Louie Verrecchio
The Church of Martha Martha
By Louie Verrecchio
November 2, 2012

Much is said these days about the "new evangelization," so much so that one wonders what on earth was so wrong with the original.

Well, if you ask Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the answer is, plenty.

In a lecture on Vatican II delivered at Saint George's Cathedral in London on October 18th, the retired Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels said that the Church before the Council exhibited a "world‐rejecting, negative, defensive, and superior attitude" in its evangelical mission.

The good news, according to His Eminence, is that the Council Fathers set matters aright by effecting what he called "a discontinuity with past thinking and practices," attributable in part to "the influence of Protestant thought and the new philosophy."

Among the great conciliar accomplishments that Cardinal Danneels noted was "the introduction of the vernacular in the liturgy," which he credits with demonstrating that "what was always thought and practiced need not necessarily remain that way for eternity."

For example, he noted that "a new understanding of church as the 'People of God' began to develop," giving rise to a "more horizontal relational understanding rather than the earlier vertical authoritarian model of church."

"Up until that time," the Cardinal stated, "the language of ecclesiastical authority was primarily juridical and legislative. It was rational, conceptual, concise, and clear‐cut. Vatican II chose a more pastorally‐oriented language: less clear‐cut, suggestive, not determinant, calm, and serenely dialogical."

In contrast to the straightforwardness of ecumenical councils past, "Vatican II chose a different literary genre and a different language," he said.

"There were no short position papers or judgments, no sharp formulations of belief and discipline, and very little normative language. The teachings of previous councils were expressed mainly in the canons," he explained, "short position statements that were dismissive and always had the dissidents in mind. The vocabulary was threatening, punitive, and an intimidating experience."

"Vatican II," he said, "chose longer texts; calmer statements that recalled the panegyric style of the Church Fathers. They instill wonder and invite the reader's engagement. The ideal is proposed and enthusiasm is generated. It all fits together under the term 'pastoral.' This is a 'soft' term: dialogical and inviting. It stresses the goal of common conversion: not imposing but inviting. So characteristic is the absence of terms of threat, punishment, and exclusion," he observed.

On this note concerning ecclesial tone, Cardinal Danneels is most certainly correct, and the style of the Council lives on as the overwhelming majority of our bishops — including the Bishops of Rome — have long since voluntarily relinquished the sword of Truth and its razor sharp edge in favor of marshmallow-soft propositions, affirmations and vagaries.

Consider, for example, the recent scandal caused by the longtime pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Baltimore, Fr. Richard Lawrence ("better known simply as Dick," according to the parish's website), who made national news for preaching in support of "same-sex marriage" immediately after reading aloud a letter from Archbishop William Lori urging Maryland Mass-goers to vote otherwise in an upcoming statewide ballot initiative.

Fr. Lawrence's reprehensible behavior compelled the Archbishop to respond with a statement (in which the offending cleric isn't named) posted on the archdiocesan website; accessible only after clicking on a front-page link entitled, "The Teaching Role of Priests."

In spite of whatever conversations have presumably taken place behind the scenes between "Dick" and his bishop, the quasi-public statement of record is precisely of the nature described by Cardinal Danneels, wherein an "ideal is proposed" in a way that is "calm, pastoral, dialogical and inviting; absent terms of threat, punishment, and exclusion."

And this, according to Cardinal Danneels' way of thinking is a step in the right direction as "fell for the first time [at the Council] words like: triumphalism, clericalism, juridicism, pyramid structure, pompous and romantic language, and episcopal idolatry and papal idolatry."

His Eminence had much more to say in this vein, but presumably you get the point:

"Clear-cut" Church pre-Vatican II, bad; "suggestive" Church post-Vatican II, good, and from this perspective, I suppose it only stands to reason that an evangelization that is equally as new and improved is in order!

Enter the recently concluded Synod of Bishops, convened in Rome to discuss "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith."

The fruits of the Synod? A list of fifty-eight "provisions" for the Holy Father's consideration.

Among them, such groundbreaking insights as:
  • Jesus Christ is the center of our faith and daily life

  • The Church should proclaim [Her] permanent world-wide missionary dimension

  • Holiness is a significant part of every evangelizing commitment

  • The proclamation of the Gospel can be the basis to restore the dignity of human life

  • Good Catechesis is essential for the New Evangelization
Now, maybe I'm just growing more difficult to impress in my middle age, but I'm reasonably certain that the Epistles of St. Paul alone had essentially all of this covered nearly 2,000 years ago. (Church, can I get an Amen?)

