Faced with the “rampant religious ignorance” someone proposes to take up the Catechism of Christian Doctrine, published by Pius X in 1913, with its 433 questions and answers, summaries of all the issues of theology and morality. This booklet has certainly marked an era, but we wonder if it would make sense to propose the truths of the faith in a language and with threadbare images, belonging to a time so far away from ours.
In the opening speech of the Council, Pope John XXIII recalled a fundamental principle: “One thing is the truth of faith, another is the way in which they are formulated.” The Church’s mission is to translate, to make intelligible these same truths to people of all times and all places, using their language, their culture, their images, their way of thinking. Delicate and difficult task because inevitably accompanied by tensions and misunderstandings, but essential and which can be brought successfully to fruition, because in the church the Spirit of truth that animates Christ’s is present.
The falling back on the past, the fear of novelty, the pessimistic look about the present and the gloomy forecasts for the future are not signs of love and fidelity to tradition, but symptoms of poor faith in the work of the Spirit. Pope John XXIII dissented from the “prophets of doom” and invited them to contemplate “the fruit of the Spirit” present not only in the Church, but everywhere “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:19-22) blossom.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “I believe in the work of the Spirit that is renewing the whole earth.”
The church’s days are numbered—some say—because she is old, does not know how to renew herself, repeats old formulas instead of responding to new questions, stubbornly restates obsolete rituals and unintelligible dogmas while today’s people are looking for a new equilibrium, a new way of life, a less distant God.
There is a growing desire for spirituality. Adhesion to new faiths called reiki, channeling, crystal therapy and dianetics is increasing. The do-it-yourself religion spreads. It disdains the dogmas and churches, a religion in which often Eastern techniques with esoteric interpretations of Christ blend. It equates meditation on the word of God in a monastery with the emotion felt in the depths of a forest while in colloquy with an angel-guide. The New Age that promises a utopian vision of an era of peace, harmony and progress is an expression of this new search.
To confuse loyalty to Tradition (with a capital letter) with the falling back on what is old and worn, with the closing to the Spirit who “renews the face of the earth” is one of the most pernicious misunderstandings in which the Church can fall. Often unjust and unjustified accusations of poor modernity that are trashed on her should still make the church think. The church is the repository of the “new heavens and new earth” of the proposed “new man,” the “new commandment,” a “new song.” Whoever dreams of a new world must instinctively turn to her.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “I will sing to the Lord a new song, for he daily renews my youth.”
Since the third century A.D., the image of Christ, the shepherd with a lamb on his shoulders and surrounded by the flock, often appears in the catacombs. It is a scene that intends to portray confidence and serenity when a believer crosses the dark valley of death, supported or guided by his Lord.
But it is not only when he leaves this world that the disciple relies on the arms of his Shepherd. Subsequently, it was made clear that all those who posed themselves as shepherds during their lifetime, but preached teachings contrary to those of Christ’s, were really just mercenaries, peddlers of illusions. At the decisive moment they are forced to declare their inability to help.
The disciple agrees to be accompanied by the Good Shepherd in every moment of his life. Letting oneself be carried is a less comfortable choice than it looks. It requires the courage to entrust one’s life to Christ, without getting caught up in dismay when it is not clear where he is going and where he wants to be lead. It also means resisting the blandishments of pseudo-shepherds who really are thieves and raiders whose only goal (often unconsciously) is self-affirmation; it is the pursuit of self-interest.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “If I will be led through the dark valleys I will fear no evil.”