Secularization is a common theme in Latin America, Europe, and the U.S. Is secularism the Church’s greatest challenge? What are other major dangers the Church faces, especially vis-a-vis the synodal process?
Secularization is one of those magic words that implies an inevitable social process. There’s nothing inevitable about it. People choose it because it’s the easy and materially rewarding path. We all struggle with a desire to imitate “the world.” It’s been a temptation since the devil offered to give the world to Jesus. It’s especially tempting for leaders like bishops and priests in the Church, and politicians in the secular order. Catholic political leaders ignore or betray the faith all the time to please their constituencies and stay in power. Here in our own country we saw it just recently in the annual State of the Union speech, where a “Catholic” President Biden promised to support full access to abortion at any time. In the synodal process, the temptation will show up — and in some ways, has already shown up — in our trying to make peace with worldly behaviors and beliefs that directly contradict the teachings of Jesus and his Church.
In your opinion, what are the greatest areas of reform needed to renew the Church?
Us; all of us. We’re the problem. Structures and policies are important, but people are decisive. In a sense, the focus of real Church reform is always the same: you and me. It’s that simple, and also that difficult. No one really likes to change, because it’s hard. And the essence of conversion is a sea change in the way we think and live. In its Hebrew root, “holy” doesn’t mean “good,” although holy people are always good. Holy means “different from” and “other than.” Christians are meant to be different from and other than the ways of the world. So if we want to reform the Church, we first need to reform ourselves.
Throughout this process, many confusing proclamations are being made about the authentic way in which a Catholic follows Jesus. The Holy Father has at times stepped in and warned others not to follow the German way and chided that Germany “already has a great Protestant Church, but I don’t want another one.” How does an ordinary Catholic know they are living in the truth and following the way Jesus commanded them?
If you pray every day, read a little every day from the Word of God, and stay close to the sacraments, you’re definitely on the way. We need to learn how to ignore the noise and conflict in the world, at least for a few hours. They’re distractions; invitations to confusion and anger. We’re responsible for our own actions and the people we love. If we focus on doing those things well, we’re living in the truth.
Many of the questions raised by Cardinal McElroy and the German bishops revolve around what constitutes worthy reception of the Eucharist. Can you clarify the role of conscience in determining the reception of the holy Eucharist? Can you clarify the importance of a worthy reception for the spiritual life and health of the Church?
None of us is ever worthy to receive the Eucharist but Jesus makes us worthy through baptism and confession. Receiving holy Communion demands that we first be in communion with Jesus, his Church, and Catholic teaching. It’s a lie to receive holy Communion if we reject or ignore the teachings of Jesus and his Church. The first role of our conscience is to keep us honest. And we’re required — if we’re serious about our faith — to form our consciences according to the wisdom of the Church. If we can’t do that, then we should be honest enough to admit it and not receive holy Communion.
U.S. Cardinal Joseph Tobin has stated that this is about the process of “how we walk together” more than doctrinal outcomes. What is your reaction to this statement?
The central “process” in Christian life is the process of allowing ourselves to be formed by Jesus Christ and his Church. A process always has a purpose and content. Just “walking together” is not enough. Accompaniment is not enough. We need to walk in the right direction and arrive at the right destination. A priest friend recently shared with me that the only time the Greek root word for synodality appears in the New Testament comes in the passage where Mary and Joseph are in the caravan (syn + hodos = “together, journeying”) of Luke 2:41-45. Going home from Jerusalem, they can’t find Jesus among their traveling companions. So they reverse course until they find him. Likewise we need to ensure that Jesus is with us at the lead and center of our synodal walking together, and not some alien agenda that uses the Church for its own purposes and leads us in the wrong direction.
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been adapted by CNA.
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Kelsey Wicks is the Executive Director of the ACI Group. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. She is based in Colorado.