Reflections on the Past Twenty Years
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I wish all readers of this article a happy new decade. It's hard to believe we've recently entered the "Twenties," since my maternal grandparents were born in the 1920s almost one hundred years ago. This milestone is a good time to pause and reflect on the direction of the Church, our country and our world during the first twenty years of the twenty-first century.
From the Jubilee Year 2000 to 2019, the Catholic Church generally prospered under the courageous leadership of three saintly Popes: Saint John Paul II "the Great", Benedict XVI and Francis. Despite major differences in personality, style, and emphasis arising from their different backgrounds and training, there has been a great continuity among the Polish, German, and Argentinian pontiffs in their unwavering focus on Christ and His Gospel; the clarity of their teaching on the essential doctrines of the Faith; and their efforts toward administrative and spiritual reform of the Roman Curia and the Church generally.
While disturbing revelations of sexual abuse of children and youth by some Catholic priests and cover-up by a few bishops in the second half of the twentieth century cast a shadow over the Church throughout the world, these same revelations led to the establishment of new Church policies and structures that contributed to a drastic reduction in abuse incidents in the U.S. during this period. Additionally, during the late 2010s, dissident pressure groups and the secular media ignited an unfortunate controversy within the Church in the U.S. and elsewhere over the meaning and application of certain passages in Pope Francis' beautiful apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), leading millions of faithful Catholics to erroneously believe that Francis wants to change the Church's moral teachings or is unfit for office.
Despite these problems, the Church overall has been thriving. In the U.S., the majority of bishops have been saintly men and nearly all have remained faithful to the Magisterium. We saw the beginning of the end of the chronic priest shortage as orthodox seminaries across America were packed with increasing numbers of holy young men each year and the number of priestly ordinations began to steadily increase. Faithful religious women such as the Nashville Dominicans also grew substantially in number. The number of lay faithful has continued to grow with each Easter Vigil. EWTN expanded its media apostolate by acquiring the National Catholic Register in 2011 and adding tens of millions of new radio listeners and TV viewers. Worldwide, the Church added about 300 million new members during the past twenty years, the majority of them in Africa.
Our country enjoyed an economic boom from 2000 to 2007 during the Bush administration which was followed by the stock market crash of 2008 and resulting Great Recession which was prolonged by the Obama administration's high taxes and increased government regulation of businesses. Lower taxes and less regulation contributed to economic growth and historically low unemployment during the first three years of the Trump administration. While the standard of living generally increased with nearly every American enjoying Internet access, a cell phone and flat screen TV, corporate greed and the failure of wages to keep pace with cost of living increases contributed to the dismemberment of the middle class, and the national debt swelled from $2 trillion to $20 trillion.
The growth of major corporations such as Dollar General, Wal-Mart, Lowe's and The Home Depot forced tens of thousands of small businesses to close by flooding the U.S. market with cheap goods imported from China and other foreign countries. However, a popular movement to support American manufacturers by buying American made products had gained steam by the end of the 2010s, with President Trump replacing NAFTA with USMCA to discourage the outsourcing of American manufacturing. And fueled by growing demand, the organic food and renewable energy industries saw significant growth during the past two decades.
Politically, our country has grown more and more divided from the contested presidential election of 2000 to the futile attempt by House Democrats to impeach President Trump in late 2019. Corrupt Republican and Democratic members of Congress have proven incapable of bipartisan collaboration on a host of pressing issues from abortion and religious freedom to healthcare and the environment to immigration and foreign policy. Unable or unwilling to peaceably discuss and work with their colleagues across the aisle, they've resorted to scoring whatever legislative or judicial victories they can scrape for their own side and either violently attacking or quietly distancing themselves from the opposition. Millions of frustrated Americans espousing traditional Judeo-Christian values created the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party in 2009, many of whose candidates were swept into state and national office in the gubernatorial, senatorial and Congressional elections of 2010 and 2014.
Religiously and morally, our country has become increasingly less Christian under the pervasive influence of militant secularism. Christians are still a large majority of the population, but their percentage has gradually declined while the percentage of nonreligious individuals has grown into double digits and Satanism and the occult have become more popular. In 2000, freedom of religion as protected by the First Amendment was sacrosanct, but just ten years later, under pressure from the abortion cartel and pharmaceutical and insurance giants, the Obama administration was requiring abortion and contraception to be part of "healthcare coverage" regardless of religious or moral objection to these anti-life practices.
During his visit to the U.S. in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI had warned that radical secularism would lead to an attack on religious liberty, and Pope Francis repeatedly highlighted the importance of religious freedom and met briefly with Kim Davis and the Little Sisters of the Poor during his own tour of the U.S. in 2015. The ObamaCare assault on our first freedom provoked a well-organized religious liberty campaign led by our bishops during the 2010s, including an annual Fortnight for Freedom, that led ultimately to the reversal of Obama's HHS mandate and many other anti-religious regulations by the Trump administration.
