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“The Pope on Pick-and-Choose Catholics” by Colleen Carroll Campbell

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2011/06/02 at 10:05 PM

The Pope on Pick-and-Choose Catholics

By Colleen Carroll Campbell

Commentators seeking a shorthand way to characterize Pope Benedict frequently have resorted to depicting him as an ecclesiastical version of Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde. The “good” Benedict recognizes the longings of our spiritually hungry age and calls for compassion for immigrants and the poor. The “bad” Benedict emphasizes the importance of fidelity to Catholic moral teachings on such controversies as abortion and same-sex marriage while promoting the revival of traditional Catholic devotions.

The real Benedict is more interesting than the media caricature. And he proved it again in his address to U.S. bishops on Wednesday night, as he deftly wove together his concerns for answering the spiritual hunger and material needs of our society with his conviction that the best way Catholics can do that is by allowing their lives to be guided by Catholic moral teachings and grounded in the sacramental life of Catholic worship.

Read more: http://www.colleen-campbell.com/Misc_Columns/080417PapalBlogThree.htm  from her website: www.colleen-campbell.com.

Benedict emphasized in his nearly 8,000-word address that he understands the difficulty of achieving this synthesis in a culture where, as he noted, faith is increasingly considered a private matter that should be practiced in solitude and quarantined from the rest of life. While he praised America’s longstanding “respect for the public role of religion,” he lamented the way many Christians compartmentalize their faith, by refusing to allow its precepts to influence their actions and by living as if God did not exist.

Among Catholics, the pope bemoaned the tendency to take a “pick and choose” approach to the faith rather than adopting the Catholic approach of “thinking with the Church.” The pope highlighted “the scandal given by Catholics who promote an alleged right to abortion,” as well as declining rates of marriage, rising rates of cohabitation, divorce and infidelity, and the Jesus-and-me theology that has convinced many Christians that they can mature in their faith without participating actively in a faith community.

A compartmentalized, individualized Catholic faith that fails to transform our business practices, our positions on the day’s ethical debates, our sexual morality, our treatment of immigrants and the poor and our witness in public life is one that has lost its flavor, Benedict said. “To the extent that religion becomes a purely private affair,” Benedict said, “it loses its very soul.”

Audiences that hear only these excerpts from Benedict’s address might assume that he is calling Catholics to retreat into the pre-Vatican II religious subculture that shaped earlier generations. Yet the pope explicitly rejected this solution to the challenges the Church faces in the 21st century. As he frequently does, Benedict emphasized the spiritual hunger that he sees in Western societies like ours — a hunger that calls for Catholic clergy and laity to use “new and engaging ways” to proclaim Gospel values. Bishops must cultivate “a Catholic identity which is based not so much on externals as on a way of thinking and acting grounded in the Gospel and enriched by the Church’s living tradition.”

Benedict left little doubt as to the first step to solidifying Catholic identity. Whether working to form the next generation of Catholics, defend the “Gospel of Life,” attract more young men to the priesthood or restore trust in episcopal leadership, prayer — and renewed commitment to such distinctively Catholic practices as Eucharistic adoration, the rosary and recitation of the liturgy of the hours — is the first step to Church renewal. “Time spent in prayer,” Benedict said, “is never wasted.”

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a St. Louis-based author, former presidential speechwriter and television and radio host of “Faith & Culture” on EWTN.

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