In this first of a two-part series, the author analyses the process by which the Western world is moving from a society based more or less on Christian principles and values to an outright rejection of them.
The Luminous Mysteries of the Holy Rosary have for their common denominator the Twelve Apostles. Jesus devoted himself for months, perhaps years, to their formation. On a certain occasion he sent them out, two by two, on an apostolic journey, giving them instructions. They returned full of enthusiasm, because the demons were subject to them in his name. Finally, on the day of Pentecost, he sent them out to preach the Gospel to the whole world.
Since then, the history of the region we call now Europe has been marked by Christianity. We can distinguish four stages in it.
With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Church was born. The Apostles and their successors spread out in all directions, preaching communion with the incarnate God and brotherly love. In hiding, and suffering periodic persecution, they carried the faith to the far corners of the Roman Empire.
Things changed substantially in the 4th century, when a declining Rome declared Christianity the official religion of the Empire. The end of the persecutions and the consequent expansion of the Church brought with it positive but also negative results, such as misconceptions about the religious and political spheres of influence, or the massive spread of Christianity and a decline in the 'quality' of its spiritual life.
After the invasion by barbarian peoples, a new mode of social organization was forged. The population was structured in three 'estates': the nobility, in charge of the government; the common people, in charge of production; and the clergy, dedicated to spiritual, but also to cultural and scientific tasks, such as astronomy, biology, physics, music, literature, etc. This medieval mode of organization lasted until the Modern era.
With the emergence of the bourgeoisie, the state and guild civilization were infiltrated. Modern culture and science were born in the hands of lay people, all of them Christians, but without the spiritual life and formation necessary for them to cultivate a dialogue with their faith. The spectacular successes of these disciplines ended up modifying the very concept of truth.
In Classical culture, what was real was considered true, and was apprehended through contemplation. In Modernity, the canon of truth passed over to the achievements of science and reflection. And advancing a little further to the Enlightenment, truth was thought to be found neither in the past nor in the present, but in the future: truth is what science may one day achieve. Reality appears as indefinitely moldable by man. The concept of 'creation' was replaced by that of 'nature'.
Painful experiences-especially the two World Wars-demonstrated that scientific progress is ambiguous, and so the building of a modern utopian paradise on earth was abandoned. A further 'anti-civilizational' step was then taken: the rejection of all meta-relationships (not only religious, but also philosophical, political or scientific), in order to limit oneself to technological development that makes life as pleasant as possible. This is what is called 'post-modernity', or 'relativism' (our fourth stage).
Anyone of a certain age has witnessed the great de-Christianization that has taken place in a short period of time. There is no need to recall here the drop in the statistics of baptisms, confirmations, marriages and, lately, also religious funerals.
This has been an intra-generational phenomenon, not inter-generational, as epoch-marking changes usually are. This phenomenon has been the result of a kind of perfect storm: the relativistic ideas that were in the minds of just a few intellectuals have entered into the popular imagination with the help of new technologies, and have eventually permeated our civilization.
But it is becoming more and more evident that the process is going beyond de-Christianization and is evolving towards 'Christianophobia'. In the Postmodern world, Christians experience a growing hostility: they are harassed, badgered, cornered and singled out. It is easy to recognize certain individuals, forces, colors, and interests forging a new world order: this is quite obvious. But we must not forget that ideas contain more power than institutions and people. And the idea that underpins postmodernity is relativism.
Therefore, political self-defense, a reactive attitude in the face of each new demolition of Christianity, is surely not enough. Politics has a great power to dissolve but a very limited capacity to create human realities.
This year the diocese of Burgos celebrates the eighth centenary of the laying of the first stone of its cathedral: but it was not consecrated until 1260. It takes a lot of time and effort to build a church like that. But it could be demolished in a few seconds with a few sticks of dynamite. Politics can also destroy very quickly, but it builds little and slowly.
On the other hand, the political decision-making centers are becoming more and more distant and global.
Moreover, if we look around us, we will see that the people around us, despite being good people, often look with favor on the laws imposed by relativistic social engineering.
It even happens that some of the most active social warriors fighting on behalf of a civilization based on Christian ideals are not themselves exemplary in their methods or in their personal lives.
In short, we are facing a 'new evangelization', and it is up to us to look to the Lord and to follow his instructions. At the very beginning, Jesus chose his Apostles from among the simple: they were not wise, they did not speak many languages, nor were they well-educated. He ordered them not to carry a rucksack, nor a spare tunic, nor money in their purse. He told them that in some houses and villages they would not be well received. Christ did not form 'warriors', but men and women who loved and who were vulnerable. He did not instill in them a reactive attitude, but a proactive one. And a love for the world and for each person, even unto death.
St. Josemaría entitled one of his homilies Passionately loving the world. Today we might re-phrase it: "Passionately loving this world". This is not something merely goodish, or dependent simply on will-power: rather, it demands serious personal work to bring about two basic conditions. Firstly, to understand the world in which we live to the extent that we possibly can: for, as the Spanish philosopher Miguel Unamuno said, "We do not know what is happening, and that is what is happening to us." And secondly, to serve this world as it needs to be served.
We will see more about how to achieve this in the next article dedicated to the same topic.