Verbal victims of the Dictatorship of Relativism Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, May. 06, 2010 -- 12:00 AM

This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

We live in a world where many, many people have either made themselves into “God” or they’ve been tricked into thinking that they are “God” by others. The impact of this reality touches each and every aspect of our lives and shakes the foundations of our society and certainly of our Church.

Our Holy Father has spoken several times of what he has called the “Dictatorship of Relativism” — that is, there is no objective truth. To say there is no objective truth is to say there is no God. These are the same statement, for when one says there is no objective truth, they are, in effect, saying, “I’m God,” and therefore, “I create the world in which I live.” If there is no objective truth or objective way that things are, then things are the way that one thinks they are. It allows one to say, “I create my own world, my own bubble, which is different from everybody else’s bubble.”

That is why, in our society, there is such a profound sense of isolation and loneliness. We don’t share a world. And our yearning for communion with each other cannot happen at the same time that we are creating our own world, because there is no objective world and there is no God for us to share.

Love reduced to ‘throwaway’ word

One of the most profound casualties of such a worldview is the word “love.” “Love” has really been reduced to a throw-away word because love has become, “whatever I think it is, at a particular moment.” My concept of love can change from day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year. Love is as much as I allow it to be — without endangering my own bubble.

This destruction of love is the main cause of the tragedy of so many couples saying one year, “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life,” then several years later, “we had better break up; we’re not in love anymore.” Probably, when they used the word “love” at the time of their marriage vows, it meant something quite different than it means at the time of divorce or separation.

This is something of which we are all victims in our society — words simply don’t have meaning anymore, because any word can mean almost anything. We also take words that are religious words and we make them out to be something quite different. A good example in this instance is “retreat.” Big businesses now have “retreats,” where they go off to maximize — that now is called a “retreat.”

So the deck is stacked against someone who wants to admit that God is God and that he or she is not. The deck is stacked against someone who wants to admit that there is God’s Truth, which is objective truth. That is the context for reading the Gospel we read this past weekend.

The word, “love,” can mean anything as we’ve established, but Jesus, the perfect copy of God the Father, says that love doesn’t mean just anything you might think it means. He “tells” us what love means by showing us. Jesus tells us to “love one another as I have loved you.” And that phrase, “as I have loved you,” as our Holy Father pointed out last week, is why Jesus calls this commandment a “new commandment.” The phrase “love one another” is not new, of course. But to say, “love one another as I have loved you” — that’s where the novelty is. In His Resurrection, Jesus guaranteed that novelty, He who said in a mystical vision, “behold I make all things new.” Of that which He makes new, Jesus means especially love.

The true meaning of sacrifice

Of course, the first thing that Jesus did to make all things new was to rise from the dead. We celebrate that triumph over an individual, isolated, lonely, bubble-world and its transformation into a communion of love that would only be possible by the Resurrection.

“Love one another as I have loved you” — what does that mean? How did Jesus love us? He said, “Greater love no one has, than that he lay down his life for his friends,” and He then sacrificed Himself for the sake of all, so that there might be mercy. That is what love means: to love as Jesus loves means nothing else but to sacrifice. All those other ideas that people have about love — yesterday, or today, or tomorrow, or next month, or next year — are surpassed. Love means sacrifice.

Only in a culture of relativism, where words don’t mean much, can the word “sacrifice” not mean much. Even within the Church the word sacrifice doesn’t mean very much today. Through a spirit of misinterpretation since the Second Vatican Council, the word “sacrifice” has pretty much disappeared. For example, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is now primarily “a celebration of a community meal.” When people think of going to Mass, they don’t think of going to offer sacrifice, they think of going to a community meal.

Some of the things that our Church has done (with every good intention in the world) have had unintended consequences. One of the things that has been mistaken is the use of Saturday night Masses to fulfill the Sunday obligation. The Church made possible the Saturday Vigil Mass for the intention of helping those people who could never go on Sunday, or for helping families who couldn’t go on this particular Sunday. The hope of the Church was that Saturday night Masses would be very small in attendance, because people would want to save the beauty of Sunday.

The unintended consequence is that people thought — operating in our culture and through no fault of their own — that the Church was simply trying to make things more convenient for them. They thought, in effect, “well, that’s nice, the Church is trying to make sacrifice easier.”

And there are so many things since then that have come down the line and for which the Church had good reason but which have unintentionally absolved people from sacrifice by making the sacrifice “easy.” Another example would be the fact that we no longer have to abstain from meat on every Friday of the year. The Church had a very good reason for that — some people love fish and the Church wanted to make it possible for everyone to sacrifice in a way that was actually sacrificial, inviting everybody to real penance on Friday. The Church asked that the Friday penance be more tailored and personal. But so many people took that as another instance of making sacrifice easier or non-essential.

No ‘easy’ button for sacrifice

Sometimes that attitude even creeps into the way that Mass itself is celebrated. Mass is celebrated, and things are said, so that people are left only with happy feelings at the end. They feel like they celebrated without much challenge. Despite the fact that the Mass remains a Holy Sacrifice, the thought of sacrifice hardly enters into the minds of most people. I should come to Mass to offer sacrifice, so that deep, abiding joy can be mine. I should not come to jump with superficial joy when I hear this or that song, or I am served some innovative liturgical cocktail that is either cute or that I get a kick out of. I come to Mass to jump for joy that Jesus is risen from the dead, and that means that I come from prayer and action and I return to prayer and action. Coming to offer sacrifice is not the same thing as coming to have a good time.

Pretty soon it will be the time for transfers of priests. With the transfer of priests we will see the migration of people from one parish to another. “I have a much better time with that priest than I do with this priest,” people will say. There is no thought given to the reality that the Mass is about offering sacrifice. Many things that have happened in the Church have had the unintended consequence of making sacrifice easier, and sacrifice made easy is not sacrifice.

Love is sacrifice. Jesus said, “Love as I have loved you.” Sacrifice made easy is not sacrifice. So, the word sacrifice has become also a throwaway word. Back to the marriage example — people should expect marriage to be all about sacrifice and not all about sacrifice made easy, which is no sacrifice at all.

Sacrifice is never easy. Sacrifice is suffering. That is why Pope John Paul wrote so beautifully in one of his Apostolic Letters (Salvifici Doloris) that the truth of suffering proves the truth of love. Without suffering there is no sacrifice and without sacrifice there is no true love. Love, suffering, sacrifice. “Love one another,” Jesus says, “as I have loved you.” A love which pours itself out in sacrifice, and a love which joyfully accepts suffering when God permits it in our lives. That’s the love of Jesus Christ and that’s the love of every one of His followers who really do believe in Him and in God, His loving Father, in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Thank you all for reading this. Continued prayers and blessings for you and all of your loved ones. Christ is Risen! Praised be Jesus Christ!