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December 2013

The Tinderbox of Selfism


"Europe has more and more members and less and less soul. It used to have one, which was called Christianity and which protected it more than once from the worst. Today, it has staked everything on immediate, material self-interest on profit. If indeed self-interest is an effective agent of cohesion when things are going well; when they are going badly, there is no explosive more powerful."

André Frossard (1915-95)


The late French writer and close friend of John Paul II would have smiled wryly at the results of a recent survey confirming his above thesis; the last of his famous pithy offerings in Le Figaro.

A University of California computer analysis of more than 1.2 million American books and 350,000 British books, published between 1800 and 2000, has revealed that the use of the word "get" has quadrupled while "give" has fallen out of favour. Modern books also favour "feelings" over religion and "choice" over obedience.

Researchers put it all down to urbanisation: the shift in "values" that comes from caring rural communities being replaced by materialistic, go-getting town dwellers. "Underlying concepts, not just word frequencies," observed one of the psychologists, "have been changing in importance."

So there you go. Nothing like expensive scientific surveys to confirm every obvious aspect of modern life — except, of course, the obvious link between such findings and a certain Holy Child Who once inspired European thought and life. The self-esteem industry shudders at the very thought of that Selfless foundation of Western civilisation. Best to promote the Nativity as a cutesy cultural artefact instead; even if the diabolic disconnection with the Child and His salvific message has shortened the burning fuse of "immediate material self-interest" to explosion point.

All demographic and social surveys proclaim with one voice: the consumer society (read Culture of Death) is consuming itself. Stripped of understanding and appreciation of the Nativity in the Creator's plan, it is entirely caught up in "getting," "feeling," and "choosing" whatever profits the Self. In the process, the template of the Holy Family has been lost to an extraordinarily selfish degree. And not just among the divorced or cohabiting — those "hollowed out and fragmented families" who fail to teach children "alienated" from their natural father right and wrong, as the Chief Inspector of British schools and social welfare recently lamented. Many intact families, too, have lost the Christmas plot.

"I know my little girl's too young for school but I need a bit of 'me' time," ran the heading of a recent article [Daily Mail, 19/9/13]. "The truth is that for me, and the majority of working mothers in the UK," confessed the writer, "the start of school comes as a blessed relief because it allows us — by law and general acceptance — to get on with our jobs with far less hassle and expense. Today, there's no escaping the sense of freedom I feel," she exults after dropping off her "tiny" daughter, just turned four, who "still requires a dummy for comfort and wears nappies every night."

The article was written in protest at the call by a coalition of education experts for full-time schooling to be delayed by three years, as in countries like Finland, until a child is six or seven. The claim that the pressure of a classroom is too stressful for four-year-olds like her daughter, doing them "profound damage," is not going to stop this mother "plonking" her tiny infant at the school gates "at 8.30am every morning" and not returning to collect her "until 5pm," even though "the school day finishes at 4pm."

"I'm not saying I don't feel guilty," she pleads. "And it does occasionally tear at my heartstrings when I drop her off in the mornings and turn back to see her standing, stoically, in the centre of the playground. She looks so small, so unsure what to do amid the throng of much older, bigger and more boisterous children. ... But then I remember I need a quiet day to meet my deadlines."

I hasten to add that this mother has four children, not an insignificant number by today's standards, revealing a certain generosity of spirit. And we know that coercive government policies inimical to full-time motherhood have fuelled this sort of 'Me Now!' scenario. Even so, the attitude expressed is indicative of the self-interest that increasingly trumps familial self-sacrifice.

Within the family of the Church, meanwhile, under cover of 'building a better world,' the naturalistic tenets of the social gospel (Modernism) have produced two generations of self-centred priests, religious and laity. Spanish Sister Teresa Forcades personifies the breed. According to a September 2013 report from the BBC World Service, thousands have joined her anti-capitalist movement, which campaigns for Catalan independence, the reversal of public spending cuts and nationalisation of banks and energy companies. Habited and veiled, this young Benedictine nun from the monastery of St Benet is "a star of local television chat shows, Twitter and Facebook." She even has her own YouTube channel, "and says that everything she does is born of deep Christian faith and devotion." The report states that

Followers of her movement, which has signed up around 50,000 Catalans this year, are mainly non-believing leftists. She won't run for office, and says she won't create a political party, but she's undeniably a political figure on a mission — to tear down international capitalism, and change the map of Spain.

