Our Common Vision

Author: Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua


Archbishop Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua

Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, uses every opportunity to emphasize that each of us must become holier in order to prepare adequately for the two-thousandth anniversary of the Birth of Jesus Christ. As we approach the end of the twentieth century, we see many similarities to the closures of other centuries: expectations of wonders, predictions of doom, and an odd combination of optimism and pessimism about the future. These characteristics of our times are even more pronounced since we are ending not just a century, but a millennium. The strongest support the faithful have in successfully responding to the challenge to be holier, to be better Catholics, is the person of Jesus Christ and His Church's teachings.

To prepare spiritually and pastorally for the Third Millennium the Archdiocese of Philadelphia studied the current level of Church participation among the faithful. I was surprised to learn that many of our adult Catholics do not come to Sunday Mass because they are not aware that such attendance is a precept of the Church. In fact, many Catholics lack knowledge of Church teachings on a variety of subjects. I do not believe this lack of knowledge of Catholic teaching is unique to Philadelphia-area Catholics. Rather, it is a common pastoral challenge throughout the United States and stands as a real obstacle to any successful response to the Holy Father's call.

Recently, the National Pastoral Life Center in New York City issued a statement entitled Called to Be Catholic: Church in a Time of Peril. This statement, which is linked to The Catholic Common Ground Project under the leadership of Cardinal Bernardin, focuses upon many issues on which Catholics in the United States allegedly find themselves divided. Called to Be Catholic believes that much would be gained by "a renewed spirit of civility, dialogue, generosity, and broad and serious consultation" among differing parties.

Indeed, all would agree that everyone should reach out and relate to each individual as a brother or sister in Christ. However, when divergent opinions on theological matters are examined in a public forum, by a group, most of whom are not theologians, then reported second hand in the media, confusion among Catholics grows. The expression "Catholic common ground," used in Called to Be Catholic, is not ecclesial terminology. It is an ordinary, everyday term, open to uncontrolled interpretation, including even the meaning that "Catholic common ground" signifies "lowest common denominator." While such a destructive interpretation is certainly not wanted by the organizers of the Catholic Common Ground Project; nevertheless, there is no assurance that such a distortion of Catholic teaching would not occur.

There are Catholics in the United States who believe that a change of Church teaching, rather than an explanation of its teaching, is needed to raise the level of participation of the faithful in the life of the Church. From their perspective, Mass attendance would increase and the Catholic population would be happier if the Church relaxed its teaching or if the Church would conform its teaching and practices to what they think such ought to be. Sometimes, even divinely revealed truths are treated in the same way Americans treat outmoded civil institutions: discard what is old; endorse what is new!

Advocates of change in the Church's teachings are articulate and use the electronic and print media well. Newspaper columnists and television talk shows are often all too willing to give Catholic revisionists ample opportunity to air their dissent. As a result, many Catholics continue to be confused.

As Catholics prepare for the year 2000, we need to take ownership in mind, heart, and soul of the reality that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all humanity. Jesus' mission was not limited to an interaction with a few thousand people in Palestine twenty centuries ago. It continuously encompasses the here and now. Jesus wills to live among us, and He actually does live with us in His Church, its sacramental life, and its teachings.

A polite debate or a respectful exchange of divergent views about what would be the most commonly acceptable Catholic teaching is not sufficient to adequately address and heal the differences which exist among the faithful. Rather, what is needed is that common vision illuminated through prayer to see Jesus as He Himself asked to be seen: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. This common vision should be characterized by an unreserved belief that Jesus is the surest road to the Father and that Jesus is the abiding Truth, Who never ceases to strengthen us through the teaching and sacraments of the Catholic Church. The most helpful means to bring about this common vision is for each of us to have a soul which is alive in prayer and a faith that is in harmony with the Magisterium of the Church and with the Chair of Peter.

August 21, 1996