|Professor Joseph Ratzinger before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI|
It's no secret that +Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) was my favourite pope. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say he is sorely missed. However, in assessing the life of Ratzinger, we're going to have to admit that his time as pope was actually a very small part of his public ministry. Short as it was, the monumental changes he made to the church during his reign overshadow anything done by his predecessor Pope St John Paul II. I have no doubt that his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum and his apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus will go further to influence the development of the Church in the 21st century than anything done by his predecessor. Liturgy is the face of Catholicism, and the liturgies promoted by these two documents will have a lasting impact.
I digress, however, because this essay has nothing to do with Ratzinger's pontificate, and everything to do with a prediction of what he believed would happen to the Catholic Church in the 21st century. While his prediction was more academic in nature, I will unreservedly call it a prophecy. He may not have intended it to be so, but nevertheless, it has become just that. What we have seen happen over the last 48 years, combined with the obvious trajectory of the way things are going, leaves no doubt. +Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) was/is a prophet.
This prophecy of Professor Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) was given in some radio talks back in 1969. Ratzinger's writings will appear below in bold. My commentary will be in red. Keep in mind. He said this in 1969! This was at the height of optimism following the Second Vatican Council. At this time, the Catholic Church was still a monolith, a massive force to be reckoned with not only spiritually, but in a worldly sense too. None of the problems we are familiar with in the Church of today (liturgical abuse, heretical teaching, priestly shortage, etc.) existed back then. That is, not of any reasonable size that Catholics would recognise. It was very much a different time back then. +Ratizinger's prophecy would have been seen as both wild and outlandish. I'm sure it was dismissed by many...
+Ratzinger's Prophecy - Bold
Shane's Commentary - Red
"The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment... In other words, liberal Catholicism, progressive Catholicism or cafeteria Catholicism (whatever you choose to call it) will die out. +Ratzinger is telling us it cannot survive on its own. A recent statistical analysis shows that a major implosion of mainstream cafeteria Catholicism will occur sometime between 2025 and 2030. This is the second-faction of progressive Catholics I wrote of in "So where do I Stand?" ...or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods... This should send chills down the spines of the third-faction traditionalists I wrote of in "So where do I Stand?" They too will die out, just as soon as the second-faction progressives die out. The two factions (second and third) are in a symbiotic relationship with each other in spite of their animosity toward one another. ...nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves. He's speaking of hypocrites on both sides now. But primarily of the second-faction progressives in the Church. This is where we see it the most.
To put this more positively: The future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see because their lives embrace a wider reality... Indeed. I'm thinking primarily of the pariahs in the Church right now, men such as +Burke, +Sarah, +Schneider for example on a macro scale who have thrown their reputations on the altar of sacrifice for the long-term good of the Church. More than that, however, I think +Ratzinger is speaking of the little people who we don't hear much about right now. I'm speaking of those who have rejected spiritual modernity for the sake of returning to tradition and orthodoxy. These are the little people attending traditional liturgies and raising families to love and serve our Lord. ...Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self-denial. By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone, a man’s eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered... So the path to renewal is trial and self-sacrifice. There is no doubt that those of us who love the Catholic faith, for what it is and has always been, are enduring that right now.
If today we are scarcely able any longer to become aware of God, that is because we find it so easy to evade ourselves, to flee from the depths of our being by means of the narcotic of some pleasure or other. Thus our own interior depths remain closed to us. If it is true that a man can see only with his heart, then how blind we are! Wow! That was in 1969. How much worse have we become in 2017, with all the distractions of the modern world?
How does all this affect the problem we are examining? It means that the big talk of those who prophesy a Church without God and without faith is all empty chatter... He's talking about the social engineering crowd, heavily saturated in the second-faction progressives in the Church, who want to turn the Church into nothing more than a social institution, having no usefulness outside of social justice work. ...We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous. Therefore, it will destroy itself... And it is doing just that. It will be nearly dead in about a decade. Remnants of it may hang on for a while, but the money driving it will dry up within 10 years. Once the money is gone, we can expect a slow death scene of parish closures, property selloffs, and diocesan consolidations. The speed of this decline, of second-faction progressive Catholicism, will be shocking! It will nearly disappear within a short time after that. What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death... In other words, its a war of attrition. The biological solution is in play here. The first-faction Church, which I wrote about in my essay "So where do I Stand?" will prevail not by force or persuasion, nor by fighting for control of liberal parishes, nor by whining about its woes on the Internet, but simply by growing and flourishing while the rest of the Church implodes all around her until finally, the first-faction Church is all that remains. ...The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists... Amen! And he's right. The social-justice priests of yesterday are gradually being replaced by professional lobbyists and motivational speakers. They're becoming obsolete. ...but the priest who is no specialist, who does not stand on the [sidelines], watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal of man, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future. Pay attention here, because +Ratzinger has not only given a recipe for how to become a great priest, but he's also made a prediction of the future, and it's about to get more intense. The only kind of priests that today's youth want are the kind that focus on the sacraments and pastorally lead people toward holiness. While they suffer in their hardships with them!
Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today, the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. Wow! +Ratzinger nailed that one. So true. I bet few people saw this coming in 1969. 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... It has already begun. Dioceses and Archdioceses are now going into a state of managed decline. Parishes are being merged, properties are being sold. This process will only get worse in the years ahead, leading to a total implosion within about 10 years. Mark my words, the diocesan consolidations that are happening right now are nothing compared to what is coming in a decade! As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges... This has begun as well. Not only has the Catholic Church lost nearly all of her political clout, but Catholics themselves are increasingly finding themselves marginalised in a militantly Secular society. Christian businesses are being forced to close over lawsuits. Public officials are now grilling faithful Catholics for high-ranking positions, calling their Catholic faith "dangerous." This will only get worse in the years ahead. We will soon see similar "religious tests" carried out among local employers. Yes, a day is coming when being a faithful Catholic will make it difficult to get a good job. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. This is interesting. It seems here that +Ratzinger is predicting, as far back as 1969, that all public and social pressure to be a good Catholic will completely disappear. Indeed it has! That in time, he says, only people who really want to be Catholic will remain. The rest will fall away. We're not quite there yet, but I think we are starting to see it. The decline in mass attendance is startling. Sadly, this will get worse. The only place the Church is seeing growth is in traditional parishes, and even then only marginally because these groups are so stigmatised by the mainstream Church. As +Ratzinger reminds us though, this is a war of attrition. The biological solution will ensure that only first-faction faithful Catholics will survive the long haul. ...As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. A smaller Church will mean a more serious Church. Just as smaller parishes place higher demands on their members, so the same will be with the universal Church as a whole, once it is smaller. We're not quite there yet, but it's coming, probably after the predicted implosion within 10 years. ...Undoubtedly it 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. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly... This is a shocking prediction! We're not there yet, but it seems that +Ratzinger predicts that due to the priest shortage (something that didn't exist when he uttered these words), we might possibly expect in the near future a "part-time priesthood" to develop. These are men who work a secular trade during the week, and then work as a priest on the weekend. Some of these part-time priests might be celibate and others married. Now I would suspect that full-time priests would remain, of course, so does +Ratzinger, but they would be in charge of larger parishes, or perhaps serve as superiors to the part-time priests who may serve more remote areas as missions of larger parishes. This is not unprecedented. St Paul worked as a tentmaker during his public ministry as an Apostle, to cover his personal expenses while he founded churches on the side. 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 the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship. So contrary to popular opinion, this is not the end of the world. While all of this may seem as a hardship, it is, in reality, something beautiful, for only in this shrinking, and in this impoverishment from what she once was, will the Catholic Church find full and complete revival.
The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right... This is huge! +Ratzinger has predicted a disassociation of Catholics with political parties and agendas. This is what Rod Dreher forecasted as absolutely necessary in his recent book "The Benedict Option." It's ironic that +Ratzinger would choose Benedict as his papal name. Coincidence? Maybe. But as the Jewish rabbis say; "coincidence" is not a kosher word. ...It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization 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. While the second-faction progressives want to take the Church in a heterodox direction, the third-faction traditionalists just want to abolish Vatican II entirely, as well as the new mass, and go back to the way things were in the 1950s. All of this in-fighting will have to be shed, and it will be. The march of history will kill it. We can't go back to pre-Vatican II as the third-faction traditionalists want, and the end of second-faction progressivism is now within sight (10 years). 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 on 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. He's telling us that we've seen all this before, on a smaller, more national, scale leading up to the French Revolution. He's speaking of the liberal/progressive (second-faction) trends that have dominated the Church following the Second Vatican Council. We can expect this to continue for at least another 10 years, based on statistics, but as he said it's a war of attrition. Once the second-faction starts to fade away within 10 years from now (about 2025 - 2030), the first-faction clergy and laity that remain will go on to rebuild the Church in the 21st century. We can expect many third-faction traditionalists to fold into the first-faction gradually thereafter until finally there is only one faction left -- the Catholic faction -- no longer divided into three groups.
