difference and diversity have become the false currency of this decade’s public policy. Few people have come forth and publicly challenged the diversity hucksters to pay more heed to our common humanity. This silence may be due to the fact that our own nation’s moral imagination has grown impoverished. We may still remember that we are “one nation under God,” but we remember less and less of what that means for our public life.
DEAL W. HUDSON
OCTOBER 1, 1995
As one who was born and raised a Protestant and became a Southern Baptist minister before entering the Roman Catholic Church, I am perplexed by the evangelical Protestant charge that Catholics misunderstand salvation. The constant teaching of the Catholic Church throughout the ages has been that salvation is bestowed alone by God’s grace. This was not the singular discovery of the Reformation.
As Louis Bouyer has shown definitively in The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, all three of the Reformation theses — the authority of Scripture, the necessity of faith, and our justification in Christ — were alive and well in the Catholic tradition long before they were singled out and thematized by the Reformers.
I discovered, as have many other converts from Protestantism, that there is no need to give up, or even minimize, the Gospel teaching on these matters. Rather, Catholic teaching reveals the richest and most profound meaning of the very principles evangelicals strive to defend. In this sense, they are our Christian brethren, and we speak to them in this spirit.
There probably is a tendency in popular piety to mistake the sacramental act of penance for some sort of spiritual merit. No doubt it is due to our fallen human nature that we take credit for the gifts we receive. Those Protestants who have dealt with tongue-speaking charismatics know how easily pride can be generated by spiritual gifts.
While Catholics believe it is Christ’s death and resurrection that puts the believer in a new relationship with God, this is not the whole story of Christian salvation. What some evangelicals consider salvation by works is merely an expression of Catholic belief in spiritual rebirth and regeneration, the ongoing blessing of grace in a person’s growth toward God. What Catholics properly understand as an effect or fruit of salvation some evangelicals unfortunately interpret as its cause.
These evangelicals also object to the role, the sacramental role, played by parish and priest in the drama of salvation. They argue that Jesus Christ needs no other mediator than himself, that the believer has been provided direct access to his saving love. This, I think, is the more important, more substantive difference between evangelical and Catholic than the issue of “faith alone.” We can agree with evangelicals that faith in Jesus Christ saves us from our sin, but it is much harder to agree on the form, sacramental or otherwise, of that acceptance.
Catholics are rightly confused by the evangelical insistence that Jesus Christ is something other than his Church, his priests, and his sacraments. “Isn’t this exactly how Christ is concretely present to us?” a Catholic would ask in reply. The Church as Christ’s Body, the priest as Christ’s representative, the sacraments as visible signs of Christ’s grace are all inextricably connected in the Catholic mind.
The power of the evangelical Protestant movement is seen in its emphasis on an encounter with God’s word as preached and encountered in the Bible. Catholics in America still have much to learn from this tradition of continually revitalized worship. Some evangelicals claim that their brand of Christianity to be more genuine, more akin to the early Church of the New Testament. They claim to practice a more immediate spirituality, a Christian faith shorn of its unnecessary accoutrements.
Yet evangelical Christians, if they are honest with themselves, are not without a form of religious faith and practice. They exude tremendous confidence in the mediation of the Protestant pastor, the sermon, their worship, and the study of Scripture itself.
Christ, we can agree, established these means for our conversion. But it is also true that he gave us more — the sacramental reality and priesthood of the Catholic Church. Thus, Protestants continue to find a home in the Catholic Church not because Catholics are Christian and Protestants are not, but because of the fullness of God’s revelation which they find there.
Ralph Reed on Catholics: An Interview
DEAL W. HUDSON
NOVEMBER 1, 1995
Crisis wanted to talk to Ralph Reed, president of the Christian Coalition, about his plans to create a Catholic Alliance within the Christian Coalition. Crisis editor, Deal W. Hudson, talked to him at the Capital Building in Washington, D.C. about the history of American Catholicism and his vision of Evangelical-Catholic cooperation in public policy.
