Book: God exists, and he matters to us

| January 20, 2011

Archbishop Nienstedt

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

“We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit” (1 John 4:6).

I pondered these words from the liturgy of Jan. 3 after having had the opportunity to read Peter Seewald’s new book, “Light of the World.” This delightful work contains Mr. Seewald’s continuing conversations with His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, conversations which took place this past summer in Castel Gandolfo.

You will recall that the media gave this publication much attention last fall. In my opinion, the publicity was for all the wrong reasons. Far from establishing new and controversial teachings on sexual morality, the book actually reflects not only the clear and insightful thinking of the Holy Father on a wide range of current topics, but it also opens to the reader a good look at the pastoral heart of the pope.

Danger of relativism

The core theme of His Holiness’s teaching that I detected was the need for individuals as well as nations to bring God back to the center of life. He points out that many people today have fallen into a “practical atheism” (p. 49) whereby the concept of objective truth is considered suspect or even unattainable.

Without ethical values and standards, then, the determining criterion becomes the opinion of the majority, which breeds an intolerance for those who oppose that opinion. In such a context, intolerance for the public display of religious symbols, such as the crucifix, or for the church’s teaching on homosexuality or the ordination of women, grows in light of “an abstract, negative religion” (p. 52) which aggressively challenges the free speech of Christian believers.

In the pope’s own words:

“Christianity finds itself exposed now to an intolerant pressure that at first ridicules it — as belonging to a perverse, false way of thinking — and then tries to deprive it of breathing space in the name of an ostensible rationality” (p. 53).

Yet, as he points out, this experience runs through all the centuries and is, in fact, a consequence of original sin.

In his answers to Seewald, the pope makes reference to a favorite saint of his, St. Augustine, who described world history as a battle between two loves: 1) the love  of self, which leads to the destruction of the world; and 2) the love of others, which calls for the renunciation of oneself (p. 59).

This is not to say, however, that all of modern thinking is wrong, or that the world is totally depraved. Rather, it is important for Christians to incorporate what is good and right about modernity, while at the same time separating and distinguishing themselves from the secular spirit which itself can be described as a kind of “counter religion” (p. 56).

Again, I quote the Holy Father:

“This is a sign of the times that should be an urgent challenge to us, especially as Christians. We have to show — and also live this accordingly — that the eternity man needs can only come from God. That God is the first thing necessary in order to be able to withstand the afflictions of this time. That we must mobilize, so to speak, all the powers of the soul and of the good so that a genuine coin can stand up against the false coin — and in this way the cycle of evil can be broken and stopped” (p. 61).

Conversion required

Obviously, as the pope recognizes, this mobilization of the powers of the soul requires conversion, purification and penance, all the more called for today because of the “filth” that spewed forth “like the crater of a volcano” (p. 23) in the clerical sexual abuse crisis. But here again, such reform demands putting God once again at the center:

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“The important thing today is to see that God exists, that God matters to us, and that he answers us. And, conversely, that if he is omitted, everything else might be as clever as can be — yet man then loses his dignity and his authentic humanity and thus, the essential thing breaks down. That is why, I think, as a new emphasis we have to give priority to the question of God” (p. 65).

Faced with the secularism and relativism of our day, both outside the church and even within her, this clarion call of the pope provides a kind of road map for our catechetical and evangelizing efforts.

None of us can say we are immune from the forces of self-love that are so prevalent in today’s society. But by placing God at the center of what we do as individuals, as families, as a state and as a nation, I believe we can discern more correctly how to distinguish, in St. John’s words, the spirit of truth from the spirit of deceit.

I highly recommend a careful reading of “Light of the World.”

God bless you!

Committed to Catholic schools

As you likely have heard, leaders at three Catholic schools in the archdiocese recently made the difficult but necessary decision to close their schools at the end of this school year. School leaders and archdiocesan staff are assisting families affected by these changes in choosing another Catholic school which meets their needs. Principals, pastors and other staff are working to arrange financial assistance and transportation to ease the transition as much as possible. I am praying for the families and staff affected by these changes. I ask that you also include them in your prayers.

I wish to state clearly that I and this entire local church remain firmly committed to Catholic schools — for this generation and for future generations to come. I am confident that Catholic schools’ educational vision of Gospel values, personal respect and virtue, and academic preparedness is needed today more than ever before.

Catholic schools are uniquely able to educate the whole person — academically, socially, and spiritually. We must ensure that the exceptional, well-rounded education offered by Catholic schools continues to be sustainable and available to families for generations to come. Please join me in praying for the administrators, teachers, students, parents and grandparents of students and those parishes and benefactors who make up and support our Catholic school committees.

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Category: Only Jesus

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