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Be Not Afraid – Be VERY Not Afraid Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 11 February 2013

Along with John L. Allen Jr., Francis X. Rocca, David Gibson, Robert Moynihan, Edward Pentin, Rocco Palmo, and our own Robert Royal, few Americans are more steeped in Vatican affairs than George Weigel. As the official biographer of John Paul II and as a prolific writer of books and columns, Mr. Weigel may have a claim to being dean of American Vaticanologists, although there are some in the “faculty” who have their ears closer to the Roman ground.

None though is as willing to step forward present a Power Point prophecy of the Church’s future. In his new book, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church, Weigel writes:

Throughout the Western world. . .we can no longer sit back and assume that decent lives lived in conformity with the prevailing cultural norms will somehow convey the faith to our children and grandchildren and invite others to consider entering the Church.

It’s one of many bold and true assertions, and maybe too bold. Mr. Weigel is certainly right in suggesting that Catholicism as a “leisure-time activity” is as dangerous as it is pointless. But in further suggesting the days of this kind of cafeteria Catholicism are at an end may be a stretch:

Full-time Catholicism – a Catholicism that, as the Second Vatican Council taught, infuses all of life and calls everyone in the Church to holiness and mission – is the only possible Catholicism in the twenty-first century.
Somehow I can’t picture the staff at The National Catholic Reporter cleaning out their desks or the folks at Catholics for Choice shuttering their operation. And they are merely the most extreme cases. You don’t need pollsters to tell you how generalized the Catholic disarray has become. More than a dozen years into the twenty-first century, the stormy horizon is heterodox as far as the eye can see.

But this does not mean that Mr. Weigel fails to hit the mark; only that his evangelical passion somewhat outpaces his ambition. And, really, readers of this column are mostly people for whom the light of Christ is already ablaze in their lives, and the question becomes: How much of the secular world can faithful Catholics continue to tolerate?

There’s an interesting point that’s among the themes of Evangelical Catholicism, namely that whereas once one could be genuinely Catholic by absorbing, if you will, the larger culture (in Catholic France and Italy, for instance, or in some American Catholic communities), today’s meta-culture is so poisonous that Christians are forced to break with it, because it has become for all intents and purposes anti-Christian.

For one brought up, as I was, in a Protestant milieu, and as one who has many friends who have lately affiliated with one or another Evangelical dispensation, George Weigel’s use of terminology more often heard in those communities, such as “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” provides a kind of unaccustomed tingle. But, of course, it’s just such professions of faith that are at the heart of evangelism, and since Jesus is Lord and is our Savior, we’d better get comfortable with saying it just that way. Christianity intellectualized (which word I haven’t space here to unpack) too often creates distance between us and Christ.

Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism is a book in two parts. There’s the historical and evangelical part (defining a new version of renewal), which is what I’ve touched upon so far. And there is a much longer section – what’s promised in the book’s subtitle – devoted to a program of reform: of the episcopate, the priesthood, the liturgy, the consecrated life, the lay vocation, intellectual life, public policy, and even the papacy. It’s an agenda that’s nothing if not bold.

Highlights concerning policies and popes: Once the Vatican ruled states and chose kings; now the Church must be all about moral witness on life issues.

Agreed, but what about the “Catholic” politicians who are anti-life? A really deep reform, one not mentioned by Weigel, would be the denial of Communion to or even excommunication of some dissidents.

On the papacy: the pope shouldn’t be a manager but a Christian witness.

Agreed, but by some accounts our recent peripatetic papal pilgrims were lousy managers, which is partly why we’ve witnessed so much scandal – and so much dissent.

Listen, this is a provocative book. It’s just speculation on my part, but it’s as though Mr. Weigel is saying to the hierarchy: Look, there are things that need saying, and if you fellows haven’t the sense or the guts to say them, I will. Because somebody has to speak up.

But questions remain: Who will lead? We’ve had, by the grace of God, two astonishing popes in John Paul II and Benedict XVI, whose wisdom Weigel connects with that of Leo XIII. But who is the next Wojtyla, the next Ratzinger, the next Pecci? Surely the program depends upon the person. 

Will the kind of “deep” reform George Weigel is proposing be taken up by the American Church or at the Vatican? With Benedict XVI at the helm, his “hermeneutic of continuity” may certainly be seen a brake on the speed forward of the great ship. But it may not yet be a true course correction. The Church is a great battleship that takes a long time to turn in the water.