What’s the purpose of the Catholic Alliance?
It really has a two-fold purpose beginning with an outgrowth of what has been a major emphasis on outreach and bridge building with Roman Catholics. If you go back to our original mission statements, there was always a heavy flavor of ecumenism. We have been bringing in not only evangelicals, which is our traditional base, but people in mainline denominations who are with us on many of the issues, as well as Roman Catholics and also, later, Jews, to build an organization that would bring together people from different faith traditions based on a shared Judeo-Christian value system. We’ve tried to be ecumenical in the best sense of that word. That is to say, not trying to ignore or blur theological differences, not trying to deny the authenticity of these different faith traditions. But while acknowledging theological differences, coming together on the things that unite us. Things like school choice and defending the right to life, opposing euthanasia, providing care and compassion for the poor by non-governmental means, through intermediary institutions.
The 1993 school board races in New York City were a real breakthrough for us where we distributed voter guides, half a million total-100,000 of those in Roman Catholic churches in the New York Archdiocese. The Catholic Alliance is really the natural outgrowth of it.
We already have, according to our internal survey, 16% of our members who are Roman Catholic. That means that right now we have about a quarter of a million Catholics involved in the Christian Coalition—but we want more Catholics. We would like to see the percentage of Roman Catholic members of the Christian Coalition meet or exceed the national average, which would mean 25% to 30% of our members would be Catholic. The best way to do that is to have an auxiliary that is explicitly Catholic to let them know in effect that the door is open and they are welcome. But I want to make it clear that it is not a segregation of Catholics.
When they join the Catholic Alliance, they automatically become members of the Christian Coalition. They receive our literature; they get our mailings; they’re not treated any differently than any other member of the organization. They’re full members in good standing, and they’ll be invited to all of our conferences and be included in everything. I think ultimately it’s going to have the desired effect. Right now at our national conferences, I’d estimate we probably have somewhere between 300 and 500 Catholics at those conferences. Maybe even more. We’d like to get to the point where a thousand or more of those people are Catholics. By having people join the Catholic Alliance and the Christian Coalition together, we will have identified the Catholics in our membership file so that we can mail to them, call them, and get them more deeply involved.
The other reason for the Catholic Alliance is that in my experience the idiom, the vernacular, and the apologetic for a public witness of one’s faith in the political arena is different in Catholic tradition than it is in Protestant tradition. Not just theologically but in the very language and the very appeals that are made. And so, we have got a group of people sitting on an executive committee that are working up a document that will in effect be an explanation or an apologetic for why they’re involved in politics. I think we needed that in the evangelical community 15 years ago. I don’t think we do anymore. The truth of the matter is that if you went into an evangelical church in 1978 and said, “You need to get involved in politics,” first you would have had to spend two hours explaining why that wasn’t unbiblical. You don’t have to do that anymore. The Protestant/evangelical community is now thoroughly steeped in the ethic of public service and why political involvement is an extension of your faith. The Catholic faith community, conservative Catholic faith community, still needs to develop that apologetic so that people feel more comfortable being political actors. In other words, if you didn’t have a Catholic entity doing that, you wouldn’t be able to develop that uniquely and explicitly Catholic apologetic.
We all know that historically there is some tension between evangelicals and Catholics. Do you think your plans for an alliance will cause any tension among your membership because of the prospective infusion of Catholics into the organization?
I honestly don’t. Having been trained as an American historian, I am intimately and painfully familiar with not only the religious experience but the religio-cultural isolation of Roman Catholics. As they came to the United States in the 1820s and 1830s and 1840s initially, and then flooded later, they needed to develop their own cultural institutions and effect their own Catholic culture within the broader Protestant culture of the United States. This was due to the hostility of evangelicals towards Roman Catholicism, which every American at least superficially understands. But until you’ve gone back and read the Protestant sermons of the 1830s and the 1840s when the first Irish Catholic immigrants came to the United States, you cannot fully appreciate the level of hostility with which they were greeted. It wasn’t just a matter of different theological views. There were fears the Pope was trying to dominate America through the legions of his servants that were being sent over here. There were allusions to the anti-Christ and things of that nature. This is a really tough, painful history—a dark spot on America’s past.
