Setting the World Ablaze
The future of the Catholic Church.


LOPEZ: How are “renewal movements and new forms of Catholic community” the hope for a “renaissance of faith”? Why can’t people just be Catholic? What’s with all these modifiers?

WEIGEL: There are many evangelically vibrant parishes and campus ministries in the Catholic Church in the United States. But in Western Europe, for example, where the ordinary expressions of Catholic life (such as parishes and campus ministries) are moribund, the juice, the energy, is often found in Catholic renewal movements and new forms of Catholic community. John Paul II thought of these movements as the “charismatic” fruits of the Second Vatican Council. Of course, these movements and communities eventually have to be integrated into the normal patterns of Catholic life (parishes, dioceses, etc.). But at this particular moment in Catholic history, and throughout the world, the new movements and communities are where a lot of people are rediscovering, or just plain discovering, the whole truth of Catholic faith.

LOPEZ: How is wanting to be tolerant and make sure those men and women who identify as homosexual have the same rights as everyone else “an attempt to remake human nature by means of law and to endorse that remanufacture by coercive state power”?

WEIGEL: Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who is quite probably the most intellectually accomplished bishop in the history of Catholicism in the United States, put this brilliantly in a January column in his archdiocesan newspaper: “Sexual relations between a man and a woman are naturally and necessarily different from sexual relations between same-sex partners. This truth is part of the common sense of the human race. It was true before the existence of either Church or State, and it will continue to be true when there is no State of Illinois and no United States of America. A proposal to change this truth about marriage in civil law is less a threat to religion than it is an affront to human reason and the common good of society. It means we are all to pretend to accept something we know is physically impossible. The Legislature might just as well repeal the law of gravity.” Now, in a culture where the idea that some things just are has become severely attenuated, this is, as the disciples once remarked of something Jesus said, a “hard saying.” But it happens to be true. And if the state successfully asserts its capacity to redefine reality in the matter of men, women, and marriage, where does its capacity to redefine reality stop? Why not redefine the parent-child relationship, or the doctor-patient relationship, or the priest-penitent relationship, or the counselor-counselee relationship? Why not redefine citizenship as adherence to the state’s redefinition of reality?

: How can it be true that all Christians are called to holiness? Isn’t that just for saints?

WEIGEL: Sanctity is every Christian’s human and Christian destiny. It’s our Christian destiny, because that’s the vocation into which we were baptized: the vocation to be holy as he, the Lord, is holy, for we are his by being baptized into him — into his body, the Church. It’s our human destiny because it is by being conformed to the pattern of Christ’s life of self-giving love that we embrace the truth about ourselves, which is that we are to make our lives into a gift for others, as life itself is a gift to each of us. That is the “moral structure” of the human condition. And this truth, which John Paul II believed we can discern from reason, is both powerfully displayed and radically confirmed by the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Saints, C. S. Lewis reminds us, are simply people who can live comfortably, not nervously, with God. So, if you want a seat at the wedding feast of the lamb in the new Jerusalem, you’ve got to become the kind of person who’s comfortable there, in that company.

: How does the sexual revolution have anything to do with the Incarnation of Christ? Does this assertion just feed the conventional notion that Catholics are obsessed with sex — specifically with saying no to it and taking all the fun out of it?

WEIGEL: In a culture of Abercrombie & Fitch ads, MTV, and HBO soft-porn channels, it’s rather a hoot to suggest that it’s the Catholic Church that’s obsessed with sex. The culture is obsessed with sex. But it’s a very weird kind of sex, a kind of disembodied sex, in which there is neither commitment nor fruitfulness. In that culture, the ancient Christian conviction that, as the Lutheran theologian Gilbert Meilaender once put it, Christians only make love with people to whom they’ve made promises can sound dreadfully old-hat. But is a life of one-night-standing really all there is?

The Incarnation teaches us that God takes our enfleshment very, very seriously because human flesh and blood became the material by which the Son of God entered history. Our embodiedness is not a toy we “own” and “use” and “play with,” and when we treat it like that we do a lot of damage to ourselves. If you doubt that, ask any college counselor — even one who’s thoroughly irreligious — who’s trying to help young people caught in the trap of addiction to online pornography.