If the Church in Europe wants to reverse the decline in religious practise, particularly visible in Mass attendance and confession, then it needs to start again from God, it needs to start celebrating God, professing God and witnessing to God in the midst of a “wounded Europe”. This was Pope Benedict XVI’s message Thursday to the Italian Bishops Conference gathered in Plenary Assembly this week here at the Vatican on the theme “Mature in faith and witnesses of humanity”. Emer McCarthy reports:
From Vatican Radio
In order to start again from God, however, the Church needs people who know about their faith, for if “many of the baptized have lost their identity and affiliation” with the Church, it is because “they do not know the essential content of faith, or they think they can nourish it independently of the Church”.
“In a time in which for many God has become the Great Unknown and Jesus reduced to a great historical figure” people will only be attracted to an encounter with Christ by men and women who have a “deep experience of God”, because the “first condition to speak about God is to speak with God, becoming more and more men of God, nourished by an intense life of prayer and shaped by his Grace”.
In short, “there will be no revival of missionary action without the renewal of the quality of our faith and our prayer”.
Below Vatican Radio translation of excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI’s address
“Scientific rationale and technical culture, in fact, not only tend to make the world more uniform, but often they go beyond their specific areas, and claim to delineate the perimeter of the certainties of reason by the single empirical criterion of their conquests. Thus the power of human ability is ultimately the measure of action, free from all moral norms. Precisely in this context, a unique and growing demand for spirituality and the supernatural re-emerges, sometimes in a confused way, as a sign of restlessness that dwells in the heart of man who is not open the horizon of the transcendent God. This situation of secularism above all characterizes traditionally Christian societies and erodes the cultural fabric that until the recent past, was a unifying reference, capable of embracing the whole of human existence and articulating its most significant moments, from birth to our passing to eternal life. The spiritual and moral patrimony which is the roots and lifeblood of the West is no longer understood in its profound value, to the point that it is no longer the arbiter of truth. Even a fertile land thus risks becoming barren desert and the good seed of being suffocated, trampled on and lost”.
This is reflected in the decline of religious practice, visible in participation in the Liturgy of the Eucharist and, more importantly, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Many of the baptized have lost their identity and affiliation: they do not know the essential content of faith, or they think they can nourish it independently of the Church’s mediation. And while many look doubtfully at the truths taught by the Church, others reduce the Kingdom of God to a few great values, which certainly have something to do with the Gospel, but which still do not regard the core of Christian faith. The Kingdom of God is a gift that transcends us. As stated by the Blessed John Paul II, ” The kingdom of God is not a concept, a doctrine, or a program subject to free interpretation, but it is before all else a person with the face and name of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God ” ( Redemptoris Missio, 18). Unfortunately, God Himself is excluded from the horizon by many people, and when he does not meet with indifference, closure or refusal, talk of God is still relegated to the subjective sphere, reduced to a private and intimate fact, marginalized from public consciousness. The very heart of the spiritual and moral crisis that is wounding Europe passes through this abandonment, this lack of openness to the Transcendent: man claims to have an identity that is simply finite in itself.
In this context, how can we live up to the responsibilities entrusted to us by the Lord? How can we spread the Word of God with confidence, so that everyone can find the truth about himself, his authenticity and hope? We understand that new ways of proclaiming the Gospel or pastoral action are not enough to ensure that the Christian proposal find a greater welcome and adhesion. In preparing for Vatican II, the prevailing question and the one that the Council Sessions wanted an answer to was: “Church, what do you say about yourself? ‘. Deepening this question, the Council Fathers were, so to speak, brought back to the heart of the answer: it meant starting again from God, celebrated, professed and witnessed. Not by chance, in fact, the first constitution to be approved was the one on the Sacred Liturgy: divine worship directs man towards the future City and restores primacy to God; it forms the Church, constantly called by the Word, and shows the world the fruitfulness of our encounter with God. In turn, while we must cultivate gratefulness for the growth of good grain in often arid land, we feel that our situation calls for a renewed impetus, which points to what is essential in Christian faith and life. In a time in which for many God has become the Great Unknown and Jesus reduced to a great historical figure, there will be no revival of missionary action without the renewal of the quality of our faith and our prayer; we will not be able to offer adequate answers without a new welcome of the gift of Grace; we will not know how to win souls for the Gospel if not by returning ourselves first to a deep experience of God
Dear Brothers, our first, true and only task is to commit our lives to what is true and permanent, to what is really trustworthy, necessary and ultimate. Man lives for God, for whom he often unconsciously or tentatively searches to give full meaning to life: we have the task of proclaiming Him, showing Him, of leading people to an encounter with Him. But it is always important to remember that the first condition to speak about God is to speak with God, becoming more and more men of God nourished by an intense life of prayer and shaped by his Grace. St. Augustine, after an exhausting but sincere journey in search of the Truth, had finally come to find it in God. He then realized that a unique aspect of wonder and joy filled his heart: he understood that throughout his journey it was the Truth that was looking for him and that found him. I would like to say to each one of you: Let us allow ourselves to be found and grasped by God, to help everyone we meet be reached by the Truth. It is through our relationship with Him that our communion is born and our ecclesial community generated which embraces all times and places to build the one People of God.
For this reason I decided to hold a Year of Faith, which begins on 11 October, to rediscover and gather once more this precious gift that is faith, to deepen our knowledge of the truths that are the lifeblood of our lives, to guide mankind today, often distracted, to a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ “way, truth and life.”
In the midst of transformations which affected large sections of mankind, Servant of God Paul VI stated clearly that the Church’s task to affect and as it were upset, “through the power of the Gospel, mankind’s criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation “(Evangelii nuntiandi, 19). Here I would recall how, during the first visit as pontiff to his homeland, Blessed John Paul II visited an industrial district of Krakow conceived as a sort of “city without God.” Only the stubbornness of the workers had led to first a cross being erected, then a church. In these signs, the Pope recognized the beginning of what he, for the first time, called the “new evangelization”, explaining that “the evangelization of the new millennium must refer to the doctrine of Vatican II. It must be, as this Council teaches, the common work of bishops, priests, religious and laity, the work of parents and young people. “He concluded, “You have built the church; now build your life with the Gospel” (Homily at the Shrine of the Holy Cross, Mogila, June 9, 1979).
Dear Brothers, the ancient and new mission that lies before us is to introduce the men and women of our time to a relationship with God, helping them to open their minds and hearts to the God who seeks them out and wants to get close to them, guide them to understanding that accomplishing his will is not a limit to freedom, but to be truly free, to realize the true good of life. God is the guarantor, not the competitor, for our happiness, and where the Gospel – and friendship of Christ – is welcomed there the man experiences being the object of a love that cleanses, renews and warms, and makes us capable of loving and serving humanity with divine love.
As the theme of this Assembly highlights, new evangelization needs adults who are “mature in faith and witnesses of humanity.” Attention to the adult world shows your awareness of the role of those called, in various spheres of life, to assume responsibility as educators of new generations. Continue to follow and work so that the community knows how to train adults in the Christian faith because they have met Jesus Christ, who has become the fundamental reference point of their lives, because people who know him because they love him and love him because they have encountered him, people who are able to offer robust and credible reasons for life. In this formation the Catechism of the Catholic Church is particularly important – twenty years after its publication – as a valuable support for a complete and organic knowledge of the content of the faith and to guide people towards an encounter with Christ.