Benedict XVI: “So many of the baptized have lost identity.”

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.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. anilwang says:

    The worst part of the lost identity is the Catholicism that most Catholics today know is so impoverished (in theology, faith, and devotions) than many look to Protestants and Eastern Religions and even the New Age to fill in the gaps.

    Here’s an example of the current reading list of Catholic coworkers: Tao of Pooh and Piglet, some book by the Dalai Lama, “The Four Agreements”, some book by Joyce Myers, the Alchemist. Not a single book on a saint or Pope or Catholic writer like GK Chesterton, or even Catholicism-lite book. When I nudge and offer a Catholic audio book (e.g. GK Chesterton), they listen and either say they don’t relate to it or it doesn’t have any practical or inspirational value like the other books they read.

    Unfortunately, I can relate. Before I truly learned my faith (first from the Eastern Orthodox!) everything in Catholicism seemed empty except for a sense of the sacred. Books by the Stoics, Platonist, Aristotelians, and Confucians seems to be a lot more practical and wise. Now while I still have great affection for my non-Catholic roots, those Classical writers seem like small lights in the great ocean of Catholicism. Their illumination is so small that its scarcely worth the effort to reread them. After all there are 2000 years and several billions of people in the history of Catholicism. It would take several lifetimes to cover all that is available in the Catholic faith.

    There is a gap between having a true Catholic identity and not having one. I scarcely know how I crossed that gap, so I have absolutely no clue how to bring anyone else across to see The Good, The True, and The Beautiful in Catholicism that is simply not available anywhere else.

  2. inara says:

    The Pope’s words are so very true…when I came into the Church 13 years ago, I knew it was right, yet there was much that made me uneasy. All the Catholics I met seemed to have their own personal version of truth, similar to the Protestant background I had come from. And nobody seemed to care. I knew in my heart there must be more…that the Church of the saints & martyrs must be richer, deeper, *truer* than what I was experiencing. I fumbled along for the next decade or so, always yearning for something more, but not knowing quite what…

    and then I discovered this blog.

  3. JLCG says:

    Though I don’t doubt about the loss of identity as Catholics, 2/3 of my children don’t practice the faith, the problem is more general. We are witnessing the end of a civilization that in its last gasps had become purely capitalist. The connection with the past has been broken, witness the names given to children. Formerly the saint’s calendar was the source of many names. Now children take names that however beautiful and evocative of something are far from being Christian names.
    I recall that during the last gasps of the Roman Empire in the West the names changed completely. From the Titus and Marcus and Cornelius they were switched to Romanianus, Liberius, Valentinian, Symmachus and so on. My point is that Catholicism having been intimately connected with the European American Capitalist civilization is displaying the manifestations of its emptinesss or pointlessness. Only a disaster of enormous magnitude will make us turn through Patience and Obedience to the virtues of Hope, Faith, Charity and Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance.

  4. Mom2301 says:

    Learning and claiming our Catholic faith takes time and effort. It is a slow process of pondering and studying. This is quite foreign to us as we are used to learning in sound bites, catch phrases and feel good fads. The really good stuff takes effort and requires reading books that are more than 100 pages long. Even music suffers from this attention deficit geared society. We really need to start teaching kids to think again…require it of them.

  5. Supertradmum says:

    I have written on baptism many times on my blog, as it is obvious that Catholics lack solid teaching on this sacrament. That the Pope referred to this important, life changing event is so significant, but obviously overlooked by the vast majority of your readers and the media.

    A little help..

    And, going back over my blog since January, I must have twenty posts on the Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. These posts have been direct results of witnessing the lack of understanding among the laity as to their state of grace.

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