Same-sex “marriage’and Soft-Despotism
“If two men want to get married, who cares? That’s their business. How does same-sex ‘marriage’ affect me and my family?”
Marriage is much in the news these days. As catechists we need to be able to articulate the Church’s teachings on marriage and family life in a simple, straightforward and positive way, without embarrassment and without dilution. The task will no doubt only get harder as popular culture and the legal system turn increasingly hostile to traditional marriage. Like so many other teachings of the Church, we can no longer count on the ambient culture to help us transmit the truth about sex and marriage.
One of the main problems with same-sex “marriage” – besides the fact that contradicts moral and natural law – is that it helps facilitate what Seana Sugrue, associate professor of political science at Ave Maria University calls “soft despotism.” How so? Human nature being what it is, people want to have their desires gratified and are all too willing to cede personal freedom in exchange for assurance from the state that it will take care of all their wants. (Sugrue’s essay “Soft Despotism and Same-Sex Marriage” can be found in “The Meaning of Marriage” edited by Robert P. George and Jean Elshtain)
Her basic argument is this: True freedom is the ability to pursue the good and to realize one’s potential free from state interference or coercion. Such freedom depends on the ability to control one’s selfish desires so as not to interfere with the freedom of others. “Self governance,” she says “is one of America’s principal strengths, as it fosters a political order that is dynamic and energizing, yet orderly.”
False freedom is the ability to do whatever I want, whenever I want, with whomever I want. But this selfish understanding of freedom only leads to moral chaos and anarchy. Under such conditions people aren’t really free. The law of the jungle prevails. To maintain order the state must intervene. But in order to keep the peace, state must guarantee that everyone’s needs and desires are met.
The push for same-sex “marriage” is the latest ‘front’ in the sexual revolution to eradicate traditional ideas about sex and marriage. In this world sexual gratification is the supreme value. Sexual fulfillment and freedom from responsibility take precedence over any children that might result from sexual activity. In this world “no fault” divorce, free contraceptives, sterilization and abortion aren’t just allowed, they’re obligatory. Indeed, they’re regarded as Constitutional rights – rights that must be guaranteed by the state.
Same-sex “marriage” legitimizes sexual licentiousness. As sexual license becomes the norm, more and more children will be born out of wedlock, deprived of a secure, loving home, creating an unstable and unsustainable social situation. The government will be increasingly called upon to provide the kind of support traditionally supplied by a mother and father.
History shows that marriage provides the best environment for children to develop into socially and psychologically well-balanced individuals. But today marriage has nothing to do with children. It’s about gratifying the desires of adults. To the extent that children are even a factor, they’re only there to meet the needs of the adults. Since the state is obliged to satisfy everyone’s desires, homosexual couples, who can’t produce children, feel entitled to them. The power of the state must be called on to insure that their desires are met. Adoption agencies therefore are forced to adopt children to homosexual couples under penalty of law not because it’s in the children’s best interest, but because gay couples have a right to them. Fertility clinics prosper as babies are manufactured to gratify the desires of people who think they deserve them. And who guarantees those “rights?” The all-powerful state.
Same-sex “marriage” leads to “soft despotism” because it needs state power for social acceptance. Marriage is a pre-political institution rooted in the natural complementarity of the sexes. Marriage developed as an institution to protect children and the women who give birth to them. The state doesn’t create marriage, it protects it. Without such protection men would be more likely to abandon their women and children when they’re most vulnerable.
Homosexuality has existed throughout human history. It may have been tolerated, even accepted, but it was never considered marriage. Why? Because it didn’t produce children.
Same-sex “marriage” is an artificial construct. In order to be accepted, traditional marriage must first be de-constructed. Its very nature and definition must be totally changed and without state intervention that can’t happen.
A common argument for same-sex marriage says, “Who cares? If two guys want to get married, that’s their business. How does their marriage affect me and my family?” The answer is it’ll affect everyone, everywhere, all the time. Since same-sex “marriage” is an artificial construct and creature of the state, an incessant and relentless propaganda campaign in every corner of society is necessary.
