Defending Western Civilisation
Address to the Knights of the Southern Cross in Tasmania
Catholic Contribution to Western Civilisation
In 2012 an interesting book entitled “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization” (by Thomas Woods) was published. It is a book that needed to be written to correct some false notions about the history of the Catholic Church and what it has contributed to Western civilization. It followed on in the style of another book, Thomas Cahill’s “How the Irish Saved Civilization”. Both are a good read.
Thomas Wood argues, rightly I believe, that the Catholic Church largely built Western Civilization. He outlines the contribution of the Church to the emergence of civilization as we know it. While Western culture has received much from Greek and Roman civilization, it was the capacity of the Catholic Church to fashion this into the culture we have inherited today.
He mentions the enormous contribution that Benedictine monasticism made in preserving learning after the collapse of the Roman Empire. The Carolingian Renaissance restored the rule of law and marked the real beginning of the civilization we have inherited. It was the Church that enabled the development of the university and a Christian worldview which enabled the emergence of the Scientific Revolution. The Christian faith enabled the production of glorious art and architecture during the medieval period. The rise of international law occurred in Catholic universities. Importantly it was the Catholic understanding of the nature of the human person fostered the concept of inalienable rights, the natural law, and the dignity of the human person.
The book contains many interesting facts that are largely unknown by most Catholics. I do recommend it to you very highly.
We have been heir to a culture which is the product of and in some ways the vehicle for Catholicism. We grew up in a world steeped in Catholicism. It is what was lived in our families, celebrated in our parishes and taught in our schools. We absorbed the faith. It was the very air we breathed. The society around us was fashioned by Christian thought: the education we received, the laws we lived under, the form of government that ruled, even the structures of economic life.
This situation has now changed and continues to change. Throughout the Western world, the culture no longer carries the faith in the way it once did, because the culture has become increasingly hostile to the faith. Catholicism can no longer be absorbed from the environment, for the environment has become toxic to faith. We can no longer presume that decent lives lived within the prevailing cultural norms will somehow convey the faith to our children and grandchildren. Less so offer an inspiration to others to consider embracing the Catholic faith. We have entered a time of intense struggle for the faith and for the future of our society.
The Catholic author, George Weigel, author of the definitive biography of Pope John Paul II, states that what he calls, “recreational Catholicism” will no longer suffice for Catholics.
He says, “Catholicism as a traditional, leisure-time activity absorbing perhaps ninety minutes of one’s time on a weekend is over. Full-time Catholicism, a Catholicism that, as the Second Vatican Council taught, infuses all of life and calls everyone in the Church to holiness and mission is the only possible Catholicism in the twenty-first century”.
Weigel has written a book entitled, “Evangelical Catholicism – Deep reform in the twenty-first century Church”. In this book he argues that the Catholicism of the future must be one of serious conversion of life, deep fidelity to the Church, a joyful discipleship and courageous witness to the faith. He says that Catholics must put Jesus Christ at the centre of all that they do. He says that Christ must shape our personal identity, our relationships and all our activity.
Such Catholics, he says, lead a full sacramental life, regularly read the Scriptures as the Word of God and seek to live in daily union with Christ.
Evangelical Catholics enter mission territory every day, leading lives of integrity and charity that invite from others the question, “How can you live this way?” That question, in turn, allows the evangelical Catholic to fulfill the Great Commission by offering others the Gospel and the possibility of friendship with Jesus Christ. Having responded to the Risen Lord’s call to meet him in Galilee, evangelical Catholics go into the world in witness to the Christ who reveals both the face of the Merciful Father and the truth about our humanity
His contention is that unless Catholics live in radical fidelity to Christ and the Gospel they will not be able to give verifiable witness to Christ. He claims that Catholics need to unashamedly propose the Catholic faith to the world.
He argues that to be able to meet the challenges that face the Church in our time we need to recapture the true nature of being a Catholic.
Pope Francis has introduced a term to describe the nature of being a Catholic. It is the term “missionary disciple”. It is a term that he used in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) which was promulgated on 24 November, last year, on the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe and the conclusion of the Year of Faith. Pope Francis states, “In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelisation." (#120)
The Pope proposed that not only should every Catholic be a missionary disciple, but the “Church is herself a missionary disciple” (#40).
