Archbishop John Nienstedt wrote the following for his weekly column in the archdiocesan paper, The Catholic Spirit. It is well worth your time to read.
Beware of ‘secular Catholicism!
I hope you had a joy-filled Easter! A priest friend of mine from
Detroit gave a most thought-provoking and challenging homily to his
parishioners on Easter Sunday. I found his description of a “secular
Catholicism” to be quite perceptive.
He also commented on the impact that this movement is having on our
college-age sons and daughters and how imperative it is that we
communicate to them the beautiful truths of our faith, especially
regarding human sexuality, marriage and human life.
I share his homily here with you in the hopes that you will find it equally stimulating:
“Jesus is Lord”
This was a particularly difficult homily for me to prepare. I wanted
all of you to embrace the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . and with
it, his victory over sin and death without reflecting on a single
negative. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that you
and I must confront a kind of spiritual death that is embracing our
church and our society.
For some time now, there has been a secular Catholicism which has
been slowly replacing the passionate, strong and enduring faith that
many of us received from our parents. Secular Catholicism is more a
social religion than a religion that comes from a deeply seated faith in
Jesus Christ as the Son of God. It invites people to have a causal
relationship with the Catholic Church . . . a church Jesus founded for
us as a gift for all ages.
Secular Catholics are casual about many things. They are casual about
church attendance, casual about the importance of a prayer life, casual
about the commandments, casual about authentic church teaching and
casual in the ways they pass faith on to their children.
It doesn’t seem to be so bad when we hear the word casual. Yet, it is
bad because when one generation falls into that trap, the generations
that follow have even less faith or no faith at all . . . and the church
is diminished. So why is this important enough to take time and space
in my Easter homily?
The answer is simple. There is spiritual warfare going on in our
church and in our society and, as faithful Catholics, you ought to know
This year I re-read parts of Dinesh D’Souza’s book “What’s So Great
About Christianity?” In that book he warns about a new atheism that is
infecting our society as a whole, but, more importantly, it is affecting
many of our young people in colleges and universities.
In his chapter “Mis-Educating the Young: Saving Children From Their
Parents” he says, “The atheist strategy can be described in this way.
Let the religious people breed them, and we will educate them to despise
their parents’ beliefs.”
When I was growing up, there was only one prominent atheist, Madelyn
Murray O’Hair. Back then, every Catholic, indeed every Christian,
ignored her as an oddity. Today’s atheists are legion. They have an
agenda and their names are familiar.
Christopher Hitchens . . . God called him to Judgment last year.
Sam Harris . . . and many, many more.
They are on my list because they are all highly acclaimed authors whose works are commonly read in realms of higher learning.
In his book, D’Souza says “Atheistic educators are now raising the
question of whether parents should have control of what their children
learn.” And you and I know that in public schools parents are losing
more and more control each and every year.
Richard Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion” asks “How much do we
regard children as being the property of their parents? It is one thing
to say people should be free to believe whatever they like.
But should [parents] they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is
there something to be said for society stepping in? Isn’t it always a
form of child abuse to label children as possessions of beliefs that
they are too young to have thought out?”
Daniel Dennett goes further. “Parents don’t own their children the
way slave owners once owned slaves, but are, rather, their stewards and
guardians and ought to be held accountable by outsiders for their
What he is saying essentially is that outsiders do have a right to interfere.
My friends, you and I are living in a new kind of world and if we
want to overcome that kind of thinking, we have to take our faith in
Jesus Christ and in his church much more seriously. This celebration
tells us that we do have the power to make a difference. We have within
this church the transformative power of Jesus Christ.
To understand that power we have to first understand that Easter
really did happen. We believe that because the Scriptures of the New
Testament are filled with eyewitness accounts. Those accounts tell us
over and over again that Jesus did die on the cross . . . that he was
buried . . . that on the third day he did rise from the dead . . . and,
finally, that he is Lord and Savior and the Son of the Living God.
During this Easter celebration we ask only one question. Are the
witnesses reliable? Their later actions say that they are. Almost every
one of them suffered a martyr’s death rather than deny what they had
seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears. If you and I
believe that they are reliable, then all of us must pay much more
attention to our faith in Jesus Christ and in his church.
St. Augustine tells us that faith is given to us as a sacred trust.
It must be protected. It must be developed. It must be allowed to grow.
In his book “The City Of God,” he says: “There is a sanctuary of
conscience inside every person that is protected from political control,
and that kings and emperors, however grand, cannot usurp authority that
rightly belongs to God.” In our society, that statement is equally true
when applied to congressmen, senators and presidents.
Today we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord. We are called to
think about our own sinfulness and, as we do that, to remember
especially that Christ died for us while we were still in our sin. He
went to the cross for each of us to reconcile us to God and to each
I pray today that through the cross of Jesus Christ, God will give us
the Easter power to be inflamed by his love and to share that love in
every possible way with everyone within our reach.
May God give us the grace.
God bless you!