This past Saturday, the first group of US bishops completing their ad limina visit were received by Pope Benedict. His address to them is simple and compelling. These two paragraphs impart some of that sense of urgency and focus (i.e., deep hope that responds to real needs) which the Church's ministry ought to exemplify:
Many of you have shared with me your concern about the grave challenges to a consistent Christian witness presented by an increasingly secularized society. I consider it significant, however, that there is also an increased sense of concern on the part of many men and women, whatever their religious or political views, for the future of our democratic societies. They see a troubling breakdown in the intellectual, cultural and moral foundations of social life, and a growing sense of dislocation and insecurity, especially among the young, in the face of wide-ranging societal changes. Despite attempts to still the Church’s voice in the public square, many people of good will continue to look to her for wisdom, insight and sound guidance in meeting this far-reaching crisis. The present moment can thus be seen, in positive terms, as a summons to exercise the prophetic dimension of your episcopal ministry by speaking out, humbly yet insistently, in defense of moral truth, and offering a word of hope, capable of opening hearts and minds to the truth that sets us free.
At the same time, the seriousness of the challenges which the Church in America, under your leadership, is called to confront in the near future cannot be underestimated. The obstacles to Christian faith and practice raised by a secularized culture also affect the lives of believers, leading at times to that “quiet attrition” from the Church which you raised with me during my Pastoral Visit. Immersed in this culture, believers are daily beset by the objections, the troubling questions and the cynicism of a society which seems to have lost its roots, by a world in which the love of God has grown cold in so many hearts. Evangelization thus appears not simply a task to be undertaken ad extra; we ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization. As with all spiritual crises, whether of individuals or communities, we know that the ultimate answer can only be born of a searching, critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion in the light of Christ’s truth. Only through such interior renewal will we be able to discern and meet the spiritual needs of our age with the ageless truth of the Gospel.
But his concluding paragraph is even better:
In the end, however, the renewal of the Church’s witness to the Gospel in your country is essentially linked to the recovery of a shared vision and sense of mission by the entire Catholic community. I know that this is a concern close to your own heart, as reflected in your efforts to encourage communication, discussion and consistent witness at every level of the life of your local Churches... Young people have a right to hear clearly the Church’s teaching and, most importantly, to be inspired by the coherence and beauty of the Christian message, so that they in turn can instill in their peers a deep love of Christ and his Church.
Or, much more bluntly, dissent is idolatry. When we ignore or usurp or fudge the judgment of Tradition; when we take upon ourselves the role of the Magisterium which Christ entrusted to the Apostles, to be handed on to their successors, the bishops; when we substitute our own vision for His vision for us, we commit a grave injustice. Not only do we deprive others of the right to hear Christ's voice, to see His face, unimpeded, we also claim implicitly that our voice and face are His.
Pope Benedict ties this explicitly to both the prophetic role of the hierarchy, and to their priestly role: A weakened sense of the meaning and importance of Christian worship can only lead to a weakened sense of the specific and essential vocation of the laity to imbue the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. We have to be at least as obedient to Tradition in the liturgy as we do in the works of charity. That doesn't mean a blind return to the past, of course, but it does mean that the past still lives for us. The "unity of shared vision" Pope Benedict is talking about is not just where we're going, but also where we've been. We have to preserve and make our own the depth and richness of the liturgical vision which is "Traditional." That includes two things Pope Benedict has preached about for decades: continuity and organic development.