Catholic World News

Reject 'worldly' vision of Church, Pope urges German faithful

September 26, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI repeatedly called for reform within the Catholic Church—as well as efforts to counteract a secularizing trend in society—during the final hours of his visit to Germany on September 24 and 25.

“We must honestly admit that we have more than enough by way of structure but not enough by way of Spirit,” the Pontiff told the Central Committee for German Catholics. “I would add: the real crisis facing the Church in the western world is a crisis of faith.”

Celebrating Mass at the airport in Freiburg on Sunday morning, September 25, the Pope remarked that “renewal of the Church will only come about through openness to conversion and through renewed faith.” Alluding to the day’s Gospel story, of the two sons—one of whom tells the father that he will obey, but does not, and the other who resists the father’s order but then follows it—the Pope warned complacent Catholics that “agnostics who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of our sin, are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is 'routine' and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without letting their hearts be touched by faith.”

Later on Sunday, in a meeting with representatives of Catholic associations, Pope Benedict expanded on that theme. “The Church,” he said, “must constantly rededicate herself to her mission.” And to understand that mission, he said, we must recognize that the Church “has nothing of her own to offer to Him Who founded her.” He went on:

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 institutionalisation than to her vocation to openness.

The rise of secularism, the Pope continued, could actually produce benefits for the Church, because “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.”

The goal, the Pope said, is not “finding a new strategy to relaunch the Church. Rather, it is a question of setting aside mere strategy and seeking total transparency.” He concluded with the exhortation: “It is time once again for the Church resolutely to set aside her worldliness.”

The Pope made these remarks at he closed a busy 4-day visit to his native land. At the conclusion of a Friday schedule highlighted by ecumenical meetings in Erfurt, he traveled to Etzelsbach, to preside at Vespers in the Wallfahrtskapelle. He remarked during his homily that the inhabitants of this region, in what was once East Germany, had always found refuge at the Marian shrine: “During two godless dictatorships, which sought to deprive the people of their ancestral faith, the inhabitants of Eichsfeld were in no doubt that here in this shrine at Etzelsbach an open door and a place of inner peace was to be found.”

On Saturday morning, as he presided at an outdoor Mass at the cathedral plaza in Erfurt, he made a similar point: “Here in Thuringia and in the former German Democratic Republic, you have had to endure first a brown and then a red dictatorship, which acted on the Christian faith like acid rain.” However, he challenged the faithful to examine whether the freedoms that had come with the fall of Communism had come at a cost. He urged the people to recapture the spirit of spiritual longing that had prevailed in the first days of freedom, saying that “the political changes that swept through your country in 1989 were motivated not just by the demand for prosperity and freedom of movement, but also decisively by the longing for truthfulness.”

From Erfurt the Pope traveled to Freiburg im Breisgau, where he met with former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, then with leaders of Germany’s Orthodox churches, next with seminarians, then with the Central Committee for German Catholics, before finally ending the day at a prayer rally for young Catholics.

Speaking to the young crowd, the Pope returned to the theme of reform within the Church. He acknowledged the damage that the Church has suffered in recent years, and said that it is not unique. “Again and again in history, keen observers have pointed out that damage to the Church comes not from her opponents, but from uncommitted Christians.” The reality of scandal points to the reality of sin, the Pope said, and the antidote is sanctity.

Pope Benedict cautioned the young people not to be misled by popular misconceptions of holiness, which suggest that saints are figures of unattainable virtue. The reality is quite different, he told them:

There is no saint, apart from the Blessed Virgin Mary, who has not also known sin, who has never fallen. Dear friends, Christ is not so much interested in how often in your lives you stumble and fall, as in how often you pick yourselves up again. He does not demand glittering achievements, but He wants His light to shine in you. He does not call you because you are good and perfect, but because He is good and He wants to make you His friends. Yes, you are the light of the world because Jesus is your light.

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  • Posted by: unum - Sep. 26, 2011 6:37 PM ET USA

    It is disheartening to hear the leader of our Church speak as though reform is someone else's responsibility. If JP II and Benedict are not accountable and the members of the Curia are notorious for their continuous "coffee break" instead of action, who are we to look to to protect our beloved Church. ... and Jesus wept.