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Is the moral condition of the world today one of hopelessness? Has Christ been finally driven out of most aspects of the contemporary scene? There are those who would be quick to respond affirmatively to such frightening questions – and gladly, so it seems.
Need we take valuable time to collect a list of the abysmally low moral deficits of the world gone astray today? Abortion and even infanticide have emerged anew. Abortion is even protected by legal fictions, and efforts are being made to justify forms of infanticide. Euthanasia has reappeared in practice, and physician-assisted suicide introduced in various lands. The absurd notion of "same-sex marriage" is in vogue everywhere, it seems; also, defense of adoptions within such "marriages." Sterilizations are widely viewed simply as ethically neutral options, and artificial contraception defended as a "right" for which society in general is expected to bear the costs. Moral standards for entertainment have largely been destroyed. Perjury is viewed as justifiable, depending on the reason. Homosexual behavior is deemed defensible; indeed, everything and anything can be labeled as permissible, so long as the "situation" warrants – a "situation" totally without God, hence devoid of key moral compass points.
We now have a Pope. Habemus Papam, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. White Smoke signaled that the solution of Sede vacante (an unoccupied Chair of Peter) has now, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, been realized.
From the Spirit-driven 1960s of Vatican Council II, down through the decades to our twenty-first century, spectacular events have continued to occur within the Church. We now await another such occurrence, in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s decision, for reasons relating to health and the rigors of age, to step down from his station in the Petrine Ministry. A superb theologian even in his formal announcement, he could hardly refrain from theological teaching by choosing to call the Papacy what Holy Scripture describes as his office: the same pastoral ministry given by the Lord Jesus to St. Peter, the first and leading Apostle – a Biblical datum more and more appreciated today in ecumenical dialogue; namely, the "Petrine Ministry."
The primacy of the person has always been, and will always remain, a hallmark of Catholicism. The Church’s official rituals testify loudly to this; they repeatedly call for the inclusion of the names, for example, of those seeking a sacrament or benediction. Everything touching on reverence for the individual is safeguarded within Catholicism, which teaches us that each human being is unique, precious and unrepeatable.
One very profitable way of viewing Christmastime is through the prism of the quest, inspired by the pilgrimage of the Magi who followed the Star of Bethlehem.
Christ our Lord is so infinitely desirable that simply searching for him in our lives and our world ensures us joy. The Magi, St. Matthew’s Gospel relates, "were overjoyed at seeing the star." (2:10) Just knowing where the Lord could be found was sufficient for them. So should it also be for us.
Christmas, in our world today, took on an unforgettable aspect on 22 March, 2000. That was the day on which Pope John Paul II – John Paul the Great – first visited Bethlehem as Supreme Pontiff. There he entered the Grotto of the Nativity, quite alone, at his request; no reporters or cameras or microphones were allowed. To have watched the event broadcast on international television was enough to fire newfound faith in the awesome Mystery of the Incarnation – the Son of God’s birth of the Virgin Mary.
The most recent tragic events in the Muslim world invite us to reflect seriously on Islam as a resurging ‘‘major factor in shaping the 21st-century world." The quoted phrase appears in Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism (Doubleday, 2007) by one of America’s (and the American Church’s) finest scholars and thinkers, George Weigel. Invited once to address one of our country’s major corporations, Weigel argued for three key points: (1) that history cannot be read solely through the lenses of politics, economics, or technology; (2) that ideas have deep consequences for the dynamics of history; and (3) that the life and morale of one’s culture are key to the success of civilization and influence over the span of decades.
Christians in Europe are closely watching a case about religious freedom that will probably be decided by the European Court of Human Rights and Orthodox representatives. Two women are involved: one a nurse; the other employed by British Airways at Heathrow Airport. The charge? Simply wearing a small, visible crucifix. For this alleged "infraction" they were both fired.
The earliest, profoundly analytic, detailed articulation of Christian political philosophy, we recently noted in an editorial, was St. Augustine of Hippo’s The City of God (CivitasDei). Because it manifests the soul and the eloquence of one of the world’s most brilliant minds ever, as well as one of the most literary, it remains an acknowledged masterpiece, still on "best sellers" listings in countless languages.
The only keys that can open up the tragedy of the massacre of innocents that occurred outside Denver on 20 July are not to be found merely in human sciences such as psychology, sociology or even medicine. The ultimate solutions go to the soul of the human person(s) involved. And these solutions rest on the bedrock principles of ethics, structured both on the Sacred Scriptures and reason illumined by the same Scriptures.