Brewing for quite a long time, three events that took place during 2020 signal a new step in the unfolding of the fate of the culture within which we are called to live our vocation: the Supreme Court’s ruling Bostock v. Clayton County that holds that sexual “orientation” and gender “identity” are included in the definition of sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (defining thereby as “sex discrimination” decisions based on “gender identity”); the blind and relentless reliance on science both to restore public health, the new idol, and to rescue the vitalist creed (to be alive is the only thing that really matters) put into question by the COVID-19 pandemic; and the radical deformation of the political order during the tumultuous weeks surrounding the latest presidential election.
The first event establishes a completely arbitrary relationship between our embodiment as male or female and our personal identity. Legally, socially, and culturally, the organic unity between the body and the human soul no longer exists. From now on, no one can avoid having to construct the kind of relation his or her body keeps with its soul. It is just a random occurrence when a subject’s “identity” and its somatic sex do match. This redefinition of the human person inevitably transforms the fundamental human relations (childhood, nuptiality, fatherhood, and motherhood) into intrinsically disconnected roles whose content is determined legally. The second event enshrines method and ever-new action as the form and content of both thinking and being. One claims that the “what” and the “why” questions are adequately answered by arguments that mainly deal with “how” things are done. Science’s purported capacity to fix the tragic ills brought by the pandemic elides the possibility of asking what we are really dealing with and why. What matters, after all, is to move “nature” in the direction of the “good” that society determines with the help of the “experts.” Not surprisingly, however, this precipitous focus on a “solution” opens the door to unprecedented eugenics along with the loss of an integral and organic sense of health. The last event signals the conclusive and swift move away from democracy towards an unreal, digital pseudo-political existence. Erasing the classical political groupings, our post-democratic “dis-order” occurs globally, impulsively, and without the time and place needed for deliberation. It is technologically ruled by all and none. The coercive force of this new post-democratic order is that of granting or rejecting digital existence: only those who have a digital presence exist, only that of which the digital media speaks happens and is real.
These three seemingly unrelated events are the fruit of a technological mindset, that is, of the basic way we experience our existence in the world. In the West we tend to think that every problem can be solved “scientifically,” in an immediately quantifiable way. We are bent on dominating and controlling both non-human and, above all, human nature. Biotechnocracy, as seen in those three events, is a fitting categorization of this new worldview and its order. Since it is untethered to any kind of nature or natural law, biotechnocracy lacks any intrinsic principle of order and limitation. It is thus totalitarian and constantly attempts to eliminate what it cannot assimilate.
What these three occurrences also have in common is a radical opposition to the Christian understanding of the human person, which claims that our dignity consists in being created in the image of God as male and female and called to communion with God through a specific state of life within which one experiences Christ’s love, rather than in the right to enact possibilities that must be equally available to everyone. Above all other things belonging to the Christian novelty, our biotechnocratic culture seeks to contest its perception of the sexually differentiated human person who exists freely only within the communion whose depth and destiny lies beyond itself in God. It is not by chance that the somatic unity of the human person was undermined (Bostock) after marriage and childhood suffered a similar doom, religiosity was made a species of freedom (it no longer is its essence), the Church explained away as a congregation, and the sacraments banalized as religious manipulation of matter.
We live in this context certain that, regardless of what we try to do to nature, nature remains, just as attempts to ostracize Christianity, although able to shrink its size and minimize its cultural relevance, cannot undo the event that carries the salvation contemporary man falsely seeks through his own activity. We have seen numerous times that the people with whom we live have the ingenuity and the simplicity to recognize and embrace the truth when it is offered to them. We all are made for it, tend toward it, and flourish when we embrace it. Yet, rather than a naïve, arrogant, and fruitless self-confidence—which as such is always already framed and defeated by what it dialectically opposes—we see our task as more humble and far more radical: to let Christianity be born again by going through the suffering our times bestow in the joyful acceptance of living the vocation to which we have been called. Let me hint at what this means by briefly describing three discoveries.
One of the things we have learned during the almost three decades we have been living and working in the US is that priestly fatherhood is a sacramental sign of the divine affirmation that to be, and to be finite, is good. It is good for nature to be what it is—not what we make of it—and to have the destiny it intrinsically possesses. The father loves and labors to guard what is entrusted to him and, while letting it be in freedom, points to and guide it toward the destiny for which it has been made. This affirmation of being and of every person, and of everything that is natural, is called to be quotidian and to last in time in order to be authentic. Faithfulness, the affirmation of the goodness of being over time, erodes away the skepticism ingrained in our culture that claims that it is not good to be if we cannot totally determine through our actions what this good is. Faithfulness also dissipates the hopelessness that fears that the tragic and violent end to which our culture appears to be headed is history’s only fate. We are called to affirm being, i.e., to let reality be itself and let God be God. In other terms, to love.
Together with this fatherhood, we keep learning that God-given communion is the miraculous unity that we seek and in which we can be free. Five houses in four different cities and about twenty priests and a handful of missionary sisters put together so that we can live life as a path of our own conversion—our loving God and each other, working for him and not ourselves—and serve together the people we have been given. Communion is an unself-regarding home where one can discover that forgiveness is not only possible but also the genuine source of creativity, of a humane and free society, and of an authentic culture, a culture of life and light.
The last dimension that we discovered as ever-more essential is the retrieval of contemplation. Time gratuitously given to God, without the haste to get things done, to be someone, or to move on to more pressing matters. Time given to God to recognize his preceding love and, within its light, to be brought to see the One in whom all things hang together and to realize that in him every person, thing, and circumstance acquire their real form. Only this contemplation will slowly retrieve and generate genuine being-affirming and life-transforming thought. Love is a light that yearns to let see. It is the narrow and unpopular path, yet endlessly fruitful, on which we have been placed to live love and to communicate it gratuitously.