Tag Archives: secularism

Divine Design

2 Jun

CCCThis Sunday, St. Paul reminds us that the Gospel he preached was of divine origin. As it was true for Paul 2,000 years ago, it is true for the Church today. Nowhere is this point more relevant than in the current cultural debate about marriage and human sexuality.

While there is much misunderstanding over what we believe as Catholics, an essential point is that we do not have the power to change what we did not create. Marriage certainly is a human institution, but it has a divine design. Like most things, if we do not understand an aspect of Catholic teaching, it is good to sincerely seek the authentic teaching rather than the caricature that popular culture perpetuates.

“The intimate community of life and love which constitute the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws” (CCC 1603). In other words, marriage is not an accident. If you have legitimate questions about what the Church believes about marriage and want to go straight to the source about it rather than through the filter of someone else, a good place to start is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, starting at paragraph 1601.

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

A Message to College Students

21 Jan

March for LifeYou are survivors. Millions–and I mean millions–of your peers have been legally slaughtered, the victims of the deadly culture war in which we find ourselves.

At the time of Moses and Israel’s slavery in Egypt, and at the time of Jesus and the Holy Innocents, evil forces resorted to the killing of the young in a futile attempt to thwart God’s saving plan for all of humanity.

But that was then and this is now. This is our time. Even more, it is your time. Our God must have big plans for you. Modern-day popes have described these plans as entailing a “new springtime of faith,” the fruit of a massive “new evangelization” aimed at bringing all men and women to Jesus Christ. This effort, already taking shape throughout the world, has raised Satan’s ire to such a degree that he’s resorting to the same tactics he used in Egypt and in Bethlehem, and once again, they’re not going to work. God’s saving plan will not be frustrated, though it will be opposed, and there will likely be casualties.

I wish that your generation could sit back and comfortably live the good life in Tolkien’s Shire. But I have news for you. We’re at war. Your freedom–not simply political and material but even more your religious and spiritual freedom–is something you’re going to have to claim and fight for, or you may as well start waving your white flag. Don’t let the fact that you can’t see the Enemy fool you. Don’t let the fact that many of your friends are oblivious to this epic conflict discourage you. You have some idea as to what we’re up against. Take up the weapons of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and gird yourself for battle.

To my way of thinking, Satan is attacking your generation largely through his propagation of a secular worldview. What is this worldview saying to you?

Well, the world is telling you that you are disposable. Face it, you’re junk. Aside from your potential classmates and leaders who were legally killed in the womb, the rest of you are valued only for what you do or contribute, and not for who you are. We want only the “perfect kids” who look like Barbie dolls or who have LeBron James’ muscles or Albert Einstein’s intelligence. You’re animals who can’t be expected to exercise self-control, so we cross our fingers and hope you’re “safe.” You’re machines with interchangeable parts that you can cut off, mutilate, adorn, or surgically alter at your whim. When you’re an old dog or your machine-like body gives out, don’t expect us to give you anything but a lethal injection.

I could go on, but the point is that our society doesn’t think much of you. Whether you know it or not, you’re under siege.

But there’s another worldview. It’s the perennial Christian worldview, but it has been articulated with particular poignancy and urgency by the Church since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

The Church’s message is that you’re masterpieces. You have the spark of the divine in you. You have God-given dignity, which entails both rights and responsibilities. You have been entrusted with dominion over our world. You have been called to a sublime vocation in Christ as God’s own children by adoption. Making the Lord’s words his own, the Pope calls you to cast out into the deep, to step out bravely in faith. He exhorts you not to be afraid. He beckons you to befriend the poor and the marginalized. He tells you that giving your life to Christ is not only radical, but eminently practical if you want life in abundance.

This courageous message of hope, echoed by the last three popes, explains the Church’s appeal to today’s youth, as evidenced by the massive turn out each year at the March for Life in Washington and local events throughout the country. If you subscribe to the world’s view, you are headed toward ruin. But it is not too late for you. Turn back to the Lord now, with all your heart!

And if you already accept the pope’s worldview, that’s great, but not enough. Now is not the time for armchair Christians. Live your Christian convictions with integrity and zeal, knowing that the Lord calls all of us to lead lives worthy of our calling. Life is not only worth living, but it’s worth living well. May God bless you and strengthen for the great work He sets before you!

I originally published this article ten years ago. Three of my daughters–who were 11, 9, and 6 when I wrote the article–are in Washington right now for the March for Life. Please remember them and all our young pilgrims from across the country in your prayers!

Evangelical Discernment

4 Dec

Pope Francis 3In Chapter Two of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis provides the context for his discussion of evangelization in today’s world. His stated goal is to examine the “signs of the times” not from a sociological or quantitative perspective, but rather as part of an “evangelical discernment” (EG 50). What is the Holy Spirit saying to us at this time?

