Monday, June 13, 2005

An American Cultural Challenge, North and South

Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua

I had the opportunity to attend my first book launch yesterday to celebrate the publishing of a regional memoir, A Man Learns, by the Troglodytrix' uncle and Godfather, Don Hall (I may try my hand at a book review in a few days, we'll see). It was a gorgeous day, and there was a good turnout (as far as I knew, not having been to one before). I knew very few of the people, but based on the snippets of conversation, I basically could divide the crowd into three groups of increasing size: family (here is where I fell), book industry types (publisher, associate publisher, editor, other authors, including Jon Hassler, etc.), and friends (old & new). As I circulated, I picked up the sense that those in this last group were all in on some inside joke that became clear to me only after reading the book and reminded me of something I had read on Zenit a few days earlier.

The group-in-the-know, who largely grew up in a Catholic-dominated culture and used the Church's "catching up" from its "Medieval ways" during Vatican II as an excuse to categorically dismiss the Church's authority, in a way resembles the religious sects today that, according to president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Paul Cardinal Poupard, represent perhaps the most serious cultural challenge facing the Latin American Church.

According to Cardinal Poupard, religious sects are the penultimate link in a chain that ends in indifference.

That chain, he said, "begins with the absence of an answer through religious experience to the problem of the meaning of life."

This phenomenon is due to "a compulsive search for transcendence," he said, "and rejection of any authority that does not justify itself by being emotionally close."

According to the Vatican representative, the presence of religious sects is evidence of the need to recognize that many Catholics have not had contact "with the proclamation of Christ Savior, with the gratuitousness of love and the transcendence of God."

"Unfortunately they did not receive it from the ministers of the Church that baptized them," the cardinal said. "Many received only imperatives, rules, programs and commitments to action, but they were ignorant of the proclamation of salvation with convincing force and concrete language."


According to Cardinal Poupard, culture is transmitted through historical categories, which "consciously or unconsciously respond to the desire for happiness."

"If we do not speak a language the world understands, we will remain shut-in in an academic ghetto," he warned. "If we do not acknowledge that man's being has a specific metaphysical identity, we will remain at the mercy of nihilist practical atheism."

But, we must not fear in the face of these challenges, the cardinal added.

"The beauty of Christ," he said, "makes us capable not only of expressing ourselves in the language of our contemporaries but of communicating the indestructible life for which man yearns."

[emphases added]
Perhaps this is why Pope John Paul the Great insisted on looking at the northern and southern continents as the single, missionary Church of America.

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