Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Love, Friendship, and Beauty: On the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of a Magisterial Document about Religious Life and the Apostolate

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Love, Friendship, and Beauty: On the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of a Magisterial Document about Religious Life and the Apostolate

Article excerpt

IN THE 2007 FESTSCHRIFT ESSAY that I offered to Fr. Matthew Lamb, I made reference to the commission of American prelates that was appointed almost twenty-five years ago to inquire into the sharp decline of vocations to religious life in our country after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). (1) It was within the context of the Extraordinary Holy Year in honor of the Redemption, on Easter Sunday, April 3, 1983, that Pope John Paul II sent a message on this matter to the bishops in the United States. In this letter, the Pope expressed "grave concern" over the "the marked decline in recent years in the numbers of young people seeking to enter religious life." To address this "grave concern," John Paul, in the spring of 1983, appointed the Quinn Commission. This circumstance forms the proximate background for a document that affords the occasion for this article. It was on May 31, 1983, that the Holy See issued the document whose twenty-fifth anniversary we observe in zoos: "Essential Elements in the Church's Teaching on Religious Life As Applied to Institutes Dedicated to Works of the Apostolate." Whereas the findings and the recommendations of the Quinn Commission have come and gone, the work of institutes and organizations that took seriously the recommendations of "Essential Elements" continues to bear fruit. (2)

Within this same time frame (1983-2008), John Paul began to speak frequently about a "new evangelization." The original mention of this phrase may date from his first apostolic visit to Poland on June 9, 1979, when John Paul in Nowa Huta vehemently lifted the Cross and, deeply moved, proclaimed, "A new evangelization has begun!" From the early 1980s, the "new evangelization" became a leitmotiv of the rhetoric that we have come to associate with John Paul's papacy. This history may explain why Pope Benedict XVI chose the ad limina visit of the Polish hierarchy in 2005 to express his conviction that the secret of the new evangelization lies in sound collaboration among bishops, priests, religious, and laity. (3) In the teachings of the post-conciliar popes, we discover that the new evangelization is intended to enact the sanctification of culture. For John Paul, post-Communist European culture; for Benedict, post-Christian Western culture. Both popes however have emphasized the actual urgency of the renewal task, of promoting the new evangelization, even though it must be acknowledged that the Church has always been faced with the daunting challenge to transform the secular culture of a given period.

Take, for example, the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Within the church and the cloister walks, one still sees fading frescoes that depict Dominican priests encouraging early Renaissance Florentines to look beyond the richly material world of the capitalist-humanist period we call the Quattrocento. These Dominican friars urged the citizens of Florence to consider instead the spiritual values of eternal life. Fifteenth-century humanism constituted what one might call a distraction for Christian believers; certain figures of the period give evidence of espousing misplaced values and of pursuing exaggerated directions. By contrast, the new evangelization of the late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century encounters a culture that has been deformed by the ideologies generated out of the philosophical errors of the modern period. In short, we find ourselves in a more disadvantageous position than did the contemporaries of artists such as Donatello, Fra Angelico, and Botticelli. Today, the Church asks Catholics to persuade a people wedded to technocracy and committed to expediency of the truth that Christ alone reveals to us our high destiny and that the Church alone provides what is required to pursue this destiny. To put it differently, to a world of technocratic utilitarians, the Church announces the way to the highest wisdom; and to a culture dominated by the allure of the expedient, the Church insists on the life of virtuous excellence. …

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