Of global downturns, material and spiritual

As the opening of the Year of Faith approaches, as we turn more and more attention to the Holy Father’s desire for a New Evangelization, we also have to keep in mind what Benedict said about us Catholics becoming a “creative minority“. We must steel ourselves to hard times, and not just because of a global economic downturn. There is another downturn going on.

“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.”

Cardinal J. Ratzinger (1969),
— republished in Faith and the Future(2009)

Biretta tip to Pertinacious Papist

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    It is a beautiful, terrible vision, and continues:

    In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. …. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

    The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard-going for the Church. … It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. …. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church….

    And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. …. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

  2. Kevin says:

    And he wrote that in 1969? He really is an ideal Pope for these troubled times.

  3. Yes but it was written in 1969 – I wonder how he would put it now? We will shrink but may be not as far as this excerpt would imply. A purified, more spiritual Church really sounds ‘Sixties’ to me. Still to have seen a downturn for the Church in the optimism of the post-Conciliar years suggests not just that the Holy Father has profound insight but even back then had a prophetic sight that comes only from the Holy Spirit.

  4. Supertradmum says:

    Since the 1970s, some of us have seen the dismantling of the Church in rural areas where there are no longer weekly Sunday Masses. We have seen the closing of schools and the continuation of bad Catholic schools. We have seen the demise of Catholic families because people either are not getting married or not having children.

    The Catholic culture in many places does not exist. The Church in American has grown only because of statistics from immigrants who are not practising. We cannot pretend that this is not prophetic. And the Church does need purifying, if only because 70% of the married Catholics contracept.

    Catechesis has been so terrible that even adults Catholics of the last two generations do not think like Catholics. If anyone thinks otherwise, just ask a few questions, like “have you got a CCC at home?”

  5. Liz says:

    Sobering. God bless and keep our great holy father!

  6. Dismas says:

    @fvhale – I suppose this is going to sound very selfish, but I see this as a beautiful and comforting vision, not a terrible vision. I also see it as already fulfilled in my reading, not some fearful future event. It seems to me, or I hope, or maybe I’m in denial, that the great trial of sifting has already reached or is reaching a crescendo. The quotes that most comfort me, because I see them now are:

    “she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship. ”

    “The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right.”

    “not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith.”

    “But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church….”

    Can or do democrats, republicans, LCWR, SSPX, lefties, righties, un-practicing, uncatechized, contracepting, etc., etc., etc. prevent us from recognizing the sacraments as the worship of God? I think not, they have no excuse but themselves in their refusal, are they not already sifted?

    I hope the Year of Faith marks some kind of turning point. I hope it helps us see that regardless of those already sifted they need not distract us from recognizing the sacraments as the worship of God, from the great power that already flows. Won’t the sifted always be with us, just like the poor?

    Isn’t the Year of Faith less about focusing on the already sifted and refocusing or reawakening to the recognition of the sacraments as the worship of God, the great power that flows? Is not the prophecy, in our reading, already fulfilled?

  7. tominrichmond says:

    I’d be more sanguine about this type of prophecy if it was the result of forces beyond our control… but when the Church engages in what Pope Paul VI called “auto-demolition” and those in authority repeatedly did things to harm the health of the Church… it just makes me glad I won’t be standing in their shoes facing the dread Judge (having sins enough of my own to worry about). As a liberal peritus during the Council, even the Pope had a role in bringing about the prophecy he uttered. More reason to rejoice at his efforts to repair some of the damage.

  8. Imrahil says:

    Yes. And no.

    I’ll be the last man to say that this vision does not look highly probable. And of course, dear @fvhale is right enough to call it terrible. But I’ll be called a Rohirric [alluding, of course, to my alias] if I can see how on Earth it could be possibly called beautiful.

    As Chesterton said (Orthodoxy V), we do not like the cosmic (or ecclesiastical) anti-patriot who says “I am sorry to say we are ruined” and is not sorry at all; he who is allowed to be pessimist as a strategist and uses this allowance to be pessimist as a recruiting sergeant. If we do say that the Church will diminish, we must do so like a first-rate soccer club’s coach who has just been beaten 10-1 by a league climber. Let it not be in the tone of the politicians who introduced the unfortunate habit of explaining, in the moment of defeat, that they have in fact won and it is only complicated to see that. [It is not against the Faith to admit that the Church has been defeated in the usual, temporary or regionary, sense of defeat.] Let it be in the tone of Sir Winston Churchill that we have nothing to face but blood, toil, tears and sweat. But for all sakes do not ever forget that England did so because Germany feloniously broke the peace; do not, even with a nuance of an undertone, suggest that England just waited for her chance to become more simplified and disciplined or ameliorate the World a great deal (even though she did, thus, ameliorate the World a great deal).