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. Once the Church is revived and renewed, it won't matter what size it is anymore, because many within the Secular world will start to take her seriously again. That's when the New Evangelisation will begin in earnest.
And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. He's speaking from 1969 here. He was right. Nobody in his time could have expected what we're going through right now in 2017, just as nobody today can fully imagine what's coming soon. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. Wow! No kidding. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already... Yep. We know this now, but +Ratzinger knew it in 1969 when the whole world was still excited about it. ...but the Church of faith... Remember, it's a war of attrition. We will survive this and thrive because "the Church of faith" is the only faction of the Church growing. It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death." Isn't that what we all really want?
In the end, this present crisis in the Church will pass. It may not be any time in the near future, but it will pass. That is guaranteed. Why? Because as +Ratzinger said in 1969, the progressive second-faction of the Church cannot survive on its own. It was predictable enough for +Ratzinger back in 1969. It's a matter historical record now, as well as the painful reality we're having to see through to its end. Nevertheless, it will end.
The Church that will emerge will be radically different than the one of the past, and yet, it will also see many of the same features that once made the Church of the past great. It will have good liturgy, sound teaching, more holy members, and priests who suffer alongside the laity in their daily grind of having to make a living in an unfriendly Secular culture. When that day comes, however, the re-conversion of the culture will not be far behind, as the Church will have the answers to what makes modern man so hopeless and miserable.
In the meantime, the answer to our problems is simple enough. I didn't say it would be easy, but it is simple. As I wrote about in my previous essay "So where do I Stand?" there are three factions in the Catholic Church today. Get aligned with the first-faction of faithful Catholics. Start attending a first-faction traditional parish, even if you have to drive a long way to get to one. Start supporting that parish, both financially and personally (with volunteer help). Then teach your family how important the faith is.
Pope Benedict XVI (+Ratzinger) gave us a great help with Summorum Pontificum that reopened celebration of the Extraordinary-Form Traditional Latin Mass. This didn't help traditional societies. They didn't need Summorum Pontificum. The people it helped the most were regular diocesan Catholics. It not only helps those who want the traditional Latin liturgy, but it also helps us identify first-faction parishes by their openness to celebrate it. If a parish celebrates the Extraordinary-Form Latin mass, even if its just once a month, you can be sure of a strong conservative Catholic element within that parish. The whole parish may not be traditional, but a lot of people there are. That should act as a magnet to attract more scattered first-faction Catholics throughout the region, not only giving them a new parish home, but also allowing them the chance to increase their strength through numbers.
Pope Benedict XVI (+Ratzinger) also gave us another great help in Anglicanorum Coetibus that made possible the universal celebration of the Anglican-Form Divine Worship Mass. This is the form of traditional liturgy that comes to us from the Anglicans who have returned to the Catholic Church, bringing with them elements of the Medieval Sarum Use, as well as elements within Anglican liturgy that drew them back to Catholicism. It's highly traditional and highly orthodox. While these parishes and communities only exist in the English-speaking world right now, they do present another viable opportunity for regular Roman Catholics seeking a new parish home. While membership in the jurisdiction that runs these parishes (the ordinariates) is restricted, membership in these parishes themselves is not. Any Catholic may become a member of an ordinariate parish and enjoy the benefits thereof.
Throughout his public ministry, +Ratzinger gave ample encouragement to those priests and communities who wish to keep the most traditional elements of Catholicism within the framework of the new Roman liturgy -- the Ordinary-Form New Vernacular Mass. He wrote about it and gave examples of how this might be done. These parishes do exist, and they are thriving, but one must look hard to find them right now. I suspect, however, that in time these parishes will become a bit more numerous as the younger generation of priests, now being ordained, are gradually placed into pastoral positions. When this happens, these parishes should be joined and supported too.
It's all a war of attrition, and it will end eventually. There is strength in numbers and so we must hold together until the end. This can only be done by coalescing around the first-faction parishes and communities I described in my essay "So where do I Stand?." I would say we are a little over 2/3 into the crisis now, but the last 1/3 will be the worst. Victory for Christ's Catholic Church is assured, but we have to see the crisis through to the bitter end. Understand what the first-faction is, and then align with parishes that understand the same. That's what will get our families through this.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.
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