With this in mind I have to ask, does anyone truly benefit from a three-week long synod that allows bishops to engage in what by all appearances amounts to Catholicism-101 busywork?

In his lecture on Vatican II, Cardinal Danneels offered at least one pertinent insight when he observed, "To give collegiality some legal shape, the Church has opted for periodic Roman synods," which, in the estimation of His Eminence, are not nearly substantial enough.

"Somewhere they must lead to shared decision‐making," he lamented. "In doctrinal matters, they have no power of authority."

Translation: In an attempt to placate the "collegial" ambitions of those bishops who dream of belonging to a deliberative ruling body (as opposed to being consecrated members of the monarchically structured Church that Jesus gave us) hundreds of fortunate prelates occasionally get to participate in a synod, that although devoid of any real authority, does at least possess the power to propose.

In the present case, the synod's proposals include:
  • That the traditional process of Christian initiation... be everywhere considered in a catechumenal prospective

  • That each episcopal conference establish a commission to promote study of the pontifical Magisterium relative to... the New Evangelization

  • To establish a commission... to address attacks on religious liberty

  • To establish formation centers for the New Evangelization
"And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, like the rush of a mighty wind..."

Well, not exactly.

Now, I don't mean to dismiss every single one of the Synod's propositions (published in all their richness on the Holy See's website) as though they are entirely without merit in and of themselves; rather, I simply wish to observe that the Church in recent decades has developed a regrettable knack for generating a ton of "process" for every ounce of product.

The modern day episcopate has largely morphed into a case study in progressive bureaucraticism as a brain trust of elites frenetically prepare for the sake of preparedness; contemplating paradigms and synergies; offering ruminations and reflections, with little to show for their efforts beyond a whole lot of bluster, some fleeting warm and fuzzies and a false sense of accomplishment on the part of those involved.

This most recent synod (the thirteenth such "ordinary" gathering since 1967) reportedly included 262 bishops, 45 experts and 49 auditors, but that doesn't even begin to account for the various sub-committees and task forces that have undoubtedly expended untold amounts of capital, both human and otherwise, in anticipation of the big event.

This, I suppose, is the just reward for having ever given credence to the kinds of tired old canards that Cardinal Danneels and likeminded confreres have long been delighted to impress upon the naïve.

The reality, however, is that while Catholic life before the Council wasn't perfect, the "triumphalistic" Church of the pre-conciliar age — with Her "sharp formulations of belief and discipline," Her "pyramid structure" and liturgical Latin — also happened to be the Church of prelates like Bishop Fulton Sheen, a man who made ample use of "new media" to evangelize millions without ever neglecting to teach objective truth in favor of simply "proposing ideals." It was a Church whose pews, just like its seminaries, were consistently full; a stronghold and a beacon, thriving and respected.

Contrast this with Catholic life today, wherein bankrupt dioceses, parish closings and a scarcity of priests is business-as-usual for a Church whose hierarchs overwhelmingly fail to proclaim the Sovereign rights of Christ the King while endlessly invoking the dignity of man and the rights of the human person.

Cardinal Danneels perhaps put it best when he said that the Church of Vatican II has adopted a style that "instills wonder," as countless heretofore Catholics over the last several decades have apparently wondered, why bother?

Why bother assisting at Holy Mass? Why bother answering the call to the priesthood? Why bother being a Catholic?

If this is the "New Evangelization," then I say, enough.

Enough synods. Enough conferences. Enough God forsaken committees.

We've become the Church of Martha, Martha — feminized, frenzied and busy about many things; a Church that is all-too-frequently distracted from the only mission that really matters; converting the world to Christ who didn't lay down His life to establish a think tank.

To that end, I hereby respectfully submit to the Synod the following amendment:

Proposition 59 — Go ye therefore to all nations; teaching in firmness and in love all that the Lord has commanded, inviting all to the sanctification made available only through the grace of conversion to the one true Church that He Himself established for our salvation, governing not in the manner of lawyers and legislators but as legates of Christ the King.

© Louie Verrecchio


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