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Posted November 22, 2010

Book: Dare To Live
Author: Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger
Crossroads. New York. 1988. Pp. 154

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Dare To Live is the second collection of Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger’s addresses, sermons, and interviews. If the previous volume, Dare To Believe, can be said to focus on the inner life of the Church, this one is more directed outward to the role of the Church in society, to the mission of the Church in the realms of culture and politics. In the earlier volume, specifically religious questions were to the fore: the significance of the Christian sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and the priesthood, as well as the theology of the Christian-Jewish relationship. From the depths of his personal history, the Cardinal spoke without equivocation of his belief in the ongoing validity of Judaism, and he described his own decision at the age of fourteen to become a Roman Catholic as “more like a crystallization than a conversion.”

In his new book the Cardinal sets his view of the Christian faith and the Christian life in a wider context. Here he seeks to persuade us of the relevance of the Christian message and of the cultural tasks that this message imposes on the Christian. From hunger, violence, and division to sexual exploitation and the nuclear threat, the world’s problems, he argues, are spiritual problems. Among the many specific topics explored are human rights, education and the young, the crisis in Poland, the third world and its spiritual wealth, the Christian origins of European culture and the significance of America as the European dream. Throughout he offers no easy answers, no false optimism — only intelligence, Christian hope formed by faith in the reconciliation accomplished in Christ and in the active power of God’s mercy.

An Excerpt from the Book:

What is at stake in Today’s Culture?

Something extraordinary is now taking place and disturbing humankind more and more. The goals which humankind had set itself are becoming a problem for it. I must make myself clear on this. It is not because humankind did not have the knowledge or the power to attain these goals, which it had set as norms for its own activity, that they have become a problem; on the contrary, it has to a large extent reached these goals. The problem is that they can now be seen to be insufficient and perverse, if not actually contradictory. We can see now that the goals which humankind has reached are incapable of ensuring its humanity. The very ends which used to appear the highest and most desirable have become either suspect or not worth having. I am reminded of Nietzsche’s poem Thus Spoke Zarathustra where he speaks of the “one thousand and one goals” which humankind comes across, which it creates and discards. Each of them is produced by the “will to power.” They reflect it and are its symptoms. But none of them is able to transcend the will to power; they cannot give it a foundation nor free it from itself. We used to think that the ends we had established could really prove sufficient, that these goals which had been produced by us could really guide us in return. Now we are finding out that, precisely because they come from us in the first place, they cannot guide us to our deeper selves, that is, beyond ourselves. Pascal had said it already, “man goes infinitely beyond man.”

That is the whole issue which has to be faced in today’s culture. What is it in humankind that goes infinitely beyond itself? As long as it is able to define its own goals, humankind is maintaining that it is equal to itself, and so is displaying a fundamental tautology. I would like to suggest that one finds everywhere in today’s culture this model of tautology: the human ego equals nothing but itself. Thus formal logic today seeks statements that have no real content: it recognizes as unconditionally true only purely tautological statements. Social and economic studies are at a premium and they seek states of measurable equilibrium. In psychology therapeutic methods try to achieve psychic harmony, that is, consciousness as equal to itself (Maurice Clavel used to be devastatingly sarcastic about such equilibrium). Military strategies aim at an equilibrium of terror and this is a false imitation of the gift of universal peace. In history one finds the myth of a classless society or the idea that we can reach the frontier of a process of eternal return; it is a sort of entropy of history. I could multiply such examples which illustrate humankind’s ambition to return to itself. I sue the word return in its several meanings; it is a return to human origins; humankind belongs to itself as its inheritance; it corresponds to its idea of itself without any other dimension.

It is always being said that our civilization is based on mathematical knowledge and that is perfectly true. But one should accept the consequences of this. Mathematics is abstract; it only claims to explore the complex structures of those similarities which the human mind can master. One could say that it is a sophisticated analysis of tautology. It is completely outside the scope of mathematics to identify ends and to reach conclusions which transcend the data at the start of a process. Nowadays we are beginning to discover that tautology is not always possible; the learning model which is based on absolute equations is being disturbed more and more by the complexity of whatever reality it is considering. The difficulties experienced by economics and the social sciences in setting themselves up as true science make that evident. It is not always a good thing to be equated with science because the equation of identity does not, by definition, make it possible to discover a goal but only to reiterate the initial data. And yet the narcissistic tendencies of modern human beings are becoming impossible and unbearable at the same time. They have often been a temptation for humankind in the past, as shown by the words of James in his epistle: “if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.

Table of Contents:

Christianity Has A Future
While history unfolds
What if the Church were ahead in matters of morals?
Humankind without a goal: our contemporary paradox
The World’s problems are spiritual problems
Christianity and human rights

Christianity’s hidden resources
Prayer for Gdansk
Their struggle is ours
Europe’s spiritual future
The Christian origins of European culture
America: a dream for Europe

The Third World And Its Spiritual Wealth
What price development?
The face of the future
Servants of all our brothers and sisters

Youth and School
These young people are the Church
We get the youth we deserve
Youth at the gates of society
On immaturity
Catholic schools are part of our inheritance
Private schools and public service

Church and Stat
Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
The Church and politics
The transcendence of love
The duty of the Churches

Peace And Reconciliation
The illusions and the hope
Reasons for living and reasons for dying
Overcoming fear
What does one fight for?
The gift of mercy
A trial indicating the spiritual destiny of our times