January 2011 Amendment: The following entry was originally written under a slight misapprehension as to something the Holy Father had said.
In a British print journal, I had read the Pope say that in terms of the global climate crisis: The Church is the only hope.
The quote had been taken from Light of the World – the new book-length interview with Benedict XVI. Yet when I gained access to the book itself, I saw that the British paper had dropped the word “often”. That is to say “often the only hope”.
This may yield a slightly different interpretation to the Pope’s words.
However in a new entry here, I have apologised for my mistake and pondered how significant this single word is. For as I suggest in the new entry, when taking as a whole what the Pope is saying, that more cautious word “often” may not actually signify very much.
I will also soon be posting the Pope’s exact words at length. The original words of the blog now follow:
Kim and I would like to wish everyone reading this website a happy Christmas. But not simply that, we would wish you more.
In wishing you this more, I have in mind words from the anonymous classic Meditations on the Tarot. They happen to be words long mirrored in my personal experience:
“A unique light is lit in the world each Christmas. What I want to say is that Christmas is not only the festival dedicated to the memory of the historical nativity of Christ, but that it is in addition, the event of the nativity which is repeated each year, where Christ becomes Child anew and where the history of mankind becomes the manger.
Then all which is in us of the shepherds and all that which is in us of the nature of the mages from the East responds as in the past.
That which is in us of the nature of the mages from the East is enamoured of the “star” and sets out en route with the little incense, myrrh and gold gathered during the year which is drawing to an end; and that which is in the nature of the shepherds of Bethlehem kneels down before the Child whose reality and presence is revealed from above.
The annual repetition of the nativity of Christ is a real event on the spiritual plane …
Just as the Child is present at Christmas, so also there is an awakening and activation at Christmas of forces (including individual souls) capable of receiving His revelation.”
The anonymous author goes on to speak of “each year the rejuvenating and inspiring event of Christmas” and the possibility for seekers “to receive vivifying impulses and illuminating inspirations for their efforts. The mystery of the “star” is thus repeated.”
I have said above that my personal experience mirrors this – at least to an extent. I have discovered a fecundity in the still depths that can be found at Christmas – which is unlike anything else in the year. I am tempted to say there is even the feeling of the descent of Angels …
I participate in the Sacraments of the Church as fully as I can and I have found that some of the most important experiences of my life have been had at this time.
It is then, a very special opportunity for deepened contemplation. And as I enter this time, I find that the words of the Holy Father in the last entry are with me quite, quite starkly.
Speaking very personally, perhaps nothing else the Pope has said, has hit me as profoundly as these words.
A little resumé of his thoughts is perhaps in order then. The Pope spoke of the situation of our environment as a “threatening catastrophe.”
However he lamented that although consciousnessness of this grave problem exists in a general way, this widespread awareness was not translated sufficiently into individual will – including the will to live more simply. That is to “do without” – as the Pope put it.
Benedict XVI indicated that the Church had a “major responsibility” in this regard.
Indeed he went further. He said that not only has the Church “major responsibility”, but that She is “the only hope” for the world.
When studied carefully, the Pope’s words would appear radical. For they suggest that the Pope means that the only hope for the world lies in a Christian trajectory abandoned by the Protestant nations 500 years ago at the time of the Reformation.
This is because when the Pope uses the word Church, he is referring to those bodies that existed before the Reformation and which continued to be faithful to the Tradition after the Reformation. This is to say, he speaks of the Catholic and various Orthodox Churches of the East.
As Cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger made this transparent in the 2000 document Dominus Jesus. There he observed that the Orthodox and Catholic Churches alone could be justifiably called “Churches”.
And he suggested that the Post-Reformation Christian groupings were better called “Ecclesial Communities”, rather than Churches.
Not surprisingly, the 2000 document was something of an “ecumenical trainwreck.”
The last two words are in quotes, because if I recall correctly, this is how Ratzinger himself acknowledged the fall-out from Dominus Jesus.