“Through force of law,” Sugrue says, “a movement is afoot to transform marriage from a pre-political organization rooted in duty to offspring, to a political institution rooted in self-gratification. Same-sex marriage will further erode political liberty by undermining the cultural milieu in which children learn to be self-governing and to care for themselves and their families. This is damaging both to the wellbeing of children and to the long-term sustainability of American’s political order.”
Same sex “marriage” part 2: What it means for the Church
Civil unions are now officially legal in Colorado. No sooner had the first couples tied the knot than Mayor Michael Hancock revealed the truth: “We will not stop until our state residents … have full marriage equality!” Proponents of civil unions sold the idea by saying they just wanted legal protection for same-sex couples. They lied. Their target all along has been the institution of marriage. The ultimate goal of proponents of “marriage equality” is not to strengthen marriage, but to eradicate it. Evidence of this surfaced recently as LGBT activist Marsha Geesen said in a speech: “It’s a no-brainer that we should have the right to marry … but I also think it’s a no-brainer that the institution of marriage should not exist.” (Upon which the audience erupted into cheers and applause).
The long term effect same sex “marriage” isn’t hard to guess. It will lead to the gradual decay of marriage altogether because people will see it as nothing special.
And Catholics aren’t immune. The decline in marriage among Catholics has been happening for decades. It started with the sexual revolution in the 1960s. A couple of years ago Our Sunday Visitor reported “The number of marriages celebrated in the Church has fallen from 415,487 in 1972 to 168,400 in 2010 — a decrease of nearly 60 percent — while the U.S. Catholic population has increased by almost 17 million. To put this another way,” the report continued, “this is a shift from 8.6 marriages per 1,000 U.S. Catholics in 1972 to 2.6 marriages per 1,000 Catholics in 2010.”
Same sex “marriage” doesn’t cause the demise of marriage; it’s just one more brick in the wall erected against traditional morality. When the state redefines marriage it will further erode the unique meaning and purpose of marriage. Fewer and fewer people will get married because they won’t see any point in it. Further exploitation of women and children growing up without a mother and a father will become the norm.
Same sex ‘marriage’ will bring about what Prof. Seana Sugrue calls “soft despotism.” Why? Because same sex ‘marriage’ is essentially a political institution which depends on the coercive power of the state to compel acceptance by the populace. Children will be indoctrinated about “alternative lifestyles” in school at younger and younger ages. Parents will find it impossible to protect their children’s innocence and purity. It will be all sex, all the time, from cradle to grave. No sphere of life will be free from sexual indoctrination.
Same sex ‘marriage’ will not only undermine traditional marriage, it will undermine religion. Many Christians, Jews and Muslims are morally opposed to same-sex marriage. “To the extent that they exert cultural influence,” Prof. Sugrue says, “they pose a threat to the sustainability of this fragile political institution.” When the state creates same-sex marriage, religious organizations are a problem. As the chief obstacle to the new social arrangement churches will be forced to comply or face legal sanctions. Parishioners will be torn between their allegiance to the church and the state. In the contest for the hearts and minds of the people the state wins because the state has all the power. The situation will not be unlike that which the Jews faced under Greek occupation in the second century B.C. (see 1 Maccabees 1).
Historically in America church and state have cooperated with each other. Religion provided a belief system and moral framework that supported marriage and families, which benefited society. But when the state institutionalizes same-sex marriage religion in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, suddenly becomes an adversary that must suppressed.
