Rorate Caeli

Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost: Lack of Virility source of Clergy's & Society's problems

Pietro & Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius (detail), 1619
Galleria Borghese
by Fr. Richard G. Cipolla

Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:24)

Book IV of the Aeneid is probably the most read and the most remembered of the twelve books of this seminal work in Western civilization  For it tells of the affair, the love-infatuation, between Aeneas, the man destined to found Rome,  and Dido, the founder and queen of Carthage.  How many thousands upon thousands of Latin students through centuries have translated these lines of great passion and betrayal and heroism?  And what most of these students have learned from Book IV is about the terrible choice in life for a man: the choice between the comfort and genuine love within a relationship with a woman whose greatness is strongly delineated by Virgil, and the calling to be the hero that founds the Roman empire and Roman civilization.  Aeneas dawdles in Carthage, becoming Dido’s consort.  And this dalliance has a debilitating effect on both Dido and Aeneas. She forgets her calling to build Carthage as one of the great cities of that time and place.  He forgets his calling to found Roman civilization from the ashes of Troy.  And in a harrowing scene, Mercury is sent by Jupiter to remind Aeneas, in the most strong terms, of his destiny. And Aeneas, frightened to his core, sets sail from Carthage to do what he has to do. Aeneas regains his virilitas as a man, a virilitas that will enable him to achieve his destiny given to him by the gods. 

Virilitas in Latin does not mean merely masculinity or manliness.  It means the quality of the vir, of the man-hero.  Both Vergil and his ultimate antagonist Turnus, are viri, are men-heroes, who are willing to sacrifice their lives for what they believe they are called to do and for what will give ultimate meaning to their lives through personal sacrifice.  Lest anyone think that virilitas is a virtue that only men can show forth, I offer the great women saints like St. Monica, St. Birgitta and St. Catherine of Siena, whose virilitas was a mark of their sanctity. The greatest of all the saints, Mary, is the model of virilitas at the foot of the Cross. Virilitas has nothing to do with machismo, nothing to do with old boy networks, still less with disrespecting women.  Virilitas encompasses courage and honor and a willingness to submit oneself to a calling to greatness based on truth, which involves a denial of self and a willingness to give oneself over to this calling. The ultimate and consummate vir is Jesus Christ. 

I have written and spoken about many times about the lack of virilitas in the Catholic clergy, especially in priests and bishops.  It is precisely this lack of virilitas that has made possible the moral turpitude of the clergy that has scandalized the whole world, specifically with respect to pedophilia but also with respect to the homosexual network within the Church that has allowed the cover-up of these crimes and the financial improprieties within the Vatican itself.  But the current drama that is enfolding in the United States concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is also about the lack of virilitas in our society. 

There is a relationship between virilitas and veritas.  The vir understands truth and puts aside his or her wants and desires in the service of truth, that truth that is the defining essence of the goal of the vir.  The vir, despite what he or she wants to do, decides, often with the intervention of the Divine, that he or she must do what he or she is called to do.  The media have reduced the Kavanaugh-Ford drama to “He said, She said”.  But many have also completely ignored the very idea of truth by judging the situation on the basis of prejudices that make a mockery out of truth.  When Dr. Ford’s story and allegations first came forth, Senator Chuck Schumer declared: “I believe her”.  He had never met her, had not asked further questions, but declared that she was speaking the truth.  This would be totally bizarre and almost comic and not worthy of belief if one did not see clearly that what is at stake in this situation is not truth but rather which side of the political divide will prevail in this nomination to the Supreme Court.  The stakes are high, and the stakes for most professional politicians are whether the moral liberalism of the Supreme Court decisions for the past decades will prevail or not.  So in this fight, truth is a mere word, a verbum nudum in the sense of nominalism.  Senator Schumer’s reaction, even if one does not take a cynical attitude, is based on the idea that the #MeToo movement, a product of real discrimination against and sexual violence against women, demands that statements made by a woman claiming sexual harassment must be taken as true.  This is not only illogical but denies the very objectivity of truth.

But virilitas has for too long been associated with being part of a network of boys will be boys and men will be men, with the silent supposition that hard drinking and bullying and seeing women as objects for satisfying lust is just part of the boy-man scene.  This cannot be denied.  And the #MeToo movement is the beginning of the end of the toleration of this most un-virile behavior and this perverted understanding of what it means to be a man.  One cannot believe Judge Kavanaugh’s insistence that he is innocent to the charges made against him by Dr. Ford just because he has a good reputation in the legal profession and because he is deemed to be a decent and honest man by many people.  But one also cannot call him a liar because he is a man, who has been charged by a woman with gross sexual impropriety. 

Whatever the outcome of this drama on which the whole country seems fixated, the concept of truth itself has become relativized and has become a word whose emptiness is filled by strident voices in opposition.  Pilate’s question to Jesus, “What is truth”, that cynical question, has no answer in the present toxic polarized state of this society.  And yet, as Christians, we believe that there is an answer to this question.  But it has nothing to do with lawyers and courts and editorials and media pundits and politicians.  For the Christian, truth is concrete in a person whose name is Jesus Christ.  And this truth is the ultimate truth, for it is the truth of God who is truth.  Without the lens of truth who is Christ, all is seen through the lens of the grey mass of opinion, prejudice and cynical manipulation. 

In this highly emotional and irrational atmosphere surrounding this Supreme Court nomination, the Catholic must be cautious not to deliberately or callously forget his or her obligation to truth in the name of getting someone on the Supreme Court who may overturn Roe v. Wade.  This is easy to do when faced with the virulent opposition from the political left to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.  Quite apart from Dr. Ford’s personal claims of suffering gross injustice at the hands of a man, there can be no doubt that she is being used by those who see legal abortion as a woman’s right.  But the Catholic cannot mirror the pro-abortion frenzy to stop a conservative from being appointed to the Supreme Court by a frenzy that never stops to consider the role of truth in all of this.  St. Paul’s exhortation in today’s Epistle to the Ephesians must be pondered by each Catholic in this country today.  Those who irrationally and selfishly support the crime of abortion as a right, those who wash their hands cynically and ask, like Pilate, “What is truth?” have abandoned the quest for the truth of the matter, for truth for them is irrelevant.  It is not so for Catholics.  The truth about what happened or did not happen between Dr. Ford and Judge Cavanaugh may never come into the clear light of day.  A judgment then will have to be made on the basis of one’s conscience.  But this must not be confused with truth.  For the Catholic truth is not an idea.  It is a person, and his name is Jesus.