ohn the Solemnity of Christ the King in 2013, Pope Francis completed the work of the 2012 Synod of Bishops with the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The joy of the Gospel), launching a resounding appeal to the whole Church to “begin a new chapter of evangelization”. Catholicism, urged the Pope, must move from maintenance to mission: “from a pastoral ministry of simple conservation to a resolutely missionary pastoral ministry”. And this ministry must empower all members of the Church for mission, because the Church of the twenty-first century must understand itself as a “community of missionary disciples” who are “permanently in a state of mission”, because the Church does not live for itself. , but “for the evangelization of the world today”.
A little less than eight years later, Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, unveiled a complex – some might say, convoluted – plan for a vast series of consultations at the diocesan, national, continental and international levels in preparation. for the Synod on “Synodality” to be held in Rome in October 2023. This two-year process has been described by one enthusiast as “the most important global Catholic project since Vatican II”. My own intuition, based on the American Catholic “Call to Action” process of 1974-1976 and the current German “synodal path”, is that the only people who will be fully engaged in Cardinal Grech’s countless consultative “phases” ahead of the 2023 synod are people who like to go to meetings to share with like-minded minds their complaints about the way things are in Catholicism. The rest of the Church, or at least its living parts, will be otherwise occupied, fulfilling the task to which Pope Francis once called us all: “the evangelization of the world today”.
From a church in mission to a church in meetings is not a step forward.
That the Church must be on mission, including a mission to poorly catechized Catholics who are straying en masse from the faith, should not be seriously contested. The pandemic has arguably accelerated the decline of Catholic practice. But this exodus from the benches was underway before the world ever heard of Wuhan’s virology labs and COVID-19. The exodus partly reflects the corrosive effects of a culture which, in its sweetest moments, can tolerate Catholic faith and practice as a lifestyle choice, but which categorically opposes the idea that Catholicism carries lasting gospel truths that lead to happiness and social solidarity. The exodus is also a byproduct of decades of inept catechesis and flabby preaching, so that in much of the Western world today, the most educated Catholics in history probably know less about the exodus. Catholicism – and therefore believe less – than their grandparents.
Some recent survey data in Italy illustrates the scale of the challenge. In 1995, 41 percent of respondents in Italy professed a belief in life after death; 28.6% today believe in life after death. During the same period, the number of those who categorically deny that there is an afterlife has almost doubled, from 10.4% to 19.5%. The others, presumably, are agnostics on the subject. Think about what it means, however, that among these numbers, only three in 10 Italians have a firm belief in the afterlife.
Anglican biblical scholar NT Wright, who brilliantly defended the historicity of the resurrection, also wrote that there is no evidence of any form of early Christianity that does not vigorously assert that Jesus of Nazareth was raised to a new and superabundant form of life — a life accessible to all who professed to believe in him and lived as his friends and followers. What was true two millennia ago is true today: if there is no belief in Easter, or in the resurrection to eternal life of those who died in Christ, there is no of Christianity. Period. And if, by this measure, Italy is a post-Christian society and culture, things are probably even darker in other areas of what was once Western Christendom.
It is, of course, not clear how two years of self-referential Catholic gossip in Pre-Synodal Church focus groups, conducted under the rubric of “discernment” about a “Synodal Church”, will chart a course. way beyond this abandonment of rock. -fundamental Christian beliefs, which are at the root of today’s rapidly declining Catholic practice. Now is not the time for a meeting church. The times demand a Church on mission, proclaiming Jesus Christ as the answer to the question that is all human life.
Georges weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Center for Ethics and Public Policy in Washington, DC, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.
First things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.
Click here to donate.
Click here to subscribe to First things.