The result of last month’s referendum in Ireland, where a sizable amount of people from a traditionally Catholic nation voted to amend the country’s constitution in favor of redefining the concept of marriage to include same-sex couples, was rightly described by Cardinal Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, as a defeat for humanity. When human beings decide that they can overrule the natural order of creation by ignoring its objective realities – like that of the bipolarity of man and woman as a source of new life and the well-being of their children, the whole point of marriage as a protected institution in society – humanity itself is indeed the greatest victim of such grave error. However, we Christians are ourselves at least partly to blame for this disruptive development because we have clearly failed to educate young men and women, in our schools and parishes, to know, understand and respect the eternal truths of what it means to be human.
In a recent rare publicized letter of 21 April 2015, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes how he has lately rediscovered the great responsibility the Church has today to actively engage with the world at large: since the Church is part of the world, Benedict says, she can only fulfill her mission when she herself is concerned by the world as whole:
Only if we think together with the perspectives and the questions of our time, will we be able to grasp the Word of God as addressed to us in the present. Only if we join in the concern for the possibilities and the needs of our time, can the sacraments come to the people with their real power. There is another element contained therein: Inasmuch as the care of the faithful who directly seek the faith is first of all entrusted to us, so also the service of the shepherd cannot be limited to the Church alone. The Church is part of the world and so she can only rightly carry out her proper mission by looking after the entire world. For its part, the Word of God likewise regards the whole of reality, and its presence places a responsibility upon the Church for the whole. [..] the Church must involve herself in the struggles which humanity and society pass through to find the right path, and for this purpose the Church must find a way of debating these questions which also reaches out to non-believers. Only if she goes out of herself and assumes the responsibility for all of humanity does the Church remain true to herself.
At times like these, when it seems that common sense is rarely to be found in the public sphere and Christians are ridiculed and verbally abused – like we have recently seen in Ireland on a large scale – because of their fidelity to an understanding of what it means to be human that is increasingly rejected by modern man, it is easy to retreat into intellectual ghettos and false ideas of moral superiority or victimization. What however is being asked from us is something entirely different: it is the moral courage to stand up, to speak clearly and to evangelize incessantly. Let us not forget the words of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew (28, 18-20):
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.
The real answers to the problems modernity presents us with are found in these verses: Christ has all authority, despite the human follies of today; Christians are called to make disciples of all peoples – so we still have more than enough work to do; we have to teach the whole of humanity all that Christ has commanded us – also here, we have our work cut out for us; and finally, Christ himself is with us always until the end of times. What else could we ask for? Our responsibility for humanity lies exactly here, that we follow this exhortation faithfully and do our work without complaining. The Gospel has never told us it was going to be easy, to the contrary: the cross is ours, and it is our salvation.
As Pope Francis recently commented, through evangelization we have to become “instruments of salvation for our brothers” and allow all men and women to encounter Jesus Christ. Only a personal encounter with Christ can enable a person to want to know his teachings and to decide freely to follow him. To put this into the perspective of today: only when those promoting the many disordered ideologies of our times – like abortion, contraception, euthanasia or same-sex ‘marriage’ – personally encounter Jesus Christ, will these brothers and sisters of ours be able to see and accept why these ideologies are disordered and why they do not bring peace and happiness to their lives and to mankind as a whole. In order, however, for these personal encounters to be able to take place, every Christian has to be this instrument of salvation by daily testifying to the merciful love of the Father in word and deed. This requires a vibrant faith in charity and clarity – and an always listening heart that is open to the world. This is the responsibility of every Christian for humanity.