Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Book Review: Faith and the Future

The stack of books I'm trying to read is much larger than what my calendar allows for. When I do actually finish a book though, I want to use the blog to tell you what I thought about it. I'm happy to lend this or any other book in my library if you live near me and don't look like a hooligan.

I recently finished reading a collection of talks by Pope Benedict XVI entitled Faith and the Future. Now, you need to understand that Pope Benedict was an incredibly prolific writer and speaker before he became pope, so upon his election Catholic publishers gathered everything he had ever written or said and republished it. Faith and the Future is a collection of five radio talks given on three stations in two countries over the course of a year in 1969-1970. They work well united as a book but they weren't intended as such. I loved this book and would highly recommend you read it. At less than 125 pages, it's a very short Ratzinger book.

In these talks, then-Cardinal Ratzinger is just exploring what the place of faith will be in the future. I must admit that I bought the book because of the money quote near the end of the book about the future of the Church,
From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge--a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members...But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship. The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek...But when the trial of the sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church (p.116).
This was the bold and beautiful conclusion of the final talk, but much of the book remained more philosophical in nature. Ratzinger spends the first couple talks discussing the place of faith in modern man. He highlights the problem that there is very little place for faith in the modern world if faith is simply a pseudo-knowledge or if faith is simply a replacement for knowledge. If that is what faith is, simply an alternative to knowledge, then faith must cede ground to man's every-increasing knowledge of the world around him. Indeed, in that case it would seem that the 21st century man has much less use for faith than any generation preceding him.

But Ratzinger proposes something more. Ratzinger takes the figure of Abraham, the father of faith, and explains that the Christian faith has always looked towards the future. Abraham put his faith in a promise of future things given by God, a promise of things that he hadn't yet received. Our faith is primarily a faith of the future. Our faith is in a promise of love made by our God. And yet, the fact that our faith is centered in an unknown future doesn't mean that faith is Marx's opium of the masses. Faith doesn't, or at least it shouldn't, make us careless about present injustice, because it's precisely this world, and we in it, whom Jesus wants to save and who need to cooperate with that saving action.

He goes on to point out that our faith is a faith of the future because it is faith in a person, namely, Jesus Christ. In this way, faith looks much more like a marriage bond than a statement of unproven fact: "I believe in you." Faith is characterized by trust in a person, that he is who he says he is and he can do what he says he can do. This kind of faith never becomes obsolete, no matter how enlightened man becomes. The faith that looks ahead by confidently looking at Jesus Christ will endure. This faith will reemerge from any crisis the Church finds herself in. In fact, this faith is distilled and purified in crisis. The book is called Faith and the Future, and Ratzinger convincingly argues that faith in the future will be a more purified and cleansed faith than the faith of today.

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