Let’s Listen to Cardinal Wuerl: The ‘Other’ Donald
“When I go back to Berkeley, I will be lost, and with all the damned depression, riots, and attempts by everyone to get me on pot, I am afraid I shall just flip.”
The other day, I read this letter that was sent to William F. Buckley, the founder of National Review, in 1968 from a young man looking for advice.
He explained that he had been having “attacks of doubt,” describing himself as “spinning,” “reeling” and “confused.” He had gotten into some wild things on campus, and philosophy class was upending his understanding of the world.
“I do not really know what is wrong with me, but I do feel that something is wrong with me, and I ask your advice. … I am so sad and need help.”
That was Berkeley, then. It seems like much of the world, now.
On a recent Monday morning, the psalm reading at St. Agnes Church near Grand Central Station included these words:
“You have rocked the country and split it open; repair the cracks in it, for it is tottering. You have made your people feel hardships; you have given us stupefying wine.”
Oh, how familiar that seems.
This month, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) hosted a day devoted to Catholic Social Teaching, during which Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, told the story of a speech he had given at Harvard on faith in a pluralistic society. After the speech, a law professor who identified as an atheist had asked him, and the other religious leaders present: “What do you people think you bring to our society?”
Wuerl answered the lawyer with a series of questions of his own: “What do you think the world would be like if it were not for the voices of all of those religious traditions represented in the hall? What would it be like if we did not hear voices in the midst of the community saying, ‘you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness’?
“What would our culture be like had we not heard religious imperatives such as ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ and ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’? How much more harsh would our land be if we did not grow up hearing, ‘blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers’? What would the world be like had we never been reminded that someday we will have to answer to God for our actions?”
The atheist got the point and acknowledged: “It would be a mess!” Or, more of a mess than it already is.
Wuerl warned that the current reluctance in some quarters to welcome any religious point of reference in public and civic life has become a matter of preoccupation precisely because it has always been assumed that good public policy — the kind that results in a good and just society — ultimately must have “some religious antecedence, some appreciation that there are moral imperatives not created by human beings.”
To that young man writing from Berkeley, Wuerl might have pointed to America’s founding, as he did at AEI. We are a people who — at least on paper — assent to a reality that includes some self-evident truths, like our “inalienable” rights.
“When we stand up today in the public arena and the courts for the identity, integrity and freedom of our ministries,” said Wuerl, “we do so not to protect a narrow privilege, but to uphold American constitutional guarantees and to protect our right and duty to serve ‘the least of these’ and promote the common good without violating the teachings of our faith.”
He pointed to poverty, immigration and our need to be good stewards of human life and all the gifts and talents we have been given. He pointed to the poison of abortion in our midst, saying, “Clearly, a nation that destroys a million unborn children a year is failing a fundamental moral test.”
To the young people present, he said, as he might have to the Berkeley student: “Our task is to do not everything we can, but only what we ought to do.”
Perhaps that’s a good starting point for anyone feeling lost today.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at [email protected].
COPYRIGHT 2016 United Feature Syndicate