Through mandated sex education programs the state will instill beliefs in children that are at odds with the teachings of their religion. Moral views not approved by the state will be outlawed and the freedom to express one’s opinion will collapse. Same-sex marriage will drive a wedge between the church and children and children and their parents as they are systematically indoctrinated into secular ideology, Sugrue predicts. Traditional moral beliefs will be stigmatized by the state and so parents will be discouraged from passing on the faith to their children. Right now only about one fourth of Catholics attend Mass on a weekly basis. If Sugrue is right, that that number will drop as same-sex marriage is implemented by the government. Attendance will drop, that is, if Catholics acquiesce and choose to side with the state rather than with God and his Church. The question is: will Catholics have the courage to say, like Mattathias, “We will not obey the words of the king nor depart from our religion in the slightest degree!”? (1 Macc. 2:22)
The era of the Counter-Reformation Church is over and the era of Evangelical Catholicism has begun, according to papal biographer George Weigel in his most recent book, “Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century.” This is an absolutely must-read book for every Catholic. Clergy and anyone involved in parish ministry, especially evangelization and catechesis should definitely get this book and read it.
The 16th century marks the beginning of the modern period. Starting with the Protestant Reformation, and followed by the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, the Catholic Church had been fighting off attacks not only to her belief system, but to her very existence.
The Church’s response began with the Council Trent (1545-1563). It laid the foundation for a renewal in catechesis, prayer and worship. If Catholics were to survive in such a hostile world they were going to have to know their faith extremely well, have a strong devotional life and pull together as a community. This response came to be known as the “Counter-Reformation”.
The Counter-Reformation Church was characterized by a strong devotional life and robust catechesis. These two things helped preserve the Church the challenges of modernism. The Counter-Reformation wasn’t just reactionary; it produced great missionary saints like St. Francis Xavier, St. Frances Cabrini and St. Peter Claver. It produced great teachers of the faith like St. Charles Borromeo, St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Counter-Reformation Catholicism created vibrant Catholic communities that gave millions immigrants the support and confidence settle in America during a time of intense anti-Catholic bigotry.
Counter-Reformation Catholicism enabled the Church to prosper at a time when so many forces were arrayed against her. But, as Weigel explains, it was not the form of Catholicism that could fully meet the challenges of modernity. Ultimately, Catholics needed something more than clear rules, strong Catholic neighborhoods, and the Baltimore Catechism. Counter-Reformation Catholicism served an important purpose, but proposing the gospel to the modern world required something quite different. Counter-Reformation Catholicism, a.k.a. “cultural Catholicism,” which remains the dominant paradigm in most parishes, is no longer viable. It hasn’t been for over hundred years.
The final blow to Counter-Reformation Catholicism came in 1870 with the seizure of the Papal States by the Italian government. The loss of the Papal States destroyed the Church’s temporal power and worldly status. No longer would the Church wield influence as it had for over a thousand years. Vatican I, which began in 1870, tried to deal with the challenges of modernity but was unable to finish its work because of the war launched against the Church. With the conquest of Rome by Italian forces, Pius IX became a virtual prisoner of the Vatican. By his death in 1878 many people believed that the Church was finished in terms of its influence in the world.
The era of Evangelical Catholicism began with the election of Leo XIII, according to Weigel. Under his leadership the Church began to engage the modern world, not just react against it or run away from it. “Leo XIII,” Weigel wrote, “set in motion a profound transformation of Catholicism in which the Church slowly moved beyond the catechetical-devotional model that had been dominant since the sixteenth century Counter-Reformation to a new mode – a model that is best described as Evangelical Catholicism.” The very title of Pope Leo’s best known encyclical, Rerum Novarum, demonstrated the Church’s determination not to retreat from the modern world, but to tackle “new things” head on.
The Church’s new approach to modernity is beautifully displayed at Pope Leo’s tomb in the basilica of St. John Lateran. His statue captures the spirit of the man and the Church at the dawn of the 20th century. Instead of lying down in peaceful repose, Leo is depicted standing upright with his right hand extended and right foot forward, confidently leading the Church into the modern world.