The three dozen sisters with whom she shares the monastery "are in no doubt that her talents and fame are 'gifts from god', and that she's paving the way for a newer, more feminist future for the Catholic church." Precisely what that means is trumpeted by this item in her 10-point programme: "An individual's right to control their own body, including a woman's right to decide over abortion."

Unspeakable? Yes. Surprising? Not at all. Sponsorship of the abortion holocaust by post-conciliar Brides of Christ is the logical endpoint of the "materialistic self-interest" inculcated by their navel-gazing nouvelle theologies. Swap self-sacrifice for self-regard, and "presto" — Sister Forcades becomes Sister Frankenstein. "As long as my religious life is full of love, I'll be here. But the moment this life turns sacrificial… Then it's my duty to abandon it," she grotesquely declared.

Imbued with this explosive self-esteem, untold thousands of priests and religious shattered their vows and departed. But many stayed behind to blow the sacrificial message and spirit of Bethlehem into socio-political bits — with a nod and a wink from the authorities. Two generations on, the Spanish hierarchy is still not bothered by the feminist likes of Forcades. If they will not denounce her public perversion of the holy Faith for which her Catholic forebears suffered and died during the Spanish Civil War, they should, at the very least, demand that she replace her 10-point programme from the Gospel of Marx with this 1-point plan, dictated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and confirmed by science: Unconditional government support for intact families — especially large ones. There lies the selfless socio-economic cure for the dying West. All the alternatives: contraception; divorce; abortion-on-demand; mothers sacrificing their children for "me" time; prideful nuns writing socialist manifestos to save the world... these are not "remedies" but, rather, pagan tinder for that veritable Tinderbox of Selfism cautioned by Frossard — and Pope Francis. Speaking to a multitude gathered in St. Peter’s Square on 16 June for the worldwide “Day of the Gospel of Life,” the Holy Father stated:

All too often, as we know from experience, people do not choose life; they do not accept the Gospel of Life, but let themselves be led by ideologies and ways of thinking that block life, that do not respect life, because they are dictated by selfishness, self-interest, profit, power and pleasure and not by love. … As a result, the Living God is replaced by fleeting human idols, which offer the intoxication of a flash of freedom, but in the end bring new forms of slavery and death.

Since they won't do it themselves, perhaps the Bishop of Rome could have the Bishops of Spain relay this rebuke to Sister Forcades on his behalf? Just a (nouvelle "collegial") thought.

For our part, let us conclude the year as we began it: by recalling our tortured brothers and sisters abroad. There are few better curbs for our own self-absorption than regular reflection on the daily horrors they endure for their fidelity to the Faith.

Speaking in London last October, Patriarch Gregorios III – the head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church – explained that

Syria is experiencing a lengthy, bloody way of the cross, stretching along all the country’s roads. You may think that it is safe here or unsafe there, but at any moment you may be killed by bomb, missile or bullet, not to mention being kidnapped or taken hostage for ransom, or murdered. A lot of our priests, our people, our relatives and friends have been kidnapped. Six have been kidnapped since 4th September ...

According to the patriarch 450,000 Christians have left Syria or are internally displaced, including all of his father’s family. He described how in some places Islamist extremists were making life difficult for civilians. "Yabroud is controlled not only by the opposition [who are "OK"] ... but jihadists [who] are something else." For instance, in spite of Christians being forced to pay $35,000 a month, "on the 27th September and now on the 16th October, the old church of Yabroud, of Constantine and Helena, was shelled by bombs – it was a church before Christianity, it was a temple of Jupiter and converted, an old beautiful church – they put bombs in the church and they discovered two bombs but they dismantled them." One was planted in the confessional.

He stressed that many ordinary Muslims had also suffered, and described the history of religious harmony between the faiths (most jihadists having come from outside the country).

So, during Christmastide let us not forget the Syrian Catholics. Pray that they will find solace, strength and abiding hope before the Holy Family, who also knew terror, flight and poverty. In reward for their brave witness to His selfless, civilising Gospel of Life, may the Holy Child expel the alien forces of havoc, displacement, and death, and restore His familial Christian leaven to Syria — and the West.



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