The Holy Father calls for a faith stripped of worldly habits

Pope Benedict XVI arrives at the meeting with representatives of Catholic associations in Freiburg (Photo: CNS)

It’s hard to keep up with all the inspiring speeches of the Holy Father – but one, during his recent trip to Germany, stood out for me: it was delivered to the representatives of Catholic associations in Freiburg at 5pm on Sunday September 25, and was later given the title “It is time for the Church to set aside her worldliness” by the Vatican Information Service, where I came across it.

The Pope began by saying: “For some decades now we have been experiencing a decline in religious practice and we have been seeing substantial numbers of the baptised drifting away from Church life.” Emphasising that “we are all the Church”, the Holy Father went on to say that “every Christian and the community of the faithful are constantly called to change”. Reminding his audience that the “basic motive for change” must be “the apostolic mission of the disciples and the Church herself”, the Holy Father pointed to three aspects of this “mission”: bearing witness, making disciples and proclaiming the Gospel.
He also reminded his listeners that the Church must be detached from worldly considerations in order to be more truly Christian: living the faith fully means “stripping away from it anything that may seem to belong to faith, but in truth is mere convention or habit”.

It’s well worth reading the whole rather than this short digest. I draw attention to it because it ties in with my last blog on the subject of “Evangelical Catholicism”. The word “Evangelical” seems to have caused all sorts of bother, judging from the posts I received in response to that blog. Let me say that by “Evangelical” I simply translated John Allen’s analysis as meaning zeal for the Faith lived out in one’s life, and a longing to share it with others. I didn’t mean a creeping “Protestantising” of the faith – though Protestants can often teach us Catholics something about a personal relationship with Christ; nor did I mean the destruction of the old parish model in favour of a “Futurechurch”, or wish to promote an “elitist few in the Westminster circle of interns, faux-journalists and the quangocrat hangers-on” as one (longish) post suggested. Gosh; what a hornet’s nest.

The point I was trying to make (rather badly, it seems; one post rated me “D minus”) was what the Holy Father was saying eloquently in the speech referred to above: much of the pre-Vatican II Church that I grew up in (Home Counties: 1950s) had become a matter of mere convention or habit; it was also a worldly Church in that it sat comfortably with the surrounding society; this indeed led to a sharp decline in practice following Vatican II and the increasing hedonism/worldliness of the same secular society; this in turn has led to a longing (especially among serious young Catholics) for a true Catholic identity.

Sometimes this longing – I speak as I have seen among younger friends – has taken the form of Catholic home-schooling; sometimes a return to the old Latin Mass; the rediscovery of Church teaching on natural family planning – and thus a larger than average family; the joyful recognition of fellow committed Catholics at World Youth Days; membership of Opus Dei or the Faith group; vocations to the priesthood and religious life and so on.

One might say these are drops in the ocean of decline in the Church at large in this country. But, as Mother Teresa used to point out, each drop is important to the ocean. And they can point to a “leaven” (which is different from “elitism”) which the Church is always in desperate need of, especially in times of crisis, upheaval and renewal.

Still, I would like to thank all who responded to the debate I engendered in my last blog. A Catholic blog should be a forum for debate and discussion, especially on the urgent question that concerns us all: how do we help to bring about the renewal that Pope Benedict has called for in the Church that we love? Everyone has different views on this, but they are never helped by scorn or sarcasm. If there is criticism, let it be courteous: what happened to the tag, “Look at those Christians; see how they love one another”?
In the current issue of Catholic World Report, a priest reminiscences about his dealings with Mother Teresa: “In the seven years [I knew her], I never heard her say even one single negative word about someone… She used to call negative language ‘talking darkness’ and she saw it as her duty to reignite the light of hope right away by referring to some positive aspect.” OK, she was a saint – but aren’t we all called to be saints?