Friday, February 15, 2013


   A writer recently noted that regarding Vatican II, Pope Benedict XVI was more a Lumen Gentium (Constitution on the Church) pope, than a Gaudium et Spes (Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) pope.  I agree.  Even considering Benedict's excellent writings on today's economic challenges, he kept the church centralized in Rome and focused on such "in house" matters as avoiding a full consideration of the festering sexual abuse tragedy, hindering pastorally sensitive theologians and refusing to consider contemporary insights on teachings that need open discussion and possible updating, blaming secularism while disregarding the spiritual anemia that infects the church, clumsily attacking a majority of truly contemporary American nuns, and trying to reconcile with the recalcitrant Pius X Society while ignoring the faithful reform groups.

   His fearful and confusing interpretation of Vatican II as representing discontinuity in continuity helped prevent him (and his obedient bishops) from looking into the council's fresh teachings and organizing the laity to effectively use their particular spiritual discernment (sensus fidelium) and prophetic action to bring a vibrant faith into today's world and thereby more effectively help save today's societies and cultures in the grace of Christ.

   In the same vein, another writer notes that Benedict focused more on the Creed, which expresses the great transcendent truths of our faith, and less on the Lord's Prayer, which expresses Jesus' everyday, "daily bread," practical desire:  "Thy kingdom come...on earth."  Vatican II's document on the church was meant to lead directly to the document on the church in the modern world.  The council officially and powerfully taught, in pastoral language, that the work of the church is to take place chiefly in the everyday world, which God loved so much that he sent his only begotten son to save.  

   When Benedict called for a new evangelization, he missed the mark by calling Catholics, especially the disaffected, back to a better understanding of the faith and back to the liturgy and sacraments--which of course is good in itself.  But this call can easily be seen as a call back to the "church building," i.e., back to the world of clerical power and to all the unresolved problems I mentioned in the first paragraph.  Such a call pulls the laity away from the "daily bread" of their everyday lives and actually detracts from the meaning, beauty and effectiveness of the liturgy and sacraments by distancing them from the everyday lives of the laity.  The refusal to face the festering problems and the distancing are precisely why so many Catholics are disaffected.

   It will be a miracle if the new pope truly recognizes and respects the spiritual discernment, (sensus fidelium), empowerment and prophetic vocation of the laity, and if he fosters a church that is spiritually alive and truly effective in today's world.  In the meantime, we will be where we were with Pope Benedict XVI, still very much on our own, faced with the daunting challenge of organizing ourselves as effective, discerning and prophetically active, spiritually adult, 21st century Catholics.  Are we up to the challenge?  I pray that the posts and pages of this blog are a helpful part of the answer.


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