Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
I was recently talking with one of my fellow classmates, Fr. Anthony Brankin. Tony is a pastor and a very accomplished artist, creating some significant sculptures and illustrated works. We have known each other for almost 50 years, since we were first-year students at Quigley Seminary South in Chicago. We share a history, so his perception of our culture would either challenge mine or affirm it.
Recently, I said to him, “Tony, it seems at times to me that I have just dropped into another world. The culture has shifted so dramatically, that it’s hardly recognizable. This is certainly not the world or society from my youth; the values we cherished have changed. The language we once used has taken on new meaning, and traits that we would have thought admirable, demeaned.” It was a sobering realization for both of us.
I believe one of the reasons for this “new world” is secularism — the loss of our dependency upon God. With God removed from the equation of life, what is the purpose of being “virtuous”? Today, virtuous characteristics place someone at a disadvantage. Honest people are easy prey to liars, while greed is the new norm for economic success. Who holds us accountable? Perhaps the law will, but only if you’re caught engaging in illegal activity – not necessarily immoral activity. Some may say virtue for virtue’s sake. However, there is an ultimate judge holding us responsible for even those actions performed in the secrecy of our lives.
In a certain sense, people are fooling themselves by denying their responsibility before God — trading their birthright for a bowl of porridge. Words like virginity, chastity, modesty or marital faithfulness, once held in high esteem, are now scoffed or ridiculed.
I’m certainly not a prude, but many elements of popular culture celebrate the loss of virginity, equate immodesty with popularity and support marital faithfulness — only to the extent that a better offer hasn’t been made.
Whether on television or at the movies, we rarely ever see families or people going to church, let alone offering prayers before meals — unless these actions are going to be mocked by others as impending “punch lines” to irreverent jokes. While there are numerous TV shows and films dramatizing the final days before devastating storms or meteor strikes, we hardly ever see anyone praying before the disasters strike. Hollywood wasn’t always this way. Go back to the 1953 release, “Titanic” and you’ll see a stark contrast to the version from 1997. Even as the passengers faced imminent danger, we see and hear them gathered together, singing hymns to God as the great ship goes down.
I am completely unfamiliar with the world represented in media today. Some call it reality, but it says something very different to me. If we so quickly abdicate our words and actions, which are so essential to us and our dignity, then is it little wonder that we have drifted so far from that which has always made us great.
Tony and I both agree that we have a lot of work to do. The early Christians fought adversaries that hated Christianity. They openly persecuted believers because they feared the influence of this new religion — its holiness and mystery. Modern culture is gutting Christianity, ignoring holiness and mystery. We must combat this indifference by following in the early martyrs’ footsteps — witnessing to the faith by demonstrating that without religion and God, we are lost. The way has been given to us to proclaim the person of Jesus and in his name to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as a special July 17, 2012 "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.