New polls appearing this week in Time and Newsweek Magazines indicate that the vast majority of Americans consider themselves to be Christians, and remarkably share even doctrinal orthodoxies such as a belief in the virgin birth of Jesus. What their surveys fail to measure is whether we have maintained any fidelity to the fundamental message of our Christianity, namely our recognition of the centrality of love toward strangers and even toward our enemies. A recent catechism entitled, "Catholicism for Dummies," does not even mention the words "Love your enemies," the central tenet of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.
This Christmas we are faced with the tragic reality that our Christianity is being emptied of its meaning, turned into a cultural construct that pays lip service to the name of Christ but denies His most fundamental teachings. Tens of thousands being killed with the approval of the Sudanese government, and similar numbers being killed with US tax dollars in Iraq. Three million AIDS deaths anticipated again next year in Africa because treatments costing only $100 a year per person are not available to 99% of HIV victims there, and similar numbers of children still dying of malaria and diarrheal disease for lack of treatments costing pennies. Pope John Paul II, in his World Day of Peace message for 2005, has called all of us to a renewed recognition that being a Catholic Christian is fundamentally about renouncing violence as a means of resolving conflicts—at any level—and that the gospels call us to boundless personal generosity, rather than self-satisfied greed. The Pope writes:
…How can we not think with profound regret of the drama unfolding in Iraq, which has given rise to tragic situations of uncertainty and insecurity for all?
To attain the good of peace there must be a clear and conscious acknowledgment that violence is an unacceptable evil and that it never solves problems. "Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings"(John Paul II, Homily at Drogheda, Ireland, 29 September 1979) . What is needed is a great effort to form consciences and to educate the younger generation to goodness by upholding that integral and fraternal humanism which the Church proclaims and promotes. This is the foundation for a social, economic and political order respectful of the dignity, freedom and fundamental rights of each person.
The Pope concludes:
No man or woman of good will can renounce the struggle to overcome evil with good. This fight can be fought effectively only with the weapons of love. When good overcomes evil, love prevails and where love prevails, there peace prevails. This is the teaching of the Gospel, restated by the Second Vatican Council: "the fundamental law of human perfection, and consequently of the transformation of the world, is the new commandment of love"(Gaudium et Spes, 38).
The same is true in the social and political spheres. In this regard, Pope Leo XIII wrote that those charged with preserving peace in relations between peoples should foster in themselves and kindle in others "charity, the mistress and queen of all the virtues"(Rerum Novarum: Acta Leonis XIII 11, 1892). Christians must be convinced witnesses of this truth. They should show by their lives that love is the only force capable of bringing fulfillment to persons and societies, the only force capable of directing the course of history in the way of goodness and peace.