Here we go again, but I’ll be brief.
We have yet another interview with yet another high-ranking churchman who betrays not the slightest understanding of what is required for Catholic renewal. See our story “Pandemic may have accelerated Europe’s secularization by 10 years, leading EU cardinal says”, and click through to the linked CNA coverage of the interview with Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
I don’t quarrel with Cardinal Hollerich’s suggestion that the (to him apparently unstoppable) trend toward further secularization has been accelerated, as measured by the expectation that Mass attendance will not rebound to pre-pandemic levels as restrictions ease (or, indeed, if restrictions ease). What bothers me, as usual, is Cardinal Hollerich’s apparent lack of understanding of the relationship between the cart and the horse when it comes to Catholic renewal. (In fairness, I should state that I have not found the full text of the interview in English, but what I have seen is disturbing.)
“[T]he Church must be inspired by a humility that allows us to reorganize ourselves better, to be more Christian, because otherwise this culture of Christianity, this only cultural Catholicism, cannot last over time, it has no living force behind it,” the Cardinal states. And he continues: “I think it is a great opportunity for the Church. We must understand what is at stake, we must react and put in place new missionary structures. And when I say missionaries, I mean both action and word.”
This is almost heartening—but, as it turns out, merely “almost”. Hollerich is certainly correct that there is little or no vital force behind the culture of Christianity in Europe; but the truth is that there is almost no Christian culture in Europe, apart from churches and art, and precious little left in the United States. So what are we talking about? Well, what Cardinal Hollerich seems to be talking about as the vital force is merely social concern.
We get a clue when he predicts that economic power will shift to other regions more rapidly as a result of the pandemic (though why this should be so is not clear), and this enables him to warm to his theme:
- We must greet this with humility and work with other countries to have greater justice.
- There is great openness to the messages of Pope Francis such as the 2015 encyclical on the environment.
- But this is an openness of words, not of deeds, whereas:
- “Solidarity, the fact of sharing, of wanting to share riches with the poorest, of respecting human rights: these are the distinctive elements of Christianity.”
- And it is apparently these above all that are missing.
Really? But is this not the same old secularized story—that “the distinctive elements of Christianity” are all social? If that is truly the key, then clearly we must greet decline with “humility” and respond to it first and foremost by exhibiting greater social concern.
Now God knows that concern for the poor is important, as is concern for “our common home” (to use Pope Francis’ phrase). But does anyone else see what is missing? Apparently it is not so important that Christians renew their faith in Jesus Christ, that Christians begin again to transcend the temporal horizons of this world by looking to Christ as their salvation and guide, that Christians begin again to live fully sacramental lives, or that they once again take the Church’s teaching seriously when it comes to the use and abuse of their own bodies.
In other words, Cardinal Hollerich seems to have no awareness at all that social-justice-Christianity always fails because it always puts the cart before the horse. What did Our Lord say?
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” [Mt 6:31-34]
We Christians must once again learn to let improvements in social circumstances flow freely from absolute trust in God—and not from socio-political agendas.
Cardinal Hollerich (a Jesuit) does say that “We must always think about the evangelization of Europe”, but this is presumably to be effected through the abandonment of the “Eurocentrism present in our thoughts” as the Church is “inspired by a humility that allows us to reorganize better” in order to create all those “new missionary structures”.
Sadly, none of this will or even can happen unless Christians begin again to see Christ as both God and man, and begin to see the Church as Christ’s living and authoritative mystical body on earth. None of this will or even can happen without acceptance of the gift of Faith. None of this will or even can happen unless we reorient ourselves from time to eternity.
Social improvements are not the stuff of which Christianity is made; they are merely the inescapable consequence of Christian Faith, as men and women work both supernaturally and naturally, with all the creativity of God’s grace in Catholic souls.
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