Popes come and go, and I refuse to speculate about who will follow Joseph Ratzinger. I respect his courage to step aide, but cannot honestly say I am sad to see him go.
Angelo Roncalli, starting in 1958, and his successor Giovanni Montini, starting in 1963, firmly planted the stones for a Roman Catholic life-based theological paradigm that stressed that expressions of belief spring from a deep reflection about our lived faith experience. Theology as faith seeking understanding. This became the solid foundation for Vatican II theology. The opening words of Gaudium et Spes still ring in my ears:
“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men and women of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of women and men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their God and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for all people. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with humankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.”
Then in 1978 Karol Wojtyla arrived at the Vatican: a strong man with an equally strong “father knows best” attitude. With a big smile and theatrical charisma, he began to pry lose the foundation stones of Vatican II. In 1981, Karol brought a new theological demolition crew to Rome and installed Joseph Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, affectionately called by some “The Holy Office.” In 2005 Joseph took over as Bishop of Rome and Vatican II demolition went into high gear.
Joseph proclaimed a “Reform of the Reform,” and quickly began creating little bishop and cardinal reformers of the reform in his own image and likeness. He scattered them around the world in a seeding program called the New Evangelization. I call it patriarchal magisteriumism or FKB: Father Knows Best.
The theology of Angelo Roncalli and Giovanni Montini moved from lived experience to statements of contemporary belief and liturgical practice. The authority of evidence.
The theology of Karol Wojtyla and Joseph Ratzinger moved from hierarchical edict to mandated belief and liturgical regulation. The authority of evidence was replaced by the evidence of authority. FKB.
Popes come and go but Christian life goes on. And the same questions are asked anew. Age and changing times do not silence the question, but merely pose it in ever new ways. Our joys and hopes….our griefs and anxieties…….Who or what is God in my life? How can I be an authentic follower of Jesus in today’s world? Who am I? Where is my security? What does it mean to come into the brightness and warmth of the human day, hurrying on my way from the mystery of my origin to the mystery of my end?
Faith seeking understanding. If may or may not happen when the next Bishop of Rome takes his seat in the Vatican.
It can and must happen in our parishes, Bible study and prayer groups. In our youth groups and catechetical classes. In our Facebook chats with friends and around the backyard barbecue.
Forget the reformers of the reform. They still make some noise. The passing roar of dinosaurs, singing and prancing in the setting sun of an outmoded papal paradigm. This too will pass.