Benedict XVI on Year of Faith: “a pilgrimage in the deserts of today’s world, taking with us only what is necessary”

“Reference to the documents saves us from extremes of anachronistic nostalgia and running too far ahead, and allows what is new to be welcomed in a context of continuity.”

Thus, Benedict XVI during his homily for the Opening of the Year of Faith.  My emphases and comments:

Dear Brother Bishops,

Dear brothers and sisters!

Today, fifty years from the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, we begin with great joy the Year of Faith. I am delighted to greet all of you, particularly His Holiness Bartholomaois I, Patriarch of Constantinople, and His Grace Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. A special greeting goes to the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches, and to the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences. In order to evoke the Council, which some present had the grace to experience for themselves – and I greet them with particular affection – this celebration has been enriched by several special signs: the opening procession, intended to recall the memorable one of the Council Fathers when they entered this Basilica; the enthronement of a copy of the Book of the Gospels used at the Council; the consignment of the seven final Messages of the Council, and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I will do before the final blessing. These signs help us not only to remember, they also offer us the possibility of going beyond commemorating. They invite us to enter more deeply into the spiritual movement which characterized Vatican II, to make it ours and to develop it according to its true meaning. [And we need to have the Holy Father tell us what that is.  QUAERUNTUR: What is the "spiritual movement which characterized Vatican II"?  What is its "true meaning"?] And its true meaning was and remains faith in Christ, the apostolic faith, animated by the inner desire to communicate Christ to individuals and all people, in the Church’s pilgrimage along the pathways of history. [He reference to the apostolic faith (regula Fidei) and mention of history suggests his 2005 theme of continuity.]

The Year of Faith which we launch today is linked harmoniously with the Church’s whole path over the last fifty years: from the Council, through the Magisterium of the Servant of God Paul VI, who proclaimed a Year of Faith in 1967, up to the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, with which Blessed John Paul II re-proposed to all humanity Jesus Christ as the one Saviour, yesterday, today and forever. Between these two Popes, Paul VI and John Paul II, there was a deep and profound convergence, precisely upon Christ as the centre of the cosmos and of history, and upon the apostolic eagerness to announce him to the world. [I don't want to rain on the parade here, but the Church has not been very successful at that since the Council.  Otherwise, would there be a need for a New Evangelization?] Jesus is the centre of the Christian faith. The Christian believes in God whose face was revealed by Jesus Christ. He is the fulfilment of the Scriptures and their definitive interpreter. Jesus Christ is not only the object of the faith but, as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, he is “the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith” (12:2).

Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ, consecrated by the Father in the Holy Spirit, is the true and perennial subject of evangelization. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). This mission of Christ, this movement of his continues in space and time, over centuries and continents. It is a movement which starts with the Father and, in the power of the Spirit, goes forth to bring the good news to the poor, in both a material and a spiritual sense. The Church is the first and necessary instrument of this work of Christ because it is united to him as a body to its head. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21), says the Risen One to his disciples, and breathing upon them, adds, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v.22). Through Christ, God is the principal subject of evangelization in the world; but Christ himself wished to pass on his own mission to the Church; he did so, and continues to do so, until the end of time pouring out his Spirit upon the disciples, the same Spirit who came upon him and remained in him during all his earthly life, giving him the strength “to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” and “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19).

The Second Vatican Council did not wish to deal with the theme of faith in one specific document. [NB:] It was, however, animated by a desire, as it were, to immerse itself anew in the Christian mystery so as to re-propose it fruitfully to contemporary man. [The aforementioned "spiritual movement"?] The Servant of God Paul VI, two years after the end of the Council session, expressed it in this way: “Even if the Council does not deal expressly with the faith, it talks about it on every page, it recognizes its vital and supernatural character, it assumes it to be whole and strong, and it builds upon its teachings. We need only recall some of the Council’s statements in order to realize the essential importance that the Council, consistent with the doctrinal tradition of the Church, attributes to the faith, the true faith, which has Christ for its source and the Church’s Magisterium for its channel” (General Audience, 8 March 1967). Thus said Paul VI.

