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Three Insights of Pope Leo XIII That Diagnose Our Cultural Malaise

Pope Leo XIII penned an insightful analysis of three trends that both alarmed him and pointed to future problems. He wrote of these three concerns in 1893 in the Encyclical on the Holy Rosary entitled Laetitiae Sanctae (Of Holy Joy). The Pope laid out these three areas of concern and then offered the Mysteries of the Rosary as a remedy. Let’s look at how he described the problems and then consider what he proposed as a solution. His teaching is presented in bold, black italics. My remarks are shown in plain, red text.

There are three influences which appear to us to have the chief place in effecting this downgrade movement of society. These are—first, the distaste for a simple and laborious life; secondly, repugnance to suffering of any kind; thirdly, the forgetfulness of the future life (# 4).

Problem 1: The distaste for a simple and laborious life – We deplore … the growing contempt of those homely duties and virtues which make up the beauty of humble life. To this cause we may trace in the home, the readiness of children to withdraw themselves from the natural obligation of obedience to the parents, and their impatience of any form of treatment which is not of the indulgent and effeminate kind. In the workman, it evinces itself in a tendency to desert his trade, to shrink from toil, to become discontented with his lot, to fix his gaze on things that are above him, and to look forward with unthinking hopefulness to some future equalization of property. We may observe the same temper permeating the masses in the eagerness to exchange the life of the rural districts for the excitements and pleasures of the town … (#5).

One of the truths that set us free is that life is hard. Along with the progress we can and do experience come trials, arduous work, and setbacks. Few things of true value come to us without significant cost. Coming to realize and accept that life is hard is freeing, for it minimizes or even removes many of our resentments. Many today expect that life should be peachy all the time and when it is not become angry and resentful; some even threaten lawsuits. It is common today to think of happiness as a God-given right. Our Founding Fathers recognized the pursuit of happiness as a right, but many think happiness itself is a right. When they are not happy, the system has somehow failed them. Many today expect to live lives in which there is little risk and things come easily. This has been one of the factors influencing the growth of government. As insistence on a comfortable life grows and hard work begins to seem an unreasonable demand, we expect government to ease our burdens and provide comfort and happiness; we are less willing to work hard for these things. Rather, we see happiness and comfort as things to which we are entitled.

Read more at Archdiocese of Washington. 

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