Columbia: There is also a trend in contemporary society to see marriage and family as exclusively voluntary, rather than as natural institutions.
Cardinal George: It is true, in fact, that you choose freely to marry someone, but once you do, that relationship is normative for the rest of your life. Marriage means growing not only to live with someone but also through someone else, having their self-consciousness become part of your self-consciousness.
The same thing is true of the Church, where we bring into our self-consciousness the mind of Christ, as St. Paul says, and therefore everyone whom Christ loves. The Church is a network of relationships, called communion, and the human race is a network of relationships, called solidarity. The two should complement one another. At that point there is no separation; there is cooperation, a recognition of difference — and the difference is important. The Church isn’t just a department of state, and the state shouldn’t make itself into a kind of church, which is sometimes our temptation here in America.
Meanwhile, many immigrants come to the United States with a sense of family that is still very strong. They come here so they can send money back to their family, not in order to pursue their own goals. Behind this is a sense that the family is the basic unit of society in ways that aren’t always true for Americans, who think that individuals and their rights are the basic unit.
Columbia: You go on to talk about the importance of evangelizing culture. How do we proclaim the distinctiveness of the Church’s message and the Catholic way of life?
Cardinal George: Pope John Paul II was always interested in seeing how we were fostering a culture that was more Gospel-friendly, because if we had that, many other things would take care of themselves. Evangelization involves not just converting individuals, but changing the culture so that society is transformed into a place that is a little more just, loving and generous.
The message is relational. The Church is not sectarian. It extends beyond every community, even national communities. Pope Benedict XVI made that very clear when he visited the United Nations. The nation-state is not nearly as important as the global human family. That is a sense of catholicity, of universality, of global solidarity that the Church has been talking about for a very long time.
Columbia: How does that concept of global solidarity relate to the challenges and opportunities that are presented with regard to religious dialogue?
Cardinal George: Unlike national identities, all of the great faiths are global. If we can cooperate on a social level, even though we aren’t going to believe the same things entirely, then the world will be a more peaceful place. We will be able to create a sense of identity that transcends other divisions. The differences between religions will still remain, but along with that sense of mutual respect comes a conviction that religion can never be used to justify violence. We will become peacemakers even with differences and disagreements.
Columbia: What role can the Knights of Columbus, and the laity in general, have in this new evangelization and the task of transforming culture?
Cardinal George: I think Knights will come up with the right answers, because they are connected to the Church and are men of faith. We have to allow a lot of subsidiarity. Evangelization is a global vision with a lot of actions that take place in homes, in parishes, in cities and in councils. I always count on the Knights to be there when I need them, but more than that, they do good things entirely on their own. They do good things for the Church because they are good Catholic men.
Christ shapes our minds and our hearts if they are open to him in prayer. We should all pray together and pray to understand what our roles are. We also have to study the Catechism, for example, so that we can be of one mind with the Church.
Ordinary people live their lives, and religion is integral to that, but they aren’t always thinking about it theoretically. They’re living it. People go to Mass regularly, do their best to build up their family and contribute to society. Catholicism is a way of life, a way of thinking and a way of loving.
Columbia: Beyond the contemporary idea of liberal and conservative Catholicism, you say the answer is “simply Catholicism.” How would you define this concept, “simply Catholicism”?
Cardinal George: Liberal and conservative are, first of all, political terms, so you have to get behind them to understand Catholicism because it isn’t primarily political, although it influences politics like any other realm of human experience.
The “simply Catholicism” part is a community that is formed by sharing the gifts that Christ gives us: the Gospel, the sacraments, the pastoral governance of the successors of the Apostles. The means of Christ’s grace that make us truly one are now present.
The way of life can differ within the Church but the goal of life is always sanctity. I see that as I go around the parishes in Chicago. There are a lot of holy people here. They might not know it and don’t always make the headlines, but they are there — fathers and mothers of families, and people dedicated not only to their faith but also to their work in society and to helping others. It’s very encouraging.
Columbia: One of the major challenges facing the new evangelization is the disconnect of freedom and truth, of which John Paul II so often spoke and what Pope Benedict XVI refers to as the dictatorship of relativism. How do we share the Gospel message when people are suspicious of claims of truth — especially those that pertain to religion or morality?
Cardinal George: A lot of people do not believe that you can accept a truth that you have not created for yourself and still be free. Yet, I think that people who try to live their own truths and their own dreams recognize, when they reach a certain level of maturity, that this path is a trap. To be ourselves, we have to be something more than ourselves. We come forward with the truths of who we really are in Christ and our destiny for all of eternity, and that is liberating. That is the truth that sets us free.
We have to watch for people when they are ready to hear that message. It may be years, but we have to look for places where we can proclaim it.
We must do what John Paul II always said: “Propose and never impose.” Goodness has its own attractiveness. We have to be better witnesses than we have often been, and then enter into dialogue. That’s the Catholic way of life, and that will draw some and perhaps repulse others. That’s what God expects us to do, and we leave the results in his hands.