by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
I do not recommend watching the evening news. It will depress you. The war in Ukraine continues with no resolution in sight. China threatens to invade Taiwan, potentially triggering World War III. Inflation continues to make the cost of living soar, while reducing the worth of the dollar.
The level of the national debt is unsustainable, but our leaders appear impotent to address it because it would be political suicide. The vast majority of Americans do not want a rerun of the last presidential election, while both parties appear poised to renominate the same candidates.
More importantly, our moral culture continues to decline. A female Supreme Court Justice, as well as many legislators and executive branch cabinet officials, cannot define the meaning of the word “woman.”
Violent crime plagues many of our cities. A large number of children are growing up without their biological father present in the home. Even though we live more comfortably than any society in world history, our young people suffer from loneliness, anxiety and depression. According to recent studies, Americans are less religious and less patriotic than previous generations.
The preceding is hardly a comprehensive list of all of the negative cultural trends, but you get the picture. St. Peter instructed the early Christian community: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3:15).
The late Pope Benedict XVI wrote his second encyclical letter on the virtue of Christian hope. Pope Benedict contrasted Christian hope with some of the false notions that are prevalent in the secular world. One of these false notions is faith in progress. The remarkable successes of science that resulted in amazing technological advancements fostered a false hope that a new paradise could be realized by the ability of human reason to direct the natural world.
Pope Benedict described the transition in modernity from the Christian notion of redemption, won by the death and resurrection of Jesus, to a redemption experienced in scientific and technological progress. “The recovery of what man had through the expulsion from Paradise was expected from faith in Jesus Christ: herein lay redemption. Now, this redemption, the restoration of the lost Paradise is no longer expected from faith, but from the newly discovered link between science and praxis (the application of scientific knowledge). It is not that faith is simply denied; rather, it is replaced onto another level — that of purely private and other worldly affairs — and at the same time becomes irrelevant for the world” (“Spes Salvi,” 17).
Part of this belief that scientific progress and economic reforms can provide an earthly paradise comes from failed philosophical ideas. Sadly, in many of our universities, Marxism has been resuscitated. Pope Benedict defined the fundamental error of Marxism in this way: “He (Karl Marx) forgot that man always remains man. He forgot man and man’s freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil. He thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism: Man, in fact is not merely the product of economic conditions and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favorable economic environment” (21).
Pope Benedict believed that the experience of modernity had revealed clearly that merely scientific and material progress without a corresponding moral and ethical progress is not only insufficient but actually quite dangerous. Our late Holy Father wrote: “To put it another way: The ambiguity of progress becomes evident. Without doubt, it (scientific progress) offers new possibilities for good, but it also opens up appalling possibilities for evil — possibilities that formerly did not exist. We have all witnessed the way in which progress, in the wrong hands, can become and has indeed become a terrifying progress in evil. If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man’s ethical formation, in man’s inner growth, then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and the world” (22).
Is it real progress to increase the capacity of weapons going from the sling shot to the atomic bomb? Is our computer technology really an advancement, if it addicts children to spend endless hours stimulated by the flood of alluring images, constant information and perpetual entertainment on screens, while impeding the development of authentic friendships? Is it real progress to be so dependent on computer technology that our national enemies can by cyberattack threaten our energy supply or collapse our economic system? Is it progress that we allow a predatory pornography industry to addict defenseless children to sexually provocative and perverse images under the guise of freedom of expression?
Bad ideas have consequences. Karl Marx died a tragic figure. Two of his three children that lived beyond childhood ended their lives by suicide. Friedrich Nietzsche, who advanced the ideology that God is dead and human beings can will themselves to be whatever they desire to be, spent the last decade of his life insane. Yet, it is their ideologies that dominate many institutions of higher education.
What then is the basis for Christian hope? It is in a good and benevolent God, who has loved us into existence. It is in God, who despite sin — our rebellion against him — continues to reveal himself to us. It is our faith in a God who humbled himself to immerse himself in our humanity so that we could share in his divine and eternal life. Our hope is anchored in a God who has created us to be in communion with him.
Only the love of God, available to each of us, can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. No matter the external circumstances of our lives, nothing can separate us from the love of God — not physical suffering, emotional distress, adversity, persecution or even death itself.
St. Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians gave one of the best descriptions for Christian hope: “But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (4:7-11).
“Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal” (4:16-18).
What a blessing is our Catholic faith! What a grace it is to have a hope that nothing in the world can diminish, much less destroy!
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