The future of the Church belongs to Evangelical Catholicism. It is Christ-centered, deeply Biblical, profoundly sacramental, forward-looking, optimistic and mission-minded. It doesn’t try to accommodate itself to the spirit of the age and secularism which robs individuals of their transcendent value and consumerism which reduces everything to economics. Nor does it retreat from the world or fight against it. Instead, it seeks to propose the faith with renewed vigor and joy. Religious communities that have accommodated themselves to the spirit of the age, or have fought against it, are dying, or are already dead. Evangelical Catholicism proposes an alternative vision of what it means to be human and what it means to be the Church. Order George Weigel’s “Evangelical Catholicism” today and be sure to read it.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults
The difference between the baptized and the unbaptized
Every year it gets better, but there’s still some confusion about RCIA. First of all “RCIA” refers to the book, not the process. The process, properly speaking, is called the “catechumenate” and is designed for unbaptized adults to lead them from unbelief to faith. Baptized believers already have faith. Their goal is to complete that faith by entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. The process, however, is typically applied to both the baptized and the unbaptized, with little or no distinction between them.
In many parishes everyone is treated virtually the same, going through the same formation process and sometimes even the same rites. It’s not unusual for someone baptized in a Protestant church and raised in that faith to be told they must (1) wait until RCIA classes start (usually in September) and (2) they must wait until Easter to be received into the Church and confirmed.
There are three essential points that need to be made, which I’ll elaborate below.
- No one should have to wait until “RCIA classes start”. Every parish should have some kind of program or procedure whereby inquirers can start the process at any time; e.g. “inquirer’s classes” that meet once a month.
- Those who are already baptized in another church may be received/confirmed at any time of the year. Although it’s permissible, candidates should not be received at the Easter Vigil. That ceremony should focus on the catechumens.
- Among the baptized a further distinction should be made between those who are catechized and those who aren’t. The first group may require very little instruction before being confirmed, while the second group may require a great deal more.
As a practical matter sometimes it’s just not feasible to create two separate ‘tracks’- one for the baptized and one for the unbaptized. Staff and volunteers are limited. But even if instruction is done together, it’s important to distinguish between the two groups. In one parish, for example, the unbaptized sit in the innermost circle while the baptized sit behind them in another circle. Sponsors, catechists and other team members sit in the outermost circle. This technique works well. Everyone receives the same instruction and important bonds form. The seating arrangement reminds those who are baptized that they’re already part of the Church. The RCIA team isn’t burdened with having to manage extra sessions. Most importantly, the unbaptized – the genuine catechumens – are made to feel special because they’re in the center surrounded by the love and support of the Church.
The belief that all those who are baptized are already part of the Church stems from the nature of baptism and the principle ex opere operato (“from the work done”).That means the efficacy of the sacrament derives from its action, not who does it or where it was performed. As long as baptism was done in a manner recognized by the Church, it’s considered valid. Holy Mother Church recognizes that those who are baptized in another ecclesial community are members of Christ’s body. As the Decree on Ecumenism from the Second Vatican Council states
“Those who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect” (UR 3).
The Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium 15) also says “The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter.”
The goal, then, with respect to the baptized is twofold: 1. To affirm and highlight the significance of baptism and conversion to Christ. 2. To fulfill God’s will “that all may be one” (John 17:20-21) by receiving the candidate into the fullness of faith in communion with the Holy Catholic Church. Affirmation and unity, therefore, distinguish the rite of reception from the rite of initiation. For that reason the RCIA book says “No greater burden than necessary is required for the establishment of communion and unity” (RCIA no. 473).
Where it becomes tricky is figuring out what sort of instruction the baptized person needs. Some are very well formed in Scripture, prayer and the Christian life, while others are entirely uncatechized. Imagine a high school senior who moves to another town and is told by the new principal that he has to enroll in the elementary school down the street in order to graduate. That would be nuts. For those who are baptized and formed in another ecclesial community, special instruction suited to their particular needs should be devised. Obviously questions will need to be answered, misunderstandings cleared up and essential Catholic doctrines taught. But once the candidate is ready, there should be no delay in receiving them.
The rite of reception can take place anytime, but ideally should be done within the Mass. The rite should be simple, but dignified and respectful of the candidate’s former community. “Any appearance of triumphalism,” the RCIA book says, “should be carefully avoided” (RCIA 475).
