Skip to content

Viganò excommunicated, and ‘choices were made’

Happy Friday friends,

There isn’t really a newsletter today, although we are certainly still covering the news of the day — including this morning’s announcement that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has been excommunicated.

You can read all about that here.

Because even when we’re taking the day off, we’re bringing you the news.

Subscribe now

Upgrade your subscription

There isn’t really a newsletter this morning because I took yesterday off to spend the 4th of July doing traditional things, like grilling meat and watching my daughter run riot across a yard with a dozen other kids. 

We finished kind of late, so I didn’t get the chance to spend the evening working through a newsletter like I usually do. 

“Choices were made,” as they say. So, sorry about that. 

What follows is just a bit of what I thought about when we got home last night, so you’ll miss nothing of the news if you skip it — and I otherwise hope you all are having a great long weekend. 

Having spent more than half of my adult 4ths living in another country, I’m not much of an authority on authentic Independence Day traditions. But I think it’s normal to reflect a little bit on the meaning of the day over the sunscreen glazed hot dogs. 

The day is about freedom, I suppose. 

Freedom is usually thought about as a freedom to choose. We tend to think of these choices on the 4th mostly in political terms, especially in an election year. 

But, really, our political choices are just the sum of millions of other daily choices we’ve made, individually and collectively, for years, decades, generations even.

A fair bit of the conversation these days has been on our “choice” for president, not one I personally fancy our options on.

I’ve read a lot of worthy op-eds in recent days, especially after the candidates’ debate, asking how we got to this choice. The answer, as Hemingway put it, is two ways: gradually and all at once. 

Gradually, we’ve numbed ourselves into the idea that choosing a lesser of two evils can be an acceptable way of shaping our society. 

Gradually, we coarsened our discourse with and about each other, and thus coursened ourselves, as we gradually parted company with our desire to know, let alone love our neighbor.

And we gradually allowed ourselves to look away from what was being chosen for us, in the name of political expediency or partisan vindication. Until we suddenly looked up and realized what these choices have brought us to, and now we lament what miserable choices we’ve been left with.

All too often we choose — I choose — the easy, the comfortable, the convenient, the lesser. But choice is an act of the will. 

And it’s always an act of affirmation. 

We affirm something about who we are with every choice we make.

The Church teaches us that freedom, rightly understood, is the freedom to choose the good. Hopefully, those thousands of daily choices amount to a single choice for the ultimate good, God. And, I think it is fair to say, the sum total of our collective choices in recent decades, perhaps longer, has trended the opposite direction.

“Our constitution,” John Adams famously wrote, “was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Indeed, I believe our current circumstances tend to show us how right he was.  

It is easy to look around our contemporary political landscape, roll our eyes and exclaim, as I often do, that “y’all need Jesus” — even, and perhaps especially, of those who invoke His name most publicly and often. 

But to blame our sclerotic politics on public disaffiliation from institutional Christianity is, I think, an overly simplistic diagnosis which can lead — and for some people has led — to shallow attempts at a prescription.

If the country needs more good old-fashioned Christian virtue, the theory goes, we need to get some good old-fashioned Christianity into our public institutions and stop giving everyone so many opportunities to choose the wrong things. 

I think that rather misses the depth of Adams’ point, and the profundity of how Christianity reshaped Western culture and thought.

You can make people behave, up to a certain point — or try to, anyway. And you can even pressure them to make a nominal confession of a creed. You can, by persuasion, or point of a sword, if it comes to that, compel people to live by the golden rule, treating others as they would wish to be treated themselves.

But that kind of social contract of fairness is not what makes a “moral and religious people” suitable for constitutional democracy. Fairness and the rule of law is not what Christianity brought to transform “Western civilization” — it is something deeper. And that deeper something is what we have really chosen to leave behind, both gradually and all at once.

The transformative message of Christianity, from a political perspective, is that we are called not just to treat our neighbor fairly but to love our enemy. 

The confounding witness of the Incarnation is that to love the other is to serve them, even to the point of death. And, as Christ taught when he washed the feet of his disciples, the strong must serve the weak, not dominate them — the greatest among us must be the last. 

We undervalue how revolutionary this premise was when it spread across the pagan West, and how it underpins Adams’ point about democracy, which is otherwise a mere mechanism for majoritarian tyranny, in which, as Thucydides put it, the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

To love our neighbor, or to seek to subjugate them — that is the real daily choice we all face. Our true fundamental freedom remains to affirm by our choices who we are by whom we choose to love — ourselves or the other, whoever they may be.

Subscribe now

That choice, the choice to love, won’t be reflected on any ballot come November, but it faces each of us daily. 

So, happy Independence Day to you all, choose wisely. 

See you next week,

Ed. Condon
The Pillar

Subscribe now

Comments 25