In organizing my thoughts for today, I came across an article in the February 21 New York Times. I'd like to share it with you, because it offers a good context for our discussion this morning. It's entitled, "The Far Right Sees the Dawn of the Moral Minority," and it talks about the anger and despair felt by many Washington conservatives in the wake of President Clinton's impeachment acquittal.
Here's a sampling.
William Bennett, the former secretary of education, is quoted as claiming that ordinary Americans "are complicit in [the president's] corruption."
Sen. Paul Smith of New Hampshire says that "the president's acquittal is a sad commentary on the prevailing values in America."
And Paul Weyrich, the man who invented the name Moral Majority for Jerry Falwell's crusading organization, is even more bleak. "I no longer believe that there is a moral majority," he says, and "I do not believe that a majority of Americans actually shares our values." Mr. Weyrich goes on to warn that ". . . we have to look at what we can do to separate ourselves from this hostile culture" because we have "probably lost the culture war."
Now, I didn't come here today to talk about politics, the president's sins or conservative bafflement with American voters. I can understand the frustration of these men, and The New York Times should be embarrassed for lumping them all together in the so-called far right. But I also don't share the alarm of these men and I certainly don't believe that separating ourselves from current American culture would solve anything. On the contrary: It would make matters worse. We can not be leaven in society if we remove ourselves from the recipe.
The Times article is still useful, though, in one important way: It reminds us that traditional Christian faith the kind of faith you and I were raised on may be less and less of a force in our society in the decades ahead. Christians may in fact be the "moral minority" in the not so distant future. And that has very big implications for how we preach Jesus Christ and teach the Catholic faith. Fifty years ago, we could count on our culture reinforcing, or at least reflecting, our religious beliefs. We no longer have that luxury. And 50 years from now, the world will be even more drastically different.
Remember that last February, at this same Mile Hi Congress, we talked about how all of us parents, priests, bishops and educators share one vital role in the Church. We are teachers. That's our mandate as believers. Those are the exact words I used. I want to repeat them now, and underline them: We are teachers.
Like never before in American history, we need to be people rooted in the Church and faithful to her teachings. In an age of confusion, the Church is our only reliable guide. If today's political environment shows us anything, it's that public character and private virtue are disappearing from the vocabulary of civic life. And if the stock market continues to rise if our economic success goes on indefinitely it could stay that way. But human beings are better than that. Our children deserve more than that. And it's our job to form them in the truth which will make them genuinely free.
We can't do that apart from the Church. It's our job to be missionaries and witnesses of God's presence to our children; to our spouses; to our coworkers and friends; and to the elected officials who represent us through the ballot box. We haven't done that well enough, or we wouldn't find ourselves where we are today. Either we form society, or society will form us. The human heart needs to worship something. It's our deepest hunger. Either we will form our children as disciples of Jesus Christ, the Son of the true God. Or they will choose other gods to take His place and the marketplace is full of them. This is why each one of us makes such a vital difference. The future depends on God. But God acts through us to touch the souls of our young people and the soul of the next century. That is what's at stake in our lifetimes.