At the moment, I regret I cannot find a source for this quote. However whether or not Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger used these precise words “ecumenical trainwreck” is perhaps less important at this point.
For whatever words he uses, Joseph Ratzinger, whether as Cardinal or Pope, is acutely and painfully aware of the controversy he creates.
Why then would Ratzinger be willing to create or at least risk an “ecumenical trainwreck”?
The reasons I think, are very, very profound.
They have nothing to do with pettiness or a wish to offend other Christians, it seems to me.
And it seems to me they have a very great deal to do with courage – the courage to do what the Holy Father believes is required at this fateful time on Planet Earth.
And in pondering this matter, a certain clue – or at least profound seed for contemplation – can be found in the Holy Father speaking of the Church as the only hope in terms of threatening ecological catastrophe.
Once more, the Holy Father is referring to the Church as it manifests in its the pre-Reformation Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
For in refusing to use the word “Church” for the post-Reformation Christian communities, the Holy Father would indicate a number of different things.
There is not space here to even suggest all that this implies. Instead, I want to focus on one aspect alone – admittedly one of tremendous and unfathomable importance.
I refer to the Sacraments.
The pre-Reformation Churches in East and West have the fullness of the Sevenfold Mystery of the Sacraments.
Now there is controversy as to how much the Sacraments exist outside these Churches. Though the Catholic Church acknowledges Baptism in the post-Reformation Ecclesial Communities.
However without entering too much into these controversial areas right now, any observer – whether Catholic or Protestant – would be forced to concede at very least, a considerable diminution of the Sacraments within Reformation Christianity.
As I remarked last time, even if one were to grant sacramental efficacy to the Eucharist celebrated in various congregations, one would still be forced to concede that such a celebration occurs comparatively rarely. Perhaps it is once or twice a month; it may well be less than that.
By one contrast, in the Catholic Church, one eats His Body and drinks His Blood every day of the year.
There are something like 400, 000 Catholic priests across the world. And as we enter into the miracle of the Christ Mass, His Body and Blood will become present on at least that many altars …
As we enter into this Holy Time, Catholic priests will be offering union with Our Lord every single day. And as Kim and I try to think seriously about the Fate of the World this Christmas, it seems to us that there is no better way to think seriously than to enter into daily union with Him.
And dear Reader, if you are Catholic and care about the Fate of the World, may I dare to encourage you to the same? If you do not know the miracle of daily Communion, it seems to me that you might discover something that can not only enliven your thinking, but warm and soften your heart and energise your prayer …
But I digress. To return to my theme regarding the Sevenfold Mystery of the Sacraments, let me say this. Many a Protestant congregation of course explicitly denies that a communion meal is anything more than a memorial. Though of course, there are confessions that do hold out greater significance than simply remembrance. However their interpretation still differs from the pre-Reformation tradition held in both the Western and Eastern Churches.
Still even an apologist for – say – an Anglican Eucharist would have to concede that the Sacrament of Confession is gone in the Anglican communion.
By whatever account – the Sevenfold Mystery is not there. And of course, the Reformation mind would simply say that there never was any Sevenfold Mystery. Catholics and Orthodox have been – at best – deluded all these centuries …
Now the Holy Father speaks of the need for the individual will-to-good to be reached.
It seems to me that he is saying that large-scale events, which generate a shallow popular consensus will not do. Something else is needed. Thus he says:
“This can only be done by an authority that touches the conscience, that is close to the individual and does not merely call for eye-catching events [Emphasis mine].
Now as Catholics of Faith, can we point to any more effective means of reaching the individual conscience than Sacramental Union with Jesus Christ?
Certainly I myself cannot point to any greater means. And thus at this website, I try to point. And I testify that the Mystery of the Seven Sacraments strengthens my will to good, enlivens my mind, warms and softens my hard heart …
Now in the “Ecumenical Trainwreck of Dominus Jesus“, part of what the courageous voice of Joseph Ratzinger sought to achieve was getting back to the original meaning of the word Church.
