“Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely”

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly.

But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystalization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek.

The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution—when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain—to the renewal of the nineteenth century.

But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.

Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already with Gobel, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

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7 Responses to “Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely”

  1. You may care to visit blog Allalongthewatchtower theology blog out of England at which I sometimes participate.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I used to visit the watchtower blog from time to time, back when Jessica was healthy, and she used to comment here, too. You guys have an interesting blog, with good conversation.

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  2. Fariba says:

    I think it’s interesting that Ratzinger endorses worker priests. Will any of this affect the practice of clerical celibacy in the West? I suspect that the Eastern model will have to be adopted. Also, how will this affect the ages of the sacraments of initiation? Adult baptism may be more common. Or priests may return to administering all three initiation sacraments to infants as in the East and forget about trying to keep people in the Church as long as possible. All Christians everywhere are living in an interesting time. It seems as if Progressive Christianity should be considered it’s own tradition (alongside the Reformed, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Anabaptist, and Lutheran traditions). Progressive Christians are promoting a modified language, worship, Scripture, soteriology, etc. Challenges don’t just come from without but from within as well.

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    • Gabriel Sanchez says:

      I don’t see why the Roman Church should feel at all compelled to revisit their longstanding discipline of clerical celibacy, at least not at this stage in the game. In fact, it baffles me why Easterners — Catholic or Orthodox — even invest a fraction of their time worrying about the question. It seems like a pointless matter to carp about. Of course, it is good and right that Easterners should defend their own practices in this regard from commentaries and polemics that have treated married clergy with disrespect (sometimes unintentionally).

      If anything, the Church of tomorrow will need more celibate clergy, that is, men who can dedicate themselves to what will likely be the increasingly hard work of ministering to dispersed and under-served flocks. This will likely be true in both the east and west, unfortunately.

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      • Fariba says:

        Interesting perspective. It’s true that with fewer people, more will be demanded of each and every person as Ratzinger said. Therefore, priests will have to spend more time doing parish work with potentially less benefits.

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  3. Apparently this book is an updated one originally written in 1969…(perhaps).
    It seems to me that the terms need clarifying. The Church which he speaks of seems to be the “clerical” Church…that is, the hiearchy…not necessarilly the Church of the “People of God”, (from Vat II…often derided by “conservatives”).
    That (hiearchical) Church may diminish but that Church is only one aspect of the Church.
    Also, there is no mention of contemplation/prayer as being essential to a full expression of the Church. Most likely, it is because those aspects have been marginalized with doctrine and regulations being a priority.
    There’s quite an irony here…if the original was written in 1969, then Ratzinger did very little to counter it and much to support it in his Papacy.

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    • No Man's Land says:

      First, he does talk about the spiritual (prayer and the mystical nature of the sacraments and so forth) Church. Indeed that seems to be a primary point of the passage, a sort of re-capturing of the essential spirit of Christ and the Church.

      Second, he seems to recognize that there is little surprising in folks calling themselves Catholic or Christian or Orthodox when that is the social norm. However, as the social norm shifts away from Christian forms of cultural orientation to more secular attitudes about life, society, and so on, it will take more guts, if you will, to identify as Christian. And, as a result, it seems reasonable to infer that those Christians will take more seriously the Faith. That is, the essence of Christianity will resonate more deeply with them and thereby create a more profound and serious understanding of Christianity. So even though the Church could be smaller in number it could be stronger in spirit.

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