    The Church is not, as far as I can see, a society entered upon free decision. It may indeed be true that she is more and more seen as such, and of course it is true in a technical and legal sense, but the classical motive to enter the Church or remain in her is still the motive of one who unfortunately left her, viz., “Here I stand and cannot do otherwise, God help me, Amen”, or, as a still greater man said it, “Lord to whom would we be to go? Thou hast words of eternal life”. One enters the Church or remains in it because one is drawn to do so by God, and while God indeed does not force us against our will, still our will faces no moral right to choose, but a moral obligation to choose in precisely one direction. Thus, “the Church will be more and more seen as a society entered upon free decision” is true (“will be seen”), but not the point; and here, in fact, is the higher justification of the whole all-people’s-Church (transl. for German Volkskirche) concept. The Church is an all-people’s-Church in very Saudi-Arabia, only by an unfortunate accident [involving perhaps guilt among the others] she does not in fact cover all the people; even though these people she does not cover drag her members to the stoning places.

    This, of course, would indeed be in a sense mere sophistry (though I love mere sophistry, if correct), were it not for the practical deductions. Unfortunately, these follow immediately. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Gorgeous! Even though it is a dogma that the demands she imposes already have never been met save by two people, and this because One of them happened to be wholly God in the same person and the other was saved by special miracle, yet the demands of the all-people’s-Church seem to have been mere trifles, and when unfortunately she becomes more small she suddenly makes much bigger demands on her individual members.
    [It is true that in a theoretical sense the demands of the natural law, even though we all sin, are in a sense mere trifles, or rather as duties self-evident. But then also, in this sense belonging to Church is not belonging to an elite (as, in a sense, the Jews, as opposed to the Noachides, used to be, or monks and nuns are) save accidentally, but belonging to the Body of Christ who by and large freed us from all law but such self-evidences.]
    As I noted before, I see very much sense in making Catholics follow their commandments without makish excuses; I see no sense at all, nay even a wrong end in making life harder for Catholics as a sake of its own.

    I do enjoy the prophecy that the Church will once more be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death and perhaps a beer in between (as it used to be in the all-people’s-Church days). But only a (virtual) all-people’s-Church can be man’s home. I grant that the Church is a provisionary barracks on the battlefield. But the Church is not in its entirety the elite brigade’s trenches (though these exist).

  9. Andkaras says:

    I hope that what Fr Hardon said about seeing moral miricles will be realized in abundance in my life time, in the meantime I will weep for myself and for my children. ..Soooo much pruning going on. Will my children have any support from fellow commited catholics?

  10. Marie Teresa says:


    “… some of us have seen the dismantling of the Church in rural areas where there are no longer weekly Sunday Masses. We have seen the closing of schools … “

    Yes, you hit the nail on the head – the closing of schools and parishes is rampant here in Appalachia! Last winter, our diocese began monitoring Mass attendance in order to close & redistribute parishes. At this time, priests have 2-4 parishes.

    Our current pastor seems intent on closing our tiny parish; he’s squelched everything – no weekday Mass, no Adoration & Benediction, no public Rosary or other devotions, no Confession scheduled, no Catechetics for adults or for children — Nothing at all. He’s here for 60 minutes on Sunday, arriving precisely at the moment Mass is to start and leaving promptly afterwards. For one hour a week, he receives $11K annually.

    When he was first assigned here, we were quite active – over 75% of the parishioners attended Catechism class. Nearly 100% stayed after Mass for Adoration & Benediction and/or any public prayer, and a few went to Confession every week. We had coffee after Mass every single Sunday, a breakfast/dinner the first Sunday of every month.

    One by one, very active Catholics are leaving the parish because of disagreements with the pastor. He’s denied the sacraments of Communion, Confession, and even Confirmation to persons who seem very devout and give no evidence of scandal. Two older ladies say that in the Sacrament of Confession, he accused them of grave sin. One had said the word “d@m..’t.” The other said he accused her of sins she’d never in her life committed; when advised to speak to our Parochial Vicar, she was mortified.

    It’s as though he’s intentionally choking the life out of our parish. When it closes, most here will be unable to attend Mass each Sunday.

    The young families who are to catechize their children at home, have dropped to sporadic Mass attendance. What will happen when the next generation of Catholics reaches adulthood?

  11. robtbrown says:

    Br. Tom Forde OFM Cap says:

    Yes but it was written in 1969 – I wonder how he would put it now? We will shrink but may be not as far as this excerpt would imply. A purified, more spiritual Church really sounds ‘Sixties’ to me. Still to have seen a downturn for the Church in the optimism of the post-Conciliar years suggests not just that the Holy Father has profound insight but even back then had a prophetic sight that comes only from the Holy Spirit.