We now turn to the one who convoked the Second Vatican Council and inaugurated it: Blessed John XXIII. In his opening speech, he presented the principal purpose of the Council in this way: “What above all concerns the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine be safeguarded and taught more effectively […] [Did that actually happen since the Council?  There's more...] Therefore, the principal purpose of this Council is not the discussion of this or that doctrinal theme… a Council is not required for that… [but] this certain and immutable doctrine, which is to be faithfully respected, needs to be explored and presented in a way which responds to the needs of our time” (AAS 54 [1962], 790,791-792).

In the light of these words, we can understand what I myself felt at the time: during the Council there was an emotional tension as we faced the common task of making the truth and beauty of the faith shine out in our time, without sacrificing it to the demands of the present or leaving it tied to the past: [!] the eternal presence of God resounds in the faith, transcending time, yet it can only be welcomed by us in our own unrepeatable today. [NB] Therefore I believe that the most important thing, especially on such a significant occasion as this, is to revive in the whole Church that positive tension, that yearning to announce Christ again to contemporary man. [For Benedict, "the most important thing" is to "revive the tension" in "making the truth and beauty of the faith shine in our time, without sacrificing it to the demands of the present or leaving it tied to the past".  Continuity not rupture.  Okay, Holy Father.  This is grand. But this is just a hope.  How do we do this?] But, so that this interior thrust towards the new evangelization neither remain just an idea nor be lost in confusion, it needs to be built on a concrete and precise basis, and this basis is the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the place where it found expression. [That means the texts.] This is why I have often insisted on the need to return, as it were, to the “letter” of the Council – that is to its texts – also to draw from them its authentic spirit, [As in good theological and biblical exegetical method, the letter both frees and tethers the spirit.] and why I have repeated [NB] that the true legacy of Vatican II is to be found in them. [in the texts.] Reference to the documents saves us from extremes of anachronistic nostalgia and running too far ahead, and allows what is new to be welcomed in a context of continuity. The Council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient. Rather, it concerned itself with seeing that the same faith might continue to be lived in the present day, that it might remain a living faith in a world of change. If we place ourselves in harmony with the authentic approach which Blessed John XXIII wished to give to Vatican II, we will be able to realize it during this Year of Faith, following the same path of the Church as she continuously endeavours to deepen the deposit of faith entrusted to her by Christ. [Or... if we don't learn from the past 50 years, we can make things far worse.  It is good that the biological solution has been clearing the way for a more sober reading of the event of the Council and its texts.] The Council Fathers wished to present the faith in a meaningful way; [This is interesting... watch this...] and if they opened themselves trustingly to dialogue with the modern world it is because they were certain of their faith, of the solid rock on which they stood. In the years following, however, many embraced uncritically the dominant mentality, placing in doubt the very foundations of the deposit of faith, which they sadly no longer felt able to accept as truths.  [BOOM!  I am glad that the Holy Father did not just gloss over this virulently destructive problem.  The Pope uses words like "trustingly" and "uncritically".  He says that the participants in the Council were "certain of their faith. I think that not all the bishops who participated in the Council were naive and trusting.]