Sitting as I do on the board of a pontifical charity, I can tell you that one sometimes fears the institutional Church isn’t concerned so much with braking and yawing as it is with steaming full speed ahead.

POST SCRIPTUM: Todays Vatican announcement of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, makes starkly immediate the necessity of a new pope who is both a holy man and a superb administrator. As always, let us pray that the participants in the upcoming conclave will be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 
 
Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review. The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., February 11, 2013
I have not read the book. Some remarks of the author that appeared in an interview recently really baffled me. His depiction Pope Leo XIII as a transistional figure opening up to the modern world overlooks the fact that it was precisely Leo who required all priests to take the anti-Modernist Oath. Pope Leo also denounced the sttempts of Americans Catholics to adjust to life amongs Protestants as "Americanism," and issued an Apostolic Instruction On the Nullity of Anglican Orders. I don't think that there is any evidence that any of the pre-conciliar popes thought it was time to end the Counter-reformation. After all, did any of them think that the errors of Luther and Calvin had ceased to be errors? Promotion of that idea was in fact the aim of those who wished to destroy the Bride of Christ. I am afraid that David Warren's column of Saturday was closer to the truth, even if it was less consoling.
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, February 11, 2013
I fear that, f or many, their Catholicism resembles the sort of Anglicanism, so beautifully satirised by Mgr Ronald Knox, "reserved in its self-expression, calculated to reinforce morality, chivalry, and the sense of truth, providing comfort in times of distress and a glow of contentment in declining years; supernatural in its nominal doctrines, yet on the whole rationalistic in its mode of approaching God: tolerant of other people's tenets, yet sincere about its own, regular in church-going, generous to charities, ready to put up with the defects of the local clergyman." In other words, a religion quite different to "the faith once delivered to the saints."
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written by Manfred, February 11, 2013
Thank you for this candid review, Brad. I think the entire Church ought to brace Itself for a shock: That the so-called spirit of Vatican II has not been the problem, but rather the Vatican Council itself. Take these comments from Fr. Divo Barsotti, a mystic and spiritual master who was called to preach the Lenten exercises to the Pope and to the Roman Curia in 1971 "The Council is the supreme exercise of the magisterium, and is justified only by a supreme necessity. Could not the fearful gravity of the present situation of the Church stem precisely from the foolishness of having wanted to provoke and tempt the Lord? Was there the desire, perhaps, to constrain God to speak when there was not this supreme necessity?" Let us be blunt-Vatican II was a Modernist victory. All that St. Pius X accomplished and Pius XII attempted to hold on to, was swept away at the Council. JP II and Bebedict are not the Popes many think they were/are. Brilliant Catholic writers are insisting that the errors of the last fifty years will only be overcome when the Pope and the Church return to the Creed, Dogmas and Doctrines which have always defined It.
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written by Randall, February 11, 2013
Well, after Pope Benedict's announcement today that he's resigning, we all need to pray very, very hard that the next pope will likewise be a shining witness to the love of Christ. Considering the times we're in and the state of the Church in much of the world, we really need a faithful leader in Rome.
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written by Dave, February 11, 2013
We live in stunning times. It could well be that Mr. Weigel's new book is a blueprint for the future; I can't comment upon it because I haven't read it, but he has been accurate in a lot of what he has written. Right now the most important thing is to pray for the upcoming Conclave, and to pray for our current Holy Father who has to be resigning for only the gravest of reasons. We need, too, to pray for the unity of the Church -- the unity that is based in Truth, in Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. A faithful priest recently preached that right at the outset of Mark's Gospel, division and decision is presented as a basic premise of the Christian life. These times are marked by those who accept that premise and live by it and by those whose Catholicism really is the kind of Anglicanism depicted by Msgr. Knox (and thanks to Mr. Paterson-Seymour). It's entrance by the narrow gate that wins salvation -- a way that is hard, because it entails hardship, the endurance of ridicule, slander, gossip. So yes, we need to pray that the Lord raise up a great Pope to steer the barque through these troubled waters. But we also need to pray for ourselves, our loved ones, and all the faithful, that we be able to withstand all that appears set to be unleashed, and win to Christ and His Church all who may yet be won.
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written by Chris in Maryland, February 11, 2013
I am concerned with those in the Church who seek to turn inward...that seems just another form of "comfortable Catholicism."

