Holy Father Challenges American Secularism

Seeing a subtle similarity between totalitarian regimes and the radical secularism prevalent in Western societies the Pope coined the term: ‘dictatorship of relativism.’
by Brother Scott Murphy, LC | Source: Catholic.net

 "Secularism challenges the Church to reaffirm and to pursue more actively her mission in and to the world,” Pope Benedict said in his meeting with American Bishops last week.  Throughout his entire visit to the United States, the Holy Father made it a point to communicate this challenge known to the American people.

Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Benedict has continually fought to bring God back into the public forum.  His reflections on the connection between secularism and relativism demonstrate that the confinement of faith to one’s private life leads to the corruption of moral principles.  In his visit last week, he insisted that true faith expresses itself in one’s behavior both inside and outside the home. 

Seeing a subtle similarity between totalitarian regimes and the radical secularism prevalent in Western societies the Pope coined the term, dictatorship of relativism, a title that he renewed in last weeks meeting with American bishops.  

This title, however, seems to contradict statistics that indicate a high level of religiosity in the American people.  Besides, Pope Benedict on his flight to the U.S., during the press conference aboard Shepherd One called our country a fundamental model of Church-State relations.  That evaluation fits well with a statement made by President Bush in an interview prior to the Pope’s arrival.  When asked about the role of faith in his life, he responded, “I don't think you can disassociate your faith with how you live your life. I mean, I think it's all engrained.” 

So, what is this “dictatorship of relativism” that Pope Benedict was talking about? 

In his meeting with bishops, he explained that “while it is true that this country is marked by a genuinely religious spirit, the subtle influence of secularism can nevertheless color the way people allow their faith to influence their behavior.”  With great clarity the Pontiff continued, “Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.” 

Pope Benedict took this truth and made it into a challenge.  He went on to point out a clear instance of this subtle incoherence born of secularism.  While speaking of the sexual abuse scandal he inquired, “What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?”  He insisted, “We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike.”

The Holy Father also showed his insight regarding American culture with the solutions he proposed for these issues.  In a society that rightly values personal liberty,” he told the bishops, “the Church needs to promote at every level of her teaching - in catechesis, preaching, seminary and university instruction - an apologetics aimed at affirming the truth of Christian revelation, the harmony of faith and reason, and a sound understanding of freedom, seen in positive terms as a liberation both from the limitations of sin and for an authentic and fulfilling life.”   

With this emphasis on education as a fundamental, long-term solution to painful societal problems, the Pope’s message to more than 400 Catholic educators gathered at the Catholic University of America came as no surprise.  He brought up the fact that, at times, “the value of the Church's contribution to the public forum is questioned.  It is important therefore to recall that the truths of faith and of reason never contradict one another.”  Further demonstrating the link between faith and reason, he noted that “the contemporary ‘crisis of truth’ is rooted in a ‘crisis of faith.’”

However, many Catholic teaching institutions have slowly lost their Catholic identity over the last few decades.  The Pope challenged these institutions to combat these secularizing trends.  Despite the reduced number of Catholic students in many of these schools and universities the Holy Father insisted that it is not an issue of numbers. He reminded them, “It is a question of conviction - do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear?  Are we ready to commit our entire self - intellect and will, mind and heart - to God? Do we accept the truth Christ reveals?”  Again, he helped them draw practical conclusions, asking “Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice, and respect for God's creation? Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold,” he asserted.

Bishops and educators received an unambiguous message and challenge from the Vicar of Christ encouraging them to uproot the distortion of a clandestine kind of faith.  During his homily at the National’s Stadium in Washington he urged all Catholics to “bring the richness of faith’s vision to bear on the urgent issues which affect the future of American society.”  His asked youth gathered at St. Joseph’s seminary, "And what of today?  Who bears witness to the Good News of Jesus on the streets of New York, in the troubled neighborhoods of large cities, in the places where the young gather, seeking someone in whom they can trust?"  And closing with an invitation to Sydney he urged them, “Shine his light upon this great city and beyond… Tell others about the truth that sets you free.” 

Pope Benedict XVI left his mark on America.  He challenged people from all walks of life and of all ages to let their faith shine in every aspect of their lives.  He gave a testimony that America will not soon forget. 

Brother Scott Murphy, of the Legionaries of Christ, studies for the priesthood in Rome.


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