How can a Christian live in culture?

Father Julián Carrón, Communion and Liberation leader, to discuss his new book

Therese Bussen

Following the release of his book Disarming Beauty in May, Father Julián Carrón, international leader of the Communion and Liberation movement, will be speaking in Denver next month on Oct. 10 at the Denver Press Club at 7 p.m. to discuss the themes and ideas he proposes in his book.

Curtis Martin, founder of FOCUS (The Fellowship of Catholic University Students), and Michael Huemer, philosophy professor at CU Boulder, will join him in the discussion, who will each speak for 20 minutes on their perspectives of the book and then ask Father Carrón questions.

Rather than doing a book tour, Father Carrón decided to have a dialogue about the ideas and themes in Disarming Beauty with local leaders, encouraging them to offer their perspective whether they’re Christian or not, and to examine the main point of his book: How does a Christian live in a culture that’s changed so much today?

“When I decided to publish this book, I tried to verify whether Christian faith could offer a contribution to the challenges we all are facing today,” Father Carrón told Denver Catholic. “I’m interested in meeting different people in order to enter in dialogue with them, to receive suggestions or criticism that allow me, and I hope others, to understand our time better and what the challenges are that the Christian faith has to face today.”

Following other recently-released books like The Benedict Option and Strangers in a Strange Land, which have also grappled with this same question, Father Carrón’s Disarming Beauty offers unique and provoking ideas.

“Our time is somehow unique. Many of the past certainties are collapsing before us. Many of us are bewildered without knowing how to deal with this situation,” Father Carrón said. “We are less presumptuous than in the past. We are more open to enter in dialogue with other’s experience. I’m convinced that this is a historical moment to show what Christianity is about.

“In a context of freedom, we can testify the beauty of the Christian faith without support other than its beauty,” Father Carrón continued. “I remain surprised by the reactions of different people before this way of living the Christian faith. They are so shocked that they discover a new interest for something that they considered definitively closed.”

Ultimately, Father Carrón responds to the question of the book by offering the idea that Christians need not fear culture or where it’s headed — we have Christ, and the time we are placed in for good reason is an opportunity for us to give a new kind of witness.

“Fear is a symptom of weakness of faith. Christianity doesn’t have panic facing today’s challenges,” Father Carrón  said. “Christianity was born in a context in which there were different versions of living Judaism (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, ect.) and spread in a multicultural world, as the Roman Empire, soon after. Ancient Christians could communicate the newness of Christian faith without having been blocked by this multicultural environment. Why can’t Christians today do the same and look to our historical circumstances as an opportunity instead of an obstacle?”

The event, which is open to the public, is free. Following the discussion, books will be on sale and there will be an opportunity to meet Father Carrón at a no-host cocktail (self-paid drinks).

Holly Peterson, a member of the Communion and Liberation community who has helped organize the event, echoed Father Carrón’s sentiments in the book.

“I’m really excited about his desire, and the desire of other people, to dialogue about what he’s saying in Disarming Beauty, which is that there is this new cultural context [as Christians] that we shouldn’t be afraid of,” Peterson said. “Father Carrón is someone who is not afraid to dive into that context…[and say], ‘I’m disarmed because I am so full with Christ.’ I’m really excited for his perspective…we’re so afraid of different, politically, or with religions, but we shouldn’t be afraid.”

COMING UP: Navigating major cultural challenges

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We’re navigating through a true rock and a hard place right now: moral relativism and the oversaturation of technology. In fact, they are related. Moral relativism leaves us without a compass to discern the proper use of technology. And technological oversaturation leads to a decreased ability to think clearly about what matters most and how to achieve it.

Fortunately, we have some Odysseus-like heroes to guide our navigation. Edward Sri’s book Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (Augustine Institute, 2017) provides a practical guide for thinking through the moral life and how to communicate to others the truth in love. Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild take on the second challenge with their book A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Sophia, 2017).

Sri’s book describes conversations that have become quite common. When discussing moral issues, we hear too often, “this is true for me,” “I feel this is right,” or “who am I to judge?” We are losing our ability both to think about and discuss moral problems in a coherent fashion. Morality has become an expression of individual and subjective feeling, rather than clear reasoning based on the truth. In fact, many, or even most, young people would say there is no clear truth when it comes to morality—the very definition of relativism.

Beyond this inability to reason clearly, Christians also face pressure to remain silent in the face of immoral action, shamed into a corner with the label of bigotry. In response to our moral crisis, Sri encourages us to learn more about our own great tradition of morality focused on virtue and happiness. He also provides excellent guidance on how to engage others in a loving conversation to help them consider that our actions relate not only to our own fulfillment, but to our relationships with others.

Sri points out that it’s hard to “win” an argument with relativists, because “relativistic tendencies are rooted in various assumptions they have absorbed from the culture an in habits of thinking and living they have formed over a lifetime” (13). Rather than “winning,” Sri advises us to accompany others through moral and spiritual growth with seven keys, described in the second half of the book. These keys help us to see others through the heart of Christ, with mercy, and to reframe discussions about morality, turning more toward love and addressing underlying wounds. Ultimately, he asks us, “will you be Jesus?” to those struggling with relativism. (155).

Blum and Hochschild’s book complements Sri’s by focusing on the virtues we need to address our cultural challenges. They point to another common concern we all face: a “crisis of attention” as our minds wander, preoccupied with social media (2). More positively, they encourage us to “be consoled” as “there are remedies” to help us “regain an ordered and peaceful mind, which thinks more clearly and attends more steadily” (ibid.). The path they point out can be found in a virtuous and ordered life guided by wisdom.

To achieve peace, we need virtues and other good habits, which create order within us. “With order, our attention is focused, directed, clear, trustworthy, and fruitful” (10). The book encourages us to rediscover fundamental realities of life, such as being attune to our senses and to aspire to higher and noble things. The authors, with the help of the saints, provide a guidebook to forming important dispositions to overcome the addiction and distraction that come with the omnipresence of media and technology.

The book’s chapters address topics such as self-awareness, steadfastness, resilience, watchfulness, creativity, purposefulness, and decisiveness.  These dispositions will create order in how we use our tools and within our inner faculties. They will help us to be more intentional in our action so that we do not succumb to passivity and distraction.  Overall, the book leads us to consider how we can rediscover simple and profound realities, such as a good conversation, periods of silence, and a rightly ordered imagination.

Both books help us to navigate our culture, equipping us to respond more intentionally to the interior and exterior challenges we face.