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The Twilight of Refinement

Francisco Gutierrez

As I was sitting one day thinking of the current state of our society, it occurred to me that we are little better than the Romans at banquets given by Nero in pagan Rome. I would go further, our customs have become so lax and vulgar that in a certain way we are even less than the pagans.

The direct link between refinement and sanctity was shown in an article written by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. In it he points to the good fruit of a Catholic Civilization, when we truly love God we treat others well and our manners are elevated. When we turn away from God, good treatment and manners begin to disappear.

A fruit of pagan civilization

In our gatherings we normally come together for food and drink. The topics of conversation cover many different points, from sports to politics. I have noted, however, that if one tries to be serious in these talks, he runs the risk of being tuned out. The others rarely listen to the substance of his points. Such gatherings disturb me, although others believe they are normal.

Immodestly dressed youths at a pagan fiesta

Pagan dress & vulgarity are returning to fiestas
Often the interaction of the married adults crosses the line of propriety with subtle innuendos. I remember one such occasion between a married man and the wife of someone else. The man, let me call him Atticus, was constantly joking and teasing the woman in an inappropriate way. Such action was tolerated by all present. I have observed this general tolerance not just on this occasion, but at almost every gathering for the last several years.

Finally the husband of the woman, who was also present, reached his limit. He asked Atticus to step outside with him to discuss his unseemly behavior with his wife. Atticus took offense, and the situation almost escalated into a fight. Atticus never admitted his bad behavior; instead he told the husband that he was uptight and needed to relax.

The episode reminded me of what Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira said in his article: “When persons no longer live in the state of grace, finesse in the treatment of others will shortly end.” Applying these words to the above situation, I realized that in final analysis, it was a moral problem: A married man should never tease another man’s wife. It is morally wrong, it offends God and his neighbor.

Today’s general climate of tolerance, however, accepts this wrong behavior with complacence. Then, when the husband tried to stand up for his own offended honor, the guilty man retaliated by turning public opinion against him, telling him he was uptight - that is, that he did not have sense of humor, which is a taboo of our days. What a completely ludicrous situation!

To build a Catholic Civilization

When I was a child, my mother used to tell me to take my elbows off the table. When I was describing a situation that involved another person and me, she used to remind me to refer to the other person first, then to myself. What was the purpose of all this “trivial” formation?

A well dressed Traditional Mexican family during a procession

A well dressed traditional family going to a procession for Our Lady of Guadalupe
My mother was raised in Mexico in a Catholic milieu, and she was taught proper etiquette and old customs by her mother. These ideals helped her to grow and prosper in her Catholic Faith. That way of life she received when she was a child sustains her to this day. For me she represents a true Catholic way of being.

The bigger picture that I came to see with time was that my mother was trying to build on what she was taught, which is a Catholic Civilization.

We live in a country that has for the most part Protestant tendencies, a culture of fast food and all that goes with it. Added to that is our own failure as Catholics to teach our children properly both at home and in catechism classes, which have been disastrous.

The solution is simple in theory, return to proper teaching and instruction, at home as well as in schools and the Church. How to turn the situation around in practice is the hard part. So often my generation does not even know the good manners and customs to transmit.

I believe, however, with the proper motivation, we can make an effort to learn what has been forgotten or omitted in our own formations. Our Lady told us to stop offending her Son by following the modern fashions. This is the more important reason to make the needed changes.

The return to a Catholic Civilization has to start with each one of us. The return to good manners and customs is part of the true practice our faith. With our own will and God’s grace, we can do our part in our homes and families to counter the Revolution around us. Without the grace to fight the Revolution, we would not stand a chance.

Manners matter

In Dr. Marian Horvat’s article about manners, she shows that manners reflect the morals of civilization. The way we extend courtesy to others has direct consequences on our way of being. Centuries of Catholic living have produced good manners. They reflect charity in action towards one another.

Mexican children wearing Sunday dress

Good manner must accompany proper dress
We should draw from the vast wealth of the Church to form our way of living so that we can do our part to re-build a truly Catholic Civilization. The proper formation should start at home by the good example of the parents. In healthier times the Church also helped the proper formation of children. Today, however, in most churches we witness the same lack of dignity in dressing and manners, with the full approval of the pastors.

Dr. Horvat rightly points out in her article, Courtesy: An Essential Element of the Catholic Home, that memorizing your catechism or apologetics does not constitute a Catholic education. To teach and instill in your children the self-discipline of courtesy will make them better equipped to fight against the temptations of the modern world.

Whether we realize it or not, we are either part of the solution or part of the problem. At every moment of every day we are influencing our children to have either good or bad manners. They are learning from our own action and also that of family and friends.

It is difficult in our days to employ good manners and customs of past Catholic Civilization. But the effort gives an excellent fruit: Refined manners benefit not only the individual and the family, but also the whole society. Courtesy also leads a Catholic to a deeper reverence for God and others.

Posted July 4, 2012

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