    IMHO, more than anything it was just that Fr Ratzinger was taking a sober look at the situation in the Church.

    By 1969 the problems were already full blown. The exodus from the priesthood and religious life was going full steam. Vocations were flat lining. And in his memoirs Cardinal Ratzinger writes that Marxism had already moved into theology. He was well aware that the power of secularism had grown and was beginning to overwhelm the Church–and the response (intellectual and hierarchical) was to embrace it.

    There are two things that Joseph Ratzinger has never been. First, he has never been a political animal, adopting the company line, e.g., that somehow we were supposed to think that the collapse of Catholic life was the Divine will. Second, he has never been an ideologue, trying to fit Revelation into a system (cf Rahner).

  12. pjthom81 says:

    Its interesting….a lot of writings seem to have envisioned a collapse in faith starting about a century ago. “Lord of the World” is an example, and now I see Ratzinger’s 1969 prophesy…do these people know something we don’t?

    That said, there does seem to be hope in one regard. Those congregations and individuals that are firm in their faith and actually teach it grow, while those who try to accommodate themselves to the World shrink…and an extreme example is that of Quebec. It seems to be the fate of liberal Catholics to be viewed as not really Catholic rather than a full embodiment of it. The current debates on homosexual marriage and contraception have resulted in more Orthodox men taking leadership. It is my hope and prayer that they can prevent the situation from deteriorating further.

  13. Johnno says:

    Benedict XVI ought to know, he after all is one of the few who read the actual 3rd Secret of Fatima which prophesied a great apostacy in the Church, an immense loss of faith, and precursor of things spoken of in Revelation. None of this is present in the revealed text we are told is the 3rd secret.

    The Church still has a chance, if only the Pope and Bishops will obey God and properly consecrate Russia to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, for the conversion of its people, and attack the representation of Communist errors that are now adopted and celebrated worldwide under the protection of the Queen of Heaven, the model of women, wives and motherhood and protector of the unborn.

    We need a miracle and God has given us the opportunity for one. But it requires the Church to put aside its falliable human worldly wisdom, take the hard and narrow path and make an act of faith in God alone. The longer we delay, the harder it will be.

  14. Supertradmum says:

    pjthom81, the Popes knew. They named it and it is a hydra with three heads: modernism, atheism, communism.

  15. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    Some problems here:

    First and foremost: It’s false to ask, Are our times getting more secular? Our times are indeed not getting more secular; they’re getting more religious! And a half century from now, those living will be in a new religious age. The spate of frenzied tomes on atheism in the last decade are simply the death throes of a passing age; if John Lukacs is right, not only is the 20th C over (1914-1989), but the entire Modern Age — the post Medieval Age (1350-1989) — is ending as well.

    The real question is, What religion? The Boomer and the Star Trek generations are dying off, and dying with them are their space cadet religions — New Age and guru Orientalism — . The trendy Liberal Main Line Protestant denominations are shrinking so fast they will soon join the Shakers in numbers. The Fourth Great Awakening in the 70s and 80s among Evangelical Protestants — spawning Pentecostalism, Dispensationalism, TV star-preachers, mega-churches and church malls, etc., has ended, curiously, in a Neo-Calvinist revival, and that prompting among Methodists and Baptists a reaction in an Arminian revival and the New Perspective(s) on Paul (Sanders, Dunn, and N.T. Wright). Among Catholics, Martini’s death will be followed in time by Küng’s and Curran’s and McBrian’s, with no one really taking their place. Islam is on the March, and our grey-bearded secular elites haven’t a clue how to fight the man of religion. (We haven’t had war of religion in European Civilization [what Americans call “The West”] since the Battle of the Boyne.)

    Generation Y (born after 1980) and the Dot-Com Generation (born after 1990), plus the entire Global South, Eastern Middle Europe, Eastern Europe, and the Far East don’t remember or don’t want the 60s. Look what happened to the Punk Riot bunch in Moscow. The Vatican II debates are becoming stale; the dialectic in 2012 isn’t Pre vs Post V2, or what V2 wanted and what we got, or “The Spirit of V2” vs the real V2. (One might as well speak of the “Ghost of V2”.) The dialectic in 2012 is between the EF and the OF — what Fr. Z calls “gravitational pull”. And if The Church should be doing any ecumenism in 2012, it shouldn’t be with dying denominations; it should be with the Eastern churches and with Evangelical Protestants.

    So here’s the game plan: ignore secularism and atheism, and instead show why our Faith is the best.

