Perhaps at the heart of the allure of JFK, even knowing what we know now, is the secular drift he made mainstream. It was in his announcing that religion was something that doesn't really infuse our lives, with his historic campaign speech to Baptists in Houston, that we hit a historic secularist milestone. It marked an embrace of letting ourselves off easy, a posture that has only deepened as religious proposals are increasingly seen as threats, so much so that the federal government would tell Christians their hang-ups about abortion and contraception are not fit for the public square.
As Americans were taking a long Independence Day weekend, Lumen Fidei, an encyclical drafted by Pope Benedict XVI and issued by Pope Francis, was released. In it, faith is described as that which illuminates all of life. "Those who believe are transformed by the love to which they have opened their hearts in faith." The faithful demonstrate an "openness" to an "offer of primordial love," in which "their lives are enlarged and expanded."
We don't all believe the same things about the meaning of our lives. But when even those who believe in God, who believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, have succumbed to believing that their faith is but "a beautiful story" or "a lofty sentiment which brings consolation and cheer, yet remains prey to the vagaries of our spirit and the changing seasons, incapable of sustaining a steady journey through life," sooner or later, we're all going to find ourselves settling.
All is not lost, however. I take some hope in the cover of the current Italian edition of Vanity Fair. Pope Francis is actually the cover story, dubbed Man of the Year. There's something about him that is drawing people in. May it not be a cult of personality but a personal and cultural challenge. He happens to believe that God's love is "tangible" and "powerful," and "really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ's passion, death and resurrection," as Lumen Fidei puts it. Italian magazine editors may have found us some common ground for cultural renewal. Believe it or not, people who are truly called by that supernatural reality during the course of our temporal interactions aren't all that bad to have around. It might just make a difference in the neighborhood, schools, politics, the arts, and the lives of the most forgotten and yours and mine. They might not settle, and challenge us to expect more for and of ourselves, too.