When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope almost three years ago, many cardinals credited his remarkable listening skills as a factor in his election. Since that conclave we have seen tentative signs of a “listening pope,” one who encouraged freedom of debate at the episcopal synod on the Eucharist and who dared to entertain his former colleague, Hans Küng, for dinner. I would like to imagine what would happen if Pope Benedict were to come to our shores as a “listening pope.” What if he were to see this visit as a kind of papal fact-finding mission?No, Mr Gaillardetz. America IS most certainly threatened by secularization and the fact that American Catholics do not understand "sentire cum ecclesiae". And pottery eucharistic vessels and excessive handholding are symptoms of a weakened ecclesiology. Where is the awe and healthy fear of God in all of the touchy-feely liturgies? There IS a connection between anemic liturgies and the youth's tenuous grasp of the Catholic faith.
Such a fact-finding mission might bring him to a more concrete consciousness of an important reality: The American religious scene is not the same as that in Western Europe. Our American church is not without its faults and pastoral challenges, but these faults and challenges are quite distinct from those of the European church. America does not suffer from the forces of secularization. For all of our failings, ours is still a remarkably religious culture. One of the great gifts of the American experiment is its distinctive legal framework for the separation of church and state. This framework has allowed religion to thrive in our country to an extent unmatched in Western Europe. At the same time, one of the peculiar religious consequences of the American experiment lies in the impact of free market forces on American religion. This free market context has led to the individualism of the American spiritual seeker and helped foster a consumerist approach toward religious experiences, beliefs and practices. An awareness of the distinctive shape of our religious scene would only enhance the pope’s pastoral outreach to the American church.
I can imagine a papal fact-finding mission in which the pope would meet not only with VIPs and bishops but with pastors, liturgical and catechetical leaders and other lay ecclesial ministers in order to get a better grasp of the pastoral realities of the American church. To be sure, not everything he would hear would be positive. Catechists and youth ministers would likely express their concern regarding young Catholics’ more tenuous commitment to the institutional church and their inadequate grasp of the basics of the Catholic faith.
Yet he would also learn of an American church filled with parishes that are thriving because a generation of pastors took seriously the implementation of the vision of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). He would discover an educated laity that wants to be heard, because they have felt empowered by the Spirit and believe that their experience and insight has something to offer church leadership. He might well be impressed by accounts of hundreds of parishes that have implemented Vatican II’s sacramental and liturgical renewal, particularly in the area of Christian initiation. Liturgical ministers might find the courage to tell him that the most serious threats to our liturgical life are not found in pottery chalices and priests shaking too many hands at the sign of peace. They would suggest instead our church’s need for a deeper liturgical spirituality. They would almost certainly warn him of the danger of a weakened eucharistic spirituality as more and more Catholics are deprived of the regular celebration of the Eucharist by a shortage of priests.
Who needs coffee in the morning when you can read dreck like this? Oh, and there are three more on the way! All brought to you by the National Catholic-in-Name-Only Reporter.