Whatever happened to Western civilization?

In his visit to the U.S., Pope Benedict reminded us that the Church is the heart of Western civilization. The Church in her faults and in ours—in what we have done and what we have failed to do—has much work to do. If today we carry our burden lighter, it is thanks to the Holy Father’s gentle words in 17 speeches to the various groups. But still his deep concern is over the vanishing regard for Western civilization.

The pope recognizes that Catholicism is a culture as well as a religion, and that a strong cultural identity can cultivate faith in the present generation and, as it has for centuries, pass it along to the next.

Our Catholic practices have become casual. Many self-identified Catholics believe they can carry the faith casually. They don’t have to go to Mass on Sundays. They don’t have to believe in all the Church’s teachings. They can pick and choose what suits the attitudes of their friends. A recent survey showed that while 77 percent of American Catholics said they were proud to be Catholic, a stunning 68 percent said you could be a good Catholic without going to Mass on Sundays.

Our “greatest generation,” a mélange of boys from every social, income, educational and ethnic make-up, went off to World War II to save us from Nazism and its ideas of cleansing the world of their definition of inferiors. Inferiors were Jews, Slavs, often Catholics, the mentally and physically handicapped as well as any dissidents.

WWII was a particularly bloody war. Miscalculations in war are many, execution of battle plans faulty. But they fought. Faith kept them going. Many carried rosaries and Bibles. Chaplains heard confessions and baptized soldiers in Italian fountains. The boys believed they were forcing the world back to reason.

In a mammoth failure of intelligence, Monte Cassino, a Benedictine abbey from the sixth century, was bombed in February 1944. Here black-robed Benedictines had spread the Gospel and helped preserve Western civilization. Precious manuscripts, ancient drawings and paintings, frescoes and centuries of scholarship were cataloged there. This precious monastery towered above everything. Seven acres of Travertine stone had a façade twice as long as Buckingham Palace. From there the founder, St. Benedict, had defined the rule of western monasticism with its piety, humility and obedience. Benedict and his twin sister, St. Scholastica, were buried there.

The abbey had faced demolition for 15 centuries from Lombards, Saracens and Napoleon’s guns and now Allied firepower. But it always rebuilt in keeping with its motto: “Succisa Virescit”— “Struck down, it comes to new life.”

The Allies bombed the monastery convinced the dug-in Germans were well fortified there. Hundreds of refugees sheltered in Monte Cassino were killed or wounded that day in 1944. The ruined abbey symbolized the grinding war of attrition. At home a Gallup poll taken shortly after the bombing found that if military leaders believed it necessary to target historic and religious shrines in Europe, 74 percent would approve and only 19 percent disapprove. War was whittling away all civility and moderation, youth and innocence, mountains and men.

Malaria kept Cassino uninhabitable for two years. However, the gleaming white abbey on the hill was eventually rebuilt once again. Monks are there today praying the Liturgy of the Hours, going about their labors and teaching a new generation the core truths that are the foundation of Christian culture.

Was the battle worth the candle? The generals thought so. Ask a veteran.

At times dwindling numbers of our greatest generation must wonder what they fought for as it plays out in today’s society. Mainly freedoms and rights were secured—freedom from Nazism, and tyranny. Freedom to follow bizarre, outlandish ideas, too.

What does all that WWII carnage and sacrifice say to us today? We have our end of the bargain to uphold. With Catholic beliefs under fire, the campaign is hardly won. Western civilization, our culture, practices and faith, is still in peril. But the Holy Father has lit the way. He told us that he chose the name Benedict for the effort of Benedicts past to preserve Catholic culture. Through prayer and civic effort we can and must carry the flame. We are the ones called to spread the Gospel’s teachings, to defend life, oppose abortion, and protect all human rights.

Like Monte Cassino, our Church has been besieged and battered by modernism. It is in need of repair and rebuilding if it is to fulfill its mission to be Christ’s light to the world. One soldier said, “I belong to the great American army and I am part and parcel of the forces fighting for the kind of America we always dreamed of back home.” We don’t always know the shape and style of society “back home.” Shifts come about among younger generations which we do not always approve. But we do believe our Church has long fought for the forces of reason to be heard. Now it is up to us to live under the rule of faith with reason and use both to protect the dignity of man.

We are the pope’s legions.

“Succisa Virescit.”

Kevin and Marilyn Ryan edited “Why I Am Still a Catholic” [Riverhead Books, 1998] and live in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

Vatican publishes list of synod participants, including papal nominees

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To the list of members of the Synod of Bishops elected by national bishops' conferences, Pope Francis added cardinals from 14 countries, ...

Addicts and their loved ones talk about life with opioid addiction

ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- It was a Saturday night, and Billy was eating pizza and watching a sporting event in the basement bedroom of his residence, a ...

Signers of letter hope Vatican meeting will bring needed steps on crisis

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Signers of an open letter from Catholic women to Pope Francis urging "truth" and "transparency" on the growing sex abuse crisis expressed ...

Community 'overwhelmed and shell-shocked' after gas explosions, says pastor

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Down to earth: Vatican brings together world's meteorite curators

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) -- Rocks, mineral debris and even dust from space are kept in special collections, museums and laboratories all over the ...

Algerian martyrs to be beatified in Algeria Dec. 8

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The beatification of 19 martyrs of Algeria, including the seven Trappist monks of Tibhirine, will be celebrated Dec. 8 in Oran, ...

'Anything but a picnic' - Cardinal Dolan on the Church's summer of scandal

New York City, N.Y., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Cardinal Timothy Dolan has spoken about how the extended sexual abuse scandals facing the Church have taken a ...

Restoring and reimagining: Transformation at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross

BOSTON -- Considered by many to be the heart of the Archdiocese of Boston, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross is the largest Catholic church in New England, ...

Archdiocese says Cardinal O'Malley will personally review all abuse letters

BRAINTREE (CAN) -- The Archdiocese of Boston has announced changes to the way it will process and respond to letters addressed to Cardinal Séan P. ...

CM receives $2.5M grant from Yawkey Foundations

West Roxbury -- Catholic Memorial, a college-preparatory school for boys in grades 7 to 12, announced Sept. 5 that they have received a $2.5 million grant ...

Father Christian Ohazulume removed from ministry

BRAINTREE -- The Archdiocese announced on Sept. 11 that it had removed a priest from ministry after receiving an allegation that he sexually abused a ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

This week I am in transit to Rome in anticipation of the next meeting of the C9 Council of Cardinals. So, I have asked Vivian Soper to share some reflections ...

Kavanaugh's birth control comments spur controversy -- What did he say?

Washington D.C. (CNA) -- Opponents of Judge Brett Kavanaugh have suggested that a reference to birth control pills as "abortion-inducing drugs" during ...

Missouri to enforce abortion regulations in wake of appeals court ruling

Jefferson City, Mo. (CNA) -- Missouri's health department announced Monday that it will immediately being enforcing state laws regulating abortion clinics ...