As the “great divide” between the secular world and Christianity becomes more evident and serious, the need for Christians to embrace the Faith of our Fathers and practise it more diligently becomes more urgent. Countless numbers are adrift in strong, endless currents contrary to Sacred Scripture as read within the Church.
All our recent Popes have given priority to meeting such a need. Pope John XXIII was known for his Coraggio!, especially during the difficult days of Vatican Council II. Pope John Paul the Great, doubtless one of history’s most influential Church leaders, repeatedly sounded this theme; Pope Benedict the Theologian reaffirmed it, and our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, has likewise made the same concern his own.
Each one of us has to be reminded of how crucial it is to stand up for the Faith during this Age of Absurdity and Chaos. Benedict XVI, currently Pope Emeritus, developed a section of this theme during the Lenten retreat he preached before John Paul II and Vatican Cardinals in 1983, all made available in book form (Journey Towards Easter, Crossroad 1987). This book has taken a preferred place in my own library, and I return to it often not only for theological study but also for prayer.
Therein Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger calls to mind that the sacred dimension of reality has all but been anathematized (literally cursed) by our confused and error-driven secularized world. But Christianity is metaphorically a leaven – Christ himself tells us this. The sacred or sacral dimension is not a mystery that is closed and locked; on the contrary, it is dynamic, quite electric, even. Moreover, Christ mandated that this mystery must be shared. Hence preachers, whose mission, by virtue of ordination, is to proclaim the Gospel, are made available to mankind by the Lord.
What, in essence, are these preachers sent to proclaim? Certainly not that Christians should “go into the world and become world itself.” Doesn’t Scripture say that the very contrary is true?
What is at issue here, the Cardinal explains, is “God’s holy mystery, the Gospels’ grain of mustard seed, which does not identify with the world but is destined to be the ferment of the world.” Consequently, priests and laity alike must return to the sacral, must find the courage “to discern in Christian reality, not so as to set limits but to transform…”
Interestingly, Cardinal Ratzinger calls to mind here a tract from Eugene Ionesco, during a 1975 interview. (Ionesco was a founder of the “Theatre of the Absurd.”) “The Church,” the playwright said, “does not want to lose her clients; she wants to acquire new members.” But if she veers even a few feet from her goal, she can end up with “a kind of secularisation which is truly deplorable.” (I often think of religious communities that have labyrinths but lack the reserved Eucharist, or even a chapel!)
Ionesco’s remarks continue: “I heard a parish priest in one church saying: ‘Let’s all be happy together, let’s shake hands all round… Jesus jovially wishes you a lovely day; have a good day!’ Before long there will be a bar with bread and wine for Communion; and sandwiches and Beaujalais will be handed ’round. It seems to me incredible stupidity, a total absence of spirit. Fraternity is neither mediocrity nor fraternization. We need the eternal; because…What is religion?”
Ionesco ends with these chilling words: “We are left with nothing, with no stability; everything is fluid. And yet what we need is a rock.” (from Antidotes; Paris, 1977)
Cardinal Ratzinger goes on to cite a passage from the popular Austrian poet, Peter Handke. In New Villages (1981) he writes: “No one wants us, and no one has ever wanted us… We are not on the wrong path, we are not on any path…”
“Trite compliance,” the Cardinal says, is not what the Lord expects of his disciples. The Gospel does not require that we are in agreement with the world, but rather that we transform it with (and by) radical evangelization. Besides, the Lord rewards us for fidelity to his word even in this world. Jesus tells us this explicitly (See Mark 10:29sqq.) St. Teresa of Jesus put it this way: “Already in this life God gives a hundred for one.”
Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.