Monday, May 23, 2016

Dictatorship of Relativism or Lordship of Jesus Christ?

Perhaps we should be grateful that the choice for or against Jesus is becoming so painfully clear.  Christians can no longer play the all-too-comfortable game of compromise with the culture, unless they are willing to be complicit with the the forces of radical secularism and ultimately subservient to the hegemony of the day.

In 2005, on the eve of his election as pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger identified the new totalitarianism of our times by coining the phrase "dictatorship of relativism." Ratzinger's homily to the Cardinals gathered in conclave offered the following insight: “We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” Pope Francis would subsequently reaffirm the concern shortly after his election as pope in 2013, and he has frequently decried the spiritual poverty of the so-called developed world.

Under the dictatorship of relativism, illogical as it is, the only self-evident truth is that there are no self-evident truths. Absent truths which we recognize as self-evident, those who wield power quickly begin to dictate what is right and true--under the guise of "tolerance," of course:
  • "Life begins and ends when we say it does", and medical evidence about fetal development and viability or concerns about "brain dead" diagnoses will not be allowed into the discussion.
  • "Marriage is what we say it is", and children no longer need a mother and a father, despite overwhelming sociological evidence to the contrary.
  • "Freedom of conscience means what we say it means", and health care providers should no longer be free to follow their consciences, despite the fact that conscientious objection has been a fundamental part of the American experiment from the beginning.
  • "Reproductive rights apply only to those who agree with us", and the cost of contraception and abortion should be imposed on everyone (both domestically and internationally), despite the fact that there are serious ethical and existential concerns about both. 
  • "The human person exists in as many sexes as we choose to define", and those who acknowledge only male and female are close-minded, despite obvious physical and chromosomal evidence in their defense.
  • "Title IX means whatever we want it to mean", despite the clear intention and obvious language regarding equal educational opportunities for males and females. 
Blind faith in unreasonable claims is required--lest one be branded a bigot. Public funding is wielded like a weapon, and cultural bullies threaten the reputations and livelihoods of those who attempt to resist.  In addition, as Ratzinger had noted regarding this dictatorship, the ultimate good of the human person is reduced to pursuit of one's egotistical desires: If I want it, therefore I have a right to it; if I feel it, therefore I must act on it. 

Is it any wonder that emptiness and meaninglessness haunt the culture in which we live?

Under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, there is an authentic respect for reality which is understood a gift that is meant to be received.  Faith is not blind, but is eminently reasonable.  And Trinitarian Love inspires the deeper the logic of the Christian way of life--it fosters self-giving, not taking, self-emptying, not consuming, self-sacrificing, not self-aggrandizing. 

Among the many promises which the Lord Jesus makes and fulfills are the following:
  • Not to leave us orphans; He gives us his Father as our Father, and his Mother as our Mother.
  • Not to abandon us (or eliminate us) in our times of suffering; He promises to be with us always, and He takes up our crosses as part of his own redemptive suffering.
  • Not to allow us to be controlled by our own weaknesses and brokenness; He reveals that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.
  • Not to promote the manipulation of ourselves and others; He calls us to return to a primordial understanding of the human person, created male and female, in the very image and likeness of God.
  • Not to coerce our fidelity; He invites us to freely respond to the gift of his merciful love, and then to graft ourselves onto his new life.
Under this life-giving Lordship, the ultimate good of the human person is not subjected to the arbitrary whims of those wielding power.  Rather, it is friendship with the Lord himself, who transforms all of our desires and fulfills our deepest needs: "I no longer call you slaves...I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father" (Jn 15:15).

No wonder that the lives of all those who freely accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ are marked by a peace which surpasses all understanding and a joy which cannot be taken away.  Now more than ever, the world needs Christians to reach out to those oppressed by the dictatorship of relativism. In the face of efforts to silence and marginalize them, Christians must invite the culture itself to authentic liberation, which comes from the One who is the Way, and the Truth and the Life.

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the U.S., Pray for Us--

P.S. To promote Conscience Protection Act currently moving through Congress, please contact your U.S. Senators and House Representative:

P.P.S. For an official response from the U.S. Bishops regarding the Obama administration's "Guidance on Title IX" regarding transgender students, check out: 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Waiting on a Bonaventure

"The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church
also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion....
Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful,
complicates the Church's life and her missionary outreach."

Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, n. 32

When both Democratic and Republican politicians cite Pope Francis as one of the most influential people in their lives--and when they concur that he is the most respected leader on the face of the earth--is it a sign of the end times?

In confused and confusing times, the Bishop of Rome seems to be simultaneously a polarizing and a unifying force.  His unwavering commitment to the basic truths of the Gospel and his restless desire to stretch people out of their comfort zones continue to move forward, like intricately intertwined forces for transformation.

From his call for a pastoral and missionary conversion of the Church at the start of his papacy (see the sample passage above), through his expansive environmental encyclical; from his wide-ranging document on "Love in the Family," through the recent announcement of a commission to explore the question of female deacons, questions abound regarding where Pope Francis is leading the Church and the world.

No recent pope has spoken more frequently and more earnestly about the real spiritual challenges posed by the Devil.  Pope Francis is not naive about the Father of Lies, that master of disunity and disharmony and disintegration.  But Pope Francis' response has not been a defensive hunkering down; rather, he has gone on the offensive in an effort to stretch the Both/And of Catholicism.  For example: 
  • Both permanent and unbreakable marriage bonds, and pastoral outreach to those whose marriages have come undone.
  • Both an all male priesthood and episcopacy, and increased leadership roles and ministerial voice for females.
  • Both a clear recognition of the human person's unique place in God's plan of creation, and a boundless commitment to care of the environment.
  • Both a relentless rejection of gender ideology and the redefinition of the human person, and a sincere invitation to all who are open to lifelong conversion as disciples of Jesus.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Best Spirit for Waiting on the Holy Spirit

With the Mother huddled,
Consoled by her sure spirit.
 Keenly they did listen,
To welcome the Advocate.

Courage they still needed,
Hoping not to disappoint.
The still sad world waited,
The grace they would soon anoint.

Mary's stories calmed them,
As their Risen Lord proved true.
Love of God the Father,
New hearts about to imbue.

In fasting and in prayer,
Sharing all that they did own.
These humble souls did trust:
Praise the Lord upon his throne!

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your Love--

Monday, May 2, 2016

Why Jesus' Ascension Makes all the Difference

"The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ," by Piotr Basin

It seems rather confusing: A Thursday celebrated on a Sunday. A historic fortieth-day event observed on the forty-third day. A pivotal moment in salvation history which might seem somehow superfluous.

Why is does the Risen Lord apparently abandon his disciples to return to the right hand of the Father?  Wouldn't the whole "Jesus, I trust in you" thing be so much easier if Christ was still appearing to his disciples--greeting them on their journey of life, eating and drinking with them--as he did with Mary Magdalene and Peter and Thomas and the rest of the growing Church?

This event stands as the theological corollary of the Incarnation: The eternal Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who humbles himself to take on our humanity, now glorifies our humanity by returning it to the right hand of the Father. First, eternity enters time, the Infinite takes on finite form;  then, with the Ascension, Christ raises the finite and temporal into the realm of infinite and eternal life.

St. John wrote that "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life--for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us" (1 Jn 1:1-2). With the Ascension, what had been visible in the person of Jesus Christ now returns to the invisible realm of divine glory. The Word of life thus opens for us "access to the 'Father's house,' to God's life and happiness" (CCC, n. 661).

Monday, April 25, 2016

"As I have loved you..." (John 13:34)

When you think of this most meaningful "as" ever uttered, what scene or scenes come to mind?

As...he called us his friends.

As...he preached a mountainside sermon
and lived a life which turned the world right-side up.
As..he reclaimed all the lost and marginalized,
like so many lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes.

As...he fed thousands and gave himself as the Bread of Life.

As...he revealed that we were no longer orphans,
but gave us his Father as our Father.

As...he forgave those who torture and murder him. 

As...he poured out his own heart and Spirit onto his disciples.

Jesus' "as" involves both a modeling and an empowering: The gift of his example is not some isolated and untouchable way of life precisely because his grace enables his disciples to turn the ideal into the real. This is the only explanation for the saints through the centuries who have loved as he loved, in a myriad of different situations and places.

In the thirteenth chapter of John's Gospel, Jesus' "as" is preceded by the striking scene of the footwashing. This dramatic gesture speaks of the "as" in terms of Jesus love for us precisely in our vulnerability, through our lack of understanding, despite our protests and prideful pleas to have the Master love us only on our terms.