Catholics need to change direction: to move from the Counter-reformation approach, what is now too ghetto-like today, to one that is more evangelical. We are indeed moving in that direction but as far as I can see, we are moving too slowly. The work started by Pope Leo XIII and concluded by Pope Benedict XVI still is highly instructive. What is clear to historians, it was Leo who changed the Church’s approach to education, culture, politics, etc. that was evident in previous generations in the pontificates of Gregory XVI and Pius IX. Leo’s 25 years and Benedict’s 8 years are bookends. Leo dealt with all the points of human history; Benedict continued what John Paul started in completing the Second Vatican Council and bridging faith and reason. What Francis will give us is still too new to determine in a critical way.
All this is to encourage you to read and fully digest George Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church (Basic Books). I wrote about this book earlier here on Communio. What I said earlier remains the same now: Weigel is proposing to new evaluation, a new way for Catholics to engage the world. What we’ve been doing is simply not working anymore. Some Catholics are being eased into mediocre Christianity, others are walking away, others are searching for new ways to propose the truth of Jesus Christ and His sacrament, the beauty Catholic life. What Weigel suggests –and I am not going to give away the detail of his work here– is potentially going to anger some people and make others happy; he’s challenging every concept we have with regard to our ecclesial life: catechetics, preaching, liturgical music, the celebration of sacraments, matters of governance, education at all levels, how we use resources (economic and human), and so forth. Nothing is left unaffected by this public intellectual.
It is my considered opinion that dioceses and religious orders ought to take heed and at the very least allow Weigel’s ideas to ruminate in heart and mind. We can be uncritical of the ghetto mentality of Christian living and expect to be doing what Christ wants us to do. If it is, why are so many priests doing bad things, dioceses going bankrupt, Catholic hospitals merging with secularist institutions, religious order dying because they don’t, won’t, can’t live their charism with new vigor, parishes closing, etc.?