With the end of the Cold War, humankind seemed poised to take what Pope John Paul II proposed in 1981: “a major step forward in civilization and wisdom.” The moral realism of the Catholic tradition, rooted in the Church’s incarnational humanism, is a powerful instrument for discerning the “oughts” deeply embedded in those political decisions that drive us further along the path toward “civilization and wisdom”—or that push us back toward the barbarism of a Hobbesian world in which all are at war with all. The responsibilities of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops are not the same as the responsibilities of the United States government, and the United States Catholic Conference is not a parallel Department of State. But the NCCB and USCC are (or should be) the bearers of a rich tradition of moral wisdom that is especially pertinent to the kind of new strategic reflection required of our public officials today. Identifying the key points at which our tradition can illuminate the government’s strategic task has been the purpose of this testimony.
But the Church will be remiss in its public duties if it is not, first and foremost, a community of prayer for peace. The extraordinary witness of the resistance Church in central and eastern Europe has been a powerful reminder of the potency of prayer: within the Church, and on the world of affairs. Indeed, in the underground prayer of the resistance Church during the long, dark night of communist persecution, we can see a contemporary illustration of the truth about prayer first enunciated in the medieval mystical text The Cloud of Unknowing: “The whole of mankind is wonderfully helped by what you are doing, in ways you do not understand.”
The moral wisdom of our tradition is a precious resource. It deserves to be brought to bear on the debate about America’s role in a post-Cold War world. But that intellectual witness, if you will, has to emerge out of a distinctively ecclesial context if it is to be true to itself. The more Roman Catholics in America are a people of prayer, the more we will be a Church meeting the many challenges of peace.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.