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Turn the curse of living in ‘interesting times’ into a blessing!

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

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

The late President John F. Kennedy, in his January 1961 inaugural address (I am old enough to recall watching it on a black-and-white television screen), noted that he and his fellow Americans lived in “interesting times.”  He observed that an ancient Chinese curse was to wish for someone to live in “interesting times.” You and I are recipients of this curse. We are living in even more “interesting times” than in the 1960s.

We live in an age of great scientific and technological advancement. Thanks to modern technology, through our laptop computers or our cellphones, we have an incredible library at our fingertips. We can easily travel the world in a way that was unimaginable only 75 years ago when I was born. We have the ability to communicate easily with people on the other side of the world. The variety and quality of food choices that we enjoy are vastly superior to what was available to royalty in previous centuries. Similarly, we can access hundreds of entertainment options anytime and anywhere.

At the same time, we are living in a time of great cultural confusion. We live in what some have termed a “post-truth era.” Sadly, many of our young people have been taught that there is no such thing as objective and eternal truth. In the post-truth era, we can all have our own truths, even if they contradict each other.

We know that embryos in their mothers’ wombs possess a unique DNA, different from that of their biological mothers and fathers. Through advanced ultrasound technology, we can observe unborn children doing somersaults in the womb. In one hospital operating room, doctors perform life-saving surgeries on preborn children, while in another wing, unwanted babies are being aborted. We know more about life in the womb now than at any time in history, yet abortion advocates claim not to know when human life begins.

Equally troubling, we have redefined something as fundamental to society as marriage. Even more disturbing, we deny that gender is something given to us and assert that we can defy biology by an act of the will, claiming to be a different gender or even a different species.

People experiencing gender dysphoria deserve not only our compassion but also our respect because they are created in the image of God and are of such worth that Jesus gave his life on Calvary. However, it is neither respectful nor compassionate to affirm them in delusions that will result in a lifetime on expensive, hormonal drug regimens and eventually subject them to mutilating surgeries. 

Recently, public health officials have sounded alarms about epidemics afflicting young people. They are not speaking about a recurrence of COVID, but rather epidemics of loneliness, anxiety, depression and even despair. If money and the comforts that wealth can buy are the key to happiness, we should be the happiest society in human history.

During this era of remarkable scientific and technological advancement, we have experienced a time of spiritual and moral recession. Many in our culture identify themselves as spiritual, but not religious. A significant number identify as agnostics. They are completely indifferent to God’s existence. Many even identify as atheists, denying the very existence of God.

These are not human advancements. In many ways, we are returning to a pagan past. Many do not believe in a God of revelation. The spiritual who are nonreligious place their faith in gods that are no greater than what their minds and imaginations can conceive. “God” is only what they determine “God” to be. When we fashion “God” in our image rather than understand ourselves to be created in the divine image, we have become our own miserable gods.

Our value and the value of other human beings is no longer innate, but depends on our productivity. When, as a result of disability, illness or age, we are no longer able to be productive, then our life and the lives of others are considered burdens. When we push God out of our universe, the world becomes very dark and bleak.

What a gift is our Catholic faith! The Creator of the cosmos has revealed himself to us. God’s ultimate revelation is his Word, the Logos — Jesus Christ. Our Lord revealed on Calvary the infinite value that God has placed on human life. We are of such worth that God allowed himself to be subjected to a painful and humiliating death so that we would know the depth of his love. Jesus endured death in order to defeat death so that we could share in his divine and eternal life.

This Sunday, we celebrate the great solemnity of Pentecost, commemorating the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the tiny band of Our Lord’s first disciples. Pentecost was the birth of the church. This Sunday is our birthday!     

Jesus gave the apostles an impossible mission — to make disciples of all nations. How could this tiny band of disciples, who had no earthly power, no authority, no buildings, no books, no political influence, no money, no programs, no PowerPoint presentations, transform the world?  Yet, in their lifetime, they spread the Gospel to the east as far as India and to the west as far as Spain.

If each one of us reconstructed our spiritual family tree, our spiritual genealogy, we would all ultimately wind up in the same place — the upper room of Pentecost. We are all spiritual descendants of that tiny band of disciples.

What those first disciples did have was their witness of their own experience of Jesus Christ — their witness to his life, ministry, teaching, passion, death and resurrection. Those first disciples constructed the foundation for a movement that eventually resulted in the transformation of the pagan Roman empire into a profoundly Christian culture.

You and I have been given the same mission to make disciples — to help others know this God who desires communion with them and wants them to share in his everlasting life. Like the first disciples, we have been called to be agents of change. To become disciple-makers we do not need theology degrees or PowerPoint presentations. All we need is what the apostles possessed. We need only to be able to share the difference that friendship with Jesus makes in our lives.

The early Christians transformed the world by the witness of their love for each other. The pagan culture marveled at how the early Christians loved one another. The pagan world was drawn to the beauty and joy of Christian marriage and the Christian family.

A nonbelieving world was stunned by the courage of the early Christians, who would die rather than deny Jesus and the truth of his resurrection. The Christian culture that emerged from the heroism of martyrs went on to create universities, schools and great centers of learning. This same Christian culture generated the most beautiful works of art, architecture, painting, music and literature. It was the Catholic Church that gave birth to hospitals, orphanages and other amazing ministries of mercy and compassion.

You and I are called to help transform culture during these interesting times. We have a mission to bring the love of Jesus to others. Our faith assures us that we are never alone. The same Holy Spirit that was poured out upon those first disciples has also been given to us through our baptism and confirmation.

The Holy Spirit desires to empower us to use our gifts and talents to glorify God and to serve others. We are called to infect the world with the joy and hope that comes from knowing the truth that we are God’s beloved! 

Embrace your call to make disciples. Be not afraid! We are called to turn the curse of living during interesting times into a blessing. Our culture is starving spiritually and craving for the truth and the joy of the Gospel of Jesus.

Come Holy Spirit, come. Enkindle the fire of your love in our hearts, so that we can set the world ablaze with the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ!

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

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

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