End Notes: The Overdue Renewal

A saint said that God did not become man in order that man might become a theologian. But knowing the basics of the faith is not theology; it is a condition of salvation. The widespread illiteracy among Catholics as to what the Church teaches is astounding. A good many Catholics are allegedly unclear that Jesus is really present—body, blood, soul, and divinity—in the Eucharist. Does this explain the 100 percent reception of Holy Communion in most parishes? The dumbing down of the faith, the tin-ear translations and jingly music, tenured dissenters trashing the Magisterium—such things do not gladden the heart. Many blame the mess on Vatican II.

They are wrong. The Second Vatican Council was the greatest event in modern Church history. Called by John XXIII with enormous optimism, it was meant to look for ways to evangelize the modern world more effectively. The watchword was aggiornamento. John felt no need to clarify doctrine: that had been done marvelously well already. The emphasis was to be on the pastoral.

John died before any of the sixteen documents of the Council emerged. Some of them are quite doctrinal, others not. As a totality they are a magnificent blueprint for renewal in the Church. The problem is not that the blueprint has been tried and found wanting, but that it has not yet been fully implemented.

The greatest single reason for the near derailing of the Council was the revolt of the theologians. Publicly and defiantly they rejected Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae which reasserted the Christian view of marriage and the natural law prohibition of artificial contraception. That document should be read by every Catholic married couple. It is a profound and moving statement of the nature of marital love.

Opponents of this traditional doctrine have created havoc in the Church by interposing themselves between the pope and the people, and assuring Catholics that they could defy the pope and remain good Catholics. Of course, this is false. Look at what they have created: Is there any unclouded mind that would seriously regard contraceptives as the path to happiness? The breaking of the link between the unitive and procreative meanings of the marital act has opened the door to extramarital sex, to homosexuality, to divorce, abortion, euthanasia. Paul VI predicted this result and his critics laughed. If popes in paradise are given to laughter, Paul must be laughing now.

Dissenters sought to enlist the Church in the so-called Sexual Revolution that has dismantled this country and most of the West. Catholic teachers treated Catholic teaching as the problem and not the solution. This was absurd. The teachings of the Church are not an obstacle to happiness; they are the means to true happiness. It is high time for Catholics to heed the Magisterium and ignore the wolves in sheep’s clothing who attack it.

A few weeks ago the Holy Father issued a document called Ad tuendam fidem. It restates the requirement that teachers of Catholic theology make a profession of faith—the Nicene Creed—and vow their fidelity to the teachings of the Church. How could such a requirement possibly be thought controversial? Because over the past thirty years theologians have asserted their right to decide whether teachings of the Magisterium should bind anyone, let alone themselves. In 1989, the Catholic Theological Society of America airily dismissed this requirement. The pope has now restated it and added punitive sanctions to those who as Catholic teachers teach the opposite of what the Church teaches. One hopes that a new generation of theologians will shake off the dead hands of their mentors and proudly declare their allegiance to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Dissent in universities trickled down into the colleges and high schools and then into the parishes. It is rare to find a parish where the doctrine of the faith is preached clearly, enthusiastically, in its entirety. We suffer through anecdotal sermons about the preacher’s week or his childhood, banal memories meant to liven up the Gospel parables. Extraordinary ministers have become ordinary; the Body of Christ is offered with a mindless smile. The rich spiritual and cultural heritage of Catholicism, rarely available in our colleges and universities, is not there to compete with the grafting of worship onto the sillier trends of the day. This is not the renewal intended by Vatican IL

Everyone should get the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Our minds must be stocked with the lore of the faith. Why did God make you? God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him in the next. The profound is always simple.


Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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