National Catholic Register

Opinion

America, the New Rome

BY Jim Cosgrove

November 7-13, 2004 Issue | Posted 11/7/04 at 12:00 PM

 

Now that the election is over, the real work begins.

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. 7 at all.

But maybe this isn't a disadvantage after all. Maybe it gives us clarity.

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 beware 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.

In his 2001 apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium) Pope John Paul II unveiled his plan for the Church in the new millennium. He mentioned it in nearly every “ad limina” address he made this year to American bishops reporting to Rome.

The Holy Father is calling for a creative, vigorous and wide-scale promotion of the fundamentals of Catholic life: Sunday Mass, confession, prayer and community service. These basic practices are simple to explain, they are an easy sell for most people, and, when followed, they transform lives. The Pope has pressed them in many ways — most recently by declaring this “The Year of the Eucharist.”

The fruits he hopes to see from his plan include nothing less than a new Christian millennium.

We, the citizens of “the new Rome,” are the front lines of that forward march — after this election, more than ever.