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The Martini Curve revisited

Is there a single example, anywhere, of a local Church where a frantic effort to catch up with 21st-century secularism has led to a wave of conversions to Christ?

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini in 2006. (Wikipedia)

Pope Francis concluded his pre-Christmas address to the Roman Curia by invoking the memory of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, SJ, who died in September 2012. The Holy Father recalled that, “in his last interview, a few days before his death, [Cardinal Martini] said something that should make us think: ‘The Church is 200 years behind the times. Why is she not shaken up? Are we afraid? Fear, instead of courage. Yet faith is the Church’s foundation. Faith, confidence, courage … Only love conquers weariness.’”

The Martini Curve should indeed make us think. I thought about it at the time and ended up with questions rather than answers. What, precisely, was the Church two hundred years behind? A western culture come unglued from the deep truths of the human condition? A culture that celebrates the imperial autonomous Self? A culture that detaches sex from love and responsibility? A culture that breeds a politics of immediate gratification and inter-generational irresponsibility? Why on earth would the Church want to catch up with that?

Call me a dullard, but try as I might to adjust my thinking, I’m afraid that’s what I still think about the allegation that Catholicism’s contemporary failures result from our being stuck in a rut behind the curve of history. Moreover, since Cardinal Martini’s death seven years ago, certain empirical facts have become unmistakable: the local Churches that have tried hardest to play catch-up with “history” and “the times” are collapsing.

The premier example is Catholicism in the German-speaking world. Weekly Mass attendance percentages have fallen into single digits in German cities and aren’t much better in Austria and the German-speaking parts of Switzerland. Has this implosion of the sacramental community compelled a rethinking of the strategy of cultural accommodation? On the contrary. With a bullheadedness once caricatured as typically Prussian, the great majority of German bishops support a national “synodal process” that seems determined to put the pedal to the metal of surrendering to “the times,” even if — particularly if — this means jettisoning the truths that, according to both revelation and reason, make for happiness and beatitude.

Is there a single example, anywhere, of a local Church where a frantic effort to catch up with 21st-century secularism and its worship of the new trinity (Me, Myself, and I) has led to an evangelical renaissance — to a wave of conversions to Christ? Is there a single circumstance in which Catholicism’s uncritical embrace of “the times” has led to a rebirth of decency and nobility in culture? Or to a less-polarized politics? If so, it’s a remarkably well-hidden accomplishment.

There is, however, evidence that the offer of friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ as the pathway to a more humane future gets traction.

Shortly after last October’s Great Pachamama Flap, I got a bracing e-mail from a missionary priest in West Africa. After expressing condolences for my “recent Roman penance” at the Amazonian synod (which had featured a lot of politically-correct chatter about the ecological sensitivity of indigenous religions), my friend related an instructive story: “You’ll be happy to know that last year, when one of our villages invited me to come and help them destroy their idols and baptize their chief, we did not, before doing so, engage in any ‘dialogue with the spirits,’ as was so highly praised in the [Synod’s working document]. There was no Tiber to throw [the idols] in, so a sledgehammer and a fire had to suffice. Somehow the village managed to survive without such a dialogue, and in fact they have invited me back … to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the great event, and to bless a cross that will be set up in the village as a permanent reminder of their decision.”

Three weeks ago, the local archbishop wrote those same villagers, telling them of his “immense joy” that, the year before, they had “turned away from idols in order to turn resolutely to the Living and True God … You have recognized in Jesus Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Open wide your hearts to him … and always conquer evil with good.”

There’s no Martini Curve in that part of the global vineyard, it seems. Rather, there is, to borrow from the late cardinal’s last interview, “faith, courage, confidence … [and the] “love that conquers weariness.” That is surely something to think about in the Vatican — and throughout a world Church in which everyone is called to missionary discipleship.


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About George Weigel 284 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His new book, The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission, will be published by Ignatius Press on July 7.

19 Comments

  1. His usual vague reference to “the Vatican” just doesn’t cut it anymore when Weigel knows perfectly well Francis is at the heart of all the current madness in the Church. Martini is dead, but Francis is renewing the damage of a faithless mind that can not grasp the most elementary self-evident humbling fact that truth, because it reflects the perfect mind of God, is immutable.

    • It is not possible for a counterfeit church to subsist within Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, And Apostolic Church, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.
      I Pray that Mr. Weigel will use his gifts and talents to affirm that “The principle of contradiction holds, even for revelation.” For, “revelation is not contradictory to reason, for if it were we could in no way believe it”, and thus we can know through both our Catholic Faith and reason, “The Perfect Mind Of God Is Immutable”.

