Strange new world

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Do you ever feel like Dorothy, dropped smack into a strange world that makes little sense, where trees talk, monkeys fly and home as we once knew it is nowhere to be found? Well, so do a lot of other folks, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

“I admit to being unapologetically Catholic, unapologetically patriotic and unapologetically a Constitutionalist.”

That’s just one of the comments from a powerful address before an audience of 5,000-plus college graduates, their families and faculty at Hillsdale College in Michigan where Thomas recently served as the commencement speaker. He summed up beautifully what a lot of us are thinking when we turn on the TV, pick up the newspaper or read the latest headlines on Twitter or Facebook. How did we get to this point where we can’t even do something as basic as use a restroom without our values and possibly our personal safety being assaulted? Thomas urged the students, as challenging as it is currently and as increasingly difficult it will be in years to come, to not only hang on tightly to their traditional family values but to be willing to defend them in the public square.

“The greatest lecture or sermon you will give is your example. What you do will matter far more than what you say. I have every faith you will be the beacon of light for others to follow,” Thomas told the graduates.

Hillsdale is a private liberal arts college well known for its strong conservative education and support of traditional values. During his half-hour keynote speech, which received two standing ovations, the 67-year-old Thomas said he doesn’t even recognize the world in comparison to what society was like when he grew up: a time when people were expected to work hard and take responsibility for their actions. A world where faith in God was the norm, not the unwelcomed exception.

“If we didn’t work, we didn’t eat. If we didn’t plant, we didn’t harvest ... There was always to be a relationship between our responsibilities and our benefits. Today, there is much more focus on our rights as citizens and what we are owed. Hallmarks of my youth, such as patriotism or religion, seem more like outliers, if not afterthoughts ... We were taught that despite unfair treatment, we were to be good citizens and good people.”

Thomas expressed sadness over a government that believes people benefit more from handouts than hard work, and disappointment in a people that has come to expect them.

Thomas also encouraged the grads to be kind to the shy and the unpopular and to be bold in their faith — good advice for young people venturing out on their own. But my favorite line had to do with the utter craziness of our culture. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve found myself thinking that right is now wrong and wondering when the next lawsuit will be filed against anyone who dares to disagree with what has become the status quo.

“Do not hide your faith and your beliefs under a bushel basket, especially in this world that seems to have gone mad with political correctness.”

A world that seems to have gone mad with political correctness. If that doesn’t sum up the state of things today, I don’t know what does.

As Dorothy would say, “there’s no place like home.” But in order to get back home and back to some sense of normalcy and common decency, as Clarence Thomas so eloquently mentioned, we have to be leaders not followers.

“You are men and women of Hillsdale, steeped in the best traditions and principles of our great nation. If you don’t lead by example, who will?”

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.