“Fashion wears out more apparel than the man,” so mused Shakespeare in
Much Ado about Nothing
, Act III, scene III. But what the bard of Avon said so poetically, the philosopher Heraclitus had said centuries before. Heraclitus (c. 535 –475 B.C.), a contemporary of Pythagoras, Confucius and the Buddha, taught that “no one ever steps in the same river twice.” In other words, the river keeps flowing and so the river is never the same. He said that change is the only constant reality in the world. The dizzying speed of change in today’s society seems to prove both poet and philosopher right.
Technology has accelerated the speed of communication. Information is growing. Almost every two years, our knowledge base doubles. The changes in the next thirty years will outpace the changes of the last three hundred years. But, as Pulitzer Prize winner and American novelist Ellen Glasgow observed, “All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.”
Perhaps the most significant example of a change that is not a step forward is the steady decline in church attendance and religious affiliation over the last fifty years. Fewer and fewer people attend church regularly. More and more people distance themselves from making a commitment to religion. As a result, society is becoming unhinged from a vital source of morality. As George Washington once said, “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education..., reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle” (
, September 19, 1796). History is proving him right.
As individuals lose a spiritual vision, society becomes materialistic. Today the desire for more and more has overtaken economic discipline. Both individuals and government are spending more than they make. We are going deeper and deeper into debt.
Furthermore, our society has lost a sense of sin. Immorality has moved out from the hushed shadows of embarrassment to the light of public applause. TV, media and even government now extol immoral actions and lifestyles.
Not only is sex outside of a marriage between a husband and a wife simply accepted, but there is a virulent campaign to redefine even marriage itself. Strident voices promoting abortion and euthanasia contribute generously to the lamentable devaluation of human life at all stages.
We no longer live at a time where Western civilization embraces an essentially Christian worldview, with God as the Creator and Sustainer of this world. Reason has exalted itself. Without any reference to faith, it has fashioned a worldview which is secular and materialistic. In such an intellectual climate, all moral values become relative. While we, as Catholics, may be tolerant of individuals who choose to act contrary to the teaching of the gospel, we can never abandon our moral principles that come from Christ.
Thus, a Church that heralds truth as a universal norm and offers divine revelation as a light to guide reason is no longer valued. One very real example of the loss of respect for the Church took place last year. The government of Ireland, which today is still overwhelmingly 89% Catholic, closed its embassy to the Holy See.
At a time when the Church has lost some of her political relevance and when Christian principles are more and more cast aside, what are we to do? Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has offered us a way to face our world with hope and courage. He has called us to a Year of Faith. He is challenging us to see our faith as the compass to guide us through the shifting values of an increasingly secular society.
To be continued…..