All this was exacerbated, of course, by the immigrant experience. Not the language barrier, at least for the Irish, although that came later with the Italians and the Eastern Europeans, just the marginalization of the immigrant experience was deepened by their religious differences. In some ways, then, as Oscar Handlin wrote, it was worse than for African Americans that came here on slave ships for the reason that they, even in their subjugated condition, were here from the beginning and therefore were not treated as much as an oddity. And also because, frankly, they were Protestants and evangelicals and so there was a sort of commonality that united whites and blacks. So Handlin makes the point, at least, that the passage across the Atlantic for the immigrant was as bad as for slaves who had come a century or two earlier.
Let’s talk about the Reformation just for a second. As you know, there’s been a flare-up recently over the signing of an Evangelicals & Catholics Together document. You have a membership of 1.7 million, most of them evangelicals. How can you be confident that an infusion of Catholic members isn’t going to cause a similar problem within your own organization?
I think there are three reasons why it’s not going to cause a flare-up. The first is pretty obvious. We’re not a church; we’re not a ministry; we’re not a denomination. We, as individuals, clearly have a call in our lives to share our faith and to witness to others. But as an organization, there is no such institutional obligation because we’re a public policy organization. So, we don’t get bogged down in the theological disputes—whether we should be trying to proselytize the Catholics before we go after the unsaved. We don’t have to confront that dilemma as an organization. Clearly there’s a diversity of views within the evangelical community on that issue and it would be a mistake to take any view on that and suggest that it is the dominant view among evangelicals.
I can speak only for myself and not for the Christian Coalition. I have found, in my experience as an evangelical, a deeper level of faith among many Catholics than I have found with some evangelicals—the depth of their commitment, the seriousness of their prayer-lives and so forth—so I would say that I think it is far more important to go out and seek to convert those who are lost than to try and convert each other. But I’m not speaking for the organization. That’s just my own opinion. And there are individual differences. I think there are some evangelicals who need to be converted. I guess it was the Puritans who had the doctrine of the visible church and the invisible church. And I think the truth is there are probably some Catholics who aren’t genuinely saved and there are probably some evangelicals who aren’t genuinely saved. We ought to be trying to convert anybody who isn’t genuinely saved.
That seems to be the common sense of the matter.
That’s the common sense of the matter. The second reason why I don’t think it’s going to cause problems has to do with this pope. I think that Pope John Paul II is clearly going to go down in the history of the Church as one of the most significant religious figures, not only of this century, but of all time. I think that when the history books are written, he will be a pivotal, if background figure, in the collapse of Soviet Communism in Eastern Europe. And we now know that he was deeply involved in the Solidarity Movement and in assisting freedom-based movements which were all faith-based across Eastern and Central Europe.
Also there are two things that he has emphasized in recent encyclicals and pastoral letters that have had a tremendous impact on evangelicals. The first is the encyclical on human life, which probably had a greater impact on evangelicals than any other papal encyclical in my lifetime. The second is his emphasis on ecumenism and sort of cross-denominational cooperation in Ut unum sint. We’re going to quote from that in our document as to why we’re setting up the Catholic Alliance.
The third reason why I don’t think there will be a lot of division or conflict based on more Catholics coming into the Christian Coalition, is that I think that the right to life struggle has brought Catholics and Protestants together, not only as co-laborers on legislative and political issues, but as prayer-partners, as brothers and sisters, as soul-mates. The struggle to defend the innocent and to be a voice for the voiceless is ultimately—as Mother Teresa has reminded us far more eloquently than I can—is ultimately a spiritual struggle. It is ultimately a struggle against evil and against darkness and against death. There is no way to be engaged in that struggle as co-laborers across church lines and not grow to love one another with a depth that was unthinkable not only a century ago but even a decade ago. I think that that transformation is not fully appreciated. And I don’t think, for example, that the ECT could have happened before 1973.
