'Fr. Martin Rhonheimer, Santa Croce professor, philosopher and author, recently opened his mailbox to find a very special invitation. He was cordially invited to share a private dinner, and his latest book, with the Holy Father.
Rev. Prof. Rhonheimer’s book is called Christianity and the Secular State. Religious writers and commentators have grown fond of using the word “secularism” as a warning; a tidal wave aggressively charting its course towards the very institutions on which Western society rests. Knowing that the topic of secularism is of particular interest to the Holy Father, Fr. Rhonheimer wrote requesting the opportunity to share his latest book.
Pope Benedict XVI has also written a great deal about the tensions that result when the state sees itself as a guarantor of a freedom from religion rather than a freedom for religion. The question of how Western countries, the very birthplaces of Christianity, could today seem so hostile toward it has been a focal point of the New Evangelization .
Fr. Rhonheimer explains, “A secular society, where legal order is neither derived from nor relies upon a specific religious creed, is a distinctly Catholic concept.” A concept we continue to draw from, as the Church does when it aims to understand itself in relationship to the world, gradually unfolding the rich thought of Vatican II.
Although many seem to have forgotten, Fr. Rhonheimer reminds that “from medicine and science to law and the university system, even the very premise of human rights – the major developments that advanced the modern state to the point of scientific and technological progress we find present today – where all initiatives of the Church.”
The pleasant dinner conversation between Pope Benedict XVI and Fr. Rhonheimer remained light and Fr. Rhonheimer had the honor of presenting the Holy Father with a copy of his book. He recalls the deep prayerful comportment and graciousness of the Holy Father noting, “Pope Benedict XVI carries with him the concerns and prayers of the entire world. He is always praying.”
When looking to the future and the questions the faithful will continue to encounter in the face of rising of secularism, Fr. Rhonheimer reminds us not to be afraid. “When we look at how the cultural issues we are facing today have developed over ages, we see that they have been with us, in different forms, since the beginning. Freedom will always carry with it a pluralism of ideas. As Catholics, we have to have the courage to try to orient society, to minister to society, but we should never expect to control it.”
The key, then, lies not in shuttering up our houses and hoping to weather the storm, but in channeling its energy to illuminate the Truth.'
-- From the Newsletter of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross Foundation.