Mary Magdalene’s box of very precious ointment by James Tissot
Benedict XVI on Freedom in Obedience to the Truth: A Key for the New Evangelization | Dr. Matthew J. Ramage | HPR
… the more fundamental task … is to form human hearts, beginning with those who have already been evangelized and need to be “newly evangelized,” those who know something already, but are not living it; those who are showing up in the pews, but not really getting it.
The broad strokes of this reflection germinated while I was watching a news program last winter. We were visiting my parents in Illinois, and as I passed by the TV, I happened to overhear a self-professed Catholic political strategist misrepresenting the U.S. bishops on the subject of the HHS mandate. At the end of the interview, it was pointed out to the woman that “your own bishops don’t agree with you.” In reply, she smirked and sarcastically laughed, “Well, the bishops, that’s a whole other issue.” 1 Anyone watching this interview could tell that this individual, despite claiming to be Catholic, had little respect for the authority of the Catholic hierarchy. In her view, the bishops are just a bunch of old men who are out of touch with reality and refusing to get with the times. Regrettably, this attitude is enshrined in the words and deeds of many well-known Catholic media figures and politicians. Even worse, it colors the way countless Catholics today perceive reality.
As Catholic pastors have had ample occasion to observe, the above mentioned mentality has emerged repeatedly and all too evidently in the wake of the last papal conclave. Both in the media and in my own ministry of evangelization, I have consistently seen a narrative that paints the pontificate of Francis, the “poor man’s pope,” as an opportunity to finally throw off the shackles of traditions and truth claims that have long held us back from true societal progress. Without even knowing it, many have adopted the Marxist analysis of the Church which Joseph Ratzinger spent so much of his career confronting. Marx’s fundamental law of history—the class struggle—shows itself, time and again, in efforts to set up the hierarchical Church in opposition to the laity, who seek emancipation from centuries of discrimination and abuse of power. 2 Not surprisingly, many who accept this Marxist interpretation follow its philosophy in expecting the new pontiff to eliminate all forms of “duality” in the Church, especially the distinctions among the sexes central to issues such as women’s ordination and gay marriage. I think this is a misinterpretation of Francis’ project, and it stands at odds with the priority of truth and tradition in the quest for freedom as taught in the Gospel. For the sake of brevity, this piece will develop an overview of the Church’s teaching concerning freedom, truth, and obedience in light of the thinker who has treated the issue most profoundly and prolifically: Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict offers a pointed diagnosis of our society’s problem in this area, and provides clear principles for how to address it within pastoral ministry and the New Evangelization.
The point of the above anecdote is to illustrate how deeply our culture stands at odds with the Gospel, and its liberating message, that authentic freedom comes, not from inventing our own ideas, or even deciding upon them democratically, but rather through loving submission to the truth that has been revealed to us through Christ’s Church.