You have perhaps seen it — a video or transcript of a 1969 radio interview in which then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger riffed about the future of the Church and modern society in a brilliant stream of consciousness.
Every word in one section has come to pass, or is beginning to — there before the eyes of those with eyes to see.
We posted a transcript of it years ago, as well as a video of it more recently (it is also below), but it is slamming home — that particular segment, in the video — with more force now.
Let us ask ourselves honestly in prayer how much of it may pertain to each of us.
A few snippets:
“The future of the Church can and will exude from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith,” said the future Pope.
“It will not exude from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment, or from those who criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods.
“Nor will it exude from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete tyrannies and legalistic all that makes demands upon them, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice.
“To put this more positively, the future of the Church will be reshaped by saints, by men whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, whose minds see more than others see because their minds embrace a wider reality.”
“How does all of this affect the problem we are examining?” he asked rhetorically.
“We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers,” he intoned. “It is utterly superfluous. Therefore, it will destroy itself.”
“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.
“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.” (The early apostolic times? Read Scripture to revisit how it was and in Benedict’s mind will be.)
“It means the big talk of those who prophesy a Church without God and without faith is all empty chatter.
“She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity,” he admits.
“As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members.
“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. Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly.”
(Let us discern those words: “Men whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day.” What are some of the current slogans?)
(His prophecy of a small Church is readily interpreted, as we see how many parishes have closed and how many bishop mansions and rectories have been sold or should be. This is not bad, the future Pope was saying; it is a purification.)
Amazingly, this man who is considered one of the foremost theologians in modern centuries saw the purified Church as one without all the theological hullaballoo currently so dominant in Christian chatter.
Instead of discussing our Faith, Ratzinger was saying, in a purified Church, we will worship. We will live our Faith — not analyze it. Instead of dissertations, lectures, and theses, and controversies, there will be prayer.
“The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right,” he said.
(The “politics” will be that of Jesus; it will be following the disciples, not worldly figures).
There will be humility. There will be obedience.
This builds toward purity.
“As a small society, she will make much greater demands on the initiative of her individual members,” said Cardinal Ratzinger — to repeat, in 1969. “Undoubtedly she will find new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or 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 the changes of which one might guess, the Church will find its 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.” Let us repeat: “In faith and prayer, she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.”
For many have strayed.
“It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy,” said Cardinal Ratzinger.
“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,” he said. (The definition of “sectarian” is “denoting or concerning a sect or sects” and a member of a sect “schismatic,” “disrupter,””zealot,” “partisan,” “atheist,” “separatist,” “skeptic,” “militant,” and “bigot,” a tone and message surprisingly similar to those of the current Pontiff.)
“One may predict that all of this will take time.
“When the trial of the sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church,” he said, to repeat.
Brilliant phrase: “the trial of the sifting.”
“Men in church 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 find the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as an answer to 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,” said the future Pope, “about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith.”
“She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently,” said this prescient man, “but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.”
[resources: video of Michael Brown retreat]