In 2008, during a Holy Week RCIA retreat, I led a reflection on The Last Things — death, judgment, heaven and hell. Rather than diving right into a discussion of things ultimate, I decided to provide some context, and some of that context came from C.S. Lewis. In The Weight of Glory, Lewis observes that “we are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Here are a few bracing excerpts from a talk Archbishop Charles Chaput delivered in Toronto back in 2009. The whole presentation is worth a read.
The “separation of Church and state” does not mean – and it can never mean – separating our Catholic faith from our public witness, our political choices and our political actions. That kind of separation would require Christians to deny who we are; to repudiate Jesus when he commands us to be “leaven in the world” and to “make disciples of all nations.” That kind of radical separation steals the moral content of a society. It’s the equivalent of telling a married man that he can’t act married in public. Of course, he can certainly do that, but he won’t stay married for long.
Partly because I’m a bishop and partly because I’m older and a little bit wiser, I don’t belong to any political party. As a young priest I worked on Bobby Kennedy’s campaign. Later I volunteered with the 1976 and 1980 campaigns for Jimmy Carter. So if I have any partisan roots, they’re in the Democratic Party. But as I say in the book, one of the lessons we need to learn from the last 50 years is that a “preferred” Catholic political party usually doesn’t exist. The sooner Catholics feel at home in any political party, the sooner that party takes them for granted and then ignores their concerns. Party loyalty for the sake of habit, or family tradition, or ethnic or class interest is a form of tribalism. It’s a lethal kind of moral laziness. Issues matter. Character matters. Acting on principle matters. But party loyalty for the sake of party loyalty is a dead end….
One of the words we heard endlessly in the last U.S. election was “hope.” I think “hope” is the only word in the English language more badly misused than “love.” It’s our go-to anxiety word — as in, “I sure hope I don’t say anything stupid tonight.” But for Christians, hope is a virtue, not an emotional crutch or a political slogan. Virtus, the Latin root of virtue, means strength or courage. Real hope is unsentimental. It has nothing to do with the cheesy optimism of election campaigns. Hope assumes and demands a spine in believers. And that’s why – at least for a Christian — hope sustains us when the real answer to the problems or hard choices in life is “no, we can’t,” instead of “yes, we can”….
[Georges] Bernanos once wrote that the optimism of the modern world, including its “politics of hope,” is like whistling past a graveyard. It’s a cheap substitute for real hope and “a sly form of selfishness, a method of isolating [ourselves] from the unhappiness of others” by thinking progressive thoughts. Real hope “must be won. [We] can only attain hope through truth, at the cost of great effort and long patience . . . Hope is a virtue, virtus, strength; an heroic determination of the soul. [And] the highest form of hope is despair overcome.”
Anyone who hasn’t noticed the despair in the world should probably go back to sleep. The word “hope” on a campaign poster may give us a little thrill of righteousness, but the world will still be a wreck when the drug wears off. We can only attain hope through truth. And what that means is this: From the moment Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” the most important political statement anyone can make is “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Almost exactly a year ago (July 16, 2019), Dr. Robert Epstein testified before Judiciary Subcommittee SD 226 about Facebook’s undue influence in US elections.
Unfortunately, I have not seen evidence that any of the concerns raised by Dr. Epstein have been addressed as we speed toward the November 2020 presidential elections.
I didn’t post this on my blog last year — I think I only shared it on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn — but since its relevance remains, I’m posting it here today.
STC – Senator Ted Cruz
DRE – Dr Robert Epstein
FULL TRANSCRIPT (with timecode)
STC: As I understand your background: you’re not a Republican and nor are you a conservative. Is that accurate?
DRE: That would be an understatement.
STC: And indeed you’re the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today.
STC: So you’re a respected academic. You testified before this committee that Google’s manipulation of votes gave at least 2.6 million additional votes to Hillary Clinton in the year 2016. Is that correct?
DRE: That’s correct.
STC: And I want to make sure I understand: you personally supported and voted for Hillary Clinton.
DRE: I was a very strong public supporter of Hillary Clinton. Yes.
STC: So you’re not dismayed that people voted for her, but your testimony is that Google is — through bias in search results — manipulating voters in a way they’re not aware of?
DRE: On a massive scale. And what I’m saying is that I believe in democracy. I believe in the free and fair election more than I have any kind of allegiance to a candidate or a party.
STC: And looking forward — if I understood your testimony correctly — you said in subsequent elections, Google and Facebook and Twitter and big text manipulation could manipulate as many as 15 million votes in a subsequent election?