This discernment has two parts. First, he considers societal factors that can hinder the Church’s missionary outreach (EG 51). In a separate post, I will address the second part of the chapter, namely the challenges and temptations faced by pastoral workers.

The Holy Father begins his consideration of societal factors with a resounding criticism of what he calls an economy of “exclusion” and “inequality” (EG 53-54), where many people find themselves marginalized. He considers “trickle-down” economic theories and today’s “culture of prosperity” dehumanizing, such that we become incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.

He goes on to the related topic of the “idolatry of money” and “the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose” (EG 55).  His reference to ideologies that defend the “absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation” (EG 56) is hard to understand, because no reputable economist in our culture at least takes such an extreme view.  One also wonders what he makes of the opposite–and arguably more prevalent–problem of a government that is too controlling rather than laissez-faire.

But the Pope’s point here is evangelical, not political: a “deified market” in any form reduces man to a mere consumer, and reflects a rejection of God and the moral order (EG 57). He calls on the rich to “help, respect, and promote the poor” (EG 58), quoting St. John Chrysostom:

“Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.”

The Holy Father also points out that just as goodness tends to spread, so too does the evil of exclusion and inequality, which makes for a violent world (EG 59). Sustainable, peaceful development is not possible unless we address the evil embedded in unjust social structures.

The Holy Father then turns to some cultural challenges to the new evangelization, noting that these can take the form of persecution and attacks on religious freedom as well as widespread indifference and relativism (EG 61). He says that “in many countries [later citing Africa and Asia] globalization has meant a hastened deterioration of their own cultural roots and the invasion of ways of thinking and acting . . . which are economically advanced but ethically debilitated” (EG 62). It surely makes one think about the devastating global effects of exporting America’s secularist and consumerist mentality.

The Pope also mentions other religious movements, from fundamentalist sects to others that promote spirituality without God. On the one hand, this seems to be filling a void in our materialist society, but it can also be a means of exploiting the poor and disenfranchised. Yet, Pope Francis unabashedly says that the Church must take much of the blame for their not turning to the Church instead:

“We must recognize that if part of our baptized people lack a sense of belonging to the Church, this is also due to certain structures and the occasionally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems, be they simple or complex, in the lives of our people. In many places an administrative approach prevails over a pastoral approach, as does a concentration on administering the sacraments apart from other forms of evangelization” (EG 63).

Pope Francis says that the process of secularization tends to reduce the faith to the private and personal, leading to a steady increase in relativism (EG 64). Interestingly, in affirming the Church’s insistence on objective moral norms valid for everyone, the Holy Father cites a document by the U.S. Bishops regarding ministry to persons with same-sex attractions.

The Pope acknowledges that moral relativism, the widespread belief in the absolute rights of individuals to do as they please, and negative aspects of the media and entertainment industry are threatening traditional values, especially in the domain of marriage and family life (EG 62-64). The latter is experiencing “a profound cultural crisis” (EG 66), as marriage is now commonly viewed as “a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will” (EG 66).

All of this not only affects our ability to pass on the faith to our children, but it also tends to weaken and distort family bonds (EG 67) and our relationships with others. Despite all this, many still recognize the significant, ongoing contributions of the Church to the world (EG 65), including her steadfast intention to respect others, heal wounds, build bridges, and bear one another’s burdens (EG 67).

The Holy Father says it is imperative to evangelize cultures in order to inculturate the Gospel (EG 69). He describes the breakdown in the way the faith has been passed on to young people and what he calls an “exodus” toward other faith communities (EG 70). He identifies many of the causes:

  • a lack of opportunity for dialogue in families
  • the influence of the communications media
  • a relativistic subjectivism
  • unbridled consumerism which feeds the market
  • lack of pastoral care among the poor
  • the failure of our institutions to be welcoming
  • difficulty in [maintaining] the faith in a pluralistic religious landscape

He ends the section by discussing the unique challenges of evangelizing urban cultures (EG 71-75). He finds it curious that the fullness of human history is realized in a city, the new Jerusalem (cf. Revelation 21:1-4). We need to take a fresh look at finding possibilities for prayer and communion that would appeal to the rapidly changing lives of city dwellers. The Pope even calls modern cities “a privileged locus of the new evangelization” (EG 73).

The Pope concludes by noting that today houses and neighborhoods tend to be “built to isolate and protect rather than to connect and integrate” (EG 75). He wants so much more for our neighborhoods and for our Church, for Our Lord desires to pour out abundant life upon our cities (cf. John 10:10).