Two Thinkers, One Counterintuitive Approach
Evangelizing structures change. They must and they do. The Second Vatican Council emphasizes that the Church’s very nature is missionary and that she exists to reveal the mystery of Jesus Christ in every generation. In order for evangelization to be fruitfully carried out in any age, the Church must employ human strategies, or “manmade” evangelizing structures suited to the communication of the Gospel within the present circumstances. A cursory glance at the Church’s history reveals a variety of such structures: the preaching of the Fathers and the sacrifice of the martyrs in the early Church, the emergence of monastic and mendicant movements during the Middle Ages, the explosion of religious congregations following the Reformation, the growth of Catholic schools, and so forth. Many of these elements are still in place, though their prominence in the Church’s overall evangelizing movement shifts based upon the needs of the time.
Given culture’s constant flux, the Church’s evangelizing mechanisms can become ineffective or obsolete and, therefore, in need of updating. If these structures are not renewed, they risk obscuring the Church’s ability to communicate Christ clearly. Moreover, without renewal, the Church can tend to devolve into an entity concerned more with self-reference, self-preservation, and maintenance than with actualizing her missional nature as the sacrament of salvation pointing to Another—the one who spends herself with Christ for the salvation of souls. Therefore, the effectiveness of the Church’s mission in every age is, in some sense, contingent upon constant ecclesial renewal, the constant renewal of her evangelizing structures.
Vatican II’s call for aggiornamento is essential for a New Evangelization that is “new in its ardor, methods and expression.” That renewal is necessary is not the question following the Council, the real debate has to do with precisely how one ought to go about renewing methods and structures. This little article is not the space for a complete treatment of the various approaches to renewal that spun out of the Council and into the decades that immediately followed it. Instead, I will attempt to offer a few insights regarding an approach to renewal that appears in the thought of Joseph Ratzinger, and make a few connections to the teaching of Joseph Pieper, a 20th century German philosopher, and his treatment of the concept of leisure. Ultimately, something quite surprising emerges in the thought of these men, namely, that the source of renewal does not lie in activity or work but—perhaps counterintuitively—in the effortlessness of leisure and the surprise of faith.