DRE: In 2020, if all these companies are supporting the same candidate, there are 15 million votes on the line that can be shifted without people’s knowledge and without leaving a paper trail for authorities to trace.
STC: Now you described the “Go Vote” reminder and you said it wasn’t a public service announcement but rather manipulation. Can you explain how? I’m not sure everyone followed the details of that.
DRE: Well, sure. If, on Election Day in 2016… if Mark Zuckerberg, for example, had chosen to send out a “Go Vote” reminder, say just to Democrats — and no one would have known if he had done this — that would have given that day an additional at least 450,000 votes to Democrats. And we know this without doubt because of Facebook’s own published data… because they did an experiment (that they didn’t tell anyone about) during the 2010 election. They published it in 2012. It had 60 million Facebook users involved. They sent out a “Go Vote” reminder and they got something like 360,000 more people to get off their sofas and go vote who otherwise would have stayed home. The point is I don’t think that Mr. Zuckerberg sent out that reminder in 2016. I think he was overconfident. I think Google was overconfident (and) that all these companies were. I don’t think he sent that out. Without monitoring systems in place, we’ll never know what these companies are doing.
DRE: But the point is: In 2018, I’m sure they were more aggressive. We have lots of data to support that. And in 2020? You can bet that all of these companies are going to go all out and the methods that they’re using are invisible. They are subliminal. They’re more powerful than most any effects I’ve ever seen in the Behavioral Sciences, and I’ve been in the Behavioral Sciences for almost 40 years.
STC: You know our Democratic colleagues on this committee often talk about what they view as the pernicious effect of big money and big corporate dollars. What you are testifying to is that a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires and giant corporations are able to spend millions of dollars — if not billions of dollars — collectively, massively influencing the results of elections, and there’s no accountability.
STC: You said we don’t know… We have no way of knowing if Google or Facebook or Twitter sends it sends its Democrats or Republicans or how they bias it, because it’s a black box with no transparency or accountability whatsoever. Am I understanding you correctly?
DRE: Senator, with respect, I must correct you.
DRE: If Mark Zuckerberg chooses to send out a “Go Vote” reminder just to Democrats on Election Day, that doesn’t cost him a dime.
STC: Fair enough. Do you happen to know who the Hillary Clinton campaign’s number one financial supporter was in the year 2016?
DRE: I think I do. But please remind me.
STC: The number one financial supporter of the Hillary Clinton campaign in the 2016 election was the parent company of Google — Alphabet — who was our first witness. They were her number one financial donor. And your testimony is: through their deceptive search methods, they moved 2.6 million votes in her direction. I would think anybody — whether or not you favor one camp or another — should be deeply dismayed about a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires having that much power over our elections to silently and deceptively shift vote outcomes.
DRE: Again, with respect, I must correct you. The 2.6 million is a rock-bottom minimum. The range is between 2.6 and 10.4 million, depending on how aggressively they used the techniques that I’ve been studying now for six-and-a-half years.
STC: Wow. Could you just say that again, please?
DRE: The 2.6 million is a rock bottom minimum: The range is between 2.6 and 10.4 million votes, depending on how aggressive they were in using the techniques that I’ve been studying, such as the search engine manipulation effect, the search suggestion effect, the answer bot effect, and a number of others. They control these and no one can counteract them. These are not competitive. These are tools that they have at their disposal exclusively.
STC: If any headline comes out of this hearing, that should be it.
Today is the feast day of St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei. He died on this day in 1975.
Among other qualities, his solicitude for priests was thorough and magnanimous:
His love for the priesthood and for priests was transparent. In 1941, he had to leave town for one of these retreats in Lérida. Although his mother was ill, he decided to go anyway because the doctor did not think it was serious.
“Could you offer your sufferings for the work I’m going to do?” he asked her.
As he left the room he heard her murmur: “This son of mine…”
Arriving at the seminary of Lérida, he had knelt before the tabernacle, saying: “Lord, look after my mother, for I am taking care of your priests.”
Two days later, the thought of his mother still very much in his heart, he proceeded to preach on the role of the priest’s mother. It occurred to him to tell his listeners that her role was so important that she should not die till the day after the death of her son the priest.
After the meditation he remained recollected in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Then the apostolic administrator of the diocese, who was making the retreat, came up to him somewhat disconcerted and said in a low voice: “Álvaro del Portillo would like you to phone him in Madrid.”
His mother, Dolores, had died.
Years later, Saint Josemaría affirmed, “I have always thought that our Lord wanted that sacrifice from me, as an external proof of my love for diocesan priests, and that my mother especially continues to intercede for that work.”