The Gospel of Life of course combines a biblically-based morality with a natural law morality. There has been some question about how much Evangelicals can take advantage of the natural law. Do you think they’re open to that, and do you think it would be helpful in the political sphere to do that?
Absolutely, there is no question about the fact that the Roman Catholic idiom in debating and discussing social and political issues is far more amenable and tends to be less abrasive against the democratic ear of Americans because Catholics employ natural law theology. In fact if you look at somebody like Clarence Thomas—even though he now worships in an Episcopal Church—his training, his theological, and even broader education, was in the Catholic natural law tradition. The same with Robert Bork and Justice Scalia. The reason is historical. Unlike evangelicals, Catholics had to encounter a hostile culture and engage that culture on a moral level, bringing their faith to bear and doing it in a way that didn’t scare people, because they were the minority. Evangelicals have never had to do that until recently and so their rhetoric has tended to be triumphalist and arrogant, kingdom-oriented rather than natural law based.
I often joke with both my Catholic and evangelical friends that when we released the Contract with the American Family, one of the things I was most happy about was that it was drafted by a Roman Catholic, a Notre Dame-trained lawyer in our office named Susan Moska. And even though it was a very long document, it was probably the least edited document we have ever produced because of her natural law training and her Catholic background.
I think that the possibilities for cooperation between evangelicals and Catholics depends upon the mutual use of natural law language.
Yes. I think evangelicals need to be exposed to that language and insofar as they have not developed it themselves, they need to borrow from the Catholic tradition to be effective.
Do you have any favorite Catholic writers or saints?
I don’t know that I have any favorite Catholic saints. Somebody gave me the book about the first bishop of Baltimore, John Carroll. Your typical evangelical or even somebody like me who’s trained in history doesn’t fully realize what a major impact he had on America and what a difficult task he had and what a central figure he was in helping to bring Catholics to America and creating a place for them. With regard to writers and thinkers, without a doubt the most influential on me has been Bill Bennett. I think that he, not only as a Catholic but as a former liberal, has a way of thinking about these issues and writing about these issues and using language that that I think is the most effective in conservative American politics today. He’s had a huge impact on me, and he wrote the forward to my book which I’m really grateful for. And you know there are just so many others. I wouldn’t want to start playing favorites but there are many.
How do you respond to people who describe the Christian Coalition as scary? How do you respond to those who say that you’re imposing a private morality into public space or have labeled you the religious right?
Well, I think that we are probably no different than any social movement that is moving from marginalization to full integration into the public life of our nation. I think the first thing we have to do is to overcome the stereotype which in the infamous phrase of the Washington Post is “poor, uneducated and easy to command.” The notion that these are a lot of sort of ignorant fundamentalist hicks coming out of the bog, the Mencken-like character, the Sinclair Lewis-generated caricature—a stereotype which is deep and abiding in the 20th century.
We need to let people know who we are demographically, that, for example, 62% of religious conservatives are women and only 38% are men. That they tend to be upper middle class. The average household income of our members is $45,000 a year which is almost a third above the national average. Twelve percent of our members have earned advanced degrees, either a medical degree, a law degree, or a Ph.D. That compares to only 10% of the national average. When you begin to find out who these people really are demographically, they’re very mainstream and you see it isn’t scary at all.