  2. One of Joe Sobran’s bons mots: “To belong to a church which is fifty years behind the times is embarrassing; to belong to one that is 500 years behind the times is invigorating!”

    • Thank God for George Weigel!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! True, faithful, dedicated Catholics know full well that the Church, as in the case of ancient Israel, will always be the outlier to the modern and progressive world. We we never fit in because to do so means capitulation to all we hold sacred. The Church of Jesus Christ must hold the world accountable for … the old fashioned word – its sins aplenty. And the world doesn’t like that… Accommodation is Satan’s Swamp! The soft, easy path is Satan’s hisss as in the Garden and we know that did not end well. Embrace the “500 years” behind…

  3. Examining the pastoral effects of famous Jesuit prelates is a way, I guess, of seeing the enormous damage they have inflicted on the Church. But the “Jesuit Effect”, as i call it here (and described in Mr Weigel’s second paragraph above) could have been observed all the way back in 1975. Think, “Canaries in the coal mine.” All you need to know is what the 1970 graduates of the Jesuit high schools were doing. You would have found that about 90 percent had left the Church, or were “on the peripheries.”These were the most intelligent and talented Catholic youth of those days, and after they breathed the gases coming out of the Jesuit high schools, they could care less about Jesus and his Church, and all were under the tutelage of Jesuits. The Jesuit graduates of those days were not bowing to or blessing Amazonian idols like the Pachamama, but they were worshiping at the house of Playboy, and frolicking with the totem condoms, all with the benign neglect, and sometimes blessings of their Jesuit teacher. The fact that the ” Jesuit Effect” has never been studied or reported on shows how thoroughly it has penetrated our Church— it not only encouraged youth to abandon Our Lord, but it made our clergy blind, and our talking heads mute.

    • As the Veil is being lifted, the counterfeit church is being exposed.
      “It is not possible to have Sacramental Communion without Ecclesial Communion, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost; It Is “Through Christ, With Christ, And In Christ, In The Unity Of The Holy Ghost”, that Holy Mother Church exists.

      We can know through both Faith and reason, that a validly elected Pope, must first and foremost be in communion with Christ, and His One, Holy, Catholic, And Apostolic Church, outside of which, there is no Salvation, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.

      Acceptance of a schismatic, who, prior to his election as pope, claimed that sin done in private was not sin, Jorge Bergoglio, who denied Christ’s teaching regarding sexual sin and thus The Sanctity of the marital act within The Sacrament Of Holy Matrimony, and thus, having opposed every previously validly elected Pope, cannot possibly be The Vicar Of Christ.

      This is what Jorge Bergoglio said, in regards to same-sex sexual relationships, and thus same-sex sexual acts, prior to his election as pope, on page 117 of his book, On Heaven And Earth, demonstrating that he does not hold, keep, or teach The Catholic Faith, and he continues to act accordingly:
      “If there is a union of a private nature, there is neither a third party, nor is society affected. Now, if the union is given the category of marriage, there could be children affected. Every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help shape their identity.”- Jorge Bergoglio, denying The Sanctity of the marital act within The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, and the fact that God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, Is The Author Of Love, Of Life, And Of Marriage, while denying sin done in private is sin.

      “1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”121
      1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.”122 Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,”123 knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.”124 In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.125“

      God Save HOLY Mother Church!

  4. The German bishops should consider the lessons of Stalingrad. They seem doomed to repeat the error. They should consider their mistakes and retreat back to Catholicism.

  5. Thank you , for the article helping to read through the whole document – 🙂

    http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2019/december/documents/papa-francesco_20191221_curia-romana.html

    Read in context , those words take on deeper , better meaning , almost echoing the words of The Lord – ‘ I came to cast a fire upon the earth and how I wish it was already blazing ‘. https://www.biblehub.com/catholic/luke/12-49.htm

    The very significant words seem to be , ‘ our common humanity unites us as children of one Father .’
    Hope those words make up for the lack of having a Feast , in honor of The Father , to also help many who have turned , in error and fear , to the father of lies , to undo its effects from many .
    The prayers of the many good persons the Holy Father mentions in his talk , also moving his heart , to call on The Spirit , with more yearning , that we too do so , to make up for the 200 or more years that might have been not so well used , due to the weaknesses and failures of many , in and out of The Church .
    Such a powerful infilling of The Spirit and there would be no need for sledge hammers but the idols to fall , from many hearts , like when The Ark visited the pagan temple in O.T.
    Noteworthy that the Holy Father ends the talk with a Hail Mary – 🙂

  6. Optical Illusions for the near-sighted. Whenever the Hebrews went native all Hell broke loose–the recurring story of the Old Testament. The price for idolatry (Pachamama), child sacrifice (abortion), and rejection of the natural law (make a list).

