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May 22, 2011

Cardinal authors book about ‘God in Action’ His follow-up book is about God and us – God acting in our lives and the public arena

In early May, Doubleday released a new book by Cardinal George titled “God In Action: How Faith In God Can Address the Challenges of the World” ($22.99).

The 219-page book is a collection of essays and talks the cardinal has written or delivered in the past — with some new writings — relating to faith and society such as law, just-war theory and terrorism, globalization and religious freedom.

He recently sat down with Editor Joyce Duriga to discuss his latest undertaking.

Catholic New World: How does “God in Action” relate to your first book “The Difference God Makes”?

Cardinal George: The first book was about human persons in relationship. We can’t be ourselves unless we are in relationship — first of all with God, of course, but then with everybody else whom God gives us to love. The second book is about how we can’t act freely unless we act with God — in public life as well as private life.

Difficulties show up because, in our society, acting with God, whomever you think God might be, should be your own personal affair, privately done and not enter into the public realm. I’m arguing that if you exclude God from public life you lose freedom, which is what is happening.

CNW: What do you want people to learn from your book?

Cardinal George: The most important lesson is that we can’t act freely unless we are acting with God, who sets us free because he gives us the truth. So we had better get to know God. We know God by faith and also by reason.

With a sense of who God truly is, not somebody who takes away our freedom but who is the source of it, we’re set free to do the things that God does with us — to bring good out of evil, to bring hope out of despair, to bring love out of hatred.

Most people raised in faith with an active prayer life act with God almost as second nature. They live with God. John Paul II did it in an extraordinary way. He’s an example of what we are all called to be, saints. That just simply means friends of God who act with him.

The issues in the book are cases in point. God acts in public life, and we should look for signs of eternity in the activities of our time.

CNW: It seems there is a sense of urgency in the book or a warning saying that we are taking morality out of the American experience or human dignity out of the American experience, to give two examples.

Cardinal George: There is a public morality but it is a legal morality. It’s based on equality of rights. Catholic morality is based upon persons and their relationships rather than on individuals and their rights.

The advantage of the Catholic faith, which is universal, is that you can step outside of any particular context, like a country, even our own, and have a place to look at it outside of its own presuppositions.

American Catholics sometimes have a hard time doing that, as I explained in the book, because our country considers itself a kind of church, and so it becomes the final framework for looking at everything.

At a time when we are going to have to look at ourselves from the viewpoint of people very different from ourselves — the Catholic faith says “Why don’t you look at yourselves and everybody else from God’s viewpoint.” That’s what I try to do, to some extent, in this book.

The problems of doing that are many, given the constraints of our legal system; therefore we do risk losing our greatest value, which is freedom. We risk getting captured in prisons of our own making.

CNW: What will make us get captured in that prison?

Cardinal George: Failing to succeed in finding a vision that is larger than the national vision that has served us well for 200 years but isn’t going to serve us as well in a globalized culture and economy.

CNW: Do we as Catholics need to help others find that vision?

Cardinal George: I think so. We offer it as one part of our public conversation, but in ways that are not sectarian. Catholics can become sectarian, in which case we lose the ability to contribute to the public conversation. It’s why I talk about good secularity. The world itself is neither profane nor sacred.

All we ask for in talking about religious freedom is the right to be able to be ourselves and act freely with God within the world. In doing that, we will turn the world toward its foundation, God who is the creator of all things and who acts in history but in ways that aren’t always our ways.

CNW: In the chapter “Freedom and Truth: Cooperating with God” you write about your experience with childhood polio and how that experience taught you that human beings are not objects and that to be totally free we must accept our limitations. How does this acceptance make us free?

Cardinal George: When we accept our limitations we are free to live without delusion. That’s the connection between truth and freedom. If you don’t know the truth about God and the world and about yourself, you aren’t free, you are captive to false ideas.

CNW: Sometimes accepting limitations means accepting suffering. How does God work through suffering?

Cardinal George: Suffering is one of our greatest limitations. It captures you in a way that can lead to despair unless you can see some significance in your suffering. The answer to that is the Lord himself, who suffered in order to save us.

Suffering contributes to the salvation of the world, to the common good in this life for the sake of the next. It has meaning. Sometimes that isn’t recognized by the person who suffers. It has to be brought to their attention by somebody else who has this vision of who we are in relationship to God who keeps acting — even in the midst of our suffering, even in the midst of evil. God brings good out of evil but not necessarily in our timeframe or according to our ideas.

Even when it doesn’t make sense now, faith tells us that all will be well, because faith brings us into the realm of God’s love. You can see that God brings good out of evil when, in the midst of suffering, a person is free.

CNW: In the chapter “God and Warfare: Defending Yourself While Forgiving Your Enemies” you write about just war theory as it relates to fighting terrorism. You talk about how the way to true peace is through justice and forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t seem easy when talking about the case of Osama bin Laden, who was responsible for the deaths of so many. Do you have any suggestions for how we go about forgiving someone like him?

Cardinal George: I think it is hard to forgive anybody in this culture because our legal system doesn’t foster forgiveness at all. It just inflicts punishment. That doesn’t free people. People will say “There’s a closure,” and I guess it means they are at peace, but inevitably they’re not.

That’s what I meant [in the book] about going beyond justice in the legal sense of equal rights to freedom, in the sense of relationships that have to be restored. Forgiveness is a way of restoring relationships. Then you find freedom.

But how do you do that? It’s very hard. We should be very patient with people and with ourselves. You have to pray for the ability to forgive, to have a heart big enough to forgive someone who’s wronged you, tremendously in the case of Osama bin Laden — and not only wronged individuals who died but who wronged everybody — our country, our world.

I think the best you can do is to simply say that you confide him to the mercy of God. God is all merciful and all-forgiving, provided that there is some room for God to act. We can force God out of our lives.

The God of Abraham would never command or permit or desire the death of innocent people in a terrorist attack. So obviously that is a wrong idea of God. Wrong ideas of God have consequences, which is why it is very important that the truth be told about who God is and who we are. And that it be told publicly.

The solution is not to drive God out of public life but to worship the true God and do so publicly. Then God can set us free.

For book information, visit www.archchicago.org.