The Italian Bishops Conference (CEI) has been meeting in a plenary session these days. The Holy Father addressed them about the harsh reality we face as countries which were at least Christian but are now losing their identity. In Italy, of course, the situation is graver in another way because of Italy’s deep Catholic, not just Christian, roots. Loss of identity has been one of Benedict’s deepest concerns, even for years before his election. For Benedict, the concept of Europe itself cannot be separated from Christianity. That would be also the case in many ways for the USA. It certainly is the case in Italy.
During his speech to the CEI Pope Benedict said (my quick translation):
A sign [of this separation of the West from its spiritual and moral patrimony] is the diminution of religious practice, visible in participation in the Eucharistic liturgy and, even more, in the Sacrament of Penance. So many of the baptized have lost identity and membership: they don’t know the essential content of the faith or they think they can cultivate it [He was, above, using plant and agricultural images] apart from ecclesial mediation. And while many look dubiously at the truths taught by the Church, others reduce the Kingdom of God to some big values, which certainly have to do with the Gospel, but which don’t any longer have to do with the central core of the Christian faith. The Kingdom of God is a gift that transcends us. … Unfortunately, it is precisely God who is excluded from the horizons of many people; and when one isn’t met with indifference, closed-mindedness or refusal, the conversation about God is nevertheless relegate to the sphere of the subjective, reduced to a private personal matter, marginalized from public consciousness. Pass from this abandonment, from this lack of openness to the Transcendent, the heart of the crisis that wounds Europe, which is a spiritual and moral crisis: man claims to have an identity fulfilled simply in himself.
In this context, how can we live up to the responsibility entrusted to us by the Lord?
There is quite a bit more, but I wanted to share with you this small excerpt.
We need a Marshall Plan for our Church.
After World War II many regions of Europe were devastated, especially its large cities and manufacturing. The USA helped rebuild Europe through the Marshall Plan so as to foster good trading partners and, through prosperity, stand as a bulwark against Communism.
After Vatican II many spheres of the Church were devastated, especially its liturgical and catechetical life. We need to rebuild our Catholic identity so that we can stand, for ourselves as members of the Church and in the public square for the good of society, as a bulwark – indeed a remedy – against the dictatorship of relativism.
If we don’t know who we are as Catholics, if we don’t know what we believe or pray as Catholics, then the world has no reason to listen to anything we have to say as Catholics. We will be all the more easily driven from the public square.
We see that the Obama Administration is trying to shift “freedom of religion” to simple “freedom of worship”. That is, they are working to shove religious expression and action out of the public square and relegate both solely to the private sphere, inside your house or your church. If we are weak, they will win. If we stay on defense, they will win. If we don’t live as faithful Catholics, they will win.
I have been saying that for any revitalization of our Catholic identity to be successful, we must renew our liturgical worship of God. We need action in every other sphere as well, but without a renewed liturgical worship, nothing else will stand. Everything else we do must be tied to our encounter with the transcendent.