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Over half a century ago, the world was going through a time of turbulence and unrest. The Cold War had fully taken root among the world’s geopolitical powers, men were landing on the moon, and students were protesting all across the world.

In Rome, there were disputes over the second Vatican Council which had only recently come to a close. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, then Father Joseph Ratzinger, was a leading figure in the second Vatican Council. Feeling isolated as a theologian from others such as Küng, Schillebeeckx and Rahner over their interpretations of the council, he left the University of Tübingen and found calm in the city of Regensburg.

In Regensburg, he cemented new relationships with famous theologians Hans Urs von Balthasar and Henri de Lubac. With their help, he founded the Catholic journal of theology, Communio. He was also appointed a professor of theology at the University of Regensburg. In 1969, Ratzinger gave a series of five sermons over the radio. On Christmas Day over “Hessian Rundfunk” radio, he gave out his final preaching that carried with it a distinct prophetic tone.

In his broadcast, Ratzinger likened the Church to going through an era similar to that of the Enlightenment or French Revolution. As if the Church was fighting a force whose only goal was to defeat it. Although the Church has a great deal of suffering to go through, he says we must all look and cast our gaze upon the world of absolute solitude and poverty we inhabit. Then, and only then, will we be able to see “that small flock of faithful as something completely new: they will see it as a source of hope for themselves, the answer they had always secretly been searching for.”

In 2009, Ignatius Press released Father Ratzinger’s speech “What Will the Church Look Like in 2000” in full, in a book titled Faith and the Future along with a collection of his other teachings from the time.

The transcription the 1969 radio broadcast in full is below:

“The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves.

To put this more positively: The future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality. Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self-denial. By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone, a man’s eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered.

If today we are scarcely able any longer to become aware of God, that is because we find it so easy to evade ourselves, to flee from the depths of our being by means of the narcotic of some pleasure or other. Thus our own interior depths remain closed to us. If it is true that a man can see only with his heart, then how blind we are!

How does all this affect the problem we are examining? It means that the big talk of those who prophesy a Church without God and without faith is all empty chatter. We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous. Therefore, it will destroy itself. What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists; but the priest who is no specialist, who does not stand on the [sidelines], watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal of man, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future.

Let us go a step farther. 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 it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. 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 the sacraments 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. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain — to the renewal of the nineteenth century.

But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.”

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Comments

30 COMMENTS

  1. What about the pedophilia? what about the failure to advance the role of women in the church? what about the failure of the church to protect innocent women and children in Africa? why do the Vatican types live surrounded by gold and silver that could be melted down to help the poor and needy? If the church fails, it is the fault of the church and the barriers it erects.

    • re read it again. the Church of Christ is leaving its large building like the ones in the Vatican and depending on small bodies of faithful ones here and there. the Church in Africa is one of the strongest and its women are warriors. as for giving to the poor, it will help no one to melt down and sell the artwork to fee these people. hell look at the welfare system in the USA. a lot of these people do nothing to help themselves and actually believe that they are are owned that tax free money. the True believes are getting smaller and tighter. they will go underground like the beginnings of the Church.

      • ste could be put to better use .If you have not walked in the shoes of the disadvantage even if they had any shoes, please be less harsh on the unfortunate. Buy them a meal, a pillow, a warm blanket,

    • Apparently you’re not aware of how many orphanages, schools and hospitals the church runs in Africa. How about you sell the porn industry instead? The wealth of the Vatican is overstated for one. Two, money doesn’t solve the root of the problem.

    • Aye, my friend. God is not dead; He’s alive. why are you so judgmental? Southern discerner, trust in God; for everything there is a purpose. He will not abandon those issues and people you mention.

    • As the Bible says in Matthew “the gates of hell will not prevail”. The Catholic Church will remain. That in itself is a miracle because it’s over 2000 years old. Most governments last at most 200 years. satan wants the Catholic Church destroyed. ??

    • women are already involved in the Church to much, they do not belong in leadership or teaching positions, read the Bible and follow the teachings of it. I am a woman and know my place, I am at peace and very happy in my life. Women should be satisfied to take care of their families, love God, be a good homemaker, a home for children to come home to, let us be our families caregivers and teachers of our children…

      • I agree with you about women. Women have been tempted into careers instead of looking after their children with great love.

  2. Thank you for sharing this prophetic speech in printed form! I know that the smaller, clearer blossoming is quietly occurring in humble places, and growing slowly but steadily — including, praise the Lord!, among the youth of today and the young priests and religious whom God has been quietly calling to Himself. ❤

    • Pope Benedict has inspired me in his writings. A humble and Holy Priest.
      The Church will continue but in a different way. It is hard to let go but Trusting in GOD by praying for our Priests and Religious, to protect Holy Mother Church and the Family.

  3. I thought it was interesting that while he talks about the fundamentals of the faith, he sees more priests coming from “approved Christians” from other professions. We have to consider that will be coming, somehow, even more than the converted Episcopalian priests who are married… One of the official “reasons” for barring female ordination is that the original 12 were all male, but at the same time ignores that several were married. There are all sorts of inconsistencies there… I know Benedict is a traditionalist, but I found this point interesting…

      • Priests are married to the Church. It’s much easier without having a family. My father grew up in the Ukrainian Catholic Church with a married priest. The priest would often say he felt the pull to be with a sick child but yet a parishioner needed him at the hospital.

  4. “The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right.”
    Southern discerner/Liz….read again carefully!!
    Our priests ARE married. They wear a ring that commits them to Mother Church. And their commitment requires a focus that is beyond temporal.
    All the “issues” you mention are a rejection of God by the sins of those “who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; … those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves”, becoming a “Church without God and a Church without faith”, a “Church of a political cult”.
    It will not survive!
    Pray for your priests. Their hands hold God and need our prayers to battles the onslaught of evil that hunts them daily.

  5. Yes, todayvv man is in charge or rather the ego of man. But, tomorrow will always belong to God who is constant and ever will be in any time, beginning to end and beyond.

  6. ” Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.”
    In times of stress and hopelessness – these words renew hope. Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. His prophecy is true now. A new church has just been born…not a new entity, but a full renewal of the true faith AS IT SHOULD BE. This has been achieved through the victory of the immaculate heart of Mary who has defeated the devil again not through might but through love.

  8. I too will be the small flock of believers! I relish the change and not the turmoil of the church as it is today! We will survive and we will become more of what God wants us to be!!

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