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JPII’s penetrating question to Chicago’s Cardinal George


Derrick CEYRAC | AFP

Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 01/15/22

It's a question that should be on the mind of every serious Christian.
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“What are you doing about the culture?”

This was the question that John Paul II asked Cardinal George when he visited Rome to report for the first time on his stewardship of the archdiocese of Chicago. John Paul pushed aside that massive report that Cardinal George had brought with him and instead posed that challenging question.

“What are you doing about the culture?”

That’s a question that should be on the mind of every serious Christian. We know that in our own time and place that the culture—that complex web of the arts, economics, philosophy, media, the many forms of human interaction—is sick, is ungodly, is anti-human. What are we doing about it?

Well, before we try to do anything about it, we have to learn how to think about the question differently. I believe that any human culture is at best susceptible to sin and failure to the degree that it is not Christ-centered. But it’s not enough to say that. We must also say that we must come to Christ on his terms rather than insist upon our own. What do I mean by that?

Consider this passage from the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. After reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah (“…the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…”), Jesus says: “Today, this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Note: He identifies himself as God’s promised anointed one, the Christ.) Saint Luke records: “And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”

Of course, that didn’t last very long. As he continued to preach, as he over time revealed himself as the sacrificial Lamb of God, as he taught the doctrine of the Eucharist, as he outlined his path of sacrificial love, he was rejected, even by those who were once amazed at his gracious words.

Consider this from the First Epistle of Saint John: “In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.” Christ’s commandments include loving God above all else, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and taking up our cross daily to follow him. In other words, the Christian cultus—the culture of Christian discipleship—is founded upon sacrificial love, in imitation of and in union with Christ. And that’s why the contemporary world hates Christians, and wants them either silent, silenced, compromised or dead.

This fallen world, and especially our own madcap times, promote and demand self-seeking, self-aggrandizement, self-satisfaction. Self. Self. Self. But the triune God is a community of love—persons pouring themselves out in perfect self-donation. Christ crucified is icon, standard, and goal of Christian love. He is the very opposite of the cult of the self, which is an idolatrous culture of death.

What to do? I have no grand scheme. I have no great plan to fix our broken world. I know and believe that where Christ is known and loved, a culture of life, at once godly and humane, may flourish. In the coming weeks, I will offer a series of reflections on striving to be conformed to Christ, even as so much around us and within us rebels against that conversion.

When I write next, I will continue my reflections on the challenges to Christian culture. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

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