Beware of ‘secular Catholicism’

| April 26, 2012
Archbishop Nienstedt

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

I hope you had a joy-filled Easter! A priest friend of mine from Detroit gave a most thought-provoking and challenging homily to his parishioners on Easter Sunday. I found his description of a “secular Catholicism” to be quite perceptive.

He also commented on the impact that this movement is having on our college-age sons and daughters and how imperative it is that we communicate to them the beautiful truths of our faith, especially regarding human sexuality, marriage and human life.

I share his homily here with you in the hopes that you will find it equally stimulating:

“Jesus is Lord”

This was a particularly difficult homily for me to prepare. I wanted all of you to embrace the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . and with it, his victory over sin and death without reflecting on a single negative. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that you and I must confront a kind of spiritual death that is embracing our church and our society.

For some time now, there has been a secular Catholicism which has been slowly replacing the passionate, strong and enduring faith that many of us received from our parents. Secular Catholicism is more a social religion than a religion that comes from a deeply seated faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. It invites people to have a causal relationship with the Catholic Church . . . a church Jesus founded for us as a gift for all ages.

Secular Catholics are casual about many things. They are casual about church attendance, casual about the importance of a prayer life, casual about the commandments, casual about authentic church teaching and casual in the ways they pass faith on to their children.

It doesn’t seem to be so bad when we hear the word casual. Yet, it is bad because when one generation falls into that trap, the generations that follow have even less faith or no faith at all . . . and the church is diminished. So why is this important enough to take time and space in my Easter homily?

The answer is simple. There is spiritual warfare going on in our church and in our society and, as faithful Catholics, you ought to know about it.

This year I re-read parts of Dinesh D’Souza’s book “What’s So Great About Christianity?” In that book he warns about a new atheism that is infecting our society as a whole, but, more importantly, it is affecting many of our young people in colleges and universities.

In his chapter “Mis-Educating the Young: Saving Children From Their Parents” he says, “The atheist strategy can be described in this way. Let the religious people breed them, and we will educate them to despise their parents’ beliefs.”

When I was growing up, there was only one prominent atheist, Madelyn Murray O’Hair. Back then, every Catholic, indeed every Christian, ignored her as an oddity. Today’s atheists are legion. They have an agenda and their names are familiar.

Christopher Hitchens . . . God called him to Judgment last year.

Carl Sagan.

Daniel Dennett.

Richard Dawkins.

Sam Harris . . . and many, many more.

They are on my list because they are all highly acclaimed authors whose works are commonly read in realms of higher learning.

In his book, D’Souza says “Atheistic educators are now raising the question of whether parents should have control of what their children learn.” And you and I know that in public schools parents are losing more and more control each and every year.

Richard Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion” asks “How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents? It is one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like.

But should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society stepping in? Isn’t it always a form of child abuse to label children as possessions of beliefs that they are too young to have thought out?”

Daniel Dennett goes further. “Parents don’t own their children the way slave owners once owned slaves, but are, rather, their stewards and guardians and ought to be held accountable by outsiders for their guardianship.”

What he is saying essentially is that outsiders do have a right to interfere.

My friends, you and I are living in a new kind of world and if we want to overcome that kind of thinking, we have to take our faith in Jesus Christ and in his church much more seriously. This celebration tells us that we do have the power to make a difference. We have within this church the transformative power of Jesus Christ.

To understand that power we have to first understand that Easter really did happen. We believe that because the Scriptures of the New Testament are filled with eyewitness accounts. Those accounts tell us over and over again that Jesus did die on the cross . . . that he was buried . . . that on the third day he did rise from the dead . . . and, finally, that he is Lord and Savior and the Son of the Living God.

During this Easter celebration we ask only one question. Are the witnesses reliable? Their later actions say that they are. Almost every one of them suffered a martyr’s death rather than deny what they had seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears. If you and I believe that they are reliable, then all of us must pay much more attention to our faith in Jesus Christ and in his church.

St. Augustine tells us that faith is given to us as a sacred trust. It must be protected. It must be developed. It must be allowed to grow.

In his book “The City Of God,” he says: “There is a sanctuary of conscience inside every person that is protected from political control, and that kings and emperors, however grand, cannot usurp authority that rightly belongs to God.” In our society, that statement is equally true when applied to congressmen, senators and presidents.

Today we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord. We are called to think about our own sinfulness and, as we do that, to remember especially that Christ died for us while we were still in our sin. He went to the cross for each of us to reconcile us to God and to each other.

I pray today that through the cross of Jesus Christ, God will give us the Easter power to be inflamed by his love and to share that love in every possible way with everyone within our reach.

May God give us the grace.

God bless you!

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Category: Only Jesus

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