teenager arguing with her parents, objecting with words like, “Well,
everybody’s doing it!” — everybody is equated with the popular culture that
sways us to conform. And when mom or dad quips back at their teenager, “Well,
not in this house you won’t.” As long as you are under this roof you will …
such-and-such.” “Not in this house” registers often as opposition to the
culture, a countercultural stance while asserting a higher wisdom, if not
practical wisdom — [but] be that parental wisdom, that is perceived to be for
the teen’s greater good.
Christians are consistently challenged by the values of culture over against
the wisdom we find in Gospel preachments and Christian lifestyle in general and
Catholic lifestyle in particular. The choices are many and, sometimes,
God-awful. No one relishes standing alone without [their] friends who all seem
to be part of “everybody’s doin’ it … so it must be okay!” But, if everybody’s
doin’ it … it probably means something about it is wrong!
Christians we live perpetually with this tension. We are in the culture but not
of it. Jesus sensed this acutely when, at the Last Supper, he prayed out-loud
for his followers — namely, beseeching his Father to preserve and keep safe his
disciples from the enticements and persecutions of the world. Jesus reminded
his Father that his followers were in the world but not of it.
have always been critiqued as standing apart from the majority. In fact, wisdom
has shown over the two millennia of this faith that our genius exists precisely
in that we live against the cultural pace. We constantly drive against traffic!
When we look like everyone else, talk like everyone else, behave like everyone
else, no one can see the unique Christian thread in life and culture. Precisely
when we look different, dress and behave differently, even shed our blood on
culture’s soil, we are our greatest. How is that for an interesting riddle?
are not masochists, and we, like everyone else, need to feel we belong. It’s
just that Jesus Christ came to this earth with a whole new set of ideas that
have set us, unwittingly, apart. If you are going to be a Christian you must
resign yourself to living with the tension.
taught us in the Gospel that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the
Our Lord’s teaching implies that there is something on this earth that deserves
the seasoning of the Christian lifestyle. Our Lord’s teaching would imply that
there is a measure of darkness on this earth that needs the light of Christ
that only we disciples can offer.
is this darkness? What is this bland food of earth needing seasoning we are
are faced with a problem in our religious lives when we are bent upon dividing
life between the secular and the sacred. Granted, the implications of our
democracy giving birth to ideas like privacy and choice and demarcation between
the affairs of state and the affairs of religion would guarantee such a problem,
making it more arduous to respond to God in all things; to see God present in
be told, we live and move in several different cultures; in other words, the
environments of home, community, school, our age group, the club, church and so
forth. Each of these communities exercise their pull on us to conform. Each of
these communities involves a network of patterns, customs and worldviews to
which we, knowingly and unknowingly, subscribe.
think of the Harley Davidson bikers association, which meets for its convention
every several years at the birthplace of their motorcycle in Milwaukee,
Wisconsin. Literally, thousands of bikers ride into the city for a variety of
activities that run the course of a week’s duration. Ordinary citizens freeze
when these Philistines ride into the city! You hear the rumbling of the motors
of their bikes throughout the city for several days.
have their culture, be it a subculture of the larger culture. They wear their
leather and tattoos and unshaved faces, bandannas around their heads. Their
women look like Tarzan’s Jane swung on the back of their bikes. They have
peculiar lifestyles and a particular worldview unlike other citizens who are
committed to driving cars and SUVs. Theirs is a unique culture. You may or may
not have affinity with bikers.
is the popular culture we often speak of that influences all other cultures we
hold membership in. By popular culture I mean that collage of images and the ever-shifting
and changing symbols that tell us who we are, what we should think and be and
believe, and how we should behave and dress, and what music we should listen to,
what make of vehicles we should drive, in order to belong.
want to address the issue of the popular culture that hovers above our subcultures.
