Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

Charting a Course for Una Voce America

(UVA Newsletter, Summer, 1999)

I must begin by apologizing for my rather lengthy delay in responding to all of your very kind words of welcome to the Presidency of Una Voce America. The delay had its reasons, including work involved in preparing for the 1999 Dietrich von Hildebrand Institute in Gardone, the publication of my book, Removing the Blindfold, and the conclusion of the academic year. Now that I have a little more time at my disposal, a somewhat more “catholic” introduction of myself than a basic biographical sketch can give seems in order. Through this, I hope to leave you with a broad sense of my personal understanding of the nature of the mission of which Una Voce is a notable part and where I think we ought to be headed in the coming years.

Although I am a cradle Catholic, my real awakening to the Faith dates to the years between 1970 and 1973. It was at that time that I met Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand, Dr. William Marra, and Mr. Michael Davies. Toward the end of that period, I started my doctoral studies at Oxford. And it was at Oxford that I encountered the books of Fr. Emile Mersch on the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ which helped me to put the contemporary problems of the Church in historical perspective, get a glimpse of their full significance, and begin to see the kind of work that I myself ought to do in the future.

Mersch’s writings, which my own book will explain in much greater detail, opened my eyes to the awesome mystery of the Church and the consequences for all of nature of acceptance or rejection of participation in her life. This was due to the fact that they underlined the essential character of the Church as something much more than a purely legal structure focused on saving men from an unfavorable juridical decision, important though this structure might be. Mersch emphasized the Church’s existence as Christ-continued-in-time (the “whole Christ”, to use St. Augustine’s terminology), acting to perfect the universe that He Himself created. Insistence upon the central character of the Church as Christ-continued, as His living Mystical Body, clarifies the exalted dignity of the Christian mission, demonstrates the cooperative labor of supernatural grace and the natural world, shows the need for the individual to work within an authoritative community for his own benefit, and also opens one to the endless diversity of ways in which different persons, different periods of time, and different initiatives can be utilized to glorify the Trinity if only they are incorporated into the life of the God-Man. Finally, an understanding of the Mystical Body lays bare the error of modern, secularized, libertarian society, since it teaches that any attempt to leave nature and the individual to their own devices is bound to lead to a failure to understand their true destiny and talents, and end in self-defeat.

On an historical level, Mersch’s writings were important to me in revealing the full glory of the Greek and Latin Fathers, to whom this role of the Church as Christ-continued was primary. They illustrated the significance of the revivification of the study of the Fathers in the course of the past five hundred years, the period which historians generally speak of as the modern era. This revivification is not the only blessing that the Church has received in modern times. It is linked with and has helped cause other valuable developments in modern Catholicism, not least of which is a greater appreciation for and reception of the Eucharist. When we are tempted to fall into despair, and compare our world unfavorably with the Middle Ages, it is necessary to remember that much of what stirs us to commitment to lay action today is a desire to restore all things in Christ which is actually a product of a more conscious modern Catholic militancy reflecting a deepened understanding of the nature of the Mystical Body. This is what electrified St. Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits; this is what lay behind the doctrine of the Sacred Heart, and made propagation of that devotion so popular from the 1600’s onwards. This is what one finds working through Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors, Leo XIII’s social teachings, Pius X’s program for the defense of the Church, and Pius XII’s encyclical on the subject of the Mystical Body itself. This is what also inspired the liturgical movement of the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century as well—the need for everyone to understand and to tap into the riches of Christ in His Church through the liturgy, for the sake of the sanctification of the individual and the lifting up of the whole world to the greater glory of God.

Having noted this background for my own awakening to the Faith, allow me to make the following five points with respect to my understanding of what it means for our own labors now:

  1. I am certain that no one in our organization presents our work as some rearguard nostalgic activity. Still, it is necessary energetically to note that Una Voce is the healthy heir of a vibrant Christ/Church-centered Catholic liturgical revival and movement of lay action developing out of the nineteenth century; a liturgical revival and movement of lay action, part of which has unfortunately lost its moorings and contributed to the chaos we see around us today;
  2. Despite very strong appearances to the contrary, time is on the side of our cause. The more that the forces we oppose break with the Church and adopt modern secularist libertarian ideas, the more they fall into an irrational self-destructiveness that distances them from anything which is true and beautiful even on a natural level alone. This means that any young mind and spirit earnestly seeking guidance will more and more see that there is nothing to be gained from listening to them, and everything, in contrast, to be won by opening the heart to the school of thought we represent;
  3. The advantage of time can only be of use to us if we make certain that we turn every moment that we are not engaged in opening up dioceses to the Traditional Mass into an opportunity to learn more about the liturgy, Christian spirituality, and the history of the Church in general. This will enable us effectively to guide the remnants of a collapsing official Catholic population and potential converts down the proper pathway;
  4. Charity, patience, and openness to the surprises of time and nature as a whole ought to make us ready to adopt a wide variety of strategies and be prepared to deal with an unexpected diversity of personalities to spread acceptance of the Traditional Mass. In other words, no one and nothing moral ought to be excluded from our calculations in moving forward. The whole ecclesiastical framework is in such a state of flux that one cannot be sure any longer what someone who seems like he should be our opponent thinks, whether he thinks at all, or what his reaction would be to specific kinds of arguments or pressure. Therefore, let a thousand initiatives bloom, or, to quote Napoleon, “plunge in, and see if any specific strategy works”. Our need to be firm on principle must be matched by an equal flexibility on practical approach;
  5. While excommunicating no one who does not excommunicate us, it has been and must always continue to be the policy of Una Voce to work patiently and lovingly, with all its infinite frustrations, within the structure of the Church.
These are, of course, very broad statements of policy: the need to see ourselves as part of an historical development, to recognize the bankruptcy of the forces we are opposing, to dedicate a great deal of time to education, and, in effect, to be ready for anything. It is difficult for me to be more specific than this at the moment. My own work as president will have to evolve in character as I gain a greater understanding of the shape of all your activities through time. It seems to me, right now, that one general Una Voce America conference a year dealing with the character and history of the liturgy would be a good means of giving us a sense of being a unified group. This could be organized in conjunction with CIEL and my own Dietrich von Hildebrand Institute, and be both a high quality scholarly event and a backdrop for an annual Board of Directors meeting. Such a conference requires time to think through, but there is no reason why one could not be organized within the next year.

One final thing. I will be in Rome from May 28th until June 21st, and then at the Summer Institute in Gardone from June 21st until the beginning of September. Any suggestions for missions I may undertake while in Europe will be much appreciated. I am very eager to shape this office of president into something which is valuable for our common cause, and I will be in great need of your help and comments in order to be successful.

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