[QUAERITUR: Does the Church need a Year of Faith?] If today the Church proposes a new Year of Faith and a new evangelization, it is not to honour an anniversary, but because there is more need of it, even more than there was fifty years ago! And the reply to be given to this need is the one desired by the Popes, by the Council Fathers and contained in its documents. Even the initiative to create a Pontifical Council for the promotion of the new evangelization, which I thank for its special effort for the Year of Faith, is to be understood in this context. [Context:] Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual “desertification”. In the Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, [the 20th century saw a couple nasty wars and the rise of secularism and materialistic Communism] but now we see it every day around us. [e.g., the Dictatorship of Relativism] This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. [At the risk of being banal in such a lofty moment, "don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone"? - Joni Mitchell] And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. [Poetic.  Classic Ratzinger.  I will add that the People wandered for only 40 years, not 50.  Also, the People suffered in the desert.  And once they arrived in the Promised Land - which we are very far from, by the way - there was a lot of work to do and it would not have been easy.] Living faith opens the heart to the grace of God which frees us from pessimism. [Touché.] Today, more than ever, evangelizing means witnessing to the new life, transformed by God, and thus showing the path. [Is that also what "new evangelizing" means?] The first reading spoke to us of the wisdom of the wayfarer (cf. Sir 34:9-13): the journey is a metaphor for life, and the wise wayfarer is one who has learned the art of living, and can share it with his brethren – as happens to pilgrims along the Way of Saint James or similar routes which, not by chance, have again become popular in recent years. [Personal note.  I have thought about doing the camino.] How come so many people today feel the need to make these journeys? Is it not because they find there, or at least intuit, the meaning of our existence in the world? [PAY ATTENTION HERE] This, then, is how we can picture the Year of Faith: a pilgrimage in the deserts of today’s world, taking with us only what is necessary: neither staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, nor two tunics – as the Lord said to those he was sending out on mission (cf. Lk 9:3), but the Gospel and the faith of the Church, of which the Council documents are a luminous expression, as is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published twenty years ago.  [I must note a lacuna.  The Holy Father can't mentioned every possible thing. He has mentioned the Catechism and the Credo of the People of God.  He has not spoken about liturgical worship.  If there was a major development from the Council that made a decisive impact on the Church, it was the change to our liturgical worship that followed (in large part improperly) the mandates of the Council Fathers. I say that a necessary thing is our participation in the liturgical worship we owe to God by the virtue of religion.  It is claimed that a great insight from the Council was that the Eucharist is the "source and summit" of our Catholic lives.  Fine.  Let it be that.  By the "Eucharist" we have to mean both the Blessed Sacrament and the celebration of Holy Mass.  There is no way that this Pope does not also want us to renew our liturgical worship.  Popes can't mention every possible thing in every address.  I wish, however, he had touched on our worship.  But this is not the last thing he will say or do for the Year of Faith.]

Venerable and dear Brothers, 11 October 1962 was the Feast of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God. Let us entrust to her the Year of Faith, as I did last week when I went on pilgrimage to Loreto. May the Virgin Mary always shine out as a star along the way of the new evangelization. May she help us to put into practice the Apostle Paul’s exhortation, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom […] And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:16-17). Amen.

FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Benedict XVI, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, The Drill, Year of Priests and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Benedict XVI on Year of Faith: “a pilgrimage in the deserts of today’s world, taking with us only what is necessary”

  1. wolfeken says:

    I am still waiting for someone to point out a positive benefit from even the “letter of the council.” There were 16 documents from Vatican II. Any statistical improvement on anything in the last 50 years as a result of anything in any of those documents? I cannot think of one. [The key word is "statistical".]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  2. acardnal says:

    The (bad) fruits of the Council are evident . . . thus, the unfortunate need for a “new” evangelization.

  3. RobertK says:

    Lets hope the liberals and progressives don’t hijack the New Evangelization, like they did Vatican 2. I’m not to optimistc !.
    Archdiocese of Vienna to undergo radical parish reform ( from FishWrap)
    http://ncronline.org/node/36401
    Lets be honest, the Church needs to get itself in order first before it evangelizes. This video pretty much tells it all.
    http://youtu.be/V-tyFK6iBKI
    Cardinal Wuerl of Washington DC, spoke, in his Synod address about how the Neocats, can help the youth. This pretty much turned me off!.

    Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington and the Vatican Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli talk about the task facing the synod on the new evangelization.

    http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/homepage/the-vatican/detail/articolo/sinodo-18733/

    Quote from Cardinal Donald Wuerl:

    ” “Many people, especially the young, who have been alienated from the Church are finding that the secular world does not offer adequate responses to the perennial and demanding questions of the human heart”, he said.

    One of the questions facing the Church is how to prepare these young people in the faith, and the synod will discuss this.

    He drew attention to the widespread view in “the revival culture of today” that “salvation is achieved through a relationship with Jesus apart from the Church” and said, “The new evangelization must provide a clear theological explanation for the necessity of the Church for salvation”.
    .
    Surprisingly, in his synod speech, he made no mention of the role the other Christian Churches and Communions in the new evangelization, but he did highlight the important contribution the new movements – such as, Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation and the NeoCathecumenal Way, can make in this field.

