THE NOBEL PRIZE LECTURE BY ALEXANDR SOLZHENITSYN (CLICK)
CATHOLIC CULTURE FOR TRUE HUMANISM
Cardinal Giacomo Biffi Archbishop of Bologna "Faith in Jesus Christ who is 'the way, the truth, and the life' (Jn 14,6), calls Christians to exert a greater effort in building a culture which, inspired by the Gospel, will reclaim the values and contents of the Catholic tradition" (Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life, n. 7). We must ask how does the substantial and obviously non-negotiable identity of believers (that doesn't allow for opinions and differences) relate to "the legitimate freedom of Catholic citizens to choose among the various political opinions ... what best corresponds to the needs of the common good" (ibid., n. 3) (a freedom that leads fatally to a pluralism of behaviour and to divisions among brothers of the same faith in their public action)? The question is concrete, unavoidable, and does not have an easy solution. The Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the passage quoted, seeks the correct determination of the problem by using among other things the idea of "culture". In the modern world, "culture" is a very much used and almost mythical term, even if all do not always assign to the term the same conceptual content. In this way, normally, we need to define the term before we can use it. For the purposes of our discussion, let us say right away that, whatever may be the meaning that from time to time we want to use (at least among those more commonly accepted and used), the existence and legitimate understanding of a "Catholic culture" is incontrovertible. It is in the duty of safeguarding the "Catholic culture" that we find the reply to the question we deal with. It means that it is not enough to guarantee the obligatory identity of the Christian who is involved in politics that he maintain in conviction an acceptance of the Creed, respect the sacramental life, not oppose the obligatory character of the commandments of God. It is necessary to remain firmly and actively faithful to that "culture" which in the last analysis is in a homogeneous way derived, within the Church, from Christ and his Gospel, the "Catholic culture". Besides the Note warns us "the presentation of the fruits of the spiritual, intellectual, and moral heritage of Catholicism in terms understandable to modern culture is a task of great urgency today, in order to avoid also a kind of Catholic cultural diaspora" (n. 7). First definition of culture To give substance to these affirmations of principle and a useful articulation of the argument, we can briefly show how the principal understandings of "culture" in the idea of "Catholic culture" find response and plausibility. The original meaning (still present today) comes from an image taken from the world of agriculture: "culture" is used to indicate the "cultivation of the human person" above all in his interior reality. Already Cicero spoke of the "development of the soul". In turn, the disciples of Jesus never forgot that, according to his teaching, the Father is the first and truest "cultivator of the human person" (cf. Jn 15,1) since every anthropology is genuine and enlightening to the extent that, at least objectively, even if not always intentionally, it refers to his plan in which the only Son made man, crucified and risen, is the "archetype" of all humanity. For this reason, the Second Vatican Council was able to assert in a universal way that "only in the mystery of the Word Incarnate is the mystery of the human person revealed" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 22). In this perspective we can understand why within Christianity we find the highest and most motivated humanism. Already classic antiquity could proclaim: "Many things are wonderful in the world, but the human person surpasses them all" (Sophocles, Antigone, chorus of the first stasm). Christianity accepts and assimilates Greek humanism, and transfiguring it, transcends it to give it meaning, even in the case of the first and immediate finality of visible things, as we gather from what St Ambrose wrote: "The human person is the peak and the compendium of the universe, and the highest beauty of the whole of creation" (Exameron, IX, 75). A recognizable and characteristic anthropology is an eminent and characteristic part of "Catholic culture". It is an anthropology that certainly can at least partially be in agreement with another humanist vision provided that it be sound and founded on real values wherever they are found—of truth, justice, beauty which feed and adorn the human soul: with which we can say one "is cultivated" (as the classic world intuited). But it can never be identified or even assimilated to a vision of the human person that effectively contradicts or is removed from the "archetype" of humanity which is "the man Jesus Christ" (cf. I Tm 2,5). The real existence of the "archetype" allows and imposes the duty to defend the person from every manipulation and from every enslavement, enrolls every believer in the fight to combat every attack on the living