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Column: American Catholics must work to reclaim our culture

Archbishop Naumann

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

Hopefully, by the time you read this article, we will have a new pope.

I have been impressed by how seriously the people of the archdiocese have accept- ed the invitation to pray for the College of Cardinals as they are the human instru- ments God deigns to use in the selection of the next successor of St. Peter.

We need to pray even more fervently once the new pope is chosen. We must implore the Holy Spirit to empower and guide the new Holy Father as he assumes the humanly impossible responsibility that has been thrust upon his shoulders. May our new pope be heartened by the words of the archangel to Mary, when she wondered how she, a virgin, could be the mother of the Messiah! Gabriel reminded Mary that nothing is impossible with God. In fact, with God, all things become possible.

A few weeks ago, after the Academy Awards event, I was listening to a discussion on a talk show about Michele Obama’s presentation of the Oscar for the best motion picture. The conversation was about the appropriateness of the first lady presenting such an award. One of the pundits opined, since most of the world’s impression of the United States is being formed by our mov- ies and music, it was only natural for our nation’s first lady to assume a role in the Academy Awards festivities.

Actually, my heart sank at the thought that the rest of the world perceives our nation by our movies and music. A few years ago, when I was in Italy, I was conversing with an Italian cardinal about how encouraged I am by the fervor of young Catholics that I encounter at Benedictine College, the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center, the staff at our archdiocesan

camp, etc. He was heartened to hear what I was reporting. Then, he commented sadly and with absolute sincerity that it was uplifting to know that some good is coming out of America, as opposed to the corrosive effect of so much of America’s cultural exports, e.g., fast food and the crudeness of American entertainment.

I love to watch movies and films. In fact, if I had the time, I would enjoy watching one of the classic movie channels. I rarely go to the theater because of my schedule. However, even if I had the time, there are not many contemporary films that I care to see. What passes for comedy is often just frankly crude.

It is difficult to decide what is more offensive — the violence or the immorality that is so explicitly depicted in contemporary American films. Gone are the days of directors, like Alfred Hitch- cock, who portrayed without blood and gore a suspenseful mystery, even though it almost always revolved around the commission of some violent crime.

Similarly, Hollywood seems incapable of telling a romantic tale without having explicit sex scenes. What was considered pornographic when I was a youth is now normative, not only in movies, but more and more on television.

Crude, vulgar and offensive language is considered essential in all forms of American entertainment. This is all done in the name of realism, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more crude language is used in music and movies, the more acceptable it becomes in common conversation.

If I had the time, I would like to pursue a thesis of how the sympathetic portrayal of divorce and serial marriages, cohabitation and casual sex, and, more recently, homosexual activity prepared the way for all of these to become culturally acceptable. There is ample social science data demonstrating that the erosion of our moral values has played havoc with family life in which the well-being of our children has been the number one, though not the only, victim.

I wish all of the above were not true. I sometimes wonder what future civilizations will think of the American culture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, where we permitted
the mass murder of our own children by abortion and were so confused about something as fundamental as the nature of marriage. Arch- bishop Salvatore Cordileone, the chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage, stated that redefining marriage as something different than a vowed relationship between one man and one woman is like redefining breast feeding so as to include men!

Pope John Paul II was absolutely correct with his conviction that culture is much more important than politics. Our political choices are very much influenced by the values or lack of values that are glorified in the popular culture.

Both Blessed John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Ben- edict XVI challenged the church to present the truth not only in theological and philosophical discourse, but also — and perhaps more importantly — through the arts. American Catholics, other Christians, and other people of faith must reclaim our culture. We will succeed in doing this, not so much by argument, but by the witness of joy that is the fruit of the life of faith and virtue.

Even more important than logical presentations of truth is the portrayal of authentic beauty in all the various art forms. The nihilistic philosophies that were spawned by atheism and agnosticism have created a culture of despair. Nihilism fosters confusion and chaos in the arts resulting in artists being unable to distinguish authentic beauty from what is demeaning and downright ugly.

An essential part of the new evangelization is in the hands of Catholic artists, actors, authors, and musicians. True beauty is irresistible. Among other tasks for our new pope will be the challenge to encourage and inspire a renaissance in Christian art.

During a recent visit to Kansas City, Christopher West, one of the great proponents of Blessed John Paul’s theology of the body, suggested an illuminating image to me. He compared the beauty of the Catholic Church’s teaching on love and sexuality to the 2009 performance of Susan Boyle on “Britain’s Got Talent” television show.

In appearance, Susan Boyle did not fit the image of a star female singer but, the moment she began to sing, the audience was swept away by the beauty of her voice. (If you are not familiar with Susan Boyle or you are looking for a moment of inspiration, Google her name and view her performance!) American pop culture does not expect to be inspired by the church, but if we live our Catholic faith with integrity, the world will be captured by the beauty and joy of our witness.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

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

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