But the second thing we have to overcome is ourselves. Some of the barbs that are directed at us are based on bigoted stereotypes but there is also an element of truth in it. We have our own history that we must bear as evangelicals—having demonstrated a hostility towards Catholics and immigrants when they first arrived, the fact that white, evangelical Protestants were on the wrong side of the struggle for racial justice throughout American history, but especially in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. And that again, I want to underscore, is why the Catholic presence in our ranks is so absolutely critical. Because unlike conservative, white, evangelical Protestants, Catholics were on the right side (most of the time) of those struggles for social justice on issues like child labor and the rights of the poor. I don’t mean entitlements and welfare, but I mean taking care of those who are poor and the most vulnerable as well as those who suffer discrimination. They’ve always been on the right side of the struggles so when Catholics pour into the public square, which cuts against the grain of what they’ve been taught to do historically, because they fear inciting anti-Catholicism, they do so with a tremendous amount of moral capital because they were involved in these other struggles. Whereas when Evangelicals say we believe that we ought to be involved in politics to save the unborn baby, the left says, “where were you in Birmingham? Where were you at Selma? You were preaching against our being involved in politics.” So that is a burden that we have to overcome and I think we’re doing a good job but we have a way to go.
What is your black representation?
Our minority representation is 10%. About 3% or 4% of that is African American. About 3% is Latino and about 2% or 3% is Native American. So it doesn’t quite reflect the national average but it’s higher, frankly, than we thought it might be.
What do you say to those who share your concern that Christian charity should be a guiding principle of our politics and that’s why the welfare system in this country should not be dismantled?
I don’t think we should completely dismantle it, and I don’t think the Christian Coalition has ever taken the position that the government has no role in helping to take care of the most needy among us. Our objection is not to the idea of a limited role of government in the work of charity. It is the idea of a bloated, corrupt, counter-productive, failed, modern liberal welfare state. We’re trying to reform a welfare state that has had the opposite of its intended effect upon everyone—upon the inner cities that it was supposed to turn into cities of alabaster and gold, upon the poor and the needy whom it was supposed to lift out of poverty, but instead has consigned to intergenerational poverty. To the children who it was supposed to save and instead it has consigned them to a life of hopelessness and violence and ignorance.
We think the welfare state has failed and what we want to do is take the resources that have been invested in the welfare state and do two things with them. The first thing we want to do is to shift them to government at the lowest possible level. Take it out of Washington and send it back to states, back to communities. Remove the notion of a federal entitlement and allow local governments and state governments to administer those programs closest to the need. We also propose a notion of subsidiarity or non-governmental vehicles of compassion, such as churches and synagogues, private charities, traditional vehicles like the Salvation Army and others. Gertrude Himmelfarb talks quite a bit about this in her notion of the Victorian ethic. No one, I think, is suggesting that this is the whole answer to the problem of poverty. But what we are suggesting is that traditional Victorian notions or traditional Judeo- Christian notions of charity certainly didn’t make matters worse. The illegitimacy rate in the late 19th century when private charity was handling many of these issues didn’t go up by three-fold in a couple of decades. The divorce rate among the poor didn’t skyrocket. You didn’t have all of these fatherless households.
Why do you think that so many people fail to understand clearly the kind of compassion you articulate?
I think the reason is that we, as a movement, frankly, haven’t done enough of it, and that’s clearly part of the problem. There is a lot going on, but not enough. There aren’t enough relief efforts and charitable efforts out of the church. If every church in America adopted just one family on welfare there would be nobody on welfare rolls anywhere in the country. So there isn’t enough of it going on. And there needs to be more. We need to make it a challenge to our community. Particularly as the problem of the deficit forces Washington, whether it wants to or not, to send a lot of this off to charitable and private and faith- based agencies.
But the second thing is, the only time the media is interested, the dominant media, is interested in covering people of faith is when they are trying to, allegedly, take over a political party or dominate a political issue. They almost never cover the quiet, unheralded things that we do every day to feed the hungry, to house the homeless, and to clothe the naked. They’re just not interested. I can speak personally about this because Pat Robertson, who’s the head of our organization, is also the head of one of the country’s leading broadcast ministries—and one of its leading relief organizations. Operation Blessing, which he heads, distributes about 2 million pounds of food every month in the inner city. They’re currently outfitting an L1011 airplane to be a fully mobile surgical hospital that will be able to fly anywhere in the world, to go into places like Zaire during the Ebola virus and provide state of the art surgical care to those in the most furthest flung corners of the world. It’s almost impossible to get anybody in the media to cover those aspects of what we do. So I think that’s the reason.