Meanwhile, those who are baptized but uncatechized are, for all practical purposes, no different than catechumens in terms of formation and so it makes sense that they be catechized together.
The whole way of dealing with baptized Christians is treated in the RCIA book part II, sections 4 and 5, and Appendix III – “National Statues for the Catechumenate,” especially #30-37. I also recommend “When Other Christians Become Catholic” by Rev. Paul Turner (Liturgical Press, c. 2007).
The Year of Faith: Are you READY?
The Year of Faith begins October 11. Pope Benedict described it as “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world.”
The reason for calling for a Year of Faith is simple. Faith, at least in Europe and some parts of America, is dying. In the past, faith in God, the contents of the gospel and the values it inspired by it were part of the cultural matrix which families could rely upon to help them transmit the faith to their children. Not anymore. “This presupposition” the Pope said, “can no longer be taken for granted, but is often openly denied.”
October 11 marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Aquila will open the Year of Faith with a special Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at 5:30 p.m. He hopes you will join him for that great event.
Important milestones like this prompt us to look back and evaluate what we’ve done, and what we’ve failed to do. When a man turns 50 it’s only natural that he pause and reflect on his life, appreciate his accomplishments and, yes, think about his failures. It also encourages him to look ahead to the future, to get a fresh start, establish new goals and make necessary changes. This is what we’re being asked to do during the Year of Faith.
For most Catholics Vatican II is a distant memory or a relic from the past that has no relevance to us. But Vatican II was the most important religious event of the 20th century. Many of the things we take for granted such as Mass in English, the priest facing the congregation and participation by the laity came about after Vatican II. What many people don’t know is that Vatican II never mandated exclusive use of the vernacular at Mass (although it did allow for some use). And it never said anything about which direction the priest should face. That came later.
The point is that most Catholics don’t know what Vatican actually said about a whole host of issues. The Year of Faith therefore is an invitation to take another look, or look for the first time, at the beautiful and inspiring things Vatican II said.
The Year of Faith also commemorates the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism, which is one of the principal fruits of Vatican II. It distills the teachings of the Council, along with numerous other sources including the Bible, in a single, comprehensive compendium. Bl. John Paul II called the Catechism a “harmonious symphony” of the faith and the Catechism describes itself as “an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine.” There are no less than 817 references to Vatican II in the Catechism!
Ask yourself, “How well have we assimilated the teachings of Vatican II? How well do we even know them?” It’s also a time to learn about the Catechism. Even though it’s been twenty years since the Catechism was published, many Catholics, maybe most, have never opened it.
The Year of Faith is important for another reason. Ideological secularism is threatening to drown us in what Pope Benedict has called “a dictatorship of relativism.” Pope Benedict believes that relativism, especially moral relativism, is the greatest threat to civilization in the 21st century. And the only antidote to the ‘dictatorship of relativism’ is a renewal of faith.
There will be many opportunities over the next year to renew your faith and learn more about Vatican II and the Catechism. To start the Year of Faith we are sponsoring a symposium on the Catechism Saturday, October 13 at the John Paul II center. This symposium is primarily for catechists, giving them a comprehensive introduction to the Catechism in just one day. Call 303-715-3260 for more information and to register. Please encourage your catechists to attend this important event.
Walking Together: Preparing for the Year of Faith
In February, the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops published the Lineamenta for the upcoming Synod on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, which will take place October 7-28, 2012. “Lineamenta” means “walking together” and was written primarily for bishop’s conferences around the world to prepare them for the Synod and to encourage discussion “at every level of the Church.”
The preface reminds us of something that’s been said many times before: the Church is missionary by her very nature. Evangelization is not just one task or department among others; it is the very essence of the Church, animating every activity. The Church was catholic and apostolic from the very beginning as she was sent to preach the gospel everywhere and to all people. The Lineamenta says that while the gospel has reached virtually every part of the world, it has not yet penetrated societies sufficiently. The Christian message has either not been understood or has been insufficiently appropriated. Consequently, individuals, families, societies and cultures remain largely unchanged. The financial chaos and social upheaval in many places around the world show how little effect the gospel has had on critical issues that affect billions of people.
