Several commentators should be filing a “missing-persons” report right about now. The Benedict they were anticipating never showed up. Not one finger was wagged. Not one enforcement was enacted. Not one growl was heard.
Just broad smiles, repeated thanks, wide embraces, and deep affection. Some critics thought they knew Cardinal Ratzinger. And so now they chase after the questions: “What happened to change the supposed ‘hard-line’ Cardinal Ratzinger into the approachable Benedict XVI?” The real question is: “Did the reviewers know Cardinal Ratzinger in the first place?” Or were they simply victims of the oldest defense mechanism around: the self-inflicted wound of projection?
Personality, various experts say, is usually set early in adulthood. The assumption of an office or new job really does not change a person all that much. The logic would follow that this past week, Benedict, instead of showing us a new person, showed us who Cardinal Ratzinger was all along. The labels were all wrong. Which begs the question as to not where, but who really is the missing person?
The net of Peter has been broadly cast. Whether in person, through cable, or on web-stream, Benedict’s interlocked words compelled a Church to unite and a nation to listen. From lawns, stadiums, cathedrals, chapels, and halls of learning and of diplomacy, the turf felt firm beneath the feet. We have to run the replay in slow motion to catch all his moves. From victims to survivors, from the culture of death to the Culture of Life, from medical care to immigration, not once did he punt. Nor can we. He handed off – or rather, handed on, the faith.
Benedict XVI made clear his game plan. In one word: Forward. He identified the secularism, materialism, anti-life preoccupation, and technology without conscience of entrenched ideologies which attempt to cut the weave of the net. He wants to “recapture the catholic vision of reality” and present it “in an engaging and imaginative way.” He called back to the Second Vatican Council and the teaching of John Paul II on the New Evangelization, and clarified the Church’s “primary mission of evangelization.”
He called us to foundations that include immigrants; he summoned us to continue the work of moral theology. In all, he reminded us of our thirst. Only the encounter with Christ can satisfy the person made in his image. Benedict read the play book well. The New Evangelization is not choosing sides, grimly keeping score, but pointing out the goal: “The goal of all our pastoral and catechetical work, the object of our preaching, and the focus of our sacramental ministry should be to help people establish and nurture that living relationship with ‘Christ Jesus, our hope’ (1 Tim 1:1).”
He said we cannot simply count on “traditional religiosity,” but must stretch ourselves to proclaim the Gospel of Life with the insistence of a two-year-old child, and to rededicate ourselves to the family. The resources and opportunities are all around us: “Much progress has been made in developing solid programs of catechesis, yet so much more remains to be done in forming the hearts and minds of the young in knowledge and love of the Lord.”
After learning the goal, the next step of culture change is to find the lost. There is a “missing persons” report we each must file and follow: it leads to our neighbor.
Rev. J. Brian Bransfield
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis