Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Blessed John Paul II and the link between freedom and truth

The news that beloved former Pope Blessed John Paul II will soon be canonized has brought joy to many believers in Christendom. In this post I wish to highlight something that was very important to this Pope: truth. Pope John Paul II was a great intellectual and philosopher. He wrote and spoke passionately about the truth. In his landmark encyclical Veritatis Splendor John Paul II has a powerful section titled "freedom and law". In this section JP II notes: "God's law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom; rather, it protects and promotes that freedom. In contrast, however, some present day cultural tendencies have given rise to several currents of thought in ethics which center upon an alleged conflict between freedom and law. These doctrines would grant to individuals or social groups the right to determine what is good or evil. Human freedom would thus be able to create 'values' and would enjoy a primacy over truth, to the point that truth itself would be considered a creation of freedom. Freedom would thus lay claim to a moral autonomy which would actually amount to an absolute sovereignty." How prophetic these words are when we consider the recent DOMA decisions by the U. S. Supreme Court. Going against Natural Law and thousands of years of tradition five people on a court have now made themselves "sovereign" to determine truth. Who doesn't love freedom. How about the cry of Mel Gibson (William Wallace) in Braveheart...."Freedom". Here I would like to interject a wonderful quote from JP II in a homily he gave at Camden yards in Baltimore MD. I was in attendance as a seminarian on Oct. 9, 1999. The pope said "Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought." Wow! Here are some more great quotes: "America has always wanted to be a land of the free. Today, the challenge facing America is to find freedom's fulfillment in the truth: the truth that is intrinsic to human life created in God's image and likeness, the truth that is written on the human heart, the truth that can be known by reason and can therefore form the basis of a profound and universal dialogue about the direction they must give to their lives and activities. One hundred thirty years go, President Abraham Lincoln asked whether a 'nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal could long endure'. President Lincoln's question is no less a question for the present generation of Americans. Democracy cannot be sustained without a shared commitment to certain moral truths about the human person and human community. The basic question before a democratic society is 'how ought we to live together?' In seeking an answer to this question can society exclude moral truth and moral reasoning? Can the Biblical wisdom which played such a formative part in the very founding of your country be excluded from that debate? Would not doing so mean that tens of millions of Americans would no longer offer the contributions of their deepest convictions to the formation of public policy? Surely it is important for America that the moral truths which make freedom possible should be passed on to each new generation.....Catholics of America! Always be guided by the truth-by the truth about God who created and redeemed us, and by the truth about the human person, made in the image and likeness of God and destined for a glorious fulfillment in the Kingdom to come." That is a mouthful! It is also a stunning indictment of a society that has bought into what Pope Benedict XVI called the "dictatorship of relativism." If "my truth" cannot be distinguishable from "your truth" then who decides? The Supreme Court. Is something true just because it is legal? That goes against human reason. In the Gospel of Life JPII zeros in on America's number one problem today: "When freedom is detached from objective truth it becomes impossible to establish personal rights on a firm rational basis; and the ground is laid for society to be at the mercy of the unrestrained will of individuals or the oppressive totalitarianism of public authority." Later in the same chapter he states that everyone must have the courage to "adopt a new lifestyle....on the basis of a correct scale of values: the primacy of being over having, of the person over things. This renewed lifestyle involves a passing from indifference to concern for others, from rejection to acceptance of them. Other people are not rivals from whom we must defend ourselves, but brothers and sisters to be supported." This is at the core of the problem. If freedom is exalted to such an extent we risk viewing one another as rivals. If we are rivals then sharing of goods is not impossible because you are taking up space and food goods that belong to me. Freedom and God's are inseparable. I will close with a quote from the end of Veritatis Splendor: " This is the risk of an alliance between democracy and ethical relativism, which would remove any sure moral reference point from political and social life, and on a deeper level make the acknowledgement of truth impossible. Indeed, 'if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism." Let's pray for a renewal of truth and dialogue in our public square. God Bless America.

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