Manfred - I share your zeal for the truth, and admire the tenacity of your faith. But I don't share your critique of Pope Benedict. Pope Benedict does not have an uncritical view of Vatican II. For instance, he has criticized the defects of the Vatican II document "Gaudium et Spes." He showed courage of Catholic conviction with his document "Dominus Jesus" for which he was excoriated by "progressive Catholics.". It was Pope Benedict who took the bull by the horns and ordered the resignation of Fr. Maciel and the resignation of the Irish Bishops. I am not aware of any part of the Nicene Creed that Pope Benedict (nor JP2) has not advanced and defended. I am neither aware of any doctrines of the faith that Pope Benedict (or JP2) have (had) abandoned.

I do agree with you that The Church is not dealing as effectively as it might with Modernism - i.e., the heresy of Modernism. Indeed - most Catholics don't even know what is meant by the "heresy of Modernism" - they think that "Modernism" vaguely has to do with technology and not knowing Latin.

The Church is coming to grips with corrosiveness of Modernism, which crept in and spread from within.

The Church will stay on the march...not to the corrupting beat of the Hans Kungs, Martinis and Soldanos inside the Church...but to the call of Christ, and his Apostles and martyrs.
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written by Chris in Maryland, February 11, 2013
Manfred - I am not grouping you with voices talking about turning inward.

That's a separate topic.
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written by athanasius, February 11, 2013
Let us trust in God, and pray to the Holy Spirit that He guide the conclave as they elect the next pope. Having read much of what John Paul II and Benedict XVI have written, I think history will show them to have both been truly great and enlightened leaders. Even with today's technology, it will take time for the Church to really digest these writings.

Yes, we live in difficult times for the Church. But the light of Christ still burns in hearts, even if people don't recognize it explicitly. We who do must pray, act, but above all TRUST in God's providence.
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written by Louise, February 11, 2013
Poor Holy Father. He has never wanted to be pope. I remember reading his description of his feelings as it became clearer that he would probably be elected. His statement of conscience aside, it did occur to me that the cardinals could reelect him. Wonder what would happen then?
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written by Brad Miner, February 11, 2013
@Louise: Gosh, that never crossed my mind. Re-elect the pope! But I think Benedict would say simply: No. I'm sure he's happy that he won't be participating in the conclave, since he's disqualified by age.
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written by Louise, February 11, 2013
@Brad, I wouldn't think certainty of conscience equals infallibility, even in a pope. Would you?
If he were reelected I would be really surprised if he would say no.
However, I don't know to what he is referring re his recent weaknesses. Maybe he is starting to see problems in memory that go beyond the normal aging or something. I's sure the cardinals will get the full story. He's never looked like someone who could get much sleep...if that is the case, it can be very debilitating especially as one ages, but that is just speculation on my part.
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written by DS, February 11, 2013
May God bless Benedict for his service to the Church. I think Mr. Miner's title might have been inspired by the Holy Spirit as a tribute to Benedict.

His resignation follows a pattern of faithful and very unafraid innovation that makes the label "conservative" incomplete, at best: the outreach to SSPX, overtures to the Orthodox, Anglicanorum Coetibus, the liturgical innovation of two regular Roman Mass rites, honest and substantive intellectual engagement with Muslims...the list goes on.

I do wonder what impact his action will have on the Petrine office. Until today, the Petrine ministry was indelibly linked to the personhood of the living Pope, even though a resignation was always theoretically possible. Benedict has consciously de-coupled these two, and there will undoubtedly be an impact on how future Popes govern the Church, collaborate with their brother bishops and are perceived by the faithful, other Christians and the outside world.
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written by Louise, February 11, 2013
Looking back, I realize i phrased my question poorly. I understand that conscience is not infallible even if one experiences certainty of conscience. What i was thinking about was this particular decision of the pope. What does certainty of conscience mean in this regard? Is he saying he has certainty of conscience as a pope or as a man who has prayed over this decision and come to a conclusion that he is as sure as man can be that it is the right decision?
There is a lot to think about.
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written by midwestlady, March 05, 2013
Quote: "Throughout the Western world. . .we can no longer sit back and assume that decent lives lived in conformity with the prevailing cultural norms will somehow convey the faith to our children and grandchildren and invite others to consider entering the Church."

There's nothing bold about that at all. It's never been the case through the long history of the Church that you could let the prevailing culture teach your religion for you; it's never been the case that you could be fully Christian and not lift a finger 6 1/2 days a week to prove it. The fact that Catholics ever believed it was true is the reason we are where we are. Catholics dumbed up, sold out, gave up, caved in.

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