The popular culture turns out to be a large issue to wrestle with in terms of
Christian culture in general and Catholic culture in particular.
an increasingly secular society like ours, we are burdened by conflicting
loyalties. Patterns of discourse and debate would present almighty God as a
threat to human freedom. The Church suffers under similar indictment as it
proposes to be a voice of truth. Indeed, the Gospel of Jesus Christ brought new
ideas to challenge human ideas about life and liberty, right and wrong.
Church’s Magisterium is
given the task of pronouncing on moral and religious truth, insofar as truth
can be grasped in the present, for the sake of preparing this world for the
Second Coming of the Lord, when he will judge the heavens and the earth and all
who have walked the earth. But, pronouncing on truth is not done in a vacuum. Its
normative source is the revelation that is proclaimed from the written Word of
God and the Church’s constant tradition in the areas of faith, doctrine and
modernity wrestles with God … I suppose we always have. Scholasticism sets
forth the logic of the natural law and the moral law, again stemming from revelation,
which are underpinnings of Catholic faith/Catholic thought.
German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) put forth a God
being killed so that we could, at last, be free. Some of us remember the Death
of God theories that were propounded in the 1950s and 1960s. And in popular
literature and film, God is seen as a figure of the macabre or some imaginative
being from Aesop’s fairy tales — or from the realms of sci-fi fantasy where God
is always warring with Satan — the Evil One — the latter who ends up, actually,
the more impressive celebrity for film and media. In our day it is the devil
who wins the Oscars.
the rest of us who try to avoid the headaches involved in thinking about God,
it is life’s distractions which prevent us from soaking in the God of Revelation.
We leave God to the shelf of intellectual curiosity or merely a name that
appears in a book we call the Bible or the poetry of hymns in Church on Sunday
if we manage to get there through the press of personal and family events. God
amounts to a neat idea but not terribly planted in the humus of our lives.
these reasons, friends, we fast and pray
work eight days a week! The good life, critiqued as materialism, consumerism
and the stock market, arises among the largest images of modern life in America
that would save us from the strains of mere survival … a kind of civil religion
these are. Numbers attending the football stadium, basketball court, baseball
stadium and the modern airport outrank the Sunday worshiping assembly … telltale
indications of where popular American priorities are found.
with popular lingering suspicions about most manifestations of authority, in a
free society, is a lingering cynicism and resistance to teaching and direction
and the notion that there are certain clear truths as guideposts to life. Unfortunately,
certain figures of authority, civic and religious, have lost credibility by
their own inability to live up to the values they represent. In the societal
crisis it is none too easy to perceive God’s abiding presence in life or the
normative place of religion in life. But we move on. The Church will survive
its more exaggerated manifestations we don’t need religion to survive in
America. In popular culture we dismiss religious perspective to people who are
odd or to old ladies. Needing something to point to for an excuse for our
behavior, historians say much of these secular thought patterns are fed by the
Reformation and the Enlightenment.
not surprisingly, we deny the possibility of prayer in schools, at sports
events and commencement exercises. We refuse the Ten Commandments displayed in
our halls of justice. The president of the United States taking his oath to
uphold the Constitution while placing his hand on the Bible is one last vestige
of cultural religious praxis in this country — hold your breath — yet to be
challenged by someone who finds religion an interference in public life. We
find it suspect that the president of our United States or any judge on the
bench, let alone the mayor of a city, would be simultaneously a conscientious
and practicing Christian beyond showing up before the cameras in some church on
Christmas or at someone’s funeral.
these reasons we fast and pray.
the concerted campaign to force the Catholic Church out of the health care
industry. Local politicians are agitating for a withdrawal of government
funding from our hospitals and health care facilities because we refuse the
practices of sterilization, abortion, euthanasia and the passing out of
contraceptives to patients. In this climate Planned Parenthood facilities
emerge as the secular chapels of modern-day American life.
