Cardinal's Address at University of Wales, Swansea
posted on 18 February 2004
In an address to students and teachers of the University of Swansea, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor rejected the idea that young people are no longer interested in Christianity. The Christian faith had not only been a primary influence in the development of our culture over 2,000 years, it had also been the key to human flourishing. The living tradition of the Church still had an enormous amount of wisdom to offer.
'As Christians we need to cultivate a careful and sensitive regard for our culture...It is not from outside or apart from the world that we live as Christians, it is from within. Our culture, our Christianity and our human flourishing are all intimately connected.
'Looking at the world through Christian eyes means seeing more than we otherwise might. Seen with eyes of faith the world is deeper and richer. It has added dimensions. It is not limited to what we see around us. It is charged with hidden beauty, truth and meaning which we sometimes see only dimly 'as in a glass darkly'. But the draw of that truth and meaning becomes irresistible.'
The Cardinal encouraged his audience to take practical steps to deepen their faith including paying more attention to personal prayer, the reading of Scripture, life in community and pilgrimage.
At times our faith calls us, says the Cardinal, to 'acts of resistance'.
'We live as émigrés within. So when our conscience calls us from within the tradition of our faith, from within our love of scripture to say no to one or other of the prevailing mores of our times we have to be true to that calling - we must not be afraid of acts of resistance which speak truth to our world. I think again of Romero. But I also think of the young men and women who put faithful, chaste relationships before casual, cast-away acquaintances. And I think of our elected representatives who put their conscience first, before party allegiance in matters of faith and morals.'
Here is the full text of the address:
I am delighted to be with you this evening for this lecture. I am especially delighted to be in Wales. I don't get here often enough. So when invited to come and talk to you this evening I jumped at the chance. You will know what I mean when I recall writing to congratulate Rowan Williams on his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury 'Don't forget' says I 'We Celts must stick together!'
But there's another reason why I am pleased to be with you this evening. At the risk of alienating half the audience, it's because this is a university and I am hoping that there will be plenty of young people in the audience. There is a theory doing the rounds which says that young people aren't interested any longer in the Church, in meeting archbishops, or in talking about the deepest things in life. Well if that is really the case my experience must be the exception that proves the rule. I try and make time to meet the young people of my diocese on a regular basis - about once a month in fact. If those meetings are anything to go by the theorists may need to think again.
Suffice to say that the young men and women I have the pleasure to meet and to listen to, have a great deal to say that is profound and moving, generous and life-giving. And they don't let me off the hook - so things can be lively too.
I hope this evening we will the same and that there will be plenty of two-way traffic.
As is often the case when I am asked to give a talk the topic is left to me. I sometimes think it would be much easier to be given a title and told to go away and to speak to it. I hope that our subject for this evening is something in which we all take a genuine and personal interest. The title of this talk is Culture, Christianity and Human Flourishing. But I think we can simplify that. The question we are asking ourselves this evening, a question that we all ask ourselves, in one form or another, every day, is: 'How do I, how do we, live lives that are fulfilling, that lead to happiness, and that are in accordance with our human nature?'
On Monday I attended a conference at the Treasury in London looking at new initiatives to combat global poverty. If the eradication of poverty is the greatest challenge facing the global community, the question of what it means to be human and to live the fullness of human life as God intends that we should, is perhaps the most important challenge for each of us individually, and also for the whole of our society and its prevailing culture or cultures.
And for those who are actively engaged with young people - in education, in intellectual and spiritual formation, and in family and community life the question takes on an added urgency. Assuming that the young people to whom we relate, and with whom we are engaged in dialogue and in the exploration of the deepest questions are to assume responsible positions in our world, how I wonder do we expect them in their thoughts, their discourse and their actions to contribute not only to their own happiness, but to the flourishing of our society and of our culture?
Let me say straight away that as Christians we need to cultivate a careful and a sensitive regard for the culture of which we are part. Not least because it is from within that culture that we, like the apostles two thousand years ago are called to witness to, and to proclaim, our Christian faith. It is not from outside or apart from the world that we live as Christians, it is from within. Our culture, our Christianity and our human flourishing are all therefore intimately connected.
So I thought I would divide my talk into three parts. First I want to take a look at contemporary culture, and question how it feels to be part of it - in particular for younger people who are more exposed to many of its challenges and dangers. Then I want to reflect on the living tradition of the Christian faith and to ask what it is that we can and should learn from that living tradition in the context of our culture. What is it that Christianity is saying to us about human flourishing in the 21st century? And finally I want to suggest a few practical steps we can take to apply that wisdom to our lives so that we flourish as people at the deepest level. With flourishing comes happiness.
So let's begin by looking at the contemporary situation and let me outline a few aspects of our culture that strike me forcibly. Now not all of you will agree with my assessment for it is inevitably rather a personal one, but bear with me.
The first thing that strikes me when I stand back a little is something I call 'emotivism', By which I mean the growing assumption, understanding, belief - I am not exactly sure which it is - that morality consists not of judgments about what is, or is not, objectively right or wrong, but in what my feelings tell me at any given moment is or isn't right or wrong. It is extraordinary how many people, and young people particularly, feel that right and wrong are determined by one's feelings and emotions. Theirs is an entirely personal account of truth - right and wrong - that may take little or no account of objective reality and morality. I remember my predecessor, Cardinal Hume, telling about a conversation with a young person. They were discussing 'objective norms of morality'. Or at least he thought they were until the conversation came to an end with a final aside: 'Well, that's only your view, isn't it!' Well I don't think it is just a personal view. Quite the opposite in fact. So we do have to ask ourselves whether or not there is such a thing as an objective norm of reality - objective definitions of right and wrong, which apply to everyone, and which are somehow imbued in our nature, a law that is written in our very being by the Creator. We have to ask ourselves this question because the answer has enormous significance for how we live and how we approach our faith and the art of living, a