Guest blogger: On ‘Defying the Culture of Contempt’

Guest blogger: On ‘Defying the Culture of Contempt’ October 11, 2019

“Aided and abetted by social media, our Culture of Contempt threatens to consume us all.”

This is a message more need to hear. 

Some background:

Each lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem hosts days of formation to help deepen the faith, spirituality and commitment of its members. The Eastern Lieutenancy of the United States hosts such days in Advent and Lent, and just prior to the Investiture and Promotion ceremonies held each Autumn in New York City.

On Friday, October 4 at the Church of Our Saviour on Park Avenue, several hundred people participated, receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation, hearing two speakers offering reflections, and attending sung Vespers in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.

The rector of New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Msgr. Robert Ritchie, spoke of Francis and his role as a reformer and a builder, and the need for a Francis in the church today.

The second address was given by my colleague and friend, CNEWA’s Communications Director, Michael La Civita, a knight grand cross of the order and a member of its board.

Michael shared his remarks with me and I repost them here, as a guest blog, with his kind permission.

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“The planet is heating. Island nations are slipping away. A Pakistan-India nuclear war could be a ‘bloodbath.’ Governments aren’t working together like they used to. Polarization is tearing us apart. Killing. Migration. Poverty. Corruption. Inequality. Sovereignty violations. Helplessness. Hopelessness. …

“There are those mornings when you come into work and everyone seems cranky. That’s how it felt at the United Nations this past week during the annual gathering of world leaders,” writes the AP’s Ted Anthony. “Speech after gloomy speech by leaders from all corners of the planet pointed toward one bleaker-than-thou conclusion:

“Humanity clearly needs a spa day.”

For most of us sitting in the pews of this church, the fact that the world is in a really bad mood is of no surprise. As Catholics and as Americans, we feel it keenly as the fibers that thread together our global church and our diverse nation are unraveling, pitting family members, parishioners and communities against one another. Aided and abetted by social media, our Culture of Contempt threatens to consume us all.

But we can change that — today, now — in this very church, and once we pass through its doors. And while this church is not exactly a day spa, it is the perfect venue for what we can do to stop and even reverse what some see as inevitable — irreparable schisms in our church, in our society and in our nation — divisions that aid “all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

Frankly, we do not have a choice. For the antidotes needed to cure this contempt are the Christian virtues the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem expects from each of us as knights and dames when answering this unique call of service to the Lord and his church.

There are three, in particular, that leap to mind:

 First, Self-Renunciation. This is an easy one. We live in a culture driven by success. In a sense, we have been invited to join the order because of our particular successes, be they economic, professional or social.

And yet, the order expects us to cultivate spiritually a specific form of self-discipline and witness; “a zeal for self-renunciation,” comments our lieutenancy’s own Msgr. Robert L. Stern, in an unpublished paper on the order. “This includes cultivating an interior disposition of detachment, a willingness to subordinate one’s personal interests to the needs of others and the common good, and a notable generosity in the utilization of one’s material and spiritual resources, talents, influence, time and energy for others.”

I want to focus on the phrase, the “willingness to subordinate one’s personal interests to the needs of others and the common good.” This may be the most challenging goal to work toward in our day — it is for me. Self-renunciation requires humility, discerning the differences between fact and opinion, acknowledging the existence of our own prejudices all while adopting patience and generosity of the other. It is the very opposite of what has contributed to the rise of the Culture of Contempt, which is alive and well in social media, planting suspicions, fueling conspiracies and sowing discord.

The Order of the Holy Sepulchre is a unique association of the Catholic faithful closely linked to the Holy See. As members, we take a vow of loyalty to the bishop of Rome — the pope — and in doing so we respect and honor the historic governing structures of the order, from the role and person of the cardinal grand master to our lieutenants and diocesan representatives. Even should we as individuals disagree with an individual in leadership, we have an obligation to subordinate our personal interests and thoughts on the matter for the greater good of the church and for the sake of her unity.

We are called to self-renunciation.

Second, Generosity. Today, in our Culture of Contempt, the once legendary generosity of the average American donor is eroding, especially for causes and people in need outside our borders. According to Charity Navigator, in the last few years, giving to international charities has decreased by 4.4 percent to nearly $23 billion (or 6 percent) of all donations collected in the States. And yet, our order requires us to deepen our aid to the most vulnerable and less fortunate, especially for those in the Holy Land. “The exercise of this virtue,” writes Msgr. Stern, “includes material, moral and spiritual assistance to the poor, to those without resources, voice, or means, and to those who are oppressed and lacking the means to defend themselves and their rights.”

Who are “those without resources, voice, or means,” and “those who are oppressed and lacking the means to defend themselves and their rights?” What do we mean by the Holy Land?

First, the Catholic Church considers the Holy Land to be more than Israel, Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territories, but includes parts of Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, too. And while historically the Order of the Holy Sepulchre has focused its support for the works of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, our mandate has been expanded by the Holy See to embrace all of the Holy Land, and to collaborate with others in our advocacy and support of the churches and peoples in need in the broader Holy Land.

And so, with profound gratitude to our members worldwide, our order has provided, for example, safe environments for the infants and toddlers of migrant workers in Israel, providing their parents with counseling and faith formation and legal advice; rushed emergency relief to displaced Iraqi and Syrian Christian families living in limbo in Jordan and Lebanon; awarded scholarships to deserving Palestinian students seeking a Catholic university education at the Holy See’s own Bethlehem University; and renovated Jerusalem’s St. Louis Hospital, among the only venues left in the Holy City where Christians, Muslims and Jews may be found together, receiving medical care, visiting ailing family members and comforting one another.

Third, Courage. What we do as knights and dames of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre is countercultural, particularly in this Culture of Contempt, especially for the weak. It takes courage to advocate for the human rights of every person, especially migrants, refugees and oppressed minorities. It takes courage to be engaged in the struggle for justice and peace. It takes courage to seek equal justice under the law, and security for the lives of all people in the Holy Land.

In effect, striving to live the virtues of self-renunciation, generosity and courage — as outlined by and expressed through the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem — counters much of what has contributed to the rise of the Culture of Contempt, and may blunt its long-term impact on the global church, our diverse nation and our fracturing world.

Conclusion. As members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, our gifts of prayer, financial aid and moral presence symbolize our own powerful witness to the Gospel in action in the Holy Land. The churches in the Middle East — although at times under siege and perhaps even reduced — live out the Gospel of Jesus with love and zeal, fostering dialogue where communication has broken down; urging forgiveness and reconciliation instead of vengeance; and offering hope to those who have lost everything.

As modern knights and dames of the Holy Sepulchre — as soldiers of Christ — we no longer engage in battle with Muslims or Jews or Orthodox Christians. We no longer draw physical swords or thrust lances. But we are very much engaged in a spiritual war; our enemies are the divisive and evil spirits behind the Culture of Contempt. But together as knights and dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, we can defy evil by striving to live out the virtues of self-renunciation, generosity and courage.


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