religion of the day is freedom-of-choice/pro-choice. The abortion debate is one
symbol of the popular belief that God intrudes on our lives, that our ideas
improve on God’s ideas. Personal experience has become the foundation for moral
judgment, not the Ten Commandments. Popular culture resists certain immutable,
universal truths. Anything is all right as long as you determine it is right,
as long as it serves you and your needs … the old moral one-size-fits-all constraints
it the liberal agenda. Call it freedom gone amuck. To some extent we are all
liberals because our civic dogma — our civic religion — is freedom; a freedom
some others in places around the globe don’t have and cannot imagine.
are perceptively certain consequences following upon our American
interpretation of freedom; moral relativism pollutes the air, giving rise to the
current moral crisis we are trying desperately to fix.
culture relishes wide debate and tolerance of a variety of views believing this
is the healthy way of surfacing values in a civilized society. We are hesitant
about any religious grounding of values lest freedom be curtailed: “My views
are as good as your views regardless what we view.”
of this type guarantees that we are going to bump into one another in conflict
over what I perceive I am free to think and free to do. Most aspects of American
life are exercised through the arena of conflict … politics, economics, the
media, the legal system are all premised upon conflict. And we would bring
conflict inside the halls of the Church in a variety of ecclesiologies that
leave no one satisfied as to the direction and order of Church life and
ministry. Faced with the constitutional construct of the Church from its scriptural
foundations, popular dissent sets forth that the Church must change if it is
not to our liking … not how I must change in order to be an authentic disciple
of Jesus Christ.
the press and media are attracted to conflict-ridden agendas that excoriate the
pastoral style of this pope, the office of bishop, the role of priest, the male
priesthood, the celibate priesthood, the moral discourse of the Church. Press
and media urge an accommodation of religion with the popular culture. Otherwise,
the headlines portray that religion amounts to an annoyance in public affairs
and the realms of privacy. And the Gospel and its impact on our lives, somehow,
gets lost in all this confusion.
these reasons we fast and pray.
Catholics began arriving on these shores, our faith was seen to be strange and
superstitious, if not anti-American. We Catholics have now arrived in American
society, the most educated of religious groups. We have made a huge
contribution to the fabric of America with our elementary and secondary
schools, colleges and universities, and health care facilities and social
outreach. With the exception of most recently arrived immigrants, we have
become part of mainstream America. We participate in every strata of society
from the trenches of the dirt-poor to the chairs of corporate and financial
power. Nevertheless, it was once thought that a Catholic could not participate
in the civic and political institutions of this land, until one John F. Kennedy
proved them wrong — not without a troublesome statement of defense on his part,
however, that he would never allow his faith to influence his protection of the
U.S. Constitution. That statement, unfortunately, for whatever was meant by it,
has become a mantra for a number of Catholic politicians today who find it no
problem to hide their Catholicism in order to throw in their hat with certain
morally dubious legislation initiatives.
this all amounts to is a problem of discipleship — namely, how can Catholic
culture survive in an environment where people are caught up with the idea that
religion and religious institutions are irrelevant. The situation emerges where
we are not sure how or why we are Catholic, or why our Catholic Church is
special and more truthful among many others. But then again, our brand of
freedom says anything you want to believe or not believe is all right. This is
the land of the free.
speak of the terms faith and culture might immediately indicate that there is a
clash or point of disagreement between the two. I suppose this is true in a
number of respects such that it is a Catholic preoccupation of sorts. There is
a built-in tension between Catholicism and American culture, especially the
America of ever-expanding individual rights and freedoms.
nation which held Catholicism suspect eased up on its anti-Catholicism
following the Second Vatican Council’s endorsement of religious liberty and
It was thought the Catholic Church had caught up a bit with modern life, at
least until 1968, when legislative battles against birth control and abortion
found Catholics, once again, battling liberal individualism and became embroiled
in internal conflict that has launched a crisis of ideas and preferences. For
the first time, Catholics now debate one another in public over contrasting
Jenkins, in his book “The New Anti-Catholicism,”
comments: “We are submerged in an arena of rigorous debate on just about every
issue of social custom and morality. Catholics have always held suspect the
liberal emphasis on the autonomy of the person and perennially stressed the
common good over individual rights. In the Catholic tradition, the individual
is always embedded in social relations within family and community and his or
her rights cannot be understood in isolation. … What has changed is not the
Catholic Church with its long-held doctrines and practices but America, in
which an expansive view of rights has led marginal or persecuted groups to claim
their own place in society.”
