July 30, 2007
Reading Paul Weyrich’s article today on Hugo Chavez’s crackdown on the Venezuelan media, and our “free” media’s reaction to it, brought to mind an event from my first term at Michigan State. Our campus parish, like most Catholic parishes around colleges and universities, was unabashedly leftist; still, I was going there for the Eucharist, not the politics, so I tried to shut out all of the nonessentials.
This particular Sunday, however, I couldn’t do so. The pastor announced that ten percent of the Sunday collection would, as always, be donated to a “worthy charity”; this week, that “worthy charity” was the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Giving a tithe to a murderous leftist regime was bad enough, but what really made my blood boil was the fact that Daniel Ortega’s government had, that very week, shut down the independent Catholic radio station—an important focus of opposition to the Sandinistas. I left that church (and, sadly, left the Church, though only for a month) before the Mass had ended, without receiving Communion.
Coming of age politically in the tail end of President Carter’s term, I was wrapped up in debates over Nicaragua. This event, and others, had convinced me that the United States, because of the role that we had played in the overthrow of Somoza, had a moral obligation to the people of Nicaragua to rid them of the Sandinistas. It took me years to realize why I was wrong.
In the West, we tend to place pride as the first of the seven deadly sins. (In the East, it’s usually gluttony or acedia (sloth).) That means that true repentance requires, always, a certain humility. Good confessors know that, when a man can undo the damage wrought by his sin, he should, and they will ask him to; but they also know that, sometimes, he cannot do so, and encouraging the delusion that he can is likely simply to confirm the sinner in his pride, which will lead to further sin.
What’s true of men is true of nations, and the problem in Nicaragua in the 80’s, and Iraq today, is our prideful insistence that we can set right that which we messed up. We couldn’t then, and we can’t now, and all that our refusal to admit, in humility, that we cannot put Humpty Dumpty together again is likely to bring is more death, destruction, and chaos. Pulling out of Iraq is one bad option among many bad options; the action can be redeemed, however, if it becomes an opportunity for the United States to grow in humility. Then, perhaps, we’ll be less likely in the future to rush in where angels fear to tread.
As, for instance, into Venezuela.