Your Excellency:

This past May, I attended commencement ceremonies at Christendom College, where James, the oldest son of my oldest friend, was graduating with a degree in philosophy.  Some of our fellow countrymen would declare such a degree about as useful as the dresses once modeled by Twiggy.  (Do you remember Twiggy, Bishop?  She was that London anorexic who helped popularize the miniskirt back in the 1960’s, back when God had just quit being an Englishman.)  If we use as our standard for judgment the trashy curricula that have passed for liberal-arts programs these last 50 years, my astute countrymen are justified in considering such a degree worthless.  To paraphrase Churchill: “Never was so much paid out by so many for so little.”  Christendom, however, offers the exception to the rule; it follows a demanding program of studies designed to teach students to think clearly and to live fully human lives.  (By the way, Your Excellency, I feel compelled to add here that my friend considers his son’s degree worthwhile in part because it irritated the devil out of his mother-in-law, a Midwesterner of practical bent who encourages all of her grandchildren to major in accounting or nursing.  If such a lack of charity is a sin worthy of confession, please drop me a note, and I’ll pass it along to my friend.)  At any rate, James will no doubt put his degree to good use in law school this fall.

But I digress.  I wanted to tell you about the speakers at the commencement exercises.  The salutatorian, Maria Newton, delivered an address about the beauties of a Catholic liberal-arts education that would have knocked your miter off.  (My friend says that his mother-in-law nearly cracked a tooth grinding her jaws together.)  This young woman’s demeanor and strength of character magnified the effectiveness of her words; I’d highly recommend her to you should you ever wish to replace the bureaucrats—all of them—in our diocesan office of education.  The valedictorian, Chrissie Walsh, spoke of the opportunity Christendom provided “to learn from the great minds of human history and to discover the perennial truth that provides the answers to man’s most pressing questions.”  I know, I know, Miss Walsh employed politically incorrect gender usage in that statement, yet I’m certain that this fine young lady—Oops!  Is “lady” an acceptable word these days in diocesan lingo?  If not, mea culpa as well, Your Excellency—would also prove a valuable member of your staff.  The president of the college, Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, encouraged students to continue to look to Rome for spiritual and religious guidance, while entrusting their lives to the heart of Jesus.

The main speaker that afternoon, however, was George Cardinal Pell.  His remarks prompted my letter to you.

Cardinal Pell is a tall, shambling Australian who came close to playing professional rugby before entering the priesthood.  Since rugby players from Australia have the reputation of being the Hell’s Kitchen gang in a sport celebrated for its mayhem, broken bones, and massive beer consumption, we may assume that the good cardinal both took and delivered many shots to the head during his years of play.  Perhaps that combination explains why the cardinal had the audacity—Hemingway might have said the cojones—to issue a warning to his audience about Islam.

After congratulating the students on their accomplishments and briefly offering his own high regard for Christendom College, the cardinal stated that he wished to speak about “Christendom’s most enduring enemy, not to rekindle ancient hatreds, but to stress the need for discerning cooperation, to work for progress and coexistence, to avoid disaster.”  The Christendom to which the cardinal referred was not, of course, the college but those lands in which Christians live, while his comments about ancient hatreds had nothing to do with study or exams but with Islam.  (The man behind me kept whispering, “He’s not going there, he’s not going there,” and then, when the cardinal said the I-word, remarked loudly, “He went there!”)

Although he had caught flack the previous month for a similar speech to the Legatus Summit, a group of high-powered Catholic businessmen, Cardinal Pell showed no signs of being silenced by his critics.  He encouraged students and parents to study Islam, to read the Koran, to judge for themselves whether Islam contains a predilection for violence.  He encouraged students to look at the historical record of Islam.  He pointed out that the decreasing birthrates among Europeans—in some countries now at a point of self-extinction—meant that Islam would soon wield even more power from the Atlantic to the Urals.  Finally, he said:

As graduates of Christendom College, you should be people of Christian hope and human optimism.  You should also know what you are discussing and understand the basic issues our world is confronting.  Islamic terrorism is one such issue, and these terrorists want to provoke a clash of civilizations.  As far as possible, we should not oblige them.

Although many Americans from different political and religious backgrounds—the whispering man behind me, to whom I introduced myself at the conclusion of the ceremony, described himself as a “fallen-away Episcopalian”—would agree with the points made by the cardinal, few will ever hear anyone make those points so openly and publicly.  In addressing subjects of great import, our current brood of politicians and preachers generally react as a homeowner who, aware of termites attacking the foundation of his house, closes his eyes in the hope that the termites will simply go away.  (N.B., Your Excellency: Back in the 1960’s, one of my uncles disliked hippies so much that he literally closed his eyes whenever he saw one.  He spotted some hippies in downtown Atlanta one day and wound up under the tires of a Greyhound bus.)