image of the Saviour of the universe in whom we have been predestined. Obviously the "Christian cultivation of the human person", if it is not to remain just an abstract affirmation of principle, should have the means to achieve its own goals and particularly in the formation of the young generations. The Catholic involved in politics should never forget it. Second definition of culture During the 20th century, another and different conception of "culture" became widespread and prevalent. In it "culture" comes to mean a collective system for evaluating ideas, actions, events and therefore an ensemble of "models" of behaviour. Every "culture" understood this way presumes a "scale of values" proposed and accepted within a certain human group. For this reason we can speak of a "positivist culture", an "idealist culture", a "Marxist" or a "radical culture". That there is a "Christian culture" in this understanding that for the believer is necessary and non-negotiable, could only be denied by someone who wants to reduce Christianity to an extrinsic folklore or to a pure fact of conscience without impact on the external witness or on life. In this field the disciple of Jesus will be able to rejoice at times over unsuspected agreements with unbelievers, in the defence of an ethical principle or in a practical choice. Further, he will listen with respect and with sincere interest to the opinions of all because he does not forget that, as St Thomas repeated often, "Every truth by whomever it is said is from the Holy Spirit" (I-II, q. 109, a. 1 ad 1). More often we have to register—especially when we deal with substantial problems that touch on the nature and dignity of the human person—disagreements and incompatibility. It is very difficult that they will agree on the same scale of values, who on the one hand, affirm and, on the other, deny the divine plan of the origin of the universe. The same is true of those who affirm and those who deny eternal life beyond the doorway of death, of those who affirm and deny the existence of an invisible world beyond the varied colourful and transient scene of what appears. The believer dedicated to public life will have to confront with open eyes, serenity and firm conviction the inevitable tensions between the different "cultures" that in fact coexist in a pluralist society. Undoubtedly, living in a culturally multiform humanity and having to behave in public affairs according to the obligatory dictates of the democratic method, the believer will often be led to a will for mediation and to a quest for practical positions that can be shared by all; absolutely shared by the majority, hopefully in a way that will allow an effective practice. Politics, we are used to saying, is the art of compromise. The Note of the Congregation offers careful reflections so that such "compromises" may be held acceptable by an upright conscience. In every case, one must pay attention not to extend—in the effort to arrive more easily and quickly at practical solutions—the attitude of mediation (that can be admissible in the "political moment") even to the "cultural moment", for the expense of an identity that cannot ever be endangered. Third definition of culture There is a third meaning of "culture" that from the language of the ethnological disciplines spread throughout the second half of the 19th century. "Culture" is all that is expressed by a particular race and recognized as specific to it: its mentality, institutions, forms of existence and work, customs, inventions and creative genius. In this sense one can speak of an "African culture" or a rural culture", etc. In this understanding does a "Catholic culture" exist? It exists because a Catholic people exist and should exist despite the view of those who think that there is no longer any Christian society nor that there should be any. Today's Christian society may be a social minority, different from what was the case a century ago, but this is not a reason why it should be less alive and less clearly identifiable. And it will not be defined as a reality that is devoid of continuity in time, without premises and without roots; nor as something that is purely intellectual, without any relevant social manifestations. What is not operative in the social order and cannot ever be present there, little by little loses its relevance in the consciousness of simple and ordinary persons and in the end dies out. Moreover, the act of faith—by its intrinsic dynamism—cries out to invest and transform the whole human person in all his dimensions, not only personal but also familial and social. In the two thousand years of our history, many distinctive contributions to the elevation of the human person and many of the more noble and valuable fruits of the spirit in all fields (philosophy, literature, figurative arts, music law, etc.) bear very clearly the signs of the Christian vision. Among the tasks of the Catholic who is involved in politics is that of protecting, making known and appreciated, at the service of a true humanism, our immeasurable "family treasure".
Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 22 January 2003, page 7
OUT OF SEASON BUT AN EXCELLENT POST ON CATHOLIC (incl. ORTHODOX) BELIEF
Posted on December 21, 2012 by Philip Kosloski
As Christmas is almost upon us, here is a fitting reflection from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Even though some will contest that the movie is devoid of any Catholicism, there were elements of The Hobbit that shone through as distinctly Catholic. In particular, what surprised me was the almost direct reference to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and her “little way.” Gandalf after being questioned by Galadriel why he chose Bilbo for this journey, responds:
“Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. That is not what I’ve found. I found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keep the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love.”
This sounds very similar to these words of Saint Thérèse from her Story of a Soul:
“I applied myself above all to practice quite hidden little acts of virtue; thus I liked to fold the mantles forgotten by the Sisters, and sought a thousand opportunities of rendering them service.”
Even more so, here is another passage from Story of a Soul:
“Far from resembling those beautiful saints who practiced all sorts of austerities from childhood, my penance consisted in breaking my self-will, in keeping back a sharp reply, in doing little kindnesses to those about me, but considering these deeds as nothing.”
While the writers of the movie probably did not have Saint Thérèse in mind, it proves the “catholic” nature of the truth. It is indeed “universal” and goes back to the reality that God can use any instrument to bring about the salvation of the world. He can even use frail, weak, imperfect humans to portray a universal truth.
Actually, that is exactly how God works. Instead of choosing the learned, perfect and proud figures of our time to bring about the greatest good; He chooses the small, imperfect and weak souls. It is in the weakness of these souls that God is able to work the most beautiful of miracles. This is the reason why He chose people like Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to be His instruments of love in the world.
Small, Weak Souls
Both Thérèse and Teresa were small souls, who allowed God to do great things through them. For example, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux spent her most influential years not as a great missionary, but as a humble Carmelite nun. She only affected a small number of religious nuns (which included her own sisters) in her lifetime, but it was in her everyday sacrifices and acts of love that Saint Thérèse has ended up affecting the lives of millions of people since her death. Her autobiography has been published in numerous languages and she has even been declared a “Doctor of the Church.” The most humorous of her accolades is that she is now the Patron Saint of Missionaries. She never left the convent!
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta as well was a weak and poor soul. Most of us remember her as the small, elderly woman who served the poor in Calcutta (she was only 5′ tall). Yet, she became one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. She was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the poor. In fact, she even took the name “Teresa” in honor of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. In the end, both were weak, poor souls who allowed God to do great things.
A Child is Born in a Stable
Lastly, this brings us to a fitting reflection as we celebrate the great feast of Christmas. For it was in a small, humble stable that the King of the Universe arrived as a weak human child. Christ was born in the tiny village of Bethlehem; a place barely the stature of Jerusalem or Rome. God did not choose to dwell amongst us as a glorious warrior, but a small little babe. Saint Augustine further explains the paradox,
“God chose the weak things of this world to disconcert the strong; and God chose the foolish things of this world to disconcert the wise; and God chose the low-born things of this world and the things that are not (that is, that are not counted), that the things which are might be rendered vain (1 Cor 1:27-28). For He had come to teach humility and overturn pride…He chose to be born of that woman who had been betrothed to a carpenter. So He did not choose important family connections, or this world’s aristocracies would have taken it as justifying their pride…So He chose the weak, the poor, the unlearned; not that He left out the strong, the rich, the wise, the wellborn; but if He chose them first they would imagine they were chosen for their wealth, for their property, for their family connections, and puffed up about these things they would not have received the healthy condition of humility.”
Will hobbits save the world?
Indeed, Tolkien knew this too and chose to have as his main protagonist a weak, small, imperfect hobbit. He did not choose a great man, elf, or dwarf to save the day, but a hobbit. So this Christmas we realize that true power and influence do not come with wealth, connections or even having many things. Instead, it comes from surrendering to God our weaknesses and allowing Him to shine through us, humbly taking the back seat while He takes the driver’s seat.
In the end, hobbits will save the world, for the Lord of all creation came to save the world as a small, defenseless child.
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