In mid-March Archbishop Raymond Burke spoke in Sydney to the Australian Catholic Students Association. His talk, entitled "The Fall of the Christian West", considers "the grave evils which beset the world" -- the sexual abuse of minors, pornography, sexual tourism, drug abuse, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthenasia, gay marriage, contraception -- and their basis in the West's moral relativism, in which "morality itself indeed ceases to exist." Quoting Pope Benedict XVI extensively, Archbishop Burke reiterates the Pope's call for Catholics to engage the public discourse with "the fundamental truths of the moral law, as taught to us by reason and our Catholic faith" and proceeds to offer some examples of what that might look like, vis a vis such issues as homosexuality and abortion.
By and large the Archbishop's talk offers a familiar worldview -- "our brothers and sisters, lost in the unreal world of moral relativism", with a dash of creeping infallibilism: "There can never be a contrast between what the conscience demands of us and what the the truth of the faith, as enunciated by the Holy Father, demands of us."
But Andrew Hamilton, S.J., writing in Eureka Street last week, has an interesting challenge to this perspective. In the story of the Good Samaritan, he writes, the Jew's question, like Burke's, "is about identity, about who belongs to his group. He invites Jesus to mark out the boundaries of faith and practice."
But Jesus responds instead with the question of who is my neighbor, suggesting, says Hamilton, "that the question we begin with should not be about identity but about how we meet the needs of the people who present themselves to us."
"This kind of reflection that begins with the Good Samaritan story no doubt leaves many questions unanswered. But it has one virtue that is often lacking in conversation that focuses on identity. At each step it asks insistently, what ultimately matters?"
Jim McDermott, S.J.