Bear with me as I try to make some sense out of the Holy Father's remarks yesterday at a general audience with members of the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, as reported in Zenit.
I do not intend any disrespect to the Holy Father; I merely want to report and comment with my own opinions. You can feel free to not assume any "tone" to my words.
OK, here are some excerpts from his remarks, which you may read in full at the link. First, on identifying the problem, the good:
In our time we often witness an attitude of indifference to faith, regarded as no longer relevant in man’s life. New Evangelization means to reawaken the life of faith in the heart and mind of our contemporaries. Faith is a gift of God, but it is important that we Christians show that we live the faith in a concrete way, through love, concord, joy, suffering, because this elicits questions, as at the beginning of the journey of the Church: Why do they live like this? What drives them? These are questions that go to the heart of evangelization, which is the witness of the faith and charity. What we need especially in these times are credible witnesses who with their life and also with the word render the Gospel visible, reawaken attraction for Jesus Christ, for God’s beauty.
Absolutely true-- what good could we do for the souls of men if Catholics lived an authentic and integral faith, witnessing to the salvation of Jesus Christ? Catholic witness was the instrument of God converting the pagan empire of Rome. And we have another Rome here. But what we see from ourselves, as the Holy Father rightly points out, is indifference to the faith. True, that.
In that context, I was a bit befuddled by what he said next:
So many people have fallen away from the Church. It’s a mistake to put the blame on one side or the other, in fact, it’s not about talking about fault. There are responsibilities in the history of the Church and of her men, in certain ideologies and also in individual persons. As children of the Church we must continue on the path of Vatican Council II, stripping ourselves of useless and harmful things, of false worldly securities which weigh down the Church and damage her true face.
I want to go through each sentence here.
So many people have fallen away from the Church. It’s a mistake to put the blame on one side or the other, in fact, it’s not about talking about fault.
I think there is sense in not making things worse by casting blame instead of trying to fix things as best we can. But this is different than the need to identify causation in order to correct course where necessary.
There are responsibilities in the history of the Church and of her men, in certain ideologies and also in individual persons.
Call me gun shy, but I wonder just what are the "certain ideologies" that he means. In light of past statements about triumphalist Catholics with their triumphalist liturgies, I get a little nervous. Maybe the next sentence will cast some light...
As children of the Church we must continue on the path of Vatican Council II, stripping ourselves of useless and harmful things, of false worldly securities which weigh down the Church and damage her true face.
So, we must continue with more of the same, continuing down the path of Vatican Council II, casting aside useless and harmful things (the Mass? If not, what exactly?), of false worldly securities (doctrines?) which weigh down the Church and damage her true face.
Really? If the suggestions I posit in the parentheticals aren't what the Holy Father means, than what does he mean? Seriously, help a brother out here. Because recall his words during the infamous America interview:
… If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal “security,” those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists — they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies.
As for needing more Vatican II, what does this exactly mean? If one wants to address the problem of fallen away Catholics, and the actual falling away occurred after the Council, after the destruction of the Church's liturgy, after the cessation of traditional catechesis, is the best solution to try another decade of the same thing, or worse, to accelerate and increase the destruction?
To ask such a question is to answer it. This is the definition of insanity.
After identifying the need for evangelization, the Pope turns to strategies:
In the Church all this, however, is not left to chance or improvisation. It calls for a common commitment to a pastoral plan that recalls the essential and that is “well centered on the essential, namely on Jesus Christ. It is no use to be scattered in so many secondary or superfluous things, but to be concentrated on the fundamental reality, which is the encounter with Christ, with his mercy, with his love, and to love brothers as He loved us. A project animated by the creativity and imagination of the Holy Spirit, who drives us also to follow new ways, with courage and without becoming fossilized! We could ask ourselves: how effective is the pastoral [plan?] of our dioceses and parishes? Does it render the essential visible? Do the different experiences, characteristics, walk together in the harmony that the Spirit gives? Or is our pastoral [plan?] scattered, fragmentary where, in the end, each one goes his own way?
Yes, we must encounter everyone, because God created all and loves all and wills all to be saved. And calling for a coherent pastoral plan is great. But I simply don't know from his words what is "essential" and what is "secondary" or "superfluous". Yes, Jesus Christ is the Essential, but what does that mean in this context? Are we to go out and preach Christ without making reference to His Church-- His Body, the One Church He founded and which He calls all men to join, and outside of which there is no salvation? If so, what exactly does that say for the 30,000 denominations who preach Christ (in some form) without making reference to His Church? We're all OK and it doesn't matter if you are Catholic? Because if it doesn't, then what is the point of the Holy Father's office? And if it does matter to be Catholic, doesn't it have to mean something to be one?
In this context I would like to stress the importance of catechesis, as an instance of evangelization. Pope Paul VI already did so in the encyclical Evangelii nuntiandi (cf. n. 44). From there the great catechetical movement has carried forward a renewal to surmount the break between the Gospel and the culture and illiteracy of our days in the matter of faith. I have recalled several times a fact that has struck me in my ministry: to meet children who cannot even do the Sign of the Cross! Precious is the service carried out by the catechists for the New Evangelization, and it is important that parents be the first catechists, the first educators of the faith in their own family with their witness and with the word.
And then, the Holy Father cites the need for catechesis. Yes! But how can our catechists and our parents hand down the faith if they don't receive it first? (cf 1 Cor. 11:23). And if the Pope correctly notes the utter lack of catechesis since Vatican II, how can continuing to follow this path be of any good effect?
The entire speech, at best, does not tend to clarify what the New Evangelization is all about or what it should do.
Summing it all up, I contend that we are in strange times indeed.
Pray for the Church and for the Holy Father. If you can spare a prayer for me, too, I would appreciate it.