I trust you are in robust spirits as you face the rigors of the Christmas season. Surely, nowhere is there greater evidence that sin is a good wrongly twisted than in the manner in which we Americans celebrate Christmas. Contrary to our Church’s teaching, which emphasizes the penitential and preparatory aspects of Advent, many Catholics (like other Americans) spend December shopping like mall rats, eating and drinking like sybarites, and dashing from party to party like girls during a sorority rush. Is it any wonder so many celebrants are delighted to see the backside of Christmas? On the Feast of Stephen, brigades of holiday-weary women hurl denuded conifers curbside for pickup, while strong, otherwise stoic men weep at kitchen tables over smoldering credit cards. Christmastide, that garland of feast days leading to Epiphany when our hearts should be riotous with celebration, finds many of us staggering and wan, debilitated as bachelor uncles after a month-long bender.
Here, Your Excellency, you deserve our thanks. Every Advent, you and your fellow priests remind us to make Christmas more than a bacchanal of department stores and gluttony.
Speaking of reminders: One of our parish priests gave yet another homily on the Catholic obligation to applaud the ongoing invasion of the United States. About once a month, Father beats us about the head with facts and fantasies regarding immigration. (He never uses the word illegal.) Last Sunday, he presented the standard arguments for open borders: We are a nation of immigrants; our economy would collapse without immigrants; immigrants do jobs Americans won’t do. He ended with the theological right bower, reminding us that the poor will enter Heaven more easily than the rich. (A question, Your Excellency: If being poor is a virtue, why are we trying to eliminate poverty? I often give my pocket change to street beggars; am I keeping souls from Heaven?) Father also pointed us toward a recent statement from the Most Reverend William Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in which you and your fellow bishops support Father’s position.
Accustomed to Father’s one-sided arguments and his attacks on the fascists and bigots in the pews—i e., white folks—I confess I paid scant attention to his homily. Only when he mentioned the Catholic ideal of a living wage did I perk up, attuned not to his remarks on immigration but to his abuse of language and reason. Didn’t he realize that immigrants help to keep wages low?
Wondering whether Bishop Skylstad’s missive was equally illogical, I found the statement on comprehensive immigration reform on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website (usccb.org). Praiseworthy for its brevity (it isn’t quite 300 words) and general clarity (Churchese is minimized), this “statement” is nonetheless lacking in fairness and diction. Archbishop Skylstad writes that you bishops have heard from many people, including Catholics, who oppose the flood of illegal immigrants, but he never cites the reasons for their opposition. He writes that we must practice compassion toward immigrants but doesn’t address the plight of thousands of workers here in Western North Carolina—and the millions nationwide—whose jobs went to Mexico or China. He advocates fairness but doesn’t mention the financial distress of a Mexican-American in California whose construction company must compete with cheap illegal labor. He demands a better life for immigrants but doesn’t hint at the burden placed on taxpayers by the increased cost of social services and schools.
This lack of fairness and charity are reflected in the document’s offenses against the English language. The writers of this “statement”—only a committee could compose prose this awful—prefer the passive to the active voice, a voice favored by politicians (and, apparently, bishops) to escape responsibility for their actions. The writers haul out certain catch phrases (my favorite is “the human person,” an expression favored by our late pontiff that now appears routinely in Church missives. Human person as opposed to what? Squirrel persons? Inhuman persons? The Three Persons of the Holy Trinity? What in the name of Strunk & White do you mean?) In an ugly use of the adverb, the writers tell us our immigration policy needs “to be reformed urgently,” though they don’t explain why you bishops have waited 40 years to demand urgent reform. Is it because most Americans now oppose illegal immigration? The writers state that “the status quo is morally unacceptable” without telling us what the “status quo” is. Finally, the authors write with a smug, sanctimonious tone inimical to Christian debate.
After glancing at some other dreadfully composed USCCB documents, let me make a suggestion, Your Excellency. Go online and search for George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” Distribute copies of this essay to your staff. Mail them to your fellow bishops. Many will be sympathetic, at least before they read the essay, for, like them, Orwell was a lefty. The difference between him and many lefty Church bureaucrats is that Orwell had the guts to call a lie a lie when he heard one. After citing examples of dishonest writing in what he called “a catalogue of swindles and perversions,” Orwell discusses at length why “political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness.”
Much the same can be said of ecclesiastical language. From the loophole-riddled documents of Vatican II to the bloated, ineffectual statements of the USCCB, the Church has often sown discord and confusion in the place of Truth. Given this failing, I might also recommend the USCCB hire someone trained in grammar and logic to vet its written pronouncements. Perhaps then more people might begin listening to you again.
Wishing you a Blessed Advent,