-St. Thomas Aquinas
"You blame me for poverty, yet you took from me the endowments for my hospitals, my orphanages, my countless works of mercy. You blame me for ignorance, yet you closed my schools, and stole my colleges, the first to light the torch of learning on this continent...Show me one genius for whom I was not responsible. Show me one step toward the light that I did not help you to make. Take out of your country all that I put in it, and see what remains."
-U.S. Bishops: 1926 Pastoral Letter (An address to the Communist government in Mexico)
Witnessing Against a Species of Violence was originally posted in December of 2011 but since then it has been revised. Some sections below were taken from a previous post on Our Lady of Guadalupe and other sections were just recently added.
As the U.S. Federal government clamps down on depriving the Catholic Church of her liberties, it is important to recall similar injustices of the past, the heroic witnesses which followed and the contributions Catholicism has made to civilization. It is equally important to understand what forces undermine civilization.
Once Great: Mexico
Few know today that Mexico went from being a culture of death- with its cult of human sacrifices before before Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in 1531 -to a culture marked by progress not unlike America and England. What caused the downfall of Mexico is poised to undermine America; that is, if we are not vigilant.
Take for instance, the early 1800’s. The lot of Mexican Indians at this time was comparable to their northern neighbor, the Americans. Catholic missionaries had managed to build a culture no less impressive than what had been achieved on the North American continent up to that point. The U.S. Bishops, in their 1926 Pastoral Letter, provided examples to this effect:
• To Mexico goes the glory of the first book, the first printing press, the first school, the first college, and the first university in the New World, and to Mexico's Catholic missionaries should go her gratitude for these distinctions
• Indeed, the building of hospitals and orphanages seems to have been the favorite work of many bishops, who paid for them out of the revenues not needed for the support of their households and the Cost of managing their large dioceses. The hospitals in particular were the best that the times knew and superior to those of Europe.
• Bishop Zumarraga went is indicated by one of his letters to the King of Spain written in 1537: "That which occupies my thoughts, to which my will is most inclined and my small forces Strive, is that in this city and in every diocese there shall be a college for Indian boys learning grammar at least, and a great establishment with room for a large number of the daughters of the Indians."
• Foundation of this college was the Indian's original and most effective methods of instruction. Among orators, an Indian bishop, Nicolas del Puerto, holds a place of distinction.
• A bibliography of the books written by Mexicans before the First Revolution fills many large volumes and in it the Indian has no small place. To whom the credit? To the Church which the Mexican government informs the world gave nothing to its country.
• At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Mexico had proportionally more colleges and more students in them, as well as less illiteracy, than even Great Britain, a testimony given her by a writer in a recent number of a London magazine [i.e. around 1926].
“Why, then,” the U.S. Bishops asked, “did Mexico advance to such a high place from the depths of savagery, there stop and begin to retrograde, while the United States went on and climbed to her present eminence?” Guilt must be assigned to anti-religious, communistic revolutionaries. The Pastoral Letter continues: “Ask that question of the closed university, the suppressed colleges, the empty schools, the confiscated monasteries and convents, students scattered in other lands, the muzzled press, the Laws of Reform, the sword, the gun, the violated ballot box.” Again, the U.S. Bishops do us the favor of summarizing the events which led to Mexico’s downfall:
• The history of the decline of education in Mexico begins with the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1761…College after college had to be given up, most of them closed by the predecessors of President Calles. Gomez Farias closed the University of Mexico, the first university on this continent, in 1833. Reopened by Catholics, it was closed again by Comonfort in 1857. Again reopened one year later, Juarez closed it in 1861. The Liberal Cabinet of the weak Maximilian put an end to it in 1865. Later it descended to about the grade of a high school and, with some exceptions in certain departments, it has scarcely more than that rank today.
• In two generations, she had lost what three centuries of peace and cultivation had won for her; her churches seized; her wealth, formerly dedicated to education and social welfare, turned over to the looter. The worst elements rose to power and for them power was merely the road to riches. The subversive Jacobin doctrines [from the French Revolution], an evil legacy carried like a taint in the blood from generation to generation, yet prevail; but the buildings of the Church, monuments of education and social betterment, still stand, changed, alas, to other and often ignoble uses. Solidly, often beautifully constructed, many remain as barracks, prisons, hotels, and offices.
• The Constitution of 1857 declared the union of Church and State to be dissolved.
• While Mexico's "patriots" destroyed and ate up her own substance and sold her birthright as, one by one, her schools were closed, her teachers driven out, and her welfare institutions turned over to other uses. Many of these were sold at nominal prices to enrich the families of the revolutionists.
