Friday, July 20, 2012


   Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles Chaput has declared that his archdiocese is now "mission territory."  Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has agreed, and extended the territory to New York, the U. S., and the entire Western world.  Both prelates see this territory as the target of the "New Evangelization" that Pope Benedict XVI will proclaim when he initiates the "Year of Faith" on October 12th, the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II.

   Unhappily I have seen too many of these "Years" and similar endeavors fail.  And I fear that this one will fail too.  We will see rallies and other "churchy" events but in the end, I fear they will produce little or nothing.  In the present case, very much of the spiritual energy needed to re-evangelize today's society and culture resides precisely in those who have walked away from the organized church.  I believe that the organized church cannot possibly succeed in such an effort without them.  So instead of planning to talk to the disaffected Catholics, the hierarchy should plan to respectfully listen to them.  At the least, there needs to be a sea change in the organized church's attitude toward itself and the everyday world; listening to the disaffected and to the everyday world would be a good step toward such a change.

   To begin with, the pope will have to change his attitude toward the everyday world.  His greatest problem with Vatican II is reported to be the council's (and John XXIII's) hopeful view of the world, as expressed in the council's document on the Church in the Modern World.  There is certainly much to be pessimistic about in today's world but addressing pessimism with pessimism is not productive.

   Cardinal Dolan said that the New Evangelization begins with one's own conversion.  I take that to mean that the Gospel must be brought anew to the organized church.  Here are some suggestions to help make the conversion real and productive.  Dolan and the rest of the hierarchy can begin to move the organized church at least to aim at the following:

   Clericalism, with its privileged class of priests and bishops, will end.  And the rule of obedience will be immediately changed so that priests and bishops will refuse to obey any instruction or policy that is immoral or illegal.  The protection of children will be a supreme value.  Priests and bishops will inform law enforcement of any suspected crime by one of their members.

   Seminary education and spiritual formation will be open to the everyday world and its possibilities and needs, so that priests will minister to these possibilities and needs, especially by listening respectfully to the laity and working with them.

   The laity will be trained to spiritually form themselves and one another to clearly and effectively discern the signs of the times, i.e., discern God's presence and intentions in their everyday experiences in their families, schools, work, politics, businesses, science, the arts, etc.  Their sense of the faith will be acknowledged and respected as a vital part in forming the Magisterium, the church's official teaching authority.

   The bishops and laity will respect today's theologians and respect today's ways of discerning what is real and true, and incorporate this knowledge into updating the church's moral teachings.

   All Catholics will require the Catholic members of Congress, and urge the others, to explicitly work for the common good with a preferential option for the poor, sick, vulnerable and outcast.  They will require a fair economic plan and health care for all Americans.

   All Catholics will require the Catholic members of every level of government, and urge the others, to follow the principles of social justice, and work together to convince their constituents and all Americans that we are truly "all in this together," and all responsible for one another.  They will provide for their people's needs at every level of government.

   All Catholics will require the Catholic members of the Supreme Court, and urge the others, to emulate Justice Roberts' recent action and be "umpires" and not political activists.

   All Catholics will require Catholic business executives, and urge others, to create productive, middle class jobs for Americans, even while they send jobs overseas.

   Catholic schools, colleges and universities will educate young people in the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, without imposing our religion on non-Catholic students or faculty.

   In sum, the church's activities and mission will be focused where Jesus intends them, i.e., in everyday society.  What happens in the church building will be the spiritual preparation and formation for, and the celebration of the church's mission in the everyday world.  Catholics, both in the pews and the disaffected, will then see clearly and effectively that the Mass is the font and summit of their everyday, spiritual life, and that everything they do every day is an offertory for the Mass and a mission from the Mass.

   On October 11, 1962, the church was in many ways 400 years behind the everyday world.  In many ways, it still has not caught up.  May the 50th anniversary of Vatican II's beginning be a new beginning of the New Pentecost that Pope John XXIII prayed for.  

1 comment:

  1. Let us all hope and pray that Pope Benedict XVI will come across his initial papers of positive anticipation that he wrote for Vatican II while he is on vacation. When first assigned to assist at Vatican II as a theologian he was in many ways a progressive. It wasn’t until several years after the Council that he began his retreat from full support of Vatican II toward the more conservative side.

    Perhaps the Holy Spirit will move him toward a New Evangelization of “Hopefulness” instead of the current pessimism that seems to drive his mindset. Surely he sees that the current negativity that is present at all levels of the Church can only lead us in an never ending circular path.