National Catholic Register


America, the New Rome

BY The Editors

November 9-15, 2008 Issue | Posted 11/4/08 at 4:09 PM


We thought we would be at a bit of a disadvantage for this issue of the Register, since we had to send it to the printer the day before Election Day. That meant we needed to finish the entire issue without knowing the winner of the election — or if there is a winner by Nov. 9 at all.

Four years ago when we faced the same dilemma, we found that maybe this isn’t a disadvantage after all. It gives us clarity. We’ll repeat now what we said then.

The stakes in the election were high, with the future of the Supreme Court and fundamental “Catholic” issues like abortion, fetal research and marriage on the table. But there is an even more important battle going on in America today: the one for America’s soul.

Truth be told, as stark as their differences were on many issues, neither candidate was likely to move our country to the conversion of heart that it needs.

Don’t get us wrong. It’s important to have the right legislators, and the Register did all it could to educate voters about the differences between the candidates on key issues. But Catholics need to be wary of becoming like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They witnessed the death and resurrection of Our Lord, and then left Jerusalem sad because they had hoped for a political ruler. Christ himself had to set them straight.

In the end, Christians don’t place their hopes in politicians. It is not the American president who will transform our country, but Christ the King. And he can use whatever situation he’s given to do that.

But he does rely on the Church to distribute the graces he wants to give the world — and that means he relies on us.

Do a computerized Nexis search of news stories, and you’ll find that the phrase “America is the new Rome” has appeared in dozens of periodicals over the past two years. Some make the comparison to the great empire of the past with pride. Others make it with scorn at imperialism. But the fact is, America has been forced by its size and power to be involved in one way or another with other countries throughout the world.

Just as Rome brought advances in civilization to far-flung parts of the world centuries ago, America’s influence has been for the good in many cases. Women in burkas voted in Afghanistan. Schools and orphanages have been built in Iraq. Our medical advances have helped suffering people all over the world.

But just as Rome brought its own brand of violence and immorality along with its sophisticated civilization, so has America. We brought Afghanistan its first abortion clinic. We brought Iraq its first satellite TV pornography channels. And our biomedical sins are spreading along with our medical advances.

The stories comparing America to Rome often end by warning that the empire was ruined by its own arrogance. But Catholics who have seen the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica know there’s more to the story than simply the empire’s ruin.

Because of the persecuted followers of “the way” whose symbol was the cross, Rome added Christianity to the things it brought the world. Because the “little flock” was unafraid, despite the fierceness of the opposition, the Church took a giant step toward bringing the Gospel to all nations. And the result — Christian Western civilization — has lasted until our time.

Today, Catholics in America are the followers of “the way” who find ourselves citizens of the world’s leading superpower. Our nation’s influence is felt worldwide, but our nation has grown hostile to the culture of life, embraced a permissive morality and unmoored itself from its founding principles.

The details of our situation don’t precisely parallel the early Christians’, but American Catholics’ duty is the same. By transforming America, “the new Rome,” we can do a great deal to help transform the world.

That’s why in this issue, Gus Lloyd begins his occasional look back at what Pope Benedict XVI said to Americans.

When Benedict spoke at the White House, he praised America’s founding principles. At each of his Masses, he reminded us that the Church’s presence in America is the result of the Holy Spirit’s efforts and part of God’s plan.

At Yankee Stadium, he even gave Americans our marching orders: Build the Kingdom of Christ in the world.

“Each day, throughout this land, you and so many of your neighbors pray to the Father in the Lord’s own words: ‘Thy Kingdom come,’” he said. “This prayer needs to shape the mind and heart of every Christian in this nation. It needs to bear fruit in the way you lead your lives and in the way you build up your families and your communities. It needs to create new ‘settings of hope’ where God’s Kingdom becomes present in all its saving power.”

First: Build the Kingdom first in yourself, through a passionate love for Christ that looks at the Church supernaturally. “It means facing the challenges of present and future with confidence in Christ’s victory and a commitment to extending his reign,” he said. “It means not losing heart in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal.”

Second: Build the Kingdom through an integral, authentic life, not a compartmentalized one. “It means overcoming every separation between faith and life, and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness,” he said. “It also means rejecting a false dichotomy between faith and political life, since, as the Second Vatican Council put it, ‘there is no human activity — even in secular affairs — which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion.’”

Third: Build the Kingdom in business, media, science, education — everywhere. “Praying fervently for the coming of the Kingdom,” said the Pope, “also means being constantly alert for the signs of its presence, and working for its growth in every sector of society.”

This is the program God himself has called us to. No election can make it a hopeless effort, just as no election can make it unnecessary.

Now that the noise of the election is over, let the real work begin.