In effect, the Holy Father has been indicating that we must get back to the idea that a Church is not primarily a place for sermons, singing or even prayer, no matter how fine all those things might be.
We must get back to the idea that primarily, the Church is where one enters into Sacramental Union with Christ.
And now in these recent words from the Holy Father, there is the suggestion that the Fate of the Earth may depend on the Church of Sacramental Union with Christ – as it manifests in the Catholic West and Orthodox East.
As I said at the outset, perhaps nothing Joseph Ratzinger has ever said has hit me as deeply as these words regarding the Church as the only hope …
They have hit me very deeply, in part, because they echo processes unfolding in my thought and prayer life over years.
These processes involve recognising that the materialistic decadence of modernity is not only killing our souls, it is also now threatening to kill human civilisation on Earth.
As contentious as it is, it may be necessary to say – as I did last time – that a non- Sacramental civilisation may well turn out to be a non-sustainable civilisation.
All this may seem to be a sombre way of greeting you this Christmas, dear Reader. But my words are not merely sombre. As grave as the materialistic crisis of civilisation is, Our Lord is with us.
The Miracle of Christmas is here. And across the world, Our Lord will become present this Christmas on the Altars of the Churches of the Catholic West and the Orthodox East.
He becomes present and He bids us to unite with Him.
In uniting with Him, there are untold possibilities for deep enlivenings of heart and mind and will.
We have what we need at this time of grave crisis. Our Lord has not abandoned us. It is we who have abandoned Him. But He is still waiting there in the Tabernacles and on the Altars, across the face of the Earth.
And in risking Ecumenical Trainwreck, the Holy Father would remind us, I think, that it is there in the Tabernacles and on the Altars of the Church, that is to be found her most primary and truest Purpose.
Speaking very personally, I would like to enter this special time, both sombre in the sense of letting my heart be pierced by the world and joyous in remembering that Christ our saviour was born this Christmas day …
So I aspire to processes of deepened interiority and contemplation. Having followed the thinking of Joseph Ratzinger for many years -– even before he became the Pope – I have come to take him very seriously as an individual of profound moral gravitas and insight. His piercingly acute observations of the world situation merit deep pondering, even if had he not assumed his present lonely office.
And whilst I have said that nothing Joseph Ratzinger has said has hit me more deeply than this pronouncement on the Fate of the Earth, it seems to me that it has not yet hit me deeply enough.
I need to contemplate his words ever more deeply this Christmas. Even if I am a moral pygmy incapable of the round-the-clock gravitas and sacrifice of the Holy Father, I am still baptised and confirmed in the Church.
If the Church has not only a major responsibility, but is indeed the only hope, what does that really mean for me as a Catholic?
And if you reading this dear Reader, are a Catholic of Faith, what does it mean for you?
As we go into this Sacred Time, I pray for the strength to confront such questions and the grace of illumination regarding them. And I pray the same for you.
Thus Kim and I would wish you all a Merry Christmas – happy with the joy of Christ – but also and at the same time, a most Profound Christmas, open to the still, silent depths of this very special time …
Some final notes. As I aspire to think and pray this Christmas, this website will likely remain fairly quiet till New Year. Though I will make an effort to respond to any public responses at the site itself. I regret that I am still very slow in personal responses. Forgive me, friends known and unknown …
Lastly, a nearly-completed review of another book by Charles A. Coulombe may turn up here over this Christmas period. Dealing as the book does with forgotten, buried currents of Nineteenth Century Ultramontanism, it would strike many a modern thinker as monumentally irrelevant to the crisis above.
Yet to put it bluntly, it would seem however that it is modernist thinking of a materialistic kind that got us into this crisis.
Yes as I ponder and pray my attention turns ever more deeply to such “monumental irrelevancies” as Nineteenth Century Ultramontanism. And in addition to my review of Coulombe’s book, I hope there will be more here soon about the Nineteenth Century Alternative to Modern Materialism manifested in France under the (sometimes literal and literally bloodied) banner of the Sacred Heart …