• Those that stand today are monuments to a zeal and devotion that promised great things for the Mexican people, but which is now fast becoming a memory of a light that once astonished by its brilliancy and power; for the early progress of Mexico under the care of its missionaries was the admiration of the world. But figures speak louder than words.
• In fact, such laws [depriving its citizens of civil and religious liberties] hark back to paganism. Were they to prevail they would show civil society to have been marching, not in advance, but in a circle; and again arriving, in this our day, at the point from which it started with the dawn of Christianity.
It is good for us to know that what the Church had built-up can be torn down and what has been found by Christ can be lost again. As Hilaire Belloc and T.S. Eliot both admitted, once a civilization has ascended the mountain of God to learn his truth and experience his goodness only to descend from that summit afterwards, the attempt to reverse course is ever so difficult. In fact, climbing the mountain for the first time is much easier than turning around and going back up it a second time.
Mexico could have been a great nation. Its history serves as a lesson for America’s survival. What made Mexico great during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is what made America great: The cause of greatness was none of other than the light of the Gospel. But what is equally important to know is that the winds which fiercely blew against Mexico, bringing it down to almost a third-world country status, are the very winds which blow threw America today.
The U.S. Pastoral Letter: Mexico's Crisis
Below are excerpts from a Pastoral Letter penned by the U.S. Bishops in 1926. This was in defense of the Catholic Church in Mexico. During this period a fury of persecution was unleashed against the Church, particularly against the clergy, by the Communist government in Mexico. The passages below are not necessarily in the sequence in which it was originally written. Nonetheless, the U.S. Bishops, in solidarity with the Mexican Bishops, powerfully express the strength of the Catholic spirit in these quotes.
The resolute Catholic spirit is not only palpable in this letter but a year later it was manifested through the martyrdom of Blessed Fr. Miguel Pro. With great love and courage it was he who raised his arms in form of a Cross and shouted, "Viva Christo Rey" just moments before he was shot to death. It just so happen that not too many days before his martyrdom he offered his life to God for his beloved country Mexico when he was celebrating Mass. As he was standing behind the altar, offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass along with his own sacrifice, he got the distinct feeling our Lord accepted his offer. The painting of his heroic witness is featured on this post.
You will notice that this letter captures the manly spirit of those spiritual leaders of yesterday. And with this manliness there was a confidence in the Church's contribution to Mexican culture and a confidence in their indictment against the Communist regime in Mexico and their guilt in human cruelty. Such a confidence is needed today.
Excerpts: Pastoral Letter of 1926
"If the gaining of the whole world does not recompense the individual for the loss of his soul, then what shall it profit a nation?
The power of the State, coming from God, may be bestowed by the people, but when thus bestowed, it does not and cannot include what is not within the competency of the State to accept. Had God ordained the rule of the State over the soul and conscience, He would have given the State the means to direct conscience and control the operations of the soul, since He gives means to the end. The sanctuary of the soul and of conscience the State cannot invade.
A French writer on social science said that "Private initiative begins where the intervention of power ends." In Mexico it is proposed never to permit it to begin since the power of the State is to have no end. Yet the State owes all its progress and success to the individual. All advance in education, for example, such as the science of pedagogy, the planning of methods, the proper division of studies, the balanced curriculum, are the contributions of individuals.
For the sad days of decline, the Church, forbidden by law to teach and robbed of the means to carry on her mission of enlightenment, has only to show her chains, and say to her enemies:
You blame me for poverty, yet you took from me the endowments for my hospitals, my orphanages, my countless works of mercy. You blame me for ignorance, yet you closed my schools, and stole my colleges, the first to light the torch of learning on this continent. You say that I have added nothing to science and art, but you destroyed the art I brought with me and developed, burned my books and scattered the results of my labor for science to the four winds of heaven. You blame me for lawlessness, yet you destroyed my missions among a peaceful and thriving Indian population, and gave to them, in place of Christ's Gospel, the thirty pieces of silver with which you bribed them to murder their fellows. You took the cross out of their hands to replace it with a torch and a gun. Show me one good thing in Mexico I did not give you. Show me one genius for whom I was not responsible. Show me one step toward the light that I did not help you to make. Take out of your country all that I put in it, and see what remains. You may thrust me out, exile my bishops, murder my priests, again steal my schools and desecrate my sanctuaries, but you cannot blot out history, you cannot erase the mark I made on you—not in a century of centuries.
The Church is not fated to die, but she has learned how to suffer. With Him she will be crucified but with Him also she will rise.
From end to end of the earth the answer to the appeal of [Pope] Pius goes upward to the throne of God. The hatred of men may spurn it. The malice of men may curse it. The unbelief of men may mock it. But its hope is in a Promise and its power is in a Faith."