On September 25th, the Holy Father met with representatives of Catholic associations active in the life of the Church and of society.
Having thanked them for their Christian service and witness, “something that is not always easy at the present time”, Benedict XVI pointed out that, “for some decades now we have been experiencing a decline in religious practice and we have been seeing substantial numbers of the baptized drifting away from Church life. This prompts the question: should the Church not change?”
“The Church”, he explained, “is not just other people, not just the hierarchy, the Pope and the bishops: we are all the Church, we the baptized…. Yes, there are grounds for change. There is a need for change. Every Christian and the community of the faithful are constantly called to change…. As far as the Church in concerned, though, the basic motive for change is the apostolic mission of the disciples and the Church herself.
“The Church, in other words, must constantly rededicate herself to her mission”, he added, explaining that this mission embraces three aspects: bearing witness, making disciples in all nations and proclaiming the Gospel. “The Church’s mission has its origins in the mystery of the Triune God, in the mystery of His creative love”. She “has nothing of her own to offer to Him Who founded her. She finds her meaning exclusively in being a tool of salvation, in filling the world with God’s word and in transforming the world by bringing it into loving unity with God”.
“In the concrete history of the Church, however, a contrary tendency is also manifested, namely that the Church becomes settled in this world, she becomes self-sufficient and adapts herself to the standards of the world. She gives greater weight to organization and institutionalization than to her vocation to openness”, the Pope said.
And he went on: “In order to accomplish her true task adequately, the Church must constantly renew the effort to detach herself from the ‘worldliness’ of the world. … One could almost say that history comes to the aid of the Church here through the various periods of secularization, which have contributed significantly to her purification and inner reform”.
“Secularizing trends”, he added, “whether by expropriation of Church goods, or elimination of privileges or the like, have always meant a profound liberation of the Church from forms of worldliness, for in the process she has set aside her worldly wealth and has once again completely embraced her worldly poverty”. In freeing herself of material ties, “her missionary activity regained credibility”.
Benedict XVI recalled that history shows how a Church detached from the world can bear more effective missionary witness. “Once liberated from her material and political burdens, the Church can reach out more effectively and in a truly Christian way to the whole world, she can be truly open to the world”, he said.
“It is not a question here of finding a new strategy to relaunch the Church. Rather, it is a question of setting aside mere strategy and seeking total transparency, not bracketing or ignoring anything from the truth of our present situation, but living the faith fully, … stripping away from it anything that may seem to belong to faith, but in truth is mere convention or habit.
“To put it another way: for people of every era, not just our own, the Christian faith is a scandal. … This scandal, which cannot be eliminated
unless one were to eliminate Christianity itself, has unfortunately been overshadowed in recent times by other painful scandals on the part of the preachers of the faith. A dangerous situation arises when these scandals” conceal “the true demands of the Christian Gospel behind the unworthiness of those who proclaim it”.
Pope Benedict concluded: “It time once again for the Church resolutely to set aside her worldliness. … A Church relieved of the burden of worldliness is in a position, not least through her charitable activities, to mediate the life-giving strength of the Christian faith to those in need, to sufferers and to their carers. … Openness to the concerns of the world means, then, for the Church that is detached from worldliness, bearing witness to the primacy of God’s love according to the Gospel through word and deed, here and now”.