everyone, conventional and unconventional, is lobbying for constitutional
protection for their beliefs and lifestyles.
these reasons we fast and pray.
we must be careful about what we soak in from the surrounding culture, we must
remember we are both believers and citizens formed and shaped by culture. Our
faith asks us to season the culture and enlighten it, not to give up on it or
to damn it, but to bring it to God. And, over the course of history, that
effort has, in instances, spelled martyrdom.
are taught one thing here in this sacred place only to go out those doors and
find another commentary that would snicker at everything we are and do here.
the while, the Gospel we hear each week is fond of throwing riddles at us for the
sake of a higher wisdom and a higher level of living, such as: loving our
the denunciation of divorce,
chaste living regardless of our state in life,
celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom,
poverty of spirit,
lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven,
go sell what you have and come follow me.
Yes, that young man walked away from Jesus because the popular culture of his
day thought it ridiculous not to inhale the riches of this life.
Catholicism, precisely, is a daily habit, not a hobby that we have time for
this Sunday but maybe not next Sunday, if we happen to have tickets to a
football game. Our religion is the organizing force in our lives. For this
reason we are called to be salt and light to the culture.
with mentionings here of the tensions involved in being Catholic and being
citizen, how do we move in the culture?
are certainly aware of these tensions between culture and belief and their
impact on your lives. Despite the secularizing tendencies of our culture, we
can navigate the culture by way of a higher consciousness, by way of grace. The
interior life — namely, the life of relationship with God and our devotion to
family, professional and social life — totally made up of little earthly
realities, should not be separated, but can constitute just one existence “holy
and full of God.”
supernatural view of existence opens an extraordinarily rich horizon of
salvific perspectives because, in the monotonous context of normal earthly
events, God comes close to us and we can actually cooperate in his plan of
salvation. Therefore, one can understand with greater ease what the Second
Vatican Council affirmed: “The Christian message does not remove men from the
construction of the world … but obliges them even more to engage in this as a
we cannot separate ourselves from the world within which we live and work. Our
recent pontiffs — John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and, more recently, Francis
— have all chided us to get into the arena of ideas and debate and exchange
with others opposite of our faith and be salt and light to the secular
marketplace. Gaudium et Spes is
called by some commentators the most important document out of the council,
seeing it as a charter which ushered the Catholic Church into dialogue with the
modern world. These popes see this engagement synonymous with evangelization of
the culture necessary for these times.
new millennium has signaled a new allegiance to the Church by young Catholics,
such as yourselves, who have a hunger for the purity of the Gospel, which
contains the credentials of the Church. We are asked to re-evangelize the
Church from within and to uphold the truths of the faith and the rightful
claims of tradition. We are asked to witness to the truth of the Gospel
of us gathered here are young families, where love and direction are strident
in our households. Most of the rest look forward to establishing their own
families some day. How can you improve on the culture, which shapes your
attitudes and values, in order to bring it to Christ? How can you be the salt
of the earth and the light of the world?
suggest the evangelization of culture is closely allied with the renewal of
family life among Christians — namely, your nurture of your domestic church
which serves the Church universal and works an evangelization that is
ultimately out of our hands in its results.
one of us can change the culture single-handedly. The work of changing the
culture for Christ is as subtle as the enhancement of food with the season of
salt, and is as surprising as the sudden dispelling of the darkness with the
sudden dawn of light.
discipleship nurtures families if children can perceive their mothers and
fathers love each other. This alone works psychological health in your children
that no school or therapist can provide.
families can make a difference modeling their families in prayer and worship
and highlighting the Church’s liturgical seasons in home exercises and domestic
prayer. Teach the faith in your home, reinforce the teaching of the Sunday
homily and religious instruction.
