As Pope Benedict XVI greeted dignitaries at the White House on Wednesday morning, Nancy Pelosi, the pro-abortion Catholic Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, appeared in the line. She not only enthusiastically shook the Holy Father’s hand but kissed it, hogging the moment a bit. It looked to me, as I watched the exchange on TV, that the Holy Father wanted his hand back.
Pelosi’s momentary fawning notwithstanding, Pope Benedict enters Washington, D.C., at an ironic moment, in which many of his critics are Catholics and his allies Protestants.
The Pelosis, Kennedys, and Kerrys press for an irrelevant and secularized Catholicism, an empty faith without works, as it were. Meanwhile, a Protestant President applauds the Holy Father for his faith and works, for defending God and objective truth in a time of relativism.
Their speeches on Wednesday at the White House harmonized, causing some disappointment to the press corps. Scrambling for a storyline, the press had hoped for tension and conflict between them over “immigration” and “Iraq.” How the Holy Father could get to the left of a (basically) pro-amnesty president on the issue of immigration isn’t clear to me.
On his trip to America Pope Benedict is addressing two crises at once, which are connected more deeply than the press can compute. One crisis afflicts the world, the other the Church. Both result from the same cause: the post-Enlightenment rupture in the relationship between faith and reason, God and man, that marginalized Jesus Christ.
At the very moment society was plunging into de-Christianized chaos, the American Catholic Church decided to join it. The press, ostensibly concerned about the sex abuse scandals in the Church in America, fails to see this connection, refusing to admit secularism’s role in the corruption. Journalists decry the effects of the sexual revolution on the priesthood, then call for its renewed advancement.
Pope Benedict has spoken of modern secularism as a “dictatorship of relativism,” as President Bush invoked in his own speech. Modern secularism could also be described as a poison or acid, which burns through everything it touches, including an American Catholic Church that has shriveled in proportion to its exposure to it.
In the press’s estimate, the remedy to a crisis caused by the poison of secularism, whether the crisis appears in the world or in the Church, is to urge people to swallow larger and larger doses of it. The Church needs “to be more open,” less rigid, etc., etc., while the world is exhorted to take its Enlightenment experiments to their most remote points.
The theme of the Holy Father’s visit to America is “Christ Our Hope,” which revives the theme of his recent encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi, in which he traces the malaise of modern times to the bogus self-sufficiency of secularism: a “faith in progress” without reference to the will of God that terminates in despair for the simple reason that man, no matter how extensive his plans, cannot save himself from death.
It is reason itself, reflecting upon its own limitations, that finds the self-sufficiency assumed by modern secularism to be unreasonable. How, secularists scoff, can Pope Benedict dare enter the public square and speak of “Christ Our Hope”? Because it is reasonable for man, who is manifestly not self-sufficient, to open himself up to revelation, to see the need for a God who comes to him, a “God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety.”
Whether addressing the secularists at the United Nations or the secularized presidents at teetering Catholic universities, Pope Benedict is really addressing the same crisis: the breakdown in the understanding of reason and revelation. The first group sees no reason to open themselves to God; the second sees no reason to offer him to them.
In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict notes that after the Enlightenment, under its rejection of the reasonableness of revelation, “reason” became an instrument of irrational rationalism while “faith” reduced itself to a private hobby with no universal truth to offer the world.
The moral chaos at the UN and an American Catholic Church that has produced a generation of pro-abortion legislators like Nancy Pelosi appear like unrelated problems. But they are not; they are the inevitable byproducts of the same post-Enlightenment distortions.
It is not reason without faith, or faith without reason, that formed Catholicism into a universal religion, but reason and revelation together, the latter building on and never contradicting the former while holding out to all men a redemption that comes not from man’s powers but God’s. Jesus Christ, the Holy Father has come to say, is the hope of the world.