Progression of the Secular Age
Dear Friends in Christ,
It is Springtime and Fr. Chuck is cleaning out his bookshelves and I am the happy beneficiary! He has gifted me with a number of books; a host of historical novels and some books of a more serious nature. Of the latter, is a series by Lutheran theologian, Andrew Root, who explores various pastoral issues using the lens of the contemporary Catholic philosopher, Charles Taylor. Taylor is renowned in philosophical and sociological circles for his book, A Secular Age. Root’s application of Taylor’s thinking is fascinating and thought provoking. I am a little hesitant to make grand conclusions until I complete all the books, but from what I have read so far, it is making me reflect on how I look at things as an individual, as a priest and as a pastor. It is also causing me to reflect on things here at St. John Vianney. In some ways it is affirming and in other ways it is challenging.
In my reflections I am being confronted with how we, as a society in general, as individuals, as people of faith, as families, and as a parish, handle the ever-accelerating speed of change. Professor Root illustrates this reality by citing the work of a French sociologist, Alain Ehrenberg, that has a most interesting title, Le fatigue d’etre soi: Depression et Société (The Weariness of Self: Depression and Society). Root, Taylor, and Ehrenberg all express that there is a pervasive depression, fatigue, and malaise in contemporary society; that people are having a hard time just trying to make it through the day. The demands of modern life (over the last century and a half) are so rapidly changing and are continuing to change at an accelerating rate, that we cannot keep up. Thus, we are running faster and faster and still falling behind. We cannot keep up with changing social norms, with technology, expectations, or even with the idea of who we are or who we are supposed to be. This great and ever-changing confusion of identity is causing loneliness and isolation as it destroys the bonds of society and culture.
The attempted response of many to combat the fatigue and confusion of this secular age is to try to run ever faster to keep up by changing, innovating, redefining, and doing more and more things, faster and faster. Root asserts that this is an attempt to replace true human meaning and fulfillment with busyness. But in the end, busyness and constant change do not give us the fulfillment, identity, or satisfaction that we seek and long for. The more we try to keep up with the secular world (a world without God), the less fulfilled and more fatigued we become. Root sees this futile attempt (seeking fulfillment through busyness) also present in individual Christians, church leaders, church congregations, and Christian denominations.
Two other authors that I have read make similar observations, Robert Sarah (Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation of Divine Worship) and Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). They not only echo Root’s observations but also note that one of the characteristics of this secular age is the denial and cancellation of tradition, that which is handed down to us. They go so far as to assert that there is a deliberate attempt to destroy and “cancel” the memory of the past. We see this in various totalitarian movements such as Communism and in the current “woke” trends. George Orwell saw it too in his book, 1984, as did Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World. It is easy to see how the confluence of an ideology of progress, with a denial and destruction of the past, can create confusion and challenge the very notion of self, personhood and reality (e.g.: sexual identity, pronouns, abortion, marriage, intersectionality, marriage, family, state).
It is important for us, as we live in this secular age, to remember that our Catholic faith is not an invention of our own making; it is the saving truth received by the apostles from Jesus and handed down to us through the Church (traditio), received by us over generations, to be embraced, lived, and passed to future generations, without corruption or defilement. That which we receive is that which enables us to recognize and accept the true identity of who we are, who our neighbors are and what the world is. This gift of faith that we receive enables us to know and to love the one who is the true center point of all time and creation, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8).
In pace Christi,