the choices of your children by your instruction and example of an authentic
Catholic lifestyle. Model for your children an informed and authentic love for
holy Church and its representatives.
your children Christian service without them receiving anything in return; this
is how Christians behave, for this is the way of the Gospel.
your children to be open and receptive to peoples of other races and
backgrounds. Make sure their education and religious formation are gifted by
diversity that is a template of the Church at Pentecost
and an increasing feature of our modern society.
sound Catholic literature that portrays the truths of the faith while exposing
us to the ideas of the world that interface with or even conflict with our own.
a family, live simply and eschew the allures of consumerism and materialism so
that you have something to share with others and with the Church.
action items of family formation raise up discipleship in your children and
forges them to be contributing adults to Church and society of the next
Catholic Church in the immediate future will be carried by young Catholics,
like yourselves, who take seriously the call to follow Jesus Christ, who pray,
sacrifice, live simply, examine their conscience daily, confess their sins and
seek to perfect their lives.
a purified, authentic Catholicism will be represented as a Church of wisdom, of
educated and disciplined men and women who seek the truth more than they seek
to be right; who think a lot, read a lot, discuss and read and think some more;
who share their wisdom as parents, teachers, counselors, confessors and
spiritual directors with anyone who cares to enter the discipline of seeking to
be wise servants of the truth.
restoration of Christian family life, a reversal of the tide of broken vows and
covenants, a revitalized fidelity to promises we make in life, a renewed
allegiance to the Church, will provide us an environment where the work of salt
and light can be effective. Seeing God at work in all things, simple and great,
is one secret to consecrating the world. You, young families are the key to
evangelizing the culture. Know that your serious witness to all things
Christian and Catholic is, at once noticed, and truly inspiring.
Matthew’s Gospel, the 12 disciples asked him why they could not exorcise
certain demons they stumbled upon. You remember the Lord’s response: “These kind
do not leave except by prayer and fasting” (Mt 17:14-21).
homily was originally delivered on Oct. 9, 2017, at the Basilica of the
National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., as part of
the observances connected to the 25th International Week of Prayer
Bishop Joseph N. Perry is Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago.
[3 The teaching office of the bishops, the successors of
the apostles. See the Code of Canon Law
(1983), canon 330; also the Catechism of
the Catholic Church, nos. 891-892.
Reformation: the religious and social and political upheaval (1517-1648)
that divided Western Christendom and created world Protestantism. Its causes
were manifold: weakening of papal authority through long residence in France
and the worldliness of certain representatives of the Church; intellectual and
moral unfitness of certain clergy; ignorance and superstition among the laity;
social unrest brought on by the disintegration of the feudal system; support
given by political power to dissenters in the church; unrest and secularism
brought on by the new geographic discoveries; the use of the printing press to
propagate the new views. Christian unity was shattered, personal liberty in
religion affected every sphere of human activity, with the rise of the modern
secular state, of capitalism as rugged individualism, and with the loss of
cultural solidarity founded on a common faith, that had shaped Western
civilization for almost a millennium.
The Enlightenment: the title given to the 18th-century because of the prevalent
intellectual atmosphere of the time heralded as the Age of Reason; all aspects
of learning were given a status that challenged the teachings of Christianity;
there was a new emphasis upon humanism, attributing to the social and moral
sciences the same exactness found in the natural laws of the physical sciences.
This led writers, philosophers and scientists to rationalize concerning
religion, ethics and the natural law. This in turn gave rise to secularism and
subjective thought that placed the teachings of revealed religion in an
outmoded grouping. Human reason became the arbiter of the nature of religion,
social sciences, political and economic life.
 Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965: Decree on
Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio; and
the Decree on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis
Humanae; found in The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, SJ, Herder
and Herder Association Press, 1966.
 Oxford University Press, 2003.
 Gaudium et Spes
(The Church in the Modern World), Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965, n. 34.
 Gaudium et
Spes, nos. 53-62.