The following is part of a series based on Fulton Sheen’s book, Freedom Under God.
“The dogma lives loudly within you.” Such were the famous words rained upon Amy Coney Barrett by Senator Dianne Feinstein. A compliment, as many Catholics see it. But a compliment it was meant to be. How did we get here, where religion is perceived to be so ruinous to society?
To the then Msgr. Fulton Sheen, answering this question begins by starting with irrelevance. We always mistakenly saw religion as something private, not public. The sacrifice of Calvary thus had nothing to do with our social order and it certainly should not be discussed at the dinner table with more serious topics like politics and economics. It was the same mistaken relationship that religion was taking with science, where the laws of science paid no attention to the Lawgiver.
It was this indifference that, Sheen argues, inevitably led to the stronger, more contemporary idea that religion is inimical to public affairs. This was a natural occurrence for a precise reason: the irrelevance of religion allowed irreligion to take its place and, “as blindness is the consequence of the doctrine that the eyes are irrelevant to life,” something essential is lost. “The secular order never lives in a vacuum; it is never even neutral; if the citizens of any state abandon religion and their duty to render to God the things that are God’s, Caesar will immediately claim that even God derives His authority from Caesar.”
But this pattern has been seen before. In fact, it was seen with Our Lord. When He came into this world he was merely ignored – there was simply no room at the inn. “He can come into the world, but let Him find his own place,” was the prevailing attitude. It was not long before He was no longer irrelevant and Herod asked for every child under the age of two to be killed. It is impossible for irrelevance to remain irrelevance, the Cross is proof. Where is it that they get this energy to persecute Him? It is because they know He is who He says He is. They say He is not a threat, but they rush to kill Him. They say He is crazy, but they cannot stop listening to Him. “The truth is, they hate because they believe.”
As the anti-religion fills the void left by religion, religion is left facing a strong opposition. “The dogma lives loudly within you.” It is the dogma of anti-religion that lives loudly today as religion has been more and more ostracized from public affairs. The lack of dogma is its own dogma, we cannot escape it. Only in the free acceptance of God can man find his freedom.
This is not Sheen’s argument for reuniting Church and State. But it is a call to awareness that faith and politics can never be separated. Everyone, due to the moral claims made in politics, is professing a faith in something. As Cardinal Jean Danielou S.J. put it, “there can be no radical division between civilization and what belongs to the interior being of man.”
What this calls for, then, is not some strained and nervous activism, but a defense of prayer and especially its public forms. “For we do not know how to pray as we ought,” (Rom 8:26) and therefore we need public guidance. It is a public Church that is the Church of the poor because it is the public Church that gifts its superabundance of Christ’s presence to the poor who do not have it. It is a private Church that is the Church of the rich because it wants to keep the grace of God to be poured out on all nations to itself. Therefore let us begin by praying. Let us pray together – at Thanksgiving, at Christmas, and beyond, through the rosary and the Mass, and may this prayer be the source of our defense of the truth.