In his latest blog at OSVNews.com, OSV publisher Scott Richert writes: Embrace the joy of…
From the Chapel — April 14: A new springtime?
From the Chapel” is a series of short, daily reflections on life and faith in a time of uncertainty. As people across the world cope with the effects of the coronavirus — including the social isolation necessary to combat its spread — these reflections remind us of the hope that lies at the heart of the Gospel.
In a radio broadcast in 1969, Father Joseph Ratzinger famously declared that “from the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.”
The future Cardinal Ratzinger obviously did not have the COVID-19 pandemic in mind when he wrote these words. In fact, he was discussing what he thought the Catholic Church would look like in the year 2000 — 31 years later, and five years before he would take the name Pope Benedict XVI.
Yet here in 2020, his words seem prophetic, in the original sense of the term. Just as he did as secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as pope, the Joseph Ratzinger of 1969 was calling Catholics back to the fundamental truths of the Faith. “[T]he Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world.”
There are signs that such a renewal is underway, driven by the shock of public Masses being suspended and the sacraments being restricted in the name of public health. The complacency of many Catholics whose experience of the Faith has largely been limited to going to church every Sunday and receiving the Eucharist has been shaken. We can no longer practice the Catholic Faith through inertia; we must decide whether we will actively seek out opportunities to maintain our relationship with Christ, and to draw on wellsprings of grace that were always available to us, but which seemed less important than our weekly communal worship.
This experience has acted as a wake-up call, helping Catholics worldwide to recognize the limits of a faith practiced only on Sundays. For some portion of those Catholics, several weeks or even months without the public celebration of Mass will mean that they will never darken the door of their parish church again. They came to Mass every Sunday out of inertia, but once an object that is in motion has ceased to move, effort is required to make it move again.
For others, the lack of public Masses and reception of the Eucharist has helped them to see more clearly the Christ-shaped hole in their souls. The family Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet are making a comeback. Bishops worldwide have followed the example of Pope Francis in expanding their outreach to their flocks beyond livestreamed Masses to other forms of prayer and devotion. Even the cultural expression of the Catholic faith has returned in ways that seemed unlikely just a few months ago — for instance, in Andrea Bocelli’s incredibly moving concert from the vacant Duomo in Milan on the afternoon of Easter Sunday.
For many years, Father Joseph Ratzinger’s words have been misrepresented, as if he were calling for the Church to become more insular, a remnant firm in its faith but unconcerned with the salvation of the world around it. Nothing could be further than the truth.
Instead, he saw the shrinking of the Church as one step in the process of her return to evangelization. “But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.”
God, we know, can turn all things to the good. In this current pandemic, let us pray that he has planted the seeds for a new springtime for the Church.
Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.