I’d like end on that note and I appreciate your talking with me
DEAL W. HUDSON
NOVEMBER 1, 1995
Many people are surprised that Catholics and evangelicals are starting to get along so well— the media is surprised and disappointed, liberals are surprised and scared. I’m not surprised, I was a Baptist who became a Catholic at the age of 33. At the Christian Coalition meeting in Washington D. C., I remarked that one of my favorite hymns as a Baptist was “We are One In the Spirit.” After admitting how half-heartedly most Catholics sing, I was told by several members of the audience that Baptists had gotten the hymn from the Catholics.
So I came to two conclusions—Baptists have good taste in hymns and this newly-discovered cooperation had been in the works for some time, unawares.
Some people think that the political alliance of Catholics and evangelicals was caused by the pro-life and school choice movement—as well as the overall concern for defending the traditional family. It goes deeper than that, to the very foundations of our self-understanding, and reveals why cooperation with the mainline, liberal Protestant churches, as opposed to evangelicals, is nil.
Catholics and evangelical Protestants believe that we are creatures of God, made to love Him, to love Him according to His will, that the Word of God instructs us in how to love Him, and that this Word is not a human construct, but the authoritative measure of the Church.
Having these convictions in common made it possible for me to teach Thomism at a Baptist college in Atlanta for nine years. There were mild protests, to be sure, but overall my evangelical students quickly learned to appreciate the benefits of Christian philosophy, as it is taught in the Catholic tradition. We believe that God has spoken and given a real knowledge upon which we can base our lives, yet, Catholics have more confidence than evangelicals in God’s way of speaking through nature. But evangelicals, as Ralph Reed comments in this issue, are realizing the benefits of arguing from the perspective of reason and natural law.
Evangelicals are apparently overcoming their standard objection against the philosophical dimension of the Catholic tradition. They are realizing that bothorthodox Catholics and evangelicals look to the Gospel first and to the human sciences second, rather than bend the latter to the former in a vain attempt to appear up to date. This is because we each put a personal encounter with Jesus Christ before all else, whether by walking the aisle to accept Him as Lord or by meeting Him in the Eucharist. Perhaps there is something in the repeated gesture of walking the aisle toward the church altar that has been preparing for this meeting of minds all these years.
Some evangelicals have greeted this propitious moment in our cultural history by trying to reopen the wounds of the Reformation. It is a mistake to spend time fighting over who are the real Christians when we should rather confront this culture of death together, exactly as the signers of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together declaration of March 1995 urged.
It is a pity that some powerful evangelical leaders are shunning cooperation with Catholics. Evidently they don’t think it is a priority to take the culture back from the secularizers. They want to fight over church doctrine at a time when we have an unprecedented opportunity to win the political battles necessary, once again, to have influence in our social institutions.
They worry that evangelical cooperation means capitulation to Catholic views on justification and the priesthood. It is surely a leap in logic to say that just because some Baptists invite Catholics to work for school choice they also accept the doctrine of papal infallibility; likewise, Catholics working alongside Baptists need not accept their view of infant baptism.
Doctrinal differences will arise, but the obligation of Christian charity calls each of us not just to share the message of eternal salvation but to seek actively the redemption of the society in which we live. Loving the whole person includes his life on earth. It is a symptom of our own barbarity that we must begin with the protection of life itself.
We can revisit the controversies of the Reformation in the classroom, around the dinner table, and over the phone, but in the public arena we should thank God that Catholics and evangelicals have found one another. If some people find that scary, it’s because they realize that the tide is turning.
