This future Doctor of the Church saw what ails us and articulated the only thing that can make us better.
In a modern culture that is adrift, it is good to be reminded of the True, the Good & the Beautiful. Each week it is my humble privilege to offer one selection from an indispensable Canon of essays, speeches & books which will light a candle in the darkness. It is a Canon I have assembled over many years that I hope will challenge & inspire each reader. But most importantly, I hope it will remind us of what is True in an age of untruth. And if we know what is True, we are more apt to do what is Right.—Tod Worner
There he stood before them all. In the yawning spaces of St. Peter’s Basilica, there was hardly room for even one more onlooker. Scores of cardinals, bishops, priests, men and women religious and thousands of faithful laity crushed into this sacred space for this holy moment: The Mass before Conclave. In a matter of hours, 115 cardinals, “the princes of the Church,” would sequester themselves in the Sistine Chapel to select the 265th heir to St. Peter. Within the Chapel, their eyes would be fixed on Michelangelo’s ceiling masterpieces while their hearts would be fixed on God.
But before they began, the presiding priest would offer the Sacrifice of the Mass. And he had something to say. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dean of the College of Cardinals and friend of the recently deceased Pope John Paul II, gazed warmly at those around him. And then, in his gentle, high-pitched German accent, his homily began.
Let us dwell on only two points. The first is the journey towards “the maturity of Christ.” … More precisely, in accordance with the Greek text, we should speak of the “measure of the fullness of Christ” that we are called to attain if we are to be true adults in the faith. We must not remain children in faith, in the condition of minors. And what does it mean to be children in faith? St. Paul answers: it means being “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4: 14). This description is very timely!How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves—flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St. Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine” seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An “adult” faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith — only faith — that creates unity and is fulfilled in love …Make truth in love. Truth and love coincide in Christ. To the extent that we draw close to Christ, in our own lives too, truth and love are blended …Our redemption is brought about in this communion of wills: being friends of Jesus, to become friends of God. The more we love Jesus, the more we know him, the more our true freedom develops and our joy in being redeemed flourishes. Thank you, Jesus, for your friendship! …We must be enlivened by a holy restlessness: a restlessness to bring to everyone the gift of faith, of friendship with Christ. Truly, the love and friendship of God was given to us so that it might also be shared with others …So let us go and pray to the Lord to help us bear fruit that endures. Only in this way will the earth be changed from a valley of tears to a garden of God.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger would emerge from Conclave as Pope Benedict XVI. And one day, I imagine, he will be named a Doctor of the Church. While a Doctor of the Church is different from a medical doctor, Benedict brilliantly made a diagnosis of what ails the world: A rudderless relativism that opens us to error and sin. But he didn’t stop there. He went on and articulated the cure: A friendship with Christ that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.
As he concluded, it was evident that those in St. Peter’s Basilica were profoundly moved … moved to think anew.
To read the “Dictatorship of Relativism” homily in its entirety, please click here.
Tod Worneris a husband, father, Catholic convert and practicing internal medicine physician. He blogs at A Catholic Thinker.