Certain proposals are in order.  Many of my fellow Catholics might take a sort of George W. Bush approach to Islamic violence by stating that Islam is really a religion of peace and that we’re willing to kill as many Muslims as it takes to keep it that way.  We might encourage these advocates to join the military.  I was wondering if we should not look in other directions as well.  Has the Church ever considered recruiting Her own platoons of suicide bombers?  Given Church teachings regarding suicide, we’d need to change the name; perhaps we could call our bombers “helpers,” as in “we are helping Muslims reach Allah.”  Those heretical Catholics who advocate assisted suicide and “mercy killing” would make excellent “helpers,” especially since they are already convinced that the planet has too many people.  And how about a new crusade?  With another change of name—we could call our crusaders “tourists”—we could dispatch planeload after planeload of “tourists” to the Holy Land, the Sudan, and other places around the world where Muslims are persecuting Christians.  These “tourists” could smuggle in crucifixes and Bibles, which they would then distribute to the population.  They could organize and lead peaceful protests.  We could require our elderly participants to dress as they do for Mass—the old women in trousers or sweatpants, the men in sweatpants or shorts—so as to offend Muslim sensibilities.  Such excursions might also provide a marvelous opportunity for our liturgical dancers to engage in a sort of street theater, a spectacle certain to arouse the keen interest of Islamic men on the streets of Tehran or Cairo.  The subsequent assault by Muslims on Christians might turn the rest of the world against Islam.  Many “tourists,” especially the dancers, would be martyred, of course, and though we couldn’t promise 40 virgins on their entrance into Heaven, you could possibly grant all deceased “tourists” some sort of massive indulgence.  (We’d better keep that one a secret from the Lutherans.)

All right, all right, Your Excellency: enough of the jokes.  Assuming that we want to keep our eyes open, and assuming that we don’t want to go the route of our fellow Catholics and Christians in Europe (the only alternative left to those poor fools, other than donning burqas and celebrating Ramadan, is an at-home crusade of some sort, which is about as likely as a Bourbon Restoration), it occurred to me that you and your fellow bishops could have some impact on this issue.  Incidentally, I wouldn’t recommend trying to make a political impact; you’ve lost all legitimacy on Capitol Hill.  A priest in our parish who recently spoke of the bishops’ initiatives regarding illegal immigration was met with silence and amusement.  “Who listens to the bishops anymore?” one man said.

Still, you shepherds might consider for your own flocks a few of the measures suggested by Cardinal Pell.  First, he encouraged Catholics to know their own Faith.  Though some progress in this area has been made, most Catholics remain abysmally ignorant of Christian doctrine.  Recently, for instance, an acquaintance of mine attended a confirmation ceremony in Poughkeepsie, New York, where the priest spent most of his homily telling the confirmands why they should not take drugs.  “He told them about things they could understand,” she said, “not all this theology.”  Her remarks bring to mind Beethoven’s knock at the gate: dumb-dumb-dumb dumb. The mere fact that the Church has spent so much time this past year trying to counteract the effects of The Da Vinci Code should speak volumes about the supreme ignorance of today’s Catholics.  When I die, I don’t think God’s going to hold me personally responsible for that ignorance, but I suspect he’s going to look long and hard at the dossiers of some of your comrades.

You bishops might also heed Cardinal Pell and teach us the history of Islam.  We are aware of the bloodthirsty Christian Crusaders—much of that information is false or one-sided, but we’ll let that go—but how many of your flock know even the most basic facts about Islam’s savage attacks on Christianity?  How many Catholics know that Muhammad planned more than 50 military campaigns, mostly against other Arabs, and personally led some 20 of them?  How many know that North Africa, the Middle East, and Turkey were once Christian, but fell prey to Muslim invasions?  How many have heard of Tours, of the sack and burning of Monte Cassino, of the hundreds of thousands of Christians enslaved by Muslims over the last 1,400 years?  How many of your flock could tell you anything at all about the Reconquista in Spain, the siege of Constantinople, the battle of Lepanto?  Ignorance may be bliss, Your Excellency, but it can also be a sword in the heart.

Third, the American bishops should vigorously denounce Muslim attacks on Christians.  Every day of the year, somewhere in the world, Muslims are persecuting Christians; intimidating them; burning their cars, their homes, their churches; raping them; enslaving and killing them.  Local bishops and the Vatican decry these crimes, but how many times are they mentioned from the altars of American churches?  Around the globe, various Muslim organizations, sometimes with the connivance of national governments, carry out heinous, bloody acts, yet most Catholics seem oblivious to the point of stupidity to this ongoing violence.

Finally, the Church might actively promote large families again.  We live in a strange society in which we drive SUVs and enormous vans, and build houses double in size from those of our grandparents, yet American families are barely reproducing themselves.  Surely, those large houses, big cars, and the popularity of such movies as Cheaper By the Dozen would tend to affirm a dream on the part of many Americans for a return to larger families.  If the old axiom holds true (The side with the most babies wins), then demographics strongly suggests that we will soon say goodbye to secular Israeli governments, to most nations of Western Europe, and to Mexico (if only because most Mexicans will be living in the United States).  We in the United States still have the time and opportunity for dealing with these issues.

While many women who now wear sweatpants to Wal-Mart might look better in burqas, and while the waistlines of American men and women might also benefit from fasting during Ramadan, I’m not content to go to my grave knowing that my grandchildren may be forced to recite “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.”  I remain partial to a longer, more ancient Creed, the one that includes Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the one that stresses the Communion of Saints, the one that is True.

Inshallah, Bishop, as our Muslim friends might say.  But I much prefer Deus tecum.  Keeping you in my prayers,

Joe Ecclesia