  4. Man, is it just me or is the Synod of the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith sounding more like a gong show after Fr. Z excellent criticism and commentary, and the last two commenters?

  5. The Masked Chicken says:

    Any statistical improvement on anything in the last 50 years as a result of anything in any of those documents?

    Well, there are far fewer people in Churches, so the heating bills have gone down…that is a statistical improvement, no. :)

    The Chicken

  6. Gregorius says:

    As a random aside, I’ve also thought of walking the camino. I’d be very willing to go if I could hear a daily EF . . .

  7. Quanah says:

    The need for the New Evangelization precedes the Council. The deterioration that has been so evident and rampant after the Council had already began interiorly before the it. Two examples: The book “The Soul of the Apostolate” was written because of the dangers of Catholics losing an awareness of the importance of the faith by focusing in an inordinate way on social issues. The Fraternity of Communion and Liberation began prior to the Council as a response to the lack of knowledge and, therefore, the lack of relevance of the faith in the lives of teenagers. Incidentally, Communion and Liberation is an very good example of the New Evangelization.

  8. The Masked Chicken says:

    I got up this morning all serious because this was the first day of The Year of Faith and I was going to post a longish comment on what Faith is, since it is important to define terms and this is a biggy that is often misunderstood, but the more I have thought on it, the more I am haunted by two questions:

    1. Without doubt, there are some obscure and ambiguous formulations in the Latin texts of the Council documents. Now, they can be read in continuity with Tradition or read improperly as an excuse for experimentation, but does the text really become a part of Sacred Tradition (and a part of the Faith) until these ambiguous phrases are precisely defined so as to lock out that which is contrary to the Truth? Faith is an assent to the Truth motivated by the will (which finds the Good in that Truth as it is expressed by One who cannot deceive), but where there is ambiguity and two or more possible ways to read something – one being of Truth and the other not – until the ambiguity is locked down, one is, essentially, assenting to the Truth through a cloud. It would, certainly help everyone if a definitive, binding interpretation of the Council documents (or at least the cloudy parts) were to be made during this year so that those tempted to self-indulgence by citing a passage from a Council document would find no safe harbor, there.

    2. The Holy Father wrote:

    Therefore, the principal purpose of this Council is not the discussion of this or that doctrinal theme… a Council is not required for that… [but] this certain and immutable doctrine, which is to be faithfully respected, needs to be explored and presented in a way which responds to the needs of our time”

    That is true of every era. It was no truer in 1962 than it was in 1922. The exact same social forces were at play. True, they were re-iterated and intensified by WWII, but one might ask why a Council was not called then, when the situation was in a relatively less infected state?

    What I am failing to see is this creature called, “The Modern World.”. The world is always modern. True, we have more influence from science (which has given us more toys to play with) and more scope to engaged blind naked lusts than in the past, but, unless the universe is going to end, soon (is that what the Council is saying?), I fail to see how the same argument for a Council of engagement cannot reasonably be made every hundred or two hundred years. Is this to be the first of many such Councils? The anthropology upon which the Council was based (in its more secular-leaning parts) will, no doubt, be expanded as we come to more and more understand the material basis of man. In other words, is this a series of Documents for the Ages, or will these themes have to be revisited? There are Eternal Truths in the Documents, to be sure, which will last to Eternity, but I keep coming back to the question, “Why now?”. What is so special about 1962 that makes it a template for what is to follow?

    The Chicken

  9. Deo volente says:

    “The Council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient. ”

    This quote screamed out at me! Is it just wishful thinking or a truly telegraphed comment?

    D.v.

  10. wmeyer says:

    Without doubt, there are some obscure and ambiguous formulations in the Latin texts of the Council documents.

    This was one of the major issues explored by Michael Davies in his writings. The documents contain, in fact, so many ambiguities as to leave their meaning very much in doubt.

  11. The Masked Chicken says:

    He drew attention to the widespread view in “the revival culture of today” that “salvation is achieved through a relationship with Jesus apart from the Church” and said, “The new evangelization must provide a clear theological explanation for the necessity of the Church for salvation”.

