Editorial: This is No Time to Retreat from the Culture, We Must Work for its Conversion
freedom. The myths they told had the pagan gods acting in much the same way. Our western culture is now sliding through secularism into paganism. The myths, tributes and statues of today are different but the reality is no different. Contemporary paganism, like the paganism of old, is not the path to authentic human freedom and flourishing but to misery and a loss of freedom.
The early Christians did not rail against the pagans of their age when they sought to effect the conversion of those cultures. They proclaimed the fullness of freedom which is found in Jesus Christ to all who would listen to them. They did not change their message to the culture but changed the culture through their message. They also demonstrated its truths with their compelling witness of life. They lived in monogamous marriages, raised their children to be faithful Christians and good citizens, and went into the world of their age offering it a new way to live. This way (which is what they first called the early Church) revealed a very different worldview than the one that the pagans embraced.
With joy and integrity the early Christians lived that way in the midst of their pagan cultures. As a result, they sometimes stirred up hostility. Some of them were martyred in the red martyrdom of shed blood. Countless more joined the train of what use to be called white martyrdom, living lives of sacrificial witness and service in the culture, working hard and staying faithful to the end of a long life spent in missionary toil.
Slowly, not only were small numbers of pagans converted and baptized, but eventually their leaders and entire Nations followed suit. Resultantly, the Christian worldview began to influence the social order. The clash of freedoms continued, but the climate changed significantly. It was the Christian faith and the practices of these Christians that began to win the hearts of men and women. The cultures once enshrined to pagan practices, such as plural marriage, homosexuality, exposure and abortion began to change dramatically and this dynamic continued for centuries.
It was Christianity that taught such novel concepts as the dignity of every person and their equality before the One God. The Christians proclaimed the dignity of women, the dignity of chaste marriage and the sanctity of the family. It was Christianity that introduced the understanding of freedom not simply as a freedom from, but as a freedom for living responsibly and with integrity. The Christians insisted that freedom must be exercised with reference to a moral code, a law higher than the emperor, or the shifting sands of public opinion.
It was the Christians who understood that choice, rightly exercised, meant always choosing what was right and that the freedom to exercise that choice brought with it an obligation and concern for the other. They knew that freedom has a moral constitution and must be exercised in reference to truth. Their Christian faith presented a coherent and compelling answer to the existential questions that plagued the ancients, such as why we existed and how we got here. What was the purpose of life? Questions like how evil came into the world and why we could not always make right choices? What force seemed to move us toward evil and how we could be set free from its power?
Christian philosophy began to flourish. Philosophies of government and economic theory began to be influenced by principles derived from a Christian anthropology and worldview. Christians helped to create the beautiful art which humanizedcultures. Christian artists knew that Creation and Redemption are part of a grand masterpiece by the Divine Artist and there is a connection between beauty and the Christian vocation to manifest the presence of the living God in this world which He still loves. Christians were - and are - the true humanists. That is because to be fully Christian is to be fully human.
We need to learn from the example of those who have engaged the very struggle we now face. Like them, we must also remember that what we are engaged in is first a spiritual struggle. Our victories will first be won in prayer and then must stepped into a new Christian missionary movement from the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. That movement will flourish and spread through the witness of a vibrant, theologically orthodox, faithful Christianity that is engaging, relevant and compelling to the new pagans of our age. It will bring about the conversion of persons, families and culture as it has in the past. It will pave the way for the future.
In 1999 the Pontifical Council for Culture of the Vatican released an insightful document entitled "Toward a Pastoral Approach to Culture". It contains helpful insights for us as we consider the road ahead in our work to convert the culture. Here is an excerpt: "From the time the Gospel was first preached, the Church has known the process of encounter and engagement with cultures" (Fides et Ratio, 70), for "it is one of the properties of the human person that he can achieve true and full humanity only by means of culture"(Gaudium et Spes, 53).
This is no time to retreat from culture, we must work for its conversion.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: culture, conversion, Pro-Life, pro-marriage, culture of life, courage, persecution, anti-Christian, anti-Catholic, spiritual warfare, early Church, culture war, culture struggle, Deacon Keith Fournier
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