The hard road of national renewal

George Weigel

Earlier this fall, I was happy to be one of the initial signatories of “Liberty and Justice for All,” a call for national renewal drafted by scholars concerned about the dangerous deterioration of American public life. The temper of the statement can be discerned from its opening paragraphs and its conclusion:

We stand at the crossroads.

Over the next several years, the noble sentiments and ideas that gave birth to the United States will either be repudiated or reaffirmed. The fateful choice before us will result either in the death of a great hope or a recommitment to an extraordinary political experiment whose full flowering we have yet to realize. The choice will involve either contempt and despair or gratitude and the self-respect worthy of a free people who know long labors lie before them and who proceed with hope toward a dignified future.

In the name of justice and equality, those animated by contempt and despair seek to destroy longstanding but fragile American institutions through which justice and equality can be secured. Destruction of these imperfect but necessary institutions will not hasten the advent of justice and equality but rather accelerate our collapse into barbarism and degradation.

Groups of Americans who today advocate endless racial contempt, who systematically distort our history for political gain, who scapegoat and silence whole groups of citizens, who brazenly justify and advocate violence and the destruction of property invite us not to justice and equality but to an ugly future whose only certainty is fear….

This crisis is acute, and the hour is late. Like our forebears, we aim both to conserve and reform our institutions in light of enduring principles of justice. That is the task of a self-governing people who know they live in an imperfect world yet are not deterred by challenges.

The full statement, which is being endorsed online by men and women across the racial, ethnic, religious, and political spectra of American life, is available here: https://www.realclearfoundation.org/liberty-and-justice-for-all/index.html.

It is worth reading carefully, not least because its resolute yet calm tone clears the mind amidst the dispiriting racket of the most wretched political campaign in living memory. 

“Liberty and Justice for All” should be especially appealing to Catholics serious about the social doctrine of the Church. 

The statement insists that we must treat with each other as mutually responsible individuals, not as embodiments of racial or ideological categories – and thus affirms the first foundational principle of Catholic social doctrine, Christian personalism. The statement suggests that a mature freedom should be lived, not merely for self, but for the common good – the second foundational principle of Catholic social doctrine. The statement challenges the national drift toward concentrations of political and economic power while affirming the importance for a healthy democracy of natural associations (the traditional family) and the free associations of civil society (including the Church) – and thereby underscores the third foundational principle of the social doctrine, subsidiarity. Taken as whole, the statement is a summons to a renewed solidarity in American life, and thus affirms the social doctrine’s fourth foundational principle. 

In 1787, the Constitutional Convention was held behind closed doors, absent the glare of public or press scrutiny. Leaving it, Benjamin Franklin was challenged by some Philadelphians: “What is it to be, Dr. Franklin, a monarchy or a republic?” “A republic,” Franklin replied, “if you can keep it.” 

The keeping of it is now in question, perhaps more so than at any time since the years before the Civil War. And it will not do to blame our current national distress on two septuagenarians acting like four-year-olds while contending for the world’s greatest public office (although they surely disgraced themselves and embarrassed the country in their first “debate”). Nor will it do to blame the two major political parties, although both are hostage to their most shrill voices. Nor is the mainstream media the primary culprit, although it would help if some measure of objective reporting would return to our newspaper pages and television screens.

To one degree or another, we are all to blame. We have let this deterioration happen on our watch, and we have done too little to stop the rot. That is another reason why “Liberty and Justice for All” is important. While it rightly challenges the nihilists, anarchists, and race-baiters whose only program is destruction, it also calls decent citizens who have stayed on the sidelines of public life to become part of a long-term project of national reconciliation and renewal.

Benjamin Franklin’s challenge, you see, was also addressed to us.  

COMING UP: Preparing your Home and Heart for the Advent Season

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The Advent season is a time of preparation for our hearts and minds for the Lord’s birth on Christmas.  It extends over the four Sundays before Christmas.  Try some of these Ideas to celebrate Advent in your home by decorating, cooking, singing, and reading your way to Christmas. Some of the best ideas are the simplest.

Special thanks to Patty Lunder for putting this together!

Advent Crafts

Handprint Advent Wreath for Children 
Bring the meaning of Advent into your home by having your kids make this fun and easy Advent wreath.

Materials
Pink and purple construction paper
– Yellow tissue or construction paper (to make a flame)
– One piece of red construction paper cut into 15 small circles
– Scissors
– Glue
– Two colors of green construction paper
– One paper plate
– 2 empty paper towel tubes

1. Take the two shades of green construction paper and cut out several of your child’s (Children’s) handprints. Glue the handprints to the rim of a paper plate with the center cut out.

2. Roll one of the paper towels tubes in purple construction paper and glue in place.

3. Take the second paper towel and roll half in pink construction paper and half in purple construction and glue in place.

4. Cut the covered paper towel tubes in half.

5. Cut 15 small circles from the red construction paper. Take three circles and glue two next to each other and a third below to make berries. Do this next to each candle until all circles are used.

6. Cut 4 rain drop shapes (to make a flame) from the yellow construction paper. Each week glue the yellow construction paper to the candle to make a flame. On the first week light the purple candle, the second week light the second purple candle, the third week light the pink candle and on the fourth week light the final purple candle.

A Meal to Share during the Advent Season

Slow-Cooker Barley & Bean Soup 

Make Sunday dinner during Advent into a special family gathering with a simple, easy dinner. Growing up in a large family, we knew everyone would be together for a family dinner after Mass on Sunday. Let the smells and aromas of a slow stress-free dinner fill your house and heart during the Advent Season. Choose a member of the family to lead grace and enjoy an evening together. This is the perfect setting to light the candles on your Advent wreath and invite all to join in a special prayer for that week.

Ingredients:
– 1 cup dried multi-bean mix or Great Northern beans, picked over and rinsed
– 1/2 cup pearl barley (Instant works great, I cook separate and add at end when soup is done)
– 3 cloves garlic, smashed
– 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
– 2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
– 1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
– 1 bay leaf
– Salt to taste
– 2 teaspoons dried Italian herb blend (basil, oregano)
– Freshly ground black pepper
– One 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, with juice
– 3 cups cleaned baby spinach leaves (about 3 ounces)
– 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, extra for garnish

1. Put 6 cups water, the beans, barley, garlic, carrots, celery, onions, bay leaf, 1 tablespoons salt, herb blend, some pepper in a slow cooker. Squeeze the tomatoes through your hands over the pot to break them down and add their juices. Cover and cook on high until the beans are quite tender and the soup is thick, about 8 hours. 

2. Add the spinach and cheese, and stir until the spinach wilts, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. 

3. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and serve with a baguette.