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The world already has the salvation story it needs

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

In early November, Archbishop José Gomez — the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as the archbishop of Los Angeles — gave a virtual speech to the Congress of Catholics in Public Life in Madrid.

Archbishop Gomez was asked to address the phenomenon of the rise of new secular ideologies and movements for social change in the United States and their impact on the church.

Archbishop Gomez observed that an “elite leadership class” has developed in the United States and Europe that is very influential in governments, universities, media, corporations and cultural institutions that have little interest in religion and what they consider archaic belief systems that get in the way of developing what is envisioned as a new global order. Archbishop Gomez also stated bluntly that part of the goals of secularization is to de-Christianize Western culture.

Archbishop Gomez noted that “cancel culture” and political correctness often are attempting to cancel and correct “perspectives rooted in Christian beliefs — about human life and the human person, about marriage and family, and more.”

Archbishop Gomez observed that these secular ideologies seek to present a rival narrative to the Christian understanding of the purpose and meaning for life.

Archbishop Gomez described the secular narrative in this way: Human beings do not know our origin, but we have common interests with those who share our skin color or our position in society. This secular worldview taps into the pain, suffering and alienation that many experience. Adherents to this secular vision divide the world into victims and oppressors. Redemption comes through a constant struggle against our oppressors and “by waging a battle for political and cultural power in the name of creating a society of equity.”

Archbishop Gomez encouraged Christians to recognize that many who subscribe to this secular ideology are motivated by noble intentions. There are too many in our American society who experience some form of discrimination and do not receive the same opportunities for human flourishing.

Christians share this desire to build a society that provides equality, freedom and dignity for every person. However, we also understand that we can only build a just society on the foundation of the truth about God and human nature. Archbishop Gomez echoed Pope Emeritus Benedict’s warning “that the eclipse of God leads to the eclipse of the human person. . . . When we forget God, we no longer see the image of God in our neighbor.”

Archbishop Gomez explains: “In denying God, these new movements have lost the truth about the human person. This explains their extremism, and their harsh, uncompromising and unforgiving approach to politics.” With the denial of the truth of the human person, as one fashioned in the divine image and of such worth that the Creator of the cosmos in the greatest of all acts of humility entered fully into our human condition, these “secular movements are actually causing new forms of social division, discrimination, intolerance and injustice.”

Archbishop Gomez proposed that the response to this destructive secularization is for Christians to be better witnesses of the truth and the beauty of the Christian narrative of God’s love for humanity revealed in Jesus. “We need to live and proclaim the Gospel as the true path to liberation from every slavery and injustice, spiritual and material. In our preaching and practice, and especially in our love for our neighbors, we need to bear witness to God’s beautiful vision for our common humanity — our common origin and common destiny in God.”

Archbishop Gomez counseled that acknowledging our common humanity means recognizing our common frailty: “The truth is that we are all sinners, people who want to do the right thing but often do not. That does not mean we remain passive in the face of social injustice. Never! But we do need to insist that fraternity cannot be built through animosity or division. True religion does not seek to harm or humiliate, to ruin livelihoods or reputations. True religion offers a path for even the worst sinners to find redemption.”

Later in November, in his presidential address at the assembly of the bishops of the United States, Archbishop Gomez urged us to remember the core mission of the church is to evangelize, to share the good news of God’s love revealed in Jesus. He observed:

“There is a spiritual awakening going on in America, underneath all of the clouds of the pandemic and all the uncertainty about where our country is heading. People are starting to examine what they truly believe and what they value most deeply in their lives.

“There is a reason for this. It is because we are living in a moment when American society seems to be losing its story.

“For most of our history, the story that gave meaning to our lives was rooted in a biblical worldview and values of our Judeo-Christian heritage.

“It was the story of the human person created in God’s image and invested with an earthly vocation to build a society where people could live in freedom, with equality and dignity.

“This story underwrote America’s founding documents. It shaped the assumptions of our laws and institutions, it gave substance to our everyday ideals and actions.”

Archbishop Gomez advised his brother bishops that the American people do not need a new secular salvation story: “What they need is to hear the true story — the beautiful story of Christ’s love for us, his dying and rising from the dead for us, and the hope he brings to our lives.”

The Advent and Christmas seasons remind us of the beauty of the Christian story. We believe that the cosmos, the world and humanity are not the result of blind chance. All we need do is observe the complexity and yet order and beauty within the natural world to recognize the absurdity of this view. It is obvious that the natural world is the fruit of an incredible intelligence, not blind chance.

However, Christians believe something so much more beautiful and powerful than simply that there must be a creator. We believe that the Creator of the cosmos desires to be in communion with us, to have friendship with us. We believe that the Second Person of the triune God allowed himself to be incarnated in the womb of Mary — fully sharing in our life so that we could fully share in his divine life. We believe in a God who seeks and pursues us.

In meditating upon the Christmas miracle, God becoming man, let us allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with wonder and awe at the immensity of God’s love. What the world needs is not a new secular salvation story. What the world needs is better, more passionate, more joyful witnesses of the Christmas story and Gospel of the One born in Bethlehem.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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