Cardinal Wuerl shared with the priests of this Archdiocese (at the Chrism Mass last month) the full remarks of Pope Benedict that were given during the ad limina visit by bishops of this region. I had seen excerpts, but never the full set of remarks. They are powerful and ought to receive careful consideration by us all.
To that end, I would like to share substantial excerpts and offer a few reflections of my own. As is usual the original text is in bold, black italic text. My own comments are in red plain text.
For her part, the Church in the United States is called, in season and out of season, to proclaim a Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths but proposes them precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering.
A good reminder to us and to the world. We do not propose the vision of the Gospel merely as a set of prohibitions. Neither do we propose it merely because we wish to advance our right to speak out and make our voice heard in the world of ideas. Rather we proclaim the Gospel because we passionately believe that these truths are the key to happiness, salvation and every other good. In the past missionaries set out to distant lands and made great personal sacrifices, often losing their own life, because they had a love and passion for people and understood that the vision of God was essential for the salvation and well being of all. The loss of the gospel vision, the forgetfulness of God and confusion about the true purpose of human life has caused great harm. If we as a Church truly believe that the Gospel has answers and the remedy for our time, we must speak out. To remain silent or to allow ourselves to be compelled to silence would be sinful and selfish. The Church must say as St. Paul did: For I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Cor 9:16).
To the extent that some current cultural trends contained elements that would curtail the proclamation of these truths, whether constricting it within the limits of a purity scientific rationality, or suppressing it in the name of political power or majority rule, they represent a threat not just Christian faith, but also to humanity itself and to the deepest truth about our being and ultimate vocation, relationship to God. When a culture attempts to suppress the dimension of ultimate Mystery, and to close the doors to transcendent truth, it inevitably becomes impoverished and falls prey, as the late Pope John Paul II so clearly saw, to reductionist and totalitarian readings of the human person and the nature of society.
In effect, the Pope is reminding us that what we announce is not merely something that is “meaningful,” but something which is true. And the opposite of true is not “less meaningful,” it is false. Falsehood and error harm the human person. Truth liberates and enriches. The suppression of the truth is the main cause of our suffering and poverty.
The reductionist and totalitarian readings to which the Pope refers have caused grave harm to the world because they are false. It is conservatively estimated that 100 Million people lost their lives in the 20th century due to totalitarian, materialist, fascists, secular and atheistic movements.
In current times the suffering continues as the West suffers from low birth rates, the horror of abortion, the advancing destruction of the family, distortion in the understanding of sexuality, and crippling debt as our spending swirls out of control. These too stem from reductionist understandings of the human person, creation, and the meaning human life.
Alienated from God, we lose our way and come to think we answer to no one. Thus, we become increasingly dangerous. Alienated from the truth we descend into the tyranny of relativism where reason cannot win the day and thus power does.
The Gospel is true. And the opposite of true is not just “another opinion,” it is false. And error leads to great suffering. The Church must continue to proclaim and propose the truth without compromise. For only the truth will set us free, and the Gospel is truth.
With her long tradition of respect for the right relationship between faith and reason, the Church has a critical role to play in countering cultural currents which, on the basis of an extreme individualism, seek to promote notions of freedom detached from moral truth. Our tradition does not speak from blind faith, but from a rational perspective which links our commitment to building an authentically just, humane and prosperous society, to our ultimate assurance that the cosmos is possessed of an inner logic accessible to human reasoning.
Magnificent. The appeal not only to Scripture, but also to reason and to Natural Law, (which the Pope speaks of as the “inner logic” of the cosmos), is what distinguishes Catholicism from simple fundamentalism. We reason from Scripture with ourselves and among believers, but we also appeal to reason and Natural Law, especially with those we do not share our belief in the Scriptures as the Word of God.
Our sacred teaching is both thoughtful and deeply rooted in a long and careful philosophical and theological tradition stretching back thousands of years. What we teach and proclaim is neither simplistic nor ephemeral. It is careful, well thought out, and has stood the test of time.
It has also helped enormously in the development of a more humane and caring world as the Gospel’s message of love and forgiveness has born fruit in hospitals, orphanages, universities, and the cultivation of the arts and sciences in the Christian West.
We abandon this wisdom and ancient teaching to our peril.
The Church’s defense of this law is not a threat to our freedom, but rather a “language” which enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world. She thus proposes her moral teaching as a message not of constraint but of liberation, and as a basis for building a secure future.
Yes, As St. Paul said: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Rom 1:16) And salvation here is not merely a heavenly reality, but one which on earth we experience as a kind of foretaste. The Gospel saves in the age to come and bestows health and help now as well.
The Church’s witness, then, is of it’s nature public: she seeks to convince by proposing rational arguments in the public square. The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation.
Here again the premise is that silence is deadly. And whether that silence is due to the sinful omission by believers of their evangelical duty, or whether that silence is somehow compelled by the State, either way, evil triumphs when the voice of faith is silent.
In light of these considerations, it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you [Bishops] have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.
Cardinal Wuerl has frequently commented that religious liberty is being increasingly construed by many to mean only the freedom to worship inside the walls of our Church and that otherwise, religious speech or expression has no place in the public discussion. This sort of thinking has been making incremental advances in our culture. And, while every other form of speech is to be tolerated in the public square, religious, and specifically Christian speech is attacked as “out of place” and in violation of the Constitution (which it is not). But this thinking is growing and hindering the Church’s critical mission to evangelize and speak the truth in love.
Further, religious liberty is not merely a right of the the Church. It is an individual right of every American to both proclaim and openly live their faith, and not be compelled to act against their faith. The First Amendment is not applied only to organizations or the Church, but to the individual.
Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture, and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society. The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remaining primary task of the Church in your country…There can be no doubt that a more consistent witness on the part of Americas Catholics to their deepest convictions would make a major contribution to the renewal of society as a whole.
Pay attention Lay faithful. As we have discussed many times on this blog before, the specific role of the laity is the renewal of the temporal order, as they live and witness to their faith in the family and in the world. To this end the Church has initiated many programs of adult study in parishes and this must grow and continue. Robert Barron’s Catholicism series is an excellent example of adult study and renewal.
Lay Catholics must also courageously bring their faith to bear in the political order and insist on being included in the political process at every level.
A magnificent articulation of the problem and the solution for the Church here. It’s pretty old fashioned actually, but also time tested and true. And what is that ancient and yet always new way? In the face of rampant secularization, confusion and hostility:
Preach the Word; be ready, in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Tim 4:2-5)
The Pope’s full remarks are here: Ad Limina
In these videos Fr. Barron (a great evangelizer) sets forth some of the basic errors of our days that make the proclamation of the Gospel difficult, but not impossible.