  16. aragonjohn7 says:

    But, can’t we evangelize other Catholics and strengthen em’ in The One True Faith? ( non-Christians and non-catholics too ? )

  17. nmoerbeek says:

    It does not have to be so

  18. albizzi says:

    “The small remnant”
    I guess that this would have happened after a big move in the Church, the like of an earthquake, that would led all the Judases, the cafeteria catholics, the apostates the likes of Mr Biden, Mrs Pelosi & Kennedy to get out of the true RCC to a counterfeit church (*) that would better fit into their self-made faith.
    Good riddance.
    I pray everyday for St Michael the Archagel to protect us from these people and God to convert them or to get us rid of them if that is impossible, by all appropriate means.
    (*) The counterfeit chuch forewarned by Catherine Emmerich.

  19. Supertradmum says:

    The real problem is that Catholics have not accepted that we are not going to see a Golden Age until Christ comes the final time and separates us, taking those sheep into heaven and sending the goats to hell.

    Many Catholics are too optimistic and refuse to face the suffering which many of us have seen coming since Roe v. Wade. I have been reading more of Benedict XVI and he refers to Blessed Joachim of Fiore, who developed this idea of the three ages of the Trinity. This is not Catholic doctrine, but a useful tool in understanding our place in the Church.

    The first age was that of the Father, the Old Testament. The second stage was that of the Son, the New Testament. The third stage is that of the Holy Spirit, wherein personal holiness, contemplation and a simplicity of lifestyle would change the world. This could have happened and did not. Now, we have a chance at this, as things will be stripped away despite ourselves. The Pope points to suffering, death and the belief in the afterlife as the only ideals which can create real hope. How we have listened to nonsense for four years regarding “hope and change”. Only if we are based in the hope of the next life, can we have real change.

    And, as we did not corporately do this as a People of God, God has taken it into His Own Hands to chastise us all.

  20. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Sid Cundiff in NC,

    thank you very much for your very insightful comment.

    I might add that, though this does not really change the perspective, we have had some wars of religion in Europe since the 1690s. We had the Attempted Jacobite Restauration. We had the War of the Coalition, which at least from 1792 to the Concordat, and afterwards as far as the Russian participants were concerned, was a war of religion. We had the Spanish Civil War. We had the Second World War. (Nazism was a religion.) We had the Cold War. (Communism was a religion and, I hate to say it, despised by some intellectuals around here for the reason that with all the Communist dogmas, “they could just as well enter Seminary” rather than become a Communist. Still there is to be said for it that they at least got their terms straight. Some obviously escaped the important difference, which is between truth and error.) The Balkan War was a war of religion even in the classical sense, with Muslims (an official ethnological name used by the Jugoslawian government for what we now call Bosniacs; of course, also the Albanians were Protestants), Orthodox (=Serbs) and Catholics (= Croats, if we leave the Slovenians out). And let us not forget that Russia went to war in 1914 for, among other things, the desire to regain (!) Constantinople, and that the Pope sent a congratulations telegram to Great Britain when Christendom, after all these years, had finally regained the Holy City of Jerusalem.

    As for the “man of religion” you mean, the Muslim, what our authorities silently hope for is (as has been remarked by some unafraid of political incorrectness) the most radical solution of all: bloodless genosuicide, at least as far as our immigrants are concerned. On the one side, this obviously cannot (and, the culture taken as a whole which has also good aspects and not only religious error, should not) work. On the other hand, it does not seem so unlikely to happen to an extent. Where the degree of foreigners is not too high, they tend to assimilate to Western Culture, the higher class they belong to the more (which might have for reason that their degree is less in the higher classes). This could be said to be illogical, but happen it does; it might have for a reason that Western Culture, which for all its errors is and remains the cultural expression of Christendom, is in a sense superior; or that the other faiths, being wrong, have not so much to bring either. It could be true, though I cannot judge on it, that Islam after the later Middle Ages was not really much more than what the Ancient Roman Religion was after the 3rd century BC, viz.: a collection of rituals, sometimes believed in, often feared to bring ill fate if neglected, and officially run by the State. This Islam saw its last day when Atatürk smashed the Califate. Many have the theory that both the Wahhabist anachronism which is called Saudi-Arabia, and at any rate Islamic terrorism are both (not necessarily connected) the last convulsions and retreat-fights of a wiped-out army.

    It could, of course, also be true that some of this is because Western Culture is more liberal than Islam. But to a lesser extent than probably supposed. People who want to sin just sin; they might twist their own religion so far as allowing it; they do not generally look for another religion to allow it.

    The problem is that when and if the Muslim loses his faith, who is there to give him the right one? Why has no one, from official Church side, on a large scale, started a formal program to convert the Turks in Germany, the Maghrebinians (especially the Harkis) in France, the Pakistanis in England, with the argument that given they happen to live in a land where the majority religion is also the true religion, they might as well take advantage of the coincidence? But of course, this would imply that there was such a thing as a true religion…

  21. Imrahil says:

    Of course also the Albanians were Muslims… not Protestants.

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