New Evangelization is not just about developing programs to increase church attendance or bring home fallen-away Catholics, although it certainly includes those things. New Evangelization, the Lineamenta says, is about “addressing the challenges of a rapidly changing world” with gospel values so that as societies change they may change for the better. As JD Flynn pointed out in a recent talk, one of the many problems we have as a society is that we’ve lost our sense of purpose, the “telos” which shapes our laws and culture. Part of the Church’s mission is to remind society of its telos.
Evangelization is essential to the Church’s identity because it’s an expression of who God is. Evangelization ‘mirrors’ the Trinity as “God communicates himself through the gift of his Son to humanity” in the Holy Spirit. Evangelization is not a humanly-devised program, but an expression of the communion between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Insofar as we are in communion with God, to that extent we will evangelize naturally. Which is why attention to the liturgy and helping the faithful become more fully conscious of the mystery taking place is a important part of the Year of Faith. As we are drawn up into the life-giving communion of the Most Holy Trinity and are configured to Christ crucified we become the instruments of him “who reveals to the world the features of God’s love and communion.”
The Lineamenta compares the world in which we live to the world in which the gospel was first proclaimed. What do these two very different worlds have in common? Unprecedented change. Today, there is not a country in the world that is not in some way undergoing enormous transformation, including our own. Some societies are facing major financial challenges and some, like Greece and Spain, are in danger of collapsing entirely. Meanwhile other countries are experiencing tremendous economic vitality and growth, which brings with it its own set of problems. In times of great social turmoil the gospel message needs to be heard more than ever. And yet just when the gospel is needed most, it’s welcomed the least; freedom of religion is threatened around the world, even here in theU.S.
The Lineamenta reminds us that God is the Lord of history and nothing happens without his permission. Today’s social, political and economic turmoil are part of God’s plan, though it’s often hard to see how. There is a spiritual dimension to all this. We (“we” meaning society as a whole) ignore this dimension at our peril. Our problems are not just economic and political, they are moral and spiritual. That’s why transmitting the faith is so important and why evangelizing ourselves first is so necessary.
The goal of Synod on the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith is not so much about devising programs to increase our membership, but of discerning where God is leading his Church and how he wants us to respond to the challenges in front of us. As the Lineamenta says, “Discerning requires distinguishing the subjects and themes which need our attention, listening and common discussion.” The first order of business, then, as we prepare for the Year of Faith is to listen to ‘what the Spirit is saying to the Church’ – particularly to the Church here in Denver – which begins first by listening to the Lord, and to each other.
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (Mt. 7:24)
Secularism: the New Normal
I love my job. But one of the downsides is that my day is spent in a kind of hermetically-sealed Catholic bubble. Surrounded by like-minded people who love the Church and are serious about their faith makes it easy to forget how hard it is for those who live and work in a secular environment day in, day out.
I just got back from a two week vacation inCaliforniavisiting family. None of them are religious, let alone Catholic. They’re wonderful people, but religion is just not part of their lives. They’re steeped in secularism. Every now and then they’d ask questions about the Church, which would prompt some good conversations, but those times were few and far between. For the most part my days were spent swimming in a secular sea. I realized how hard it is to maintain your faith when you’re surrounded by people who don’t share it, or just don’t have any. I guess it’s just human nature to ‘go along to get along.’ Human beings quickly adapt to their environment, whatever it is.
Some Catholic beliefs are hard to understand even for a devout person. But for someone whose whole way of thinking and seeing the world is governed by secularism, certain articles of faith are positively incomprehensible. My sister, for example, was surprised to learn that the Catholic Church doesn’t approve of gay ‘marriage.’ In her world, everyone does. She knows a lesbian who happens to be Catholic and figured, I guess, that the Church must therefore approve. But she was absolutely scandalized when I explained that the reason the Church doesn’t approve of gay ‘marriage’ is because homosexual attraction is a ‘disorder.’ I was thinking of the exact terminology in the Catechism  hoping that that would help her understand. It didn’t. In fact, she was horrified that the Church taught such a thing, and mortified that I accepted it. After all, all the gay people she knows are nice.
