THE DIFFERENCE GOD MAKES
A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture
by Cardinal Francis George, OMI
The Crossroad Publishing Co., 2009
384 pages, $26.95
To order: cpcbooks.com
Chicago’s archbishop has provided third millennium Catholics with a guide to the New Evangelization in a book that draws heavily on the thought of Pope John Paul II.
In a compilation of talks and presentations covering everything from Catholic dialogue with Muslims to godly humanism, Cardinal Francis George lays out the Church’s mission in the modern world by looking at the beginning and end of all relationships — our relation to God — and the community of relationships in the Church.
Beginning with Augustine’s view of God and man in De Civitate Dei (The City of God), Cardinal George sketches a picture of today’s world in which he observes “ample evidence of the flourishing of the City of Man” in the culture of death. He sees this as the result of a poorly conceived modern compromise between the two cities, one of which is based on the shared love of God and the other on self-love.
To evangelize such a culture, Cardinal George posits, Catholics must recognize and work to diminish or eradicate its evil elements, but also should seek to understand and love the culture. Citing a talk by Pope John Paul II to U.S. religious in San Francisco in 1987, the cardinal explains, “An evangelizer of culture brings out evils only to show the power of God’s word to heal and uplift, to unify and bind with love. A program for evangelizing American culture … begins, continues, and ends with love for the people and their culture.”
In a chapter on the role of lay Catholics today, Cardinal George addresses the problem of secularization, observing that in its contemporary American context, God is not so much dead, but tamed. “This God,” he writes, “certainly makes no demands on us, because he has no power. We cannot permit him to have power, lest we lose our freedom.” And under a powerless God, he says, religion becomes a leisure activity, not a way of life, and the Church becomes just another voluntary association or spiritual club.
In such a milieu, the cardinal continues, it is more important than ever that the Church emphasize the need for conversion in order to belong. Hence, Cardinal George says, “The primary crisis at this moment, and always, is a crisis of discipleship, of conversion to Jesus Christ individually and socially within his body, the Church.”
The cardinal also provides some needed clarification on the purpose and mission of the Second Vatican Council, calling it a missionary council convened to “bind up the wounds of a severely divided world.” For those who suggest that its sole intent was to change the Church, he offers this thought: “The Church was also in need of change, but only to the extent that she needed to look again at how she could most effectively change the world.” That being said, the post-conciliar Church’s greatest failure, he adds, was failing to form laypeople who are engaged politically, economically, culturally and socially on faith’s terms rather than the world’s terms.
Despite the book’s broad range of subject matter (Cardinal George also deals with the crisis of liberal Catholicism, ordained priesthood and worship), digesting the various pieces as a whole provides an incisive and thoughtful analysis of where the Church is today and where it needs to be going. Some readers may find parts of it a bit too heady, but on the whole, this is good reading offering plenty of substance for conversation and discussion among the faithful.
Judy Roberts writes
from Graytown, Ohio.