If Bret Baier ever needed an excellent excuse to get out of something, he had one on Sept. 10. The Fox News host was booked to interview Washington, D.C.'s Cardinal Donald Wuerl at an event hosted by the John Carroll Society. But when he signed up for the event organized by Catholic Beltway lawyers, he had no idea that the president of the United States would choose this particular Tuesday night for a prime-time address about a possible military strike in Syria. It was whirlwind of a news day, to say the least.
But Baier didn't back out. During the course of the hour with the cardinal, he talked openly about how he had fallen away from his Catholic faith, and that it took fatherhood and facing his young son's heart problems to bring him back. In our secularized society, we all too often consider religious faith something merely for the hard days -- a safe harbor in a storm -- and a nice bit of nostalgia to help ease life's pain and stress.
Addressing how Catholicism is relevant in 2013, and doing so in a town where "when you say good morning to someone and you expect to get a commentary back," Cardinal Wuerl said that the vocation of a Christian is not fundamentally "to criticize or critique, but to walk with others on the road to Christ."
By showing up, Baier was stressing the importance of faith and the Church in his life and career. Baier also confessed that the pope may get a little more coverage on his show than some others, but he also argued that as a world leader, newsmen ought to be paying more attention.
The Church needs to be a witness to human values and Christ's message, to be the "conscience of the nation," Cardinal Wuerl said. As it looked like striking Syria was a foregone conclusion, the pope prayed for peace. His words: "Each of us deep down should ask ourselves: Is this really the world that I desire? Is this really the world that we all carry in our hearts? And does not true freedom mean choosing ways in this world that lead to the good of all and are guided by love?"
The president's words that night were strikingly different. He had already lost me when he asked his "friends on the left ... to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor."
I couldn't help but think of the perennial (yet underreported) stories of American babies born after botched abortions, babies who are left to die in American hospitals. As a state politician in Illinois, Obama once argued against assuring such babies legal protection, even as hospitals in his state were practicing the reprehensible technique of "live abortion."
As the week progressed and the president of Russia seemed to be leading the world in a game of power politics and giving shout-outs to the pope and God in the New York Times, a prayer for peace includes reconciling what the pope said about freedom with what we tend to say it is. It's long past time we consider that, as Americans, we simply aren't making sense anymore. In our lives and in our politics, there is often a disconnect between things as they actually are and what we are saying and doing about them.
When you lose a common language and set of ideals, you simply stop making sense. What would the world be like if there was no one to say, "Thou shalt not kill," Cardinal Wuerl asked, rhetorically, as he was talking with Baier. What is the world like when people stop listening? That's a question America is flirting with finding out the answer to.
(Kathryn Lopez is the editor-at-large of National Review Online www.nationalreview.com. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)