It is and always has been a proper part of the Catholic Faith, and the life of the Church, that it tends to generate a relatively benign secularity; that far from the “secular” being our “enemy”, it is in fact our “baby”. And a fragile baby, one whose birth and development is well worth protecting. Nowadays our contemporaries are inclined to use the word “religious” as though it were synonymous with the word “sacred”, and the word “secular” as though it were synonymous with “common”, “normal” or “profane”. Nevertheless, to regard those definitions as fixed is, I’m afraid, the result of a mixture of historical ignorance, cultural tone-deafness and the fact that thinking in dichotomies is a great deal easier than anything more subtle.
The secularism that is a root of a systematised willingness to kill some sorts of weak and dependent people (Evangelium vitae, n. 21), or that takes an intolerant form in denying the legitimacy of using Christian criteria when making political decisions (Doctrinal Note on Participation of Catholics in Political Life n. 6), is not to be confused with a healthy secularity or respect for the secular.
Video of conference on Faith and the Challenges of Secularism at Princeton University in 2003. Opens with presentation by Finnis who, after other speaks, appears later on a panel.
Today the most significant misunderstanding of the Christian liturgy is that it is sacred. Let me clarify. The problem is that “sacred” has been opposed to “secular,” and the two are presumed to describe two separate—but occasionally related—orbits. The problem is not simply that this separation leaves the church’s liturgy begging for relevance to the “real world.” The problem is rather that the supposedly “secular” world invents its own liturgies, with pretensions every bit as “sacred” as those of the Christian liturgy, and these liturgies can come to rival the church’s liturgy for our bodies and our minds. In this brief essay I want to explore in particular some of the liturgies of the American nation-state. I will suggest first that such liturgies are not properly called “secular,” and second, that the Christian liturgy is not properly cordoned off into the realm of the “sacred.”