Thursday, 17 February 2011

Defending the Faith

According to The Catholic National Reporter “2010 was not a luminous year for Germany’s Catholic church -- and the Protestants didn’t fare much better. Rocked by sex, physical abuse, and corruption scandals, an unprecedented number of German Catholics -- the most in postwar Germany’s history -- turned their backs on the church, formally renouncing their membership. Some switched to one of the Protestant churches, though those churches, in aggregate, also lost members. Germany’s demographics find it 30 percent Catholic, 30 percent Protestant, 34 percent non-confessional, and 4-5 percent Muslim.”

Pope Benedict XVI continues, as may be expected, to defend the Catholic Church, depending on its often confining history of dogma and doctrine. The Catholic New Services quoted the Pope during his regular daily public audience on Feb. “Defend doctrine, but don’t attack others”. This brief quote was taken by Benedict from the life of St. Peter Canisius (AD 1521-1597). This topic was introduced by the Pope with a promise of more 'audience talks' in the future  from the ‘doctors of the church’ who have made important contributions to the Catholic understanding of theology.

According to the CNS article Pope Benedict quoting Canisius as inisting  "there was a difference between wilfully turning away from the faith and the loss of faith that was not a person's fault under the circumstances, and declared to Rome that the majority of Germans who passed to Protestantism were without fault,".

If this quote is correct discerning readers will immediately agree that it was not the ‘wilful turning away from the faith’ but the turning away from Rome or Catholicism that forced the protestants decision. Their faith in God obviously remained intact otherwise they would not have embraced their new Protestant church.

Benedict concluded his address by announcing: "the Christian life does not grow except with participation in the liturgy, particularly the holy Mass on Sundays, and with daily personal prayer,"

If Benedict hopes to stem the dramatic loss of Catholic membership in Germany as well as the warning issued by several hundred theologians (see my blog  February 15) his final remarks on this topic are hardly to have the desired impact.

The practise of Christianity is not dependent on membership to any particular religious institution. If faith or belief in God is only found in the church what good will it do us beyond the doors of the church? Christianity is a universal call to love. Love does not know religious boundaries or need to be defended – it does not know attack. Fear is the absence of love.To illustrate how we are called to spread Christianity i.e., love, beyond the doors of the church consider the following condensed story from Fr. Anthony de Mello
 “A man searching for Jesus in the city of Jerusalem was disappointed not to find him in either the synagogue or temple. Tired and exasperated, he was finally told that he could probably find Jesus ministering to the sick and disabled outside the city walls”.
If institutional religion, indeed the Catholic Church is to regain its true purpose it may have to look outside its own walls.

What follows is the exact English translation on Peter Canisius’ original comment on non-Catholics as it appears on the Ignatian Spirituality.Com website.  Readers will easily discern the good saint’s understandable bias made during the hight of  Reformation.  

It is plainly wrong to meet non-Catholics with bitterness or to treat them with discourtesy. For this is nothing else than the reverse of Christ’s example because it breaks the bruised reed and quenches the smoking flax. We ought to instruct with meekness those whom heresy has made bitter and suspicious, and has estranged from orthodox Catholics, especially from our fellow Jesuits. Thus, by whole-hearted charity and good will we may win them over to us in the Lord.

Again, it is a mistaken policy to behave in a contentious fashion and to start disputes about matters of belief with argumentative people who are disposed by their very natures to wrangling. Indeed, the fact of their being so constituted is a reason the more why such people should be attracted and won to the simplicity of the faith as much by example as by argument.

Peter Canisius , Summary of Christian Doctrine and two smaller catechisms.

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