As I write this column, Pope Benedict is about to conclude his pontificate, the conclave is about to begin, and critics of the Church are, as always, about to make another charge at the castle that is the institution given to the world by Jesus Christ to guide humanity to heaven. I’m not sure who the next pope will be, of course, but I do believe that his Papacy will be one of the most important in history.
If we think of the great, grand challenges to the Church over the centuries—pagan dominance, medieval divisions and heresies, Protestant revolts, Islamic invasions, enlightenment despots, and collectivist dictators—none posed such a threat as the secular, modernist, relativist materialism of the twenty-first century. Barbarians, Lutherans, Jihadists, Communists, and Nazis are identifiable; allegedly well-meaning progressives are far less so.
So, the challenges of the next Papacy. First, the affirmation and confirmation of what we can control. In other words, the cementing of the wall that is Roman Catholic theology. No more internal bleeding and bleeping about change merely because unrepresentative activists demand it. There is nothing wrong with Church teaching, but much that is wrong about those who question it and the reasons why they do so.
Second, a powerful message must be sent to faithful and serious Catholics that they are not alone and that truth comes from Rome. If a bishop or priest is not speaking with and for the Pope, it is the bishop or priest and not the congregant who is in contradiction of orthodoxy.
Third, a more determined stance on helping politicians save their souls. To put it another way, a loving but firm admonishment of MPs, Congressmen, even Prime Ministers and Presidents, who claim to be Catholic but vote for legislation leading to abortion, euthanasia, and the destruction of marriage. They lead other Catholics astray, they harm society, and they lie to God. If they react badly, so be it. That reaction, rather than the episcopal lesson, would expose what is really going on.
Fourth, the creation of more Cardinals in the developing world: in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. These regions not only provide the numbers but also the courage and the authentic observance of the Faith that will rejuvenate Catholicism. The Church is not about banal numerical representation, but must grow according to where the planted seeds have flourished most.
Fifth, the courage to risk a smaller but more genuine Church in the west. The Sacraments are part of the same single body, and we can no more pick and choose which ones we observe than we can decide which limb of a spouse we love or ignore. There are rules to being a Catholic in good standing just as there are rules as to being a good family member.
Sixth, a cleansing in the Church of what Pope Benedict described as “filth.” Moral and sexual corruption will always exist in the world but cannot exist in the epicentre of the Church. Complete intolerance of sexual ambivalence, effeminacy, and physical self-doubt is not hatred but love. It is no coincidence that the Counter-Reformation, cleared of the dirt and reborn with clarity and courage, produced so many saints, martyrs, and spiritual and intellectual giants.
Seventh, a concerted and sophisticated attempt to take back Catholic education and, where that proves impossible, to remove the word “Catholic” from those high schools and universities that consistently teach anti-Catholicism and devour the vulnerable young who assume they are being formed as complete Roman Catholics. This will be painful and perhaps confrontational, but nostalgia has no place in the new Church.
Eighth, the restoration of reverence, dignity, and awe to the liturgy and the Mass. This is not an experience, a happening, or a gathering, but a miracle. The miracle. The body and blood of Jesus Christ presented for and given at every Mass, everywhere, every time. If we don’t get this right, nothing will work at all.
Ninth, prayer. Prayer, prayer, prayer. All the time. Prayer on one’s own, prayer with family, and prayer with groups. Soak the world in prayer, and lift the Church and the Pope high on the clouds of your words to God. One day we will know just how much difference our prayers made—right now we know that nothing can be achieved without them.
God bless the new Pope, and God save him.