To repent is to not just acknowledge that I have done wrong;
it is to turn my back on the wrong and start incarnating the Gospel.
On this hinges the future of Christianity in the world today.
The world does not believe what Christ taught
because we do not incarnate it.
—Servant of God Catherine Doherty, from Kiss of Christ
THE Church’s greatest moral crisis continues to escalate in our times. This has resulted in “lay inquisitions” led by Catholic media, calls for sweeping reforms, an overhaul of alert systems, updated procedures, the excommunication of bishops, and so forth. But all of this fails to recognize the real root of the problem and why every “fix” proposed thus far, no matter how backed by righteous indignation and sound reason, fails to deal with the crisis within the crisis.
THE HEART OF THE CRISIS
At the end of the nineteenth century, the popes had begun to sound an alarm that a troublesome world-wide revolution was underway, one so insidious, that it seemed to herald the “last times” foretold in Sacred Scripture.
…those dark times seem to have come which were foretold by St. Paul, in which men, blinded by the just judgment of God, should take falsehood for truth, and should believe in “the prince of this world,” who is a liar and the father thereof, as a teacher of truth: “God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying (2 Thess. ii., 10). In the last times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to spirits of error and the doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. iv., 1). —POPE LEO XIII, Divinum Illud Munus, n. 10
The most reasonable response at the time was to confirm the immutable truths of the Faith and condemn the heresies of modernism, Marxism, communism, socialism, and so forth. The popes also began to appeal to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Blessed Mother, the Archangel Michael and seemingly the whole host of heaven. By the 1960’s, however, the Moral Tsunami seemed unstoppable. The sexual revolution, no-fault divorce, radical feminism, contraception, pornography, and the emergence of mass social communication that fomented it all, were well underway. The Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life lamented that secularized culture had even penetrated deeply into Western religious orders…
…and yet religious life is supposed to be precisely an alternative to the ‘dominate culture’ instead of reflecting it. —Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect; from Benedict XVI, Light of the World by Peter Seewald (Ignatius Press); p. 37
Pope Benedict added:
…the intellectual climate of the 1970s, for which the 1950s had already paved the way, contributed to this. A theory was even finally developed at that time that pedophilia should be viewed as something positive. Above all, however, the thesis was advocated—and this even infiltrated Catholic moral theology—that there was no such thing as something that is bad in itself. There were only things that were “relatively” bad. What was good or bad depended on the consequences. —Ibid. p. 37
We know the rest of the sad but true story of how moral relativism has all but collapsed the foundations of Western civilization and the credibility of the Catholic Church.
It became clear in the 60’s that what the Church was doing, the status quo, was not enough. The threat of Hell, the Sunday obligation, the lofty rubrics, etc.—if they were effective at keeping adherents in the pews—were no longer doing so. It was then that St. Paul VI identified the heart of the crisis: the heart itself.
EVANGELIZATION MUST BECOME OUR MISSION AGAIN
Paul VI’s landmark Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae, which addressed the contentious issue of birth control, has become the hallmark of his pontificate. But it was not its vision. That was elucidated several years later in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (“Proclaiming the Gospel”). As if lifting layers of soot and dust from an ancient icon, the pontiff transcended centuries of dogma, politics, canons and councils to bring the Church back to her essence and raison d’être: to proclaim the Gospel and Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of every creature.
Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection. —POPE ST. PAUL VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 14; vatican.va
Moreover, the crisis was a matter of the heart: the Church no longer acted as a believing Church. She had lost her first love, so wonderfully lived and proclaimed by the saints, which was to personally and without reserve give oneself to Jesus—as spouses to one another. This was to become the “program” of seminaries, schools,
and religious institutions: for every Catholic to truly incarnate the Gospel, to make Jesus loved and known, first within, and then without in a world that was “thirsting for authenticity.”Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 76; vatican.va
The world calls for and expects from us simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility, detachment and self-sacrifice. Without this mark of holiness, our word will have difficulty in touching the heart of modern man. It risks being vain and sterile. —POPE ST. PAUL VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 76; vatican.va
In fact, it has been suggested by some theologians that Pope John Paul II was a “ghost writer” behind Evangelii Nuntiandi. Indeed, during his own pontificate, the saint continually stressed the need for a “new evangelization,” particularly of cultures that were once evangelized. The vision he put forth could not have been clearer either:
I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes [to the nations]. —POPE ST. JOHN PAUL II, Redemptoris Missio, n. 3; vatican.va
Seeing the young as abandoned and perishing for lack of a vision, he inaugurated World Youth Days and enlisted them to become an army of evangelists:
Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops. Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern “metropolis”. It is you who must “go out into the byroads” and invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people. The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference. It was never meant to be hidden away in private. It has to be put on a stand so that people may see its light and give praise to our heavenly Father. —Homily, Cherry Creek State Park Homily, Denver, Colorado, August 15th, 1993; vatican.va
Sixteen years had passed when his successor Pope Benedict likewise stressed, now, the utter urgency of the Church’s mission:
In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God. Not just any god, but the God who spoke on Sinai; to that God whose face we recognize in a love which presses “to the end” (cf. Jn 13:1) – in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to All the Bishops of the World, March 12, 2009; vatican.va
THE PRESENT CALL
Benedict XVI’s letter, addressed to “All the Bishops of the World,” acted as an examination of conscience of how well the Church responded to the directives of his predecessors. If the faith of the flock was in danger of dying out, who was to blame but its teachers?
Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. —Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 41; vatican.va
If the world was descending into darkness, was it not because the light of the world, which the Church is (Matt 5:14), was itself fading?
Here we come to the crisis within the crisis. The call to evangelize by the popes was being made to men and women who perhaps themselves had not been evangelized. After Vatican II, religious institutions became hotbeds of liberal theology and heretical teaching. Catholic retreats and convents became centres for radical feminism and the “new age.” Several priests recounted to me how homosexuality was rampant in their seminaries and how those who held orthodox beliefs would sometimes be sent for “psychological evaluation.”cf. Wormwood But perhaps most troubling is that prayer and the rich spirituality of the saints was rarely if ever taught. Instead, intellectualism dominated as Jesus became a mere historical figure rather than the resurrected Lord, and the Gospels were treated as laboratory rats to be dissected rather than the living Word of God. Rationalism became the death of mystery. Thus, said John Paul II:
Sometimes even Catholics have lost or never had the chance to experience Christ personally: not Christ as a mere ‘paradigm’ or ‘value’, but as the living Lord, ‘the way, and the truth, and the life’. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, L’Osservatore Romano (English Edition of the Vatican Newspaper), March 24, 1993, p.3.
This is what Pope Francis has sought to revive in the Church at this late hour, in this “time of mercy,” which he feels is “running out.”speech in Santa Cruz, Bolivia; newsmax.com, July 10th, 2015 Drawing heavily upon his predecessors on the theme of evangelization, Francis has challenged the priesthood and faithful in sometimes the frankest terms to become authentic. It is not enough to know and regurgitate apologetics or maintain our rituals and traditions, he has insisted. We must each become touchable, present, and transparent heralds of a Gospel of Joy—the title of his Apostolic Exhortation.
…an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ”. —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 10; vatican.va
Those words were first penned by St. Paul VI, by the way.Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 December 1975), 80: AAS 68 (1976), 75. Thus, the present call could not be clearer as a call from Christ Himself who said to the disciples: “Whoever listens to you listens to me.” Luke 10:16 So where do we go from here?
The first step is for each of us, individually, to “open wide our hearts to Jesus Christ.” To go somewhere alone in nature, your bedroom, or the quiet of an empty church… and speak to Jesus as He is: a living Person who loves you more than anyone does or can. Invite Him into your life, ask Him to change you, to fill you with His Spirit, and to renew your heart and life. This is the place to start tonight. And then He will say, “Come, follow me.” Mark 10:21 He started to change the world with only twelve men, then; it seems to me that it will be a remnant again, called upon to do the same…
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards! —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 3; vatican.va
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