Today’s secular culture conflicts with authentic love and a reality-based view of the human person, said scholars at a recent panel in the nation’s capital.
“Sanctity is not a moralistic act,” said author and scholar David Schindler, but rather, “a way of seeing, acting and being.”
The author of “Ordering Love: Liberal Societies and the Memory of God,” explained in a Feb. 10 lecture that true sanctity is “seeing reality for what it most truly is,” and it is this concept of sanctity that Catholics must reclaim in society, rather than giving into the modern understanding of the self.
Schindler, who is the dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family in Washington, D.C., spoke at the institute alongside Peter Casarella and Patrick Deneen, both professors at Notre Dame University.
Love, Schindler said, is central to the order of society and the self. Love is both “a moral intention” and an act, revealing reality through what is true and beautiful.
Schindler pointed to children as an example, noting that “we see in the child a personalization of what is good and true and beautiful by virtue of its very given-ness” and “innocence.” Children also reveal the idea of existence and love as a gift, he said.
Love is “already implicated in truth,” Schindler continued, and is intimately linked with the intellect, as humans come to understand things through a relationship with them, and better love them through knowledge.
However, “the culture doesn’t see things in their wholeness, but in a fragmented way,” breaking love and understanding apart and abstracting both, he said. This fracturing of love and truth loses track of the complete essence of reality, so that “when you finally bring them back together, you’ll find that you’ve falsified both.”
This mistaken understanding, Schindler said, can be seen in recent U.N. documents criticizing the Church’s teachings about the family, the body and the self. The report “epitomized the logical endpoint of a liberal culture” because it “instrumentalizes” the familial relationship and dismisses the role of the family and love.
“Only the saint,” he suggested, “can abstract properly,” because only someone who can understand the relationship between truth and love has “some sense of how the world relates to God” and acts upon it.
Schindler argued that Christians should look to transform society by emulating Christ, entering “the culture by following the way God enters the culture” by focusing on creation, loving and being wholly present. He cautioned Christians against trying to gain power by the world’s standards and then trying to influence culture, but instead suggested that Christians live out the basic ideas of Christianity and sanctity.
He pointed out that Jesus did not convince the “elites” of his day. “I’m not saying we don’t enter into the culture,” he clarified, “just that we do so with realism and hope.”
Casarella, noted that Schindler’s ideas are not new, but have a long history, most notably promoted by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would become Pope Benedict XVI.
“Man’s being resonates with some things and clashes with others,” Casarella said, pointing to Mary and the Apostle John as an example for love and “service to the Lord in the face of secularist abuses of action.”
Deneen agreed with Schindler that the modern world separates love from truth, but argued that Schindler only addressed part of secular liberalism’s shortcomings.
He argued that liberalism is defined not only by a realism that separates reality into parts, but also a utopianism that seeks a “complete redefinition of the self.”
The liberal project separating love and knowledge also seeks supposedly realistic answers to pressing questions aiming to redefine nature, Deneen said. This “conquest of nature must inevitably include human nature,” and eventually this “instrumentalism turns in on itself.”
While at its outset, he acknowledged, “the liberal project was positive,” offering concrete ways to assert individual autonomy and freedom, secular liberalism has developed to the point of actively seeking to “make us into those creatures it posits we are.”
Liberalism “gives us no choice” and forces us to be “autonomous” and unlinked from society and one another, he explained, warning that this is a false vision of reality and freedom.