What is needed today is an evangelically passionate Catholicism that poses a sharp contrast to the radical individualism and loneliness of postmodernity, argues George Weigel.
- Ethics and Public Policy Centre
I want to violate the canons of after-dinner remarks, skip the requisite joke-every-two-paragraphs, and drill beneath the surface of American public life. But as an introduction to that heavy lifting, I’d like to begin on more familiar terrain, with the following hymn. Why? Because one of the less frequently sung verses of America the Beautiful strikes me with some force as an appropriate way to get into our topic:
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
A Catholic knowledgeable about Christian history has to be struck by the irony of Catholics singing this stanza with gusto. For those 'pilgrim feet' in the wilderness of the New World were running as far from Rome as possible; indeed, as one embodiment of what scholars call the 'Radical Reformation,' the Pilgrims were running as far and as fast as they could from what they regarded as 'Romanizing' forms of Protestantism.
And when those who trod the wilderness on “pilgrim feet” got political power, they and their heirs often used it in ways that made life difficult for Catholics — as they did in my native Maryland, where the English colonies’ first experiment in religious toleration was ended by an influx of belligerent Virginia Protestants of a Cromwellian cast of mind.
Yet here Catholics are, singing about and celebrating the accomplishments of those who trod on pilgrim feet across the New World wilderness — and rightly so. For the linkages drawn by America’s Pilgrim and Puritan forebears between liberty and law, freedom and moral self-possession, freedom and moral nobility, all commend themselves to an authentically Catholic sensibility.
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