In the introduction to his encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), Pope John Paul II speaks of how human beings are drawn by nature to ask ultimate questions such as: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life?
That we can ask such questions at all is an indication that we are made in the image and likeness of God, who at creation gifted us with intelligence and free will. As such, we can differentiate between good and evil and are morally responsible for our freely chosen acts.
One of the greatest failings of the modern world is its failing in morality. In many areas of his private life and in public policy, Western man has forsaken the natural and objective moral order in which good and evil are regarded as absolute opposites.
This is indicative of what Alexander Solzhenitsyn would classify as practical atheism in so far as it is expressive of man having lost touch with his Creator; with the inevitable impact on society of such a departure from reality being anarchy. This phenomenon is graphically portrayed in the biblical accounts of the Tower of Babel and of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The eclipse of moral consciousness is most evident in the multi-dimensional undermining of the meaning of marriage as an indissoluble union between one man and one woman that is ordered towards the generation and education of children.
The inevitable flow-on effect of the secular and hedonistic attack on the meaning of marriage is a diminution in respect for the inviolability of innocent human life. In this emerging culture of death, it is instructive to note that even in many of our primary schools, which in theory are intended to be places of formation in virtuous living, so-called "value-free" sex education is now imposed on children as young as 6 or 7, thereby indoctrinating them from their earliest years in the relativistic sexual ethic.
God desires that "all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth," for which purpose he established the Catholic Church as "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4, 3:3). Despite the failings of its individual members, the Church continues throughout history to be regarded as a "sign of contradiction" in so far as she bears witness to the truth about God and man.
This is most evident in regard to the Church's teaching on marital and sexual morality. While the Church's teaching in this area provides a gateway to a life that is truly ennobling and fulfilling, as well as being conducive to the advancement of the common good, it nevertheless constitutes one of the main battlegrounds between Catholicism and the new paganisms.
In proclaiming the Gospel of Christ, the Church does so knowing she cannot be indifferent to anything that touches on the well-being of the human person. Knowing that marriage and the family are "willed by God in the very act of creation" and "interiorly ordained to fulfilment in Christ," the Church recognises in the "numerous forces" seeking to destroy and deform marriage something that is ultimately a threat to her own good and to that of society (John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, n. 3).
In reference to the challenge secularised culture presents to the Church in regard to its teaching on marriage, Pope John Paul II said: "When the truth and meaning of sexuality is undermined by a secularised mentality, the Church must increasingly teach and uphold God's wise and loving plan for conjugal love. When 'social life ventures onto the shifting sands of complete relativism' (Evangelium vitae, n. 20), the moral and spiritual care of the family is a challenge which cannot be ignored: it practically defines the Church's pastoral mission" (Pope John Paul II, L'Osservatore Romano, 19 February 1997).
On another occasion, the Holy Father said that we will "fall headlong into the abyss" unless we rediscover the sacred value of every human life (Pope John Paul II, L'Osservatore Romano, 5 February 1997).
Civilisation of love
Increasingly, the secular agenda is seen to be an exhausted project, incapable of generating or sustaining a truly humane culture. As an alternative to this, the Church proposes an integral humanism predicated on recognition of the dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God. As such, the human person is called through his moral agency in the world to work for the building up of a civilisation of love, wherein the dignity of all is acknowledged, especially that of the weakest and the poor.
Just as Christ did not come into the world to condemn it, but rather that through him it might be saved (cf Jn 3:17), so too does the Church exist to serve the world by pointing out the path it must travel on the way of salvation. To overcome the forces conducive to the spread of the culture of death, it is imperative that the truth about marriage be proclaimed from the housetops.
Within parts of the Church itself, the teaching of the Magisterium on marital love needs to be freed from the shackles of dissent. This dissent is often more covert than overt, as for example in preaching where the teaching of Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae has tended to remain shrouded in a veil of silence.
However, Pope John Paul II has done the Church and humanity a great service by persuasively re- articulating the Church's teaching on the meaning and dignity of marital love. Titled Theology of the Body, this corpus of papal teaching shows once again how the Gospel of Christ is truly "Good News" for all of humanity.