Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Prescient 1958 Article by then-Fr. Ratzinger

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ, editor-emeritus of Homiletic and Pastoral Review has recently translated and made available an outstanding, and prescient, article from then-Father Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI), first published in 1958.

It is notable to what extent the problems we continue to wrestle with today were already noticeable in the Church of the "pre-Vatican II" decades.  It is also more than noteworthy, with what consistency Ratzinger/Benedict has approached these sorts of issues over the past five decades.  What an outstanding thinker and teacher for the Church.

In this article, he supports the now-common practice of admitting to the Sacraments (when no obstacles exist) those weakly or improperly formed Catholics whom he calls "secularized" (I often use the phrase "formed more by the world than by the Church"), when they ask for them.  The request itself constitutes some evidence of faith and desire to belong to the Church, however imperfect it may be, and the grace of the Sacraments certainly can aid them in growing in faith over time.

He also notes that this secularization of believers constitutes a tangible challenge for many believers, in that, if a very basic and worldly level of moral commitment, with occasional sacramental participation, is truly sufficient for salvation, then the higher level of commitment to Biblical morality and consistent sacramental participation (including frequent Confession) can be experienced as a burden rather than a grace.  The long-term solution for this, he argues, is for the Church to relinquish its "medieval" assumptions of social prestige and place in the world, and return to a "martyrial" distinctiveness - not an opposition to the world, as if all the world outside the Church is evil and bad, but a distinctiveness of "the few" as witness and fulcrum for the lifting up of "the many."  He calls this a "de-secularization" of the Church, and notes three (simultaneous) levels or steps:

(1) the sacramental, in which the distinctiveness of the Church's true worship stands over against any materialistic, "magical" thinking about sacramental participation, and therefore invites to a deeper level of conversion;

(2) the proclamation of the faith, in which the distinctiveness of the Church once again supports a clear difference in mode of preaching, between the catechetical (to those in the Church), and the missionary (to those not yet deeply converted) - and this mode has not been heard in the West in many centuries; and

(3) the personal witness, in which the distinctiveness of how the believer lives in the world, especially in the midst of rejection, ridicule, and suffering, stands as clear evidence of the reality and effectiveness of grace.

This core, missionary, and witnessing Church, then, serves ultimately as "priestly people" for the whole world, bringing the salvation of Jesus Christ to the whole world, even those baptized who remain quite worldly, and even those outside the Church, who might respond in any way to the power of God:

"If men and women, indeed the greater number of persons are saved, without belonging in the full sense to the community of the faithful, so then it takes place only because the Church herself exists as the dynamic and missionary reality, because those who have been called to belong to the Church are performing their duty as the few..." (third-to-last paragraph).

If, however, the Church has no such core, no such missionary impulse in the modern world, no such capacity for witness to grace (i.e., "the spirit of Vatican II" church), how shall Christ be proclaimed?  If the Church's only mode of worshipping, proclaiming, and living, is "worldly," more or less indistinguishable from everyone else, what is there to inspire to a deeper and greater love?