There has been various reporting (here and here) on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's message to faculty and students of the Pontifical Urbanianum University in Rome (the address was read by Archbishop Georg Ganswein). The passage drawing attention is this:
"The risen Lord instructed his apostles, and through them his disciples in all ages, to take his word to the ends of the earth and to make disciples of all people," retired Pope Benedict wrote. "'But does that still apply?' many inside and outside the church ask themselves today. 'Is mission still something for today? Would it not be more appropriate to meet in dialogue among religions and serve together the cause of world peace?' The counter-question is: 'Can dialogue substitute for mission?'
"In fact, many today think religions should respect each other and, in their dialogue, become a common force for peace. According to this way of thinking, it is usually taken for granted that different religions are variants of one and the same reality," the retired pope wrote. "The question of truth, that which originally motivated Christians more than any other, is here put inside parentheses. It is assumed that the authentic truth about God is in the last analysis unreachable and that at best one can represent the ineffable with a variety of symbols. This renunciation of truth seems realistic and useful for peace among religions in the world.
"It is nevertheless lethal to faith. In fact, faith loses its binding character and its seriousness, everything is reduced to interchangeable symbols, capable of referring only distantly to the inaccessible mystery of the divine,"
I think that our retired Holy Father has hit on something that is pervasive throughout the Church in our day - certainly in the westernised Church. It struck me that this attitude is not just compromising mission in preaching the Faith to those outside the Church but is also compromising the mission of handing on of the Faith within the Church. We are so busy teaching Catholic children that they must respect those of other Faiths and none, that we leave no room for teaching the wonder, truth, uniqueness and certainty of Catholic Faith and its claims upon those who would profess it.
The great fear seems to be that if we don't teach children about all these other ways of living and believing (or not) then we create a sectarian grouping that will despise all those outside it. This skewed emphasis leaves children's minds formed just as Pope Benedict says, with Catholic children growing up believing that Faith has no binding character, it is reduced to a series of interchangeable truths. We all get along perfectly well because no-one actually believes anything different from their non-Catholic neighbours - for which we might read, no one believes anything at all. Do we really think that you can't be a distinctive fully believing Catholic without being a bigot? Even the supermarkets appreciate the power of brand loyalty.
No wonder then, that so very few in recent generations makes the effort to fulfil the Catholic obligation to attend Holy Mass each Sunday, for their education has taught them the wrong answers to the questions:
What are the consequences of not fulfilling this obligation?
What difference does it make if I don't bother?
I use the Sunday Mass obligation merely as one practical example, for the same applies to each and any teaching.
It's ironic that in our alleged multi-cultural societies, where freedom of choice in the way an individual lives his or her life is so lauded, that the Church in its schools, seminaries and parishes is so terrified of identifying itself as different from the society around it. It seems that we are desperate to erase every teaching and practice that would mark us out as different from the secular world around us. With this mantra, no wonder we are in truth becoming just like the world around us, so it then becomes a perfectly valid question to ask why we bother at all with the Church, the Gospels, the Tradition of the Faith.
Our method of teaching, on the evidence of producing believing and practising Catholics, is indeed a lethal weapon when it comes to nurturing faith