In his interview-book with Peter Seewald, Light of the World, Pope Benedict XVI responded to the question of the consequences of “Modern Progress” in this manner: “A major examination of conscience should begin today. What really is progress? Is it progress if I can destroy? Is it progress if I myself can make, select, and dispose of human beings? How can progress be achieved ethically and humanely? But not only would the criteria for progress have to be reconsidered. Besides knowledge and progress, it is also a question of the other fundamental concept of the modern era: freedom, which is understood as the freedom to do anything.” Our world today is so influenced by the lies relativism, consumerism, and greed (among others), that we have forgotten what it actually means to pro-gress.
The meaning of progress has been lost in between the lines of the great technological advancements of the twentieth century on the one hand, and in the bloodiest dictatorships this world has seen on the other hand. Before the French Enlightenment and the birth of Modernity, progress was determined by the cooperation of two defining factors: advancement in the intellectual realm (which were mainly determined by means of technological advancement and/or political thought) and advancement in morality. Both of these factors had to be present for progress to be authentic. In cases where one was present without the other, progress was determined inauthentic and thus just a façade. In Modernity however, this criterion for progress has been lost with the popular notion of separation from tradition, which selfishly seeks to regulate the truth and make it something controllable. This divorce of tradition, has led to a world that has seen great advancements in technology and science, but, on the other side of the coin, has immensely regressed in the realm of morality. In fact, moral values are now something to be laughed at. They are now only something that was once useful generations ago that have now become outdated in our modern world that “knows better.” But do we really know better? Is it the case that our advancements in science have given us power beyond our capacity to maintain, inasmuch as it poses a threat to humanity? Pope Benedict states: “It is urgently necessary to fill in the gaps in the list of values that our society appreciates and demythologize those values that have undergone a mythical distortion.”
I think it is important for us to re-evaluate our criteria for progress before we can get into any kind of conversation about the advancements of our generation. I find it rather ironic that it has taken the complete distortion of ethical values in our world for us to even become conscious of the fact that ethics have been lost. This of course has not happened over night, but it is certainly something that has become an immense problem in our world. I am not just referring to the atrocities of the Nazi party, or the failed Marxist and neo-Marxist dictators of the last century, but to the complete loss of identity of the human person. We now live in a country where the institution of marriage has lost its sacredness; where anyone can choose to change their sexual gender for any number of reasons; where politics have been completely controlled by selfish interest of the greedy upper-class; where a mother can choose to abort her child for any reason at all; where the illusions of relativism and pragmatism has infected the minds of almost every university; where we have completely lost any sense of the Truth.
I will admit, these are difficult times that we are faced with. And yet there is still hope. Our world is in desperate need of a rediscovery of our human identity. We have forgotten where we have come from. Our disconnectedness with the world we live in and ultimately with the creator of this world, have led us to this new dictatorship of pragmatic relativism. We must strive to seriously re-investigate the fundamental question of metaphysics: who am I? If I do not know my identity, I have posed the greatest threat to my humanity. The miracle of life is the greatest gift that we have received, we must strive therefore to defend its integrity at all stages. It is indisputable that every human being begins their life as a fetus in the womb of their mother, precisely because that is what a human being is at that stage of life. This does not mean that a fetus in the womb of a mother who has decided to abort her child is any less human than the fetus in the womb of a mother who chooses to carry to term. The mother cannot deny this, the abortionist cannot deny this, this is true for everyone- life begins in the womb. Ethics begins with remembering who we are, it asks two questions: who should I be? And what should I do? This is called ontological ethics. In our modern era we now practice what is known as deontological ethics, and it only asks one question: what should I do? There is no reflection about what kind of person one is. The presumption then becomes this: one’s actions are divorced from what kind of person one is (my choices don’t define me; my actions don’t have moral consequences). Yikes.
As a Christian I must have the courage to say “yes” to God without restraint, for within this obedience, freedom becomes a reality. Mary’s fiat was not just a difficult decision that was made out of fear. Rather, it was a decision made out of perfect love for God and for humanity that was so free and unrestricted that God himself was made flesh. As we ponder this great mystery of our salvation this Advent season, let us draw close to the heart of Mary and ask for the grace to say with all our heart—in consoling moments and in difficult ones—the very words that filled Mary with the Holy Spirit and in which God became man: “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” (let it be done unto me according to your word).
Veni Sancti Spiritus, veni per Mariam.