February 27, 2017

Recalling Cardinal Ratzinger's Prophesy on the Future of the Church in Preparation for Lent

Pope Benedict XVI

With Lent just hours away, let us reflect on our lives as disciples of Christ and as members of His mystical body that is the Church on earth. Anyone old enough to remember the election of Pope Saint John Paul II, nearly forty years ago, can recall a Church markedly different from that of today. Growing up in a small New England town, I was blessed to have four native born priests in residence on the alter celebrating Mass each Saturday night. At present, that same parish is administered by a single pastor who is also responsible for the sacramental life of two additional Churches nearby. This is now the norm throughout the diocese.

The future priest shortage predicted in the 1970’s and 80’s has come to pass in many dioceses in the United States. Moreover, the forces of secularization, like attacks on Christianity and individual Christians, increase on a daily basis.

This Lent, we as Catholics must confront a post-Christian America where-in our Faith and beliefs are persecuted, prosecuted, mocked and ridiculed with impunity. Amid this moral turmoil, a spiritual giant of our time has provided a theologically sound, insightful analysis that is part prediction and part prescient observation.

In his book, Faith and the Future, the future Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger refutes those urging the abandonment of orthodoxy: "The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.

She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes… she will lose many of her social privileges… As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members…

It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek… The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain… But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely.  If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret."

Responding to Cardinal Ratzinger’s bleak, yet ultimately hopeful premonition on the future of the Church and God's indomitable plan of salvation, we should become radical disciples. Radical discipleship requires heroic virtue. That is the price of sainthood. As we prepare to celebrate the season of Lent, may we be ever mindful of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord, His Passion and Death upon the cross on our behalf; and how as disciples of Christ, we must live in faith, hope, love, and with boundless courage, to effect His Will, on earth as it is in heaven.

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