It seems to be generally true that after an ecumenical council of the Church there follows half a century or so of silly-season when things seem to go haywire in the Church as various factions struggle to take the high ground of interpretation of conciliar declarations and teachings.
Australia over the last several decades has been a particularly good example of silly season in full flight within the Church.
Sometimes there seems to be hardly a parish in the country untroubled at some stage or another by the often-bizarre practices that were introduced in the name of “the spirit of Vatican II” – as opposed to what the actual documents of the Council actually said.
A widely-adopted Playschool-esque standard of liturgical music that powerfully deters serious interest in the Church was merely one symptom of the mediocrity many in the Church opted for as an escape mechanism to avoid the new mortal sin of disagreement with others, usually over issues of morality to do with human relationships.
The building of depressing fuhrer-bunker looking churches was another, but these are mere minor symptoms of the deeper underlying malady.
Magnifying and distorting these tendencies were the context: the global societal and moral upheavals that came, roughly speaking, beginning in about 1965 which that master diagnostician Pope Benedict famously described in shorthand as the dictatorship of moral relativism.
In a very real sense, the descent of ignorance over numerous Catholic families about their faith became a major feature of Australian suburban life.
These are just some of the reasons why the Synod on the New Evangelisation currently underway in Rome to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vatican Council is so timely, so fresh, so important and so much an obvious gift of providence.
It is entirely possible that as the Synod charts the general outline of the new evangelisation under the guidance of one of the most astute pontiffs of the modern era it may also be mapping out some of the key features of the new Christianity, a renaissance, if you like, of the human heart.
It is also worth noting that one of the key problems facing the Church in Australia and, at a wider level, throughout the affluent societies of the world, was addressed by Pope Benedict at his general audience on October 17.
Ignorance of the faith puts Christians at risk of following a “do-it-yourself” religion, the Pope said. People need to become more familiar with the creed, he said, because it is there that the “Christian moral life is planted and … one finds its foundation and justification.”
Before an estimated 20,000 people gathered in St Peter’s Square, the Pope began a new series of audience talks to accompany the Year of Faith, which marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
He said he hopes the series of instructional talks, which is expected to run until November 2013, will help people “strengthen or rediscover the joy of faith and realise that it isn’t something foreign to or separate from everyday life, but is its soul.”
Pope Benedict said the widespread and dominant nature of today’s secularism, individualism and relativism means that even Christians are not completely “immune from these dangers.”
Some of the negative effects include faith being lived “passively or in private, a refusal to learn about the faith, and the rift between faith and life,” he said.
“Often Christians don’t even know the central core of their own Catholic faith – the creed – thereby leaving room for a certain syncretism and religious relativism,” he said.
Without a clear idea of the faith’s fundamental truths and the uniquely salvific nature of Christianity, “the risk of constructing a so-called ‘do-it-yourself’ religion is not remote today.”
“Where do we find the essential formula of the faith? Where do we find the truths that have been faithfully handed down and make up the light of our daily life,” he asked.
He said the answer is the creed, or profession of faith, which needs to be better understood, reflected upon and integrated into one’s life. Christians need to “discover the profound link between the truths we profess in the creed and our daily life” so that these truths are allowed to transform the “deserts of modern-day life.”
The Christian faith is not a belief in an idea or just an outlook on life, he said, but a relationship with the living person of Christ who transforms lives.
That is why having faith in God isn’t merely an intellectual activity, but something that “truly changes everything in us and for us; it clearly reveals our future destiny, the truth of our vocation within history, the meaning of life and the pleasure of being pilgrims heading toward the heavenly home.”
Pope Benedict said faith doesn’t take anything away from one’s life, rather it is what renders life more just and humane.
Current cultural changes “often show many forms of barbarity, which hide under the guise of victories won by civilisation,” he said.
However, “wherever there is domination, possessiveness, exploitation, treating others as a commodity,” and arrogance, humankind is “impoverished, degraded and disfigured.” Faith shows that humanity won’t find its full realisation unless the human person “is animated by the love that comes from God,” he said.
The gift of faith then finds expression in “relationships full of love, compassion, care and selfless service toward others.” Go, Benedict.- with CNS