Here are some additional resources on St. Josemaría Escrivá:
I especially recommend the novena for work… which has two dimensions: praying to find a job, and praying to do a good job. Both have been very profitable for me in the past.
I’ve also written a number of his sayings in my prayer journal, and they’ve formed the basis for the Stations of the Cross that I assembled back in 2004.
One of the hot-button issues of our time is: Should Holy Communion be given to political candidates who publicly favor abortion? Many Catholic Americans have a tendency to frame this question in a merely legal or disciplinary way. Very few seem to ask the sacramental and theological question: “What does receiving the Eucharist express?” Once I frame the question in this way, I can hardly say that the Bible is silent on the matter. Saint Paul speaks about this in 1 Corinthians 11. And I think the tradition is clear that receiving Communion expresses a communion with Christ and with his Body—a union of heart and mind on essential matters.
When a Catholic serving in public office clearly opposes the Church’s teaching, he makes himself incapable of receiving the Eucharist for what it is—a life-giving union with Christ’s body, a giving and a receiving that one participates in without reserve. For such a Catholic, receiving the Eucharist could be considered a kind of spiritual contraception. He engages in the act without intending to express the very meaning of the act. In effect, he uses Christ’s Body rather than receiving that Body for all that it is.
It’s common knowledge that those who reject the Church’s teaching authority often do so as a result of the Church’s teaching about artificial contraception. It seems to me that this is no accident. Contraception is an act by which we give ourselves permission not to respect the other, but instead to use the other in the service of our own interests. It might be a mutually agreed-upon use of each other, but it is use nonetheless. When we contracept in married life, holding back our fertility or rejecting the fertility of our spouse, it damages marital communion, because it interferes with our vocation to be a gift to our spouse and to receive our spouse as a gift in all the dimensions of their being. And when we engage in spiritual contraception by receiving Communion unworthily, holding back our assent to the deposit of faith preserved by the Church, it damages our communion with Christ’s body. We begin to relate to the Church simply in terms of how She might benefit us, and we cease to pay attention to how we might serve Her.
A public servant who is Catholic is just that—a servant. It’s a noble calling and a beautiful witness when lived authentically. The more deeply I come to appreciate the faith, the more I recognize that the service of the common good is sustained and nourished by a vibrant Catholic faith. It is the Church who fosters the awareness that in every person we discover an image of Christ, that Christ gave His very life for every human being, and that we are called to revere every life even when it costs us dearly to do so. We must not cease to remind ourselves that our leader in the faith sacrificed His very life for the well-being and redemption of every human life.
Our true adherence to the Church does not make us partisan in our attitudes, as though we had joined some club which only respects its own members. Rather, our life in the heart of the Church opens our heart to every human person, regardless of creed, ethnicity or any other distinguishing characteristic.
To be Catholic is to love and to defend humanity as such: Children on either side of the birth canal are truly human. The lives of our African-American brothers and sisters are truly human. The lives of undocumented immigrants are truly human, as are the lives of displaced Uighur Muslims in China. The lives of forgotten elderly and the homeless in our own neighborhoods are truly human. The lives of those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender are truly human. The disabled in mind and body are truly human. The lives of our enemies and those with whom we engage on Facebook are truly human. Rioters are truly human, as are police and politicians and drug lords and money launderers. And our own life also is truly human, in all of its beauty and its brokenness.
Failing to see the humanity and the dignity of other people diminishes our own humanity, because it robs us of the beauty both of being a gift to others and of receiving others as gift. A kind of blindness can set in.
The gift of the Eucharist can help restore our vision as it is a sacrament not only of communion with God, but also of communion with our neighbor. Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the interplay of the two dimensions of communion eloquently in his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est. Here’s an extended passage from that letter:
Love of neighbor… in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus… consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. This I can offer them not only through the organizations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave. Here we see the necessary interplay between love of God and love of neighbor which the First Letter of John speaks of with such insistence. If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be “devout” and to perform my “religious duties,” then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely “proper,” but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbor and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. The saints—consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbor from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbor are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first. No longer is it a question, then, of a “commandment” imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather of a freely-bestowed experience of love from within, a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others. Love grows through love. Love is “divine” because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a “we” which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).
Part of the miracle of the Eucharist, when I consider it personally, is the astonishing fact that it reveals that even I have been invited into the embrace of the love that made the universe. Who am I to receive such a gift? And who am I to hesitate even a moment in desiring to share that unmerited gift with others?
C.S. Lewis says it succinctly in the final words of his essay The Weight of Glory:
…It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.
Before this great mystery, let all mortal flesh keep silence.