Being immersed in the faith is a wonderful thing, but it can also make it hard to relate to people steeped in secularism, which means practically everyone. Because secularism is the mainstream of modern American culture, it’s easier to go with flow than against it because it’s so normal. I sure found that out while I was in California. And because secularism is so normal and mainstream, nobody notices it. After all, you don’t notice the current when you’re going with it, but only when you’re going against it. A secularist doesn’t think he’s a secularist. He just is. Secularism isn’t a consciously chosen belief system, it’s just assumed; taken for granted like air.
I think that’s one reason why the Obama administration was surprised by the reaction to the contraceptive mandate. It didn’t see anything odd about a secular government agency defining what kinds of organizations are religious, and which ones aren’t. But in order to determine what kinds of institutions are “religious” it had to use some sort of criteria. It had to measure it against something. That “something” is secularism. From a secular point of view, schools, hospitals or homeless shelters aren’t religious enterprises. But the administration, like most people, doesn’t see secularism itself as a belief system, an ideology, a point of view. It doesn’t see it at all. A secularist notices secularism about as much as a fish notices water.
The Holy Father has frequently warned about the dangers of a radical secularism that seeks to control everything. In his address to theU.S.Bishops in January he said, “It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in theUnited Statescome to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.” In light of this he urged all of us to do what we can to counter the tide of secularism, saying that we need “an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.”
There’s a silver lining in all of this though. We tend not to notice those things that are just normal. When Christianity was the norm, people hardly noticed it and took much of it for granted. Even those who didn’t go to church assumed a Christian world view. As a result people of faith tended to become complacent, and complacency led to indifference, and indifference led to inactivity, and inactivity led to abandonment. Something had to fill the void, and something did. Secularism replaced Christianity as the dominant world view. But now that Christianity is not the norm, people notice it; including religious people, maybe especially religious people. For if we take our faith seriously and really try to live it well, we notice in double-quick time just how difficult it can be. It’s natural to go with the flow. But when you try to live your faith and resist secular values, you notice it more and therefore value it more. And that’s a good thing.
Active Participation at Mass
One of the main goals of liturgical reform envisioned by the Second Vatican Council was the “fully conscious and active participation” of the faithful at Mass.The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, says, “MotherChurch earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy ….. In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else.”
But what, you may ask, is it precisely that we are we are being called to participate in? “Why, the Mass, of course,” you might say. But that only begs the question, “What is the Mass?” What is it, in other words, that we are participating in when we participate in the Mass? And what does participation consist of?
The idea of active participation wasn’t invented by Vatican II. Liturgical experts had been talking about it for decades prior to the Council.
In 1998 Pope John Paul II addressed this issue with a group of American bishops during their Ad Limina visit. “The challenge now,” he said, “is to move beyond whatever misunderstandings there have been and to reach the proper point of balance, especially by entering more deeply into the contemplative dimension of worship, which includes the sense of awe, reverence and adoration which are fundamental attitudes in our relationship with God.”
He goes on to say, “Only by being radically faithful to this doctrinal foundation can we avoid one-dimensional and unilateral interpretations of the Council’s teaching. The sharing of all the baptized in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ is the key to understanding the Council’s call for full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14). Full participation means that every member of the community has a part to play in the liturgy, and in this respect a great deal has been achieved in parishes and communities throughout the Church.
Full participation does not mean that everyone does everything, since this would lead to a clericalizing of the laity and a laicizing of the priesthood; and this was not what the Council had in mind. The liturgy, like the Church, is hierarchical and polyphonic, respecting the different roles assigned by Christ and allowing all the different voices to blend in one great hymn of praise.