    Today, the Martini spectacle. . . and the likes of Fr. James Martin and his old-hat enablers can’t tell whether we’re coming or going or—-putting it less delicately—-can’t tell the front from the back.

    Icon Mario Martini (or is it double-martini?) pontificated that the Church is 200 years BEHIND the times. How about, instead, at least 2,000 years AHEAD of the times? Where breathes there a Vaticanista in fidelity with the perennial calling of successor-apostles as portrayed by the peasant/layman/convert, G.K. Chesterton:

    “[the bishops] have not lost the speed and momentum of messengers; they have hardly lost, as it were, the wild eyes of witnesses. In the Catholic Church, which is the cohort of the message, there are still those headlong acts of holiness that speak of something rapid and recent; a self-sacrifice that startles the world like a suicide. But it is not a suicide […] We might sometimes fancy that the Church grows younger as the world grows old” (The Everlasting Man).

  7. And yet, Popes JP2 or Benedict XVI did nothing to stop Martini and his ilk in the hierarchy. In fact, it was under their leadership that prelates like Martini were often promoted and given greater responsibility/prominence – even after their liberal/heterodox beliefs were made public (i.e. JP2 made Martini, Kasper and McCarrick bishops and cardinals). I fear that we’ve been without a true shepherd for a very long time. .

      • I agree. If we know anything at this point in time, there is in place inside the Church a vast network with an ulterior motive. Seems like JPII recognized this when reinforcing the rules by stating in the late 1990’s that bishops at papal conclaves would be excommunicated if they manipulated it to elect their man.

  8. Our shepherds tell us we need to quicken with Martini. While they age and ferment over cases like (Monsignor) Rossi. So here’s to our overseers – to another upside down New Year, with Martini and Rossi…

  9. You are a sign, holy nation, BE HOLY IN FRONT OF ME, BE DIFFERENT FROM THE WOLRD, BECAUSE YOU ARE A MESSAGE! YOU ARE THE PEOPLE OF GOD, I WANT TO SHOW MY POWER THROUGH YOU!’ GOD IS TRUE TO HIS WORDS. CHRISTIANS SHOULD COME OUT OF LIVING LIKE THE WORLD. THE COVENANT IS WORKING! … GOD IS TRUE TO IT! WE SHALL BE TRUE TO THE COVENANT TOO! HUMANISM IS A LIE! THE COVENANT IS WORKING! IT CALL TO US TO THE FEAR OF GOD! It is a food for thought that those German and Austrian Catholic churches that belong to the community of FSSPX are not dwindling, they are full of large families, their seminary in Zaitzkofen if full. This community has been sticking to the ancient, Biblical armory of the Catholic church, the Gregorian Gradual, a large part of which are texts from the books of prophets and psalms. It was assembled by people who were in a deep connection with the Biblical text. These verses, verse-seeds have been sowed in this community, and the have brought fruit, while the other part of the Catholic church has not used these. I would like to cite a sentence from Rabbinic literature: ‘They have left me and forgotten my words, I wish the would have left me but not my Word, as the power inside my Word would have led them back to me.’

  10. Frankly I much prefer Martini Rossi on the rocks to Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini SJ on synodality. The latter gives me agita.

  11. Well said George. When the Gospel is done the “Gospel happens” – evangelism.
    Actualy there is such a prototype parish I had Been looking for one and asking my bishops about developing one. We only need one.
    It is St. Benedicts. In Halifax. Canada. (Divine Renovation).
    Fr. James Mallon got permission from his bishop to courageously implement church law and teaching in sacramental stewardship and that was pivotal at the heart of church life. He now has 865 parishioners with a service and 20 full time paid pastoral workers. It took courage and prophetic vision but it is the example we need of how a cutting edge parish functions well even in a very secular society.
    Date I say it but the is widespread prostitition of illicit sacraments to the Zeit Geist.Our bishops a scared to even prepare to implement church law and teaching in a key area of sacramental stewardship dedpite their oath. So urgent!!

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