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A Theological “Night Before Christmas”

December 12, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By SHAUN KENNEY

(A poem, wistfully written by an anonymous soul. Kirchensteuer refers to a church tax in Germany.)

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Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Church
Not a bishop was stirring, though attendance was in the lurch;
The collection plates were extended in Germany aplenty
With one very small problem — the pews were still empty.

Scowling with displeasure while snug in minor palaces.
With visions of guitars, sandals, and wooden chalices;
“A reform of the reform!” came the collective sigh,
To save the Kirchensteuer and keep their piece of the pie.

When out on the Internet there arose such a clatter,
Where tradition was prized to a Church now in tatters.
Not crazy, just faithful, were these voices so bold,
Defending the Faith of our Fathers of old.

The sons and daughters of the New Evangelization,
Raise on John Paul the Great and Benedict of high station.
“Who dares question progress?!” the German bishops saith,
“These unwashed poor Catholics defending their faith?”

Not rigidity, but fidelity, these faithful Catholics pled,
Neither vicious nor vile their arguments said.
And when the response these Germans did botch,
Came the vision of Cardinals like shepherds at watch.

A short man — an American — oh that would not do,
For Americans give money, not intellect, it’s true.
Yet Burke knew far better than those bishops insalubrious,
That breaking with tradition was something quite dubious.

“Now Kasper and Marx, Maradiaga and Danneels!”
“Come Pontier and Coccopalmerio and Swiss Bishop Büchel!”
Burke cried, “The Magisterium is not a theological blender,”
“Have you heard of an encyclical called Veritatis Splendor?”

Presented to Francis as faithful Catholics should do,
Presented to the Holy Father with the prayers and insight, too.
Presented for Catholics who know there’s something wrong,
When the Church bends to bureaucrats and tries to get along.

These bureaucrats — the layer between bishop and faithful,
These men in skinny jeans with lattes and bagel
Who scream “social justice!” and material gain,
Before thinking of Eucharist and holiness plain.

“These NGOs and grants are just what we need,”
Cry the social justice warriors still planting the seed
Not of faith, but revolution; not restoration, but policy.
And for critics? “Too rigid. That’s now heresy!”

Yet the faithful plod on; to the faithful we seek.
To the saints and the martyrs and examples antique.
For modernizing the faith has been tried — and it failed.
Because youth love tradition; the Blessed Mother we hailed.

And Christ most of all; in common bonds shed,
His own Blood at Calvary, the Divine Godhead,
A wink of His eye, a twist of His head,
Despite worldly concerns, we have nothing to dread.

Not grants, but fidelity; not a faith artificial.
But the spirit of charity that eschews the provincial
And ignores the secular religions of political power,
That live on borrowed time and rent by the hour.

Yet this is our Advent and Christmas; time for prayer and our missal,
To remember the words of St. Paul’s epistle:
“Be strong in the Lord, in the power of his might;”
“Take up the breastplate of salvation, pray for each other this night” (Eph. 6:10-20).

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Mr. K — remarks on my enthusiastic defense of the post-Reagan/Thatcher/JPII world order after the collapse of the Soviet Union, remarking that it was neither peaceful nor predicated on truly free markets. Certainly before the collapse of Soviet Communism, freedom’s fight was a bloody affair.
Insofar as the lift of one billion people from the clutches of poverty, this is most certainly the enduring result of the last 25 years, though I would instantly agree that property rights are inextricably linked to free markets. Corporatism — that ugly kid sister that requires socialism to rig the rules — has no place in a free society. Very sadly, critiques of capitalism lend themselves to critiques of corporatist structures, ones that Pope Francis himself has been quick to condemn during his pontificate in an echo of Pope John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s critique of mass consumerism.
The threat of political religions — fascism, socialism, liberalism — is an omnipresent threat. One of the most alarming things one hears on today’s college campuses is the idea that “socialism just wasn’t tried properly; we’ll get it right next time,” said with all the enthusiasm of a fanatic without a god. Perhaps I am exposing more of my fundamental faith in the American experiment than is proper to do so for a Catholic?
For one, I consider myself a successful product of the belief that says one can be a good Catholic and a good American simultaneously — and therefore have a fundamental belief in the wisdom of the Founding Fathers and the ability of society to create individual opportunity independent of the heavy hand of governance. That system indeed has its enemies, both at home and abroad. In that sense, I deeply share and appreciate Mr. K’s concerns for the future.

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Of course, I am succeeding (but not replacing) the inestimable Mr. James K. Fitzpatrick for the First Teachers column. Please feel free to send any correspondence for First Teachers to Shaun Kenney, c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Rd., Kents Store, VA 23084 — or if it is easier, simply send me an e-mail with First Teachers in the subject line to: svk2cr@virginia.edu.

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