The confident exuberance and idealistic optimism for world peace, freedom, and prosperity that marked the beginning of the third millennium, nicely encapsulated in the Ford Millennium Anthem "Just Wave Hello," soon proved ill-founded. The shocking destruction of the World Trade Center's iconic Twin Towers by Middle Eastern terrorists on September 11, 2001 and subsequent terrorist attacks all over the world; the U.S. invasion of Iraq against the urgent advice of Pope John Paul II; the unabated continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the ongoing exodus of Christians from the Holy Land; the U.S. support for ISIS that led to its occupation of the Nineveh Plain in 2014 with subsequent murder and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians and Muslims and the destruction of dozens of ancient churches and monasteries; widespread drug and human trafficking in Central America; civil wars over natural resources in several African countries; brutal Communist repression in China; and North Korea's nuclear weapons tests were just a few symptoms of the pervasive lack of peace and freedom in our twenty-first century world.
Nor was global prosperity so easy to achieve as it seemed, although the spectacular advance of digital technology has led to nearly everyone on earth owning at least one cell phone and the rise of social media has interconnected us as never before. As John Paul II and other twentieth-century Popes predicted in their social encyclicals, transnational capitalism and free trade driven mainly by greed and untethered from moral and ethical considerations have led to the exploitation of cheap labor, economic instability, enormous gaps between rich and poor within the same nation, social unrest, emigration, and environmental degradation. Famine, poverty, and starvation are still common in many countries, and tens of millions of people have left the Third World in search of gainful employment here and in Europe. Benedict XVI's masterful 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) features a penetrating analysis of these problems and beautifully explains why truth and love are essential to a healthy global economy.
Meanwhile, most European countries have largely succumbed to the forces of radical secularism and hedonism, with weekly church attendance in the single digits and their native populations in dramatic decline due to widespread abortion, euthanasia, and the unpopularity of marriage and traditional family life.
Notable changes from historic climate patterns were observed around the world from 2000 to 2019, but the main source of climate change was obscured by thick clouds of "global warming" propaganda and dire warnings of an impending man-made climate emergency. By virtue of its massive size and tremendous energy output, the sun is the dominant influence on earth's weather, beside which all other influences combined, including human CO2 output, are minor. Astronomers have noticed a general decline in solar activity, including a reduced number of sunspots, during this period. And NASA climate satellites have recorded a 3/10 of a degree drop in Earth's average global temperature from 1998 to 2017. Observed changes in solar activity have been the primary cause of climatic changes during the past twenty years.
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The truth about the dramatic First World honeybee die-off of the past two decades has been similarly concealed. The blame for Colony Collapse Disorder is usually pinned on a certain class of pesticides, even though their use has declined greatly with the spread of organic farming practices across North America and Europe during this period. The fact is that the proliferation of cell phones and other wireless technology has disrupted normal hive activity, killing honeybees in droves. This is painfully obvious from the fact that honeybees have remained abundant in the ever fewer and shrinking parts of our country and the world where cell phone service is still absent.
To summarize, the overall picture we see here is a mixed bag, with the Church on the whole doing well and our country and our world faring rather poorly. Yet perhaps the most significant negative aspect of the past twenty years is that many of us have been so caught up in the daily newsfeed that we've lost a sense of perspective on the bigger picture, where we've come from and where we're heading, and we're ignoring or forgetting the valuable lessons history has to teach us about our current problems. The Bible says that without a vision, the people perish. In this regard, I heartily recommend Fr. George Rutler's book Calm in Chaos: Catholic Wisdom for Anxious Times.
All of the above mentioned problems in the Church, our country, and the world at large can be traced back to human failure to observe the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor. As Pope Benedict said, when we exalt ourselves above God, when we exclude Him as irrelevant, we succumb to the dictatorship of radical secularism. And as Pope Francis said, when we exalt ourselves above our neighbor, we fall prey to the cancer of indifference.
Pundits and interested parties too often exaggerate the gravity of today's problems, forgetting or ignoring the fact that our loving God, who created us, redeems us, sanctifies us, and sustains us in existence at every moment, knows all of our problems and their root causes intimately and is ready to help us resolve them if we humbly turn to Him and request His assistance. When asked what's wrong with the world, G.K. Chesterton famously quipped, "I am!" And Saint Pio of Pietrelcina declared that the solution to all the world's problems is personal holiness. The future of the Church, our country, and our world will be brighter if many of us answer the call to daily conversion, thus radiating the light of faith, hope, and love into the darkness of doubt, despair, and hatred.
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