Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXVIII, No. 4
Year of Faith, Hitting Reboot
by Kathryn Jean Lopez
The problem is not secularism, it is our secularism.
It was a little over a year ago now that I looked into the face of a father at peace. Pope Benedict XVI was wearing a beautiful miter of Christ the Teacher an image that I, the daughter of two Catholic schoolteachers, have always treasured. It was the opening Mass of the Year of Faith on October 12, 2012; and I had been blessed to receive from the Holy Father a copy of the message from the Second Vatican Council for every woman throughout the world.
It was a moment of reset, and at the time, I had no idea just how dramatic. Pope Benedict beamed with a peace and a joy and a love. His face betrayed a certainty. About hope. About love. About mercy.
I happened to be in Rome in December (these were treasured opportunities, I’m not actually a frequent flier there), and this time Pope Benedict had that same peace about him as I captured his fatherly gaze on my iPad (such is the life and times of a tweeter). He was also admonishing the gathered “Catholic leaders” of the Americas.
On that unforgettable morning in February when I woke to the news Pope Benedict had resigned, I understood that October morning outside St. Peter’s more. His look was about hope and love and mercy. And it betrayed a discernment. It was the look of a man who lives the encounter with Christ he talks and writes about.
A friend who had also been in Rome last December said that a session on the state of marriage in the West confirmed his conviction that the greatest challenge Christians need to confront is not the tsunami of secularization, real as it is, but “our secularism.” How many of us, even those of us who go to daily Mass, live lives of practical atheism at scattered moments of the day? As we make decisions, as we gossip, as we fail to make decisions, as we give in to temptation and sin? As we don’t live our lives differently, counterculturally, in Christ?
This November there has been a celebration of the life of John F. Kennedy, Jr., who was assassinated 50 years ago now. But this first Catholic president also preached a political gospel of dichotomy, presenting faith and politics as separate spheres in the life of the politician. He’s not to blame, but he’s an icon of our secularization.
Our task at this moment is not recriminations. It’s conversion. Of the most radical sort. Of the most intimate and the most noticeable sort.
The opening Mass of the Year of Faith last October coincided with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the second Vatican Council. Bishops from throughout the world joined in the commemoration at St. Peter’s including my own, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Cardinal Dolan had taken a leading role in educating Americans about our stewardship responsibilities to our First Freedom religious freedom a gift from God whose protection has been enshrined in our constitutional tradition here in the United States.
For Catholics in America, this was a moment of unity like we’ve never known since the days of the Know-Nothing discrimination against an immigrant Church of pride, tribal, if not baptismal as bishops stood in unanimity. Catholics in the pew have new opportunities to consider and share just what faith means in civic life, and what a difference real faith can make in our politics, as it shapes our lives beyond Sunday worship.
In Rome last October, as I walked to and from the Chair of Peter past the rows of bishops, priests and shepherds, men and sons of God, I had the overwhelming feeling that something had to break. Months later, like that moment in a storm when the heavens open, the uncertainty and unsettling nature of Pope Benedict’s shocking announcement that “with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter” has served as a flood of mercy.
Pope Francis’s unmistakable brotherly love for the pope emeritus is not mere kindness or diplomacy. It’s deference to the Holy Spirit. It’s confirmation that he simply has to be the chief counsel at the Vatican and in our individual lives.
That was the point Pope Benedict was making to the Americans last December. No evangelical plan is worth much of anything if its leaders are not living an awareness of Trinitarian reality. The love of the Father must be trusted, Christ must be encountered. The Holy Spirit must guide. “The Holy Spirit is working miracles in front of the Blessed Sacrament,” as many participants expressed in different ways about their own apostolic works.
I’ve seen that. That’s the only way to live our lives as Catholics here on earth.
A great evangelical gift has been the Catholic Voices model Austen Ivereigh and Jack Valero founded in the United Kingdom. When friends of mine and I did our first big communications event in Virginia last year with Austen and Jack, I kept tripping over people in the makeshift Blessed Sacrament chapel. The goal of the work of Catholic Voices USA is to help Catholics better articulate their faith in the public square which may be on television, radio, a secular magazine, in a letter to the editor, or maybe more likely the Christmas dinner table or a happy hour. How to make it a holy hour? Holy hours! Prayer. Real Catholicism. Living an integrated life of faith, ever growing deeper in union with the Trinity.
People want this life. It just can seem impossible. The longings we have in our hearts to build the Kingdom here with our vocational lives, with our works and words, in the deepest groaning prayers of our souls often seem unreal to this world, impractical.
They are, in truth, our only way to live. We know too much to do otherwise.
At World Youth Day in Rio this summer, Pope Francis told volunteers:
God calls each of us to be holy, to live His life, but He has a particular path for each one of us. Some are called to holiness through family life in the Sacrament of Marriage. Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion. Is it out of fashion? In a culture of relativism and the ephemeral, many preach the importance of “enjoying” the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, “forever,” because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage “to swim against the tide.” And also have the courage to be happy.1
Earlier in his trip, during the Stations of the Cross he asked:
Do you want to be like Pilate, who did not have the courage to go against the tide to save Jesus’ life, and instead washed his hands? Tell me: are you one of those who wash their hands, who feign ignorance and look the other way? Or are you like Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus to carry that heavy wood, or like Mary and the other women, who were not afraid to accompany Jesus all the way to the end, with love and tenderness? And you, who do you want to be? Like Pilate? Like Simon? Like Mary? Jesus is looking at you now and is asking you: do you want to help me carry the Cross? Brothers and sisters, with all the strength of your youth, how will you respond to Him?2
These are the questions that will make the difference in our lives.
“How will you respond to Him?” That’s the question that, if answered in faithfulness to a genuine and persistent encounter with Christ, will be unmistakably different from the surrender to secularism of so many Catholics, who have been not only living but even heralding a perverse “gospel” a surrender to fallen indifference on full and scandalous display to the world
Let us help one another live the Trinitarian life, so that we might find ourselves together where we desire, where we belong, that glorious destination oh blessed relief! where the Sacramental life leads.
And for the sisters among us brothers and sisters, that message Pope Benedict gave me at the opening of this Year of Faith a repeat of a message to women delivered by another pope at the end of Vatican Council II said that “women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling.”
Waste not. Fear not. Live in the love and mercy of Christ and be not afraid, nurturing a culture of encounter that would be lost without our surrender to Christ, modeling our lives on the “yes” of His own mother.
1 Meeting with the Volunteers of the XXVIII WYD. Address of Pope Francis. Rio de Janeiro. July 28, 2013. vatican.va/holy_ father/francesco/speeches/2013/july/documents/papa-francesco_ 20130728_gmg-rio-volontari_en.html.
2 Apostolic Journey to Rio De Janeiro on the Occasion of the XXVIII World Youth Day Way of the Cross with the Young People. Address of Pope Francis. Rio de Janeiro. July 26, 2013. vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/speeches/2013/july/documents/ papa-francesco_ 20130726_gmg-via-crucis-rio_en.html
Kathryn Jean Lopez (firstname.lastname@example.org), a member of the Voices editorial board, is editor-at-large of National Review Online, a nationally syndicated columnist, and co-founder and a director of Catholic Voice
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