DEAL W. HUDSON
DECEMBER 1, 1995
She walks so slowly on her crutches she seems fragile, an impression that doesn’t last for very long. Mother Angelica is made of something as tough as the steel she leans on. This Poor Clare nun from Ohio has single-handedly built a multimillion-dollar television and radio complex on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama, and created one of the most successful, influential Catholic broadcasting networks in the world.
I had little idea what to expect when I arrived at EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) for my interview on Mother Angelica Live. From previous broadcasts I knew my host could be direct and acerbic on the subject of the Church. But I wasn’t prepared for the woman I met, especially her humor, savvy, subtlety, and penetrating insight into the spiritual life.
In the course of my new editorial duties at Crisis I have gone for advice to many top business executives. Mother Angelica could stand toe-to-toe with any of them. She possesses an incisiveness that makes one wish for perfect recall, because some of the best things she says are off-camera.
I complained during the interview about the preaching one typically hears at Masses in this country. Then, feeling awkward about the priests who might be listening to the broadcast, I asked her if I was being “too hard.” Her reply brought hearty laughter from everyone in the studio, and relief to me — “You can’t be too hard on this program!”
Later, in the studio’s kitchen where everyone gathers for good-byes, after Mother personally greets nearly everyone in the audience, we continued to talk about preaching. Mother talked to me about the Cure d’Ars, what a weak preacher he was, but how multitudes of people would come to his Masses and line up at his confessional. Instantly I knew why I had been uncomfortable with my comments about preaching: the problem with my criticism wasn’t its harshness, it was simply misplaced.
The sacramental worship of the Catholic Church mercifully removes the spotlight from the celebrant as a brilliant rhetorician or even a charismatic personality. It frees the celebrant to be precisely that, one who celebrates the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This is one of the central reasons I was first drawn to the Church, and it took an encounter with Mother Angelica to remind me of it. Old habits, as they say, die hard.
Meeting Mother Angelica has that kind of effect on people. Spend an afternoon talking to the people who work with her and it is difficult not to be infected with a certain back-to-basics euphoria. From the remarkable president of EWTN Bill Steltemeier, through the producers, to the radio technician who gave me the tour of WEWN, their mountain-top radio station, everyone I met was cheerfully devoted to Mother and the cause of EWTN. From Ohio and New Jersey, and across the South and Southwest, they have come to work for Mother, all of them sharing her belief that “God will provide.”
Anyone who watched EWTN’s coverage of the pope’s visit to the U.S. or listened to it on WEWN will appreciate the network’s possibilities, including the 24-hour AM/FM that is soon to follow. EWTN’s reporters and commentators simply outclassed and outcovered everyone else. Plans are under way to televise the pope’s upcoming visit to South America. When I asked Bill Steltemeier about the cost of broadcasting all those hours from another continent, including the costs of translation, he told me story after story of launching projects well in advance of raising the necessary capital. The words “Mother says” are their only business plan.
It is no accident EWTN has sprung up and taken root in the South. Its tone, like its founder, is enthusiastic and evangelical; no attempt to be the urbane, detached cosmopolitan here — just two-fisted Catholic intelligence reminding people to take full advantage of the grace they have been given.
As I was getting ready to leave for the airport, I looked out the window of the Madonna House where I was staying to see one of the extern sisters, fully draped in her traditional habit, walking down this suburban Alabama street carrying a huge yellow gladiola. I couldn’t help but wonder if sights like these had become such a commonplace in this predominately Protestant neighborhood that the neighbors had stopped noticing them. I hope not.
I found in that image something that captured the core of Mother Angelica’s ministry: she has brought an old-style Catholicism to the heartland of America. Her viewers aren’t simply responding to the firmness of her pre-conciliar tone, which they surely appreciate, but they can also see the flower in her upraised hand. This flower represents the beauty and the joy of the Church she celebrates without apology.