The very title of the exhortation reflects the spirit of Pope Francis. He speaks about the joy of what is discovered by knowing Jesus Christ. His opening sentences read: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (#1).
He invites all Christians “everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” (#3). Cleary Pope Francis knows that evangelisation can only become a living reality in the Church when members of the Church open their lives to him in a way that enables a real encounter to occur.
The exhortation reflects much of the teaching of the previous popes. Pope Francis states: “We should realise that missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity” (# 15). On this basis he then quotes from a statement of the Bishops of South America, called the Aparecida Document, which states that the Church “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”. He echoes the document in adding that the Church must move from pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry. (#548 and 370).
Pope Francis has used some bold statements to urge the Church to move beyond its own comfortable and safe confines and to reach out to people, particularly those on the margins. He urged priests to move “out of the sacristy”. He urged bishops not to spend too much time away from the dioceses and in speaking to a group of newly appointed bishops he warned them to “avoid the scandal of being airport bishops”. He urged the clergy to move out among the people, saying at the Chrism Mass in 2013: “be shepherds with the smell of the sheep”. In the exhortation he urges all in the Church to go forth from “our own comfort zones in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel”.
Pope Francis has offered us a challenge. We cannot be satisfied with a confined and safe Catholicism.
Where to for the Knights?
Tonight my address has been entitled, “Knights in Tasmania”. The topic asks the question of what role the Knights can play in Tasmania. The Knights have a history. They were formed at a time of bigotry towards Catholics and the existence of obstacles to advancement in certain professions. The Knights provided a place of mutual support and encouragement. In more recent times the Knights have been active in supporting many worthy Catholic causes, not least the provision of aged care facilities.
It is right for any organization to reassess its role and set its path for the future. Times change. New circumstances are encountered. Where to for the Knights?
When we set out to develop a strategy for future direction, we can identify certain steps.
• First the issues we face need to be clearly identified.
• Secondly we need to ensure we are equipped to deal with the issues
• Thirdly we need to be engage in the struggle.
I would like to offer some general comments on each of these steps.
1. The issues that we face I have briefly outlined above. Western civilization as we have known it is going through very significant change. An increasingly militant secularism is seeking to transform our society, striking at some of its key foundations: marriage, family, religious freedom. The issues can further be identified as a significant loss of Catholic faith among our brethren in the Church exemplified by a drop in Mass attendance. Many Catholics choosing to distance themselves from Catholic teaching and are following popular attitudes. We see a decline in moral standards as many no longer adhere to the traditional Christian moral code.
2. In order to meet this challenge we need to prepare ourselves. This means as George Weigel suggests a more serious commitment to our Catholic faith – strong sacramental life (including daily Mass, regular confession), serious attention to the Scriptures, daily personal prayer and a willingness to engage in sound spiritual formation. It also means that we need to be intellectually formed. We need to inform ourselves with good Catholic reading. We need to identify speakers who can assist us in forming our minds in sound Catholic thought. We may need more specialised training in how to evangelise or to defend the faith (apologetics).
3. Then we need to act – individually and corporately. Knights have sought in the past to form their members in the faith and to undertake actions as a group. At this moment we need to plan how we can reclaim our society as a Christian society. It does mean that we need to attract younger men to the Knights. The way we can attract them is by being unashamedly Catholic with a serious game plan to influence the direction of our culture. We need to enlist the support more Catholics.
We all desire to live quiet and good lives. This is understandable. We would prefer not to get into the battle, not to be involved in the messy business of war. Our Pope can leave us in no doubt as to what he expects of us.
Pope Francis has this to say: "I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a church concerned with being at the center and then ends up by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures."
He added: "More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, 'Give them something to eat.'"
Pope Francis has made it clear that he expects us to “have a go”. Thus to the Knights of the Southern Cross I would say, “have a go”.
Archbishop Julian Porteous
Wednesday, February 12, 2014