    …and I can do that, but as Dorothy Sayers was fond of saying: “A Stigmata beats a dogma, any day…”. The misunderstanding of what Faith is and how it interacts in the soul of man is at the heart of the problem. The theology of experience is so profoundly misunderstood, today, fueled by the Protestant idea of the inner testimony, that until people will listen long enough to understand why their inner feelings may not be bringing them either salvation or closeness to God, it will be impossible to convince them of an objective dimension of Faith, which must, necessarily, reside with the Church. They want the stigmata before the dogma or, rather, they think the stigmata is the dogma.

    This purely subjective idea of Faith can be defeased, but I find that very few people, in our experience-saturated modern times, are willing to listen. Amazingly, this was addressed at the Council, but the actual words got co-opted to lead, paradoxically, to an even more insistence on an experience-based Faith by some Catholics.

    The Chicken

  12. AnnAsher says:

    The bit about the “spirit of Vatican II” causes me to tremble.

  13. acardnal says:

    Fr. Z, you may want to reconsider that Gold Star. I think wolfekin above “borrowed” his comment without attribution from Mr. Kenneth J. Wolfe in this article from the Washington Post, the second to last paragraph:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/vatican-ii-at-50/2012/10/10/b5e1f486-133c-11e2-ba83-a7a396e6b2a7_blog.html

  14. acardnal says:

    Unless . . . .they are one in the same authors!

  15. wolfeken says:

    acrdnal, many thanks for looking out for me. One in the same author.

  16. Rachel K says:

    Thank God for the Holy Father’s initiative of the Year of Faith!
    Today our Catholic homeschool group met and we spent some time learning the “Official Hymn” for the year. It would be just great if it were learned and used all over the world during this time. It has encouraging words about pilgrimage and a tasteful tune. You can find it to download in print, with musical accompaniment and various settings for 2 or 4 voices at the Vatican Year of Faith website;
    http://www.annusfidei.va
    Let’s work hard at this wonderful opportunity we have been given. Already there are lots of talks and sermons being planned to help us to understand the depths of the Catechism and Council documents.

  17. acardnal says:

    wolfeken: As soon as I posted my first comment regarding attribution, my keen sense of investigation put 2 and 2 together and I concluded you were one in the same author. Anyway. . . . I enjoy your articles and postings. AND congrats on getting that Gold Star!

  18. acardnal says:

    There’s an applicable cartoon over at http://www.rorate-caeli.blogspot.com that says
    “-Vatican II opened up the Church…
    -…and the people left!”

    Statistically accurate.

  19. Hidden One says:

    Like Deo volente, it seems to me that “The Council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient.”

    Perhaps the SSPXM would be amenable to subscribing to a formula like this: “We accept the Second Vatican Council as a valid Council, which in its proper interpretation did not formulate anything new in matters of faith and, furthermore, does not contradict the traditional teachings of the Church. Furthermore, we join with the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in condemning all interpretations of the Council to the contrary.”

    Then the primary doctrinal ‘discussions’ would no longer be about the Council, but rather about the teachings of the Church before the Council. The SSPX is both certain of its understanding of the pre-conciliar doctrines and amenable to authoritative statements from the present Pope and his successors (on the off chance that they happen to be wrong about something or other). The matter for doctrinal discussion would no longer be how to reconcile what the Council seems to have said with what was said before, because both ‘sides’ would have already agreed that there can be no contradiction (and in terms such that, if it seems that there is one, one’s interpretation of the Council is most likely wrong).

  20. Hidden One says:

    Sorry, missed my lacuna when I was proofreading. The first paragraph of the above should read, “Like Deo volente, I think that, “The Council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient,” is a tremendously important line.”

  21. Pingback: Year of Faith Vatican II Pope Benedict XVI | Big Pulpit

  22. Rushintuit says:

    “In the light of these words…” In the Holy Scriptures, this is called lip service. The Church needs action!!! “God wishes to establish in the world, devotion to My Immaculate Heart.” -Our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima. Before he was Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger with Bishop Sodano stated in 2000, “Fatima seems to belong to the past.” On July 13, 2013, the ninety fifth anniversary of the great secret, the Year of Faith may get overshadowed. Ten year old Lucia dos Santos, speaking with candor that only an innocent child can command stated, “It will be good for some and bad for others.”