Finding hope in the midst of secularism

Finding hope in the midst of secularism

Cardinal Raymond Burke

The following are extracts from Cardinal Raymond Burke's address at the annual Convention of the Knights of Columbus held in Denver, Colorado, on 2 August 2011. Cardinal Burke is the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal at the Apostolic Signatura.

Blessed Pope John Paul II, practising, as Pope Benedict XVI declared, "the beatitude of faith," with the Mother of God as his example and intercessor, has taught us all to have faith in Christ, to believe that what the Lord has promised to us will be fulfilled, and thus to live courageously the truth which has its highest expression in pure and selfless love.

John Paul II recognised the universal call to holiness, set forth in the last chapter of the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, "On the Church," as the great cause to which the Council was calling all believers.

Before the daunting challenge of living the Catholic faith in a totally secularised society, he called the whole Church to the work of the new evangelisation, to the work of teaching, celebrating and living our Catholic faith with the engagement and energy of the first Christians and of the first missionaries to our nations.

Culture of death

In his 2010 Christmas Address to the College of Cardinals, the Roman Curia and the Governorate of Vatican City State, Benedict XVI described the perversion of ethos, of the moral norm, which has even entered into the thinking of some theologians in the Church and which has provided an ideological foundation for a culture which is predominantly marked by violence and death.

Benedict described a moral relativism, called proportionalism or consequentialism in contemporary moral theology, which has generated profound confusion and deadly error regarding the most fundamental truths of the moral order. It has led to a situation in which morality itself, in the words of the Holy Father, "ceases to exist."

We think, for instance, of the justification of the murder of the unborn child in the womb as the exercise of the right of the mother to choose, weighing other goods, whether to bring to term the baby she has conceived; the justification of the abhorrent practices of the artificial generation of human life and its destruction, at the embryonic stage of development, as the means to obtain supposed cures for crippling or deadly diseases; the justification of the so-called "mercy killing" of those who have the first title to our care, our brothers and sisters who have grown weak through advanced years, grave illness or special needs, as respect for the quality of their lives; and the justification of the sexual union of two persons of the same sex as tolerance of so-called alternative forms of human sexuality, as if there were a true form of human sexuality other than the form written in the human body and soul by God.

We are witnesses of a society in which, in many respects, morality has ceased to exist. We are called ever more urgently to the new evangelisation of our culture.

What is the essence of the new evangelisation to which the universal Church is called? An extraordinary synthesis of the teaching of Blessed Pope John Paul II on the new evangelisation is found in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, "At the Close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000."

In the face of the grave situation of the world today, we are, he reminded us, like the first disciples who, after hearing Saint Peter's Pentecost discourse, asked him: "What must we do?" Even as the first disciples faced a pagan world which had not even heard of our Lord Jesus Christ, so we too face a culture which is forgetful of God and hostile to His Law written upon every human heart.

Before the great challenge of our time, John Paul II cautioned us that we will not save ourselves and our world by discovering "some magic formula" or by "inventing a new program." In unmistakable terms, he declared: "No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: 'I am with you'."

He reminded us that the program by which we are to address effectively the great spiritual challenges of our time is, in the end, Jesus Christ alive for us in the Church. In short, the program leading to freedom and happiness is, for each of us, the holiness of life in Christ, in accord with our state in life and with careful attention to our "time and culture."

Ideal of perfection

John Paul II, in fact, cast the entire pastoral plan for the Church in terms of holiness of life. Making reference to the Second Vatican Council, he reminded us that "this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few 'uncommon heroes' of holiness."

He taught us the extraordinary nature of our ordinary life, because it is lived in Christ and, therefore, produces in us the incomparable beauty of holiness of life. He declared:

"The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled me to beatify and canonise a large number of Christians, and among them many lay people who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life. The time has come to repropose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction.

"Seeing in us the daily conversion of life by which we strive to meet the high standard of holiness, the 'high standard of ordinary Christian living,' our brothers and sisters will discover the great mystery of their own ordinary life in which God, in a truly extraordinary manner, daily showers upon them his immeasurable and ceaseless love, calling them to holiness of life in Christ, His only-begotten Son. They will find new hope."

Public life

A particularly critical arena of the exercise of the new evangelisation, with its new hope to our world, is our participation in public life.

An erroneous notion of the moral law and of conscience has, in our time, led to an equally erroneous exclusion of the discussion of the moral law and of questions of conscience from public life. In many so-called advanced nations, we witness an increasing tendency to deny to citizens the most fundamental right, the right to observe the dictates of one's conscience, formed through right reason and the teaching of the Church.

We witness the phenomenon in the language of political leaders who profess to be Catholics and yet vote for legislation which violates the moral law, claiming to hold personally to what the moral law demands but, at the same time, to be obliged by their political office to follow a different law in making decisions for those whom they represent and govern.

While the Church teaches the natural moral law, the observance of the moral law is not a confessional practice. It is rather a response to what is inscribed in the depths of every human heart. Religious faith plainly articulates the natural moral law, enabling men of faith to recognise more readily what their own human nature and the nature of things demand of them, and to conform their lives to the truth which they recognise.

For that reason, religious faith and practice are important for the life of every nation, specifically for the right formation of the conscience of her citizens. All nations should guarantee the free exercise of religion, which aims to protect the teaching and practice of religious faith for the sake of the common good. When reason is not purified by faith in the political realm, the powerful and influential of the time exercise a tyranny which violates the fundamental rights of the very people whom political leaders are called to serve.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his encounter with the world of culture in Westminster Hall, during his Pastoral Visit to Great Britain in September 2010, reflected "on the proper place of religious belief within the political process." Taking inspiration from the example of Saint Thomas More, he addressed directly "the ethical foundations of civil discourse." Presenting religious faith as a service to culture, in general, he set forth the Catholic understanding of the matter with these words:

"The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers - still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion - but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles."

Benedict noted that the role of religion in public discourse "is not always welcomed," for various reasons, which include "distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism."

He observed, however, that such distortions do not justify the exclusion of religion from public discourse, for "reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take account of the dignity of the human person." What remains needed and true is the right relationship of faith and reason. The Holy Father concluded:

"This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith - the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief - need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilisation."

Religion, he continued, "is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contribution to the national conversation." In the light of the irreplaceable role of religion in public life, he expressed his "concern at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance."

Yes, we face a struggle with those who would falsely exclude the purifying and illuminating service of faith to reason, those who would insist that, when it comes to civic life, we must bracket our religious faith, even to the point of violating our own conscience. But we know the truth about the critical service which our faith brings to political reasoning, and, therefore, we must remain steadfast in giving wit-ness to it, even in the face of indifference and hostility.

Moral foundations

Benedict XVI, in his 2010 Christmas Address to the College of Cardinals, the Roman Curia and the Governorate of Vatican City State, reminded us of the need to form our consciences in accord with the moral teaching of the Church. He also reminded us of "our responsibility to make these criteria [these moral foundations] audible and intelligible once more for people today as paths of true humanity, in the context of our paramount concern for mankind."

The teaching of the truth about conscience must be, today, one of the Church's most important contributions to the life of society, in general. In a culture bombarded with the noises and false images of secularisation the Church, out of love of all our brothers and sisters, that is, for the sake of the common good, must make the voice of conscience "audible and intelligible once more for people."

In the voice of conscience, our brothers and sisters, lost in the unreal and destructive world of moral relativism and, therefore, tempted to despair, will discover the hope for which they are looking.

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