April 2018

The Cardinal Müller Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church.  By Gerhard Cardinal Müller with Fr. Carlos Granados. Ignatius. 233 pages. $17.95.

“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,” St. Peter advises us (1 Pet. 3:15), and this appears to be the operating principle behind The Cardinal Müller Report. In 1985 a book-length interview with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), was conducted and subsequently published as The Ratzinger Report. Consciously following suit, Madrid-based scholar Fr. Carlos Granados conducted an interview with Gerhard Cardinal Müller, then-prefect of the CDF, in 2016. Initially published in Spanish (a language in which Cardinal Müller is fluent), the English translation was released in 2017. While more concise and focused than its predecessor, The Cardinal Müller Report nevertheless allows its subject to comment widely on problems facing the world and the Church today. By turns thoughtful, erudite, and inspiring, it provides not only an analysis of contemporary problems but an exploration of some timeless solutions to those problems.

The overview chapter, “A Report on Hope,” might as well be the subtitle for the whole work. Müller considers what we can hope for from Christ, the Church, the family, and society. These questions afford him broad latitude to comment on a variety of subjects, but time and again he comes back to a single theme: the hope that Christians possess by virtue of being followers of Christ. In a world marred by errors and ideologies, Christians alone possess true hope since they follow neither an idea nor an ideology but a Person. Müller stresses that true hope is a theological virtue and is ours based on the love and understanding we have for Jesus Christ.

Many of modern society’s errors are based on a rejection or misunderstanding of this principle. In the place of true hope, many choose to believe in a spirit of mere optimism, which is not only wrong but dangerous: We did not create ourselves, and we cannot save ourselves by our own efforts. Müller has strong criticism for the after-effects of these self-directed efforts: materialism, consumerism, elitism, hedonism, political correctness, vulgarity, and frivolity, as well as a neglect of things that were once regarded more seriously, such as philosophy, theology, and the humanities. Part of the problem is due to a new manifestation of an old problem: gnosticism. Müller reminds readers that, however reliant Christianity has been on idealistic philosophy, we are Christians, not Platonists, and we should not rely on a “spirit/ideal-good, matter/body-bad” way of thinking. Jesus did not come to save us from the body; He came to save us in the body, giving us an example that is material and concrete, one that embraces work, suffering, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. For a true lover of Christ, the body itself is important, meant for more than just commerce and consumption — not just to be loved by Christ but to be transformed by that love until we become like Him. Attempts to structure life without reference to these truths are doomed to failure: Natural science is impoverished if it assumes that it must be a priori atheistic, and modern democracy cannot survive without an understanding of true human rights.

Müller does not limit himself to condemnation of forces outside the Church; he critiques several contemporary religious trends as well. For example, he is not sparing in his denunciation of the recent clerical sex-abuse scandals, which he views as a manifestation of other problems. He challenges the reader to live in a world of history and reality, not idealism. As bad as the scandals are now, those conversant in Church history know that clerical behavior has been as bad or worse in other periods. To those who continually insist that the Church update herself to suit the modern world, Müller replies that this leads to a culture of complaint and never actually results in “any real, positive change.” He defends the traditional model of permanent, male, and celibate priesthood, and he credits the modern crisis of vocations to “the mediocrity of our ecclesial life,” which can only be solved by “spiritually renewing ourselves to adhere to God unconditionally.” Müller also challenges those who choose to misinterpret Pope Francis’s famous off-the-cuff “who am I to judge?” comment, reminding us that “the Church, with her Magisterium, has the power to judge the morality of specific situations.” He characterizes gender ideology and efforts to redefine the family as examples of Western society “seemingly gone mad,” the result of what happens when we reject the natural law and choose idealism over practical reality. While being sensitive to the sufferings of broken families, Müller defends the indissolubility of Christian marriage. He praises the recent pastoral focus on mercy but reminds us of the reality of sin and the need for contrition, commenting, “God always forgives, but he forgives only the sinners who beg forgiveness, who recognize their sins.”

Who, or what, is ultimately responsible for the problems in the Church? Is it Vatican II? Faced with accusations of a post-conciliar crisis, Müller instead chooses to place responsibility on a “preconciliar crisis,” highlighting problems that were “left unresolved by the Second Vatican Council, which have a notable philosophical dimension.” One culprit is the so-called Enlightenment, animated as it was by secularism and false optimism. Waves of totalitarianism running from the French Revolution to the present have aimed to destroy the “Christian conception of human existence and its destiny.” The age-old problem of men preaching a false liberty and living without reference to God always winds up in attempts to take His place. This crisis of faith leads to a “profound crisis of Christian hope,” and the Christian response should be stark and clear: “either resistance or martyrdom.”

While such thoughts aren’t comforting, Müller reminds us of reasons for hope. The Holy Spirit can give us power to overcome “the nihilism that we see in modern culture and civilization, in which we give priority to the marketplace and a life of ease.” Müller calls for a new kind of Christian humanism that sees “no contradiction between the quest of reason and the act of faith.” He reminds us that, today, the Church can be viewed usefully as a “creative minority” in society, as she has been so many times before. Sixteenth-century Spanish society looked secularized, complacent, and worldly, but a “small minority of saints,” including Teresa of Ávila, infused vitality into the Church, which, in turn, helped transform society, “welcoming the new of the period without breaking the great ecclesial tradition of the past” and culminating in the Church of Spain’s great Siglo de Oro.

Without being facile or Pollyannaish, The Cardinal Müller Report gives solid reasons for Christian hope in trying times, both for the Church and society. One hopes the recent sidelining of the good cardinal will prove temporary, and he will enjoy the ability to give clear teaching and prophetic witness in the near future. Hope springs eternal.

- Christopher Beiting



Humility Rules: Saint Benedict’s 12-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem.  By J. Augustine Wetta, O.S.B. Ignatius. 182 pages. $17.95.

The Church does not regard St. Benedict as the founder of monasticism. That honor goes to St. Anthony, abbot, whose discourses and sermons about the duties of the spiritual life come to us largely through St. Athanasius. But the later Rule of St. Benedict, which is now regarded as one of the great examples of spiritual writing, has lasted through hundreds of years and is still the foundation of life for thousands of professed religious throughout the world. Dealing not only with matters of great import, such as how a man should live, the Rule also dictates what is to be done about trivial matters, such as the timing of meals and mistakes in the oratory.

Although it is not difficult reading, and has by virtue of its early appearance a certain attractive quaintness, St. Benedict’s Rule is probably not that appealing to contemporary young people. Too much of it is contrary to what they hear and what they think makes their spirits soar: “Learn to love yourself first,” “Follow your dreams,” or my personal favorite, “Just be in the moment.” And yet, what better time of life than in your youth to begin to understand in a deeper way your true relationship to God?

Using a small part of the total Rule — namely, the ladder of humility — Fr. J. Augustine Wetta has written a thoughtful book to help young people contemplate, to use Plato’s words, “How shall a man order his life?” Wetta begins each chapter with a quote from the Rule itself and then follows with one of 12 steps, or rungs, of thought, word, and deed. The 12 things we need are fear of God, self-denial, obedience, perseverance, repentance, serenity, self-abasement, prudence, silence, dignity, discretion, and reverence. By mastering these rungs, we will eventually manifest them not out of fear of Hell but love of Christ.

Wetta is a high-school teacher of English, classics, and theology. He coaches rugby and spends his time doing what his abbot tells him to do. Most of all, he tries to be holy. Combine his experience with a wonderful sense of humor and keen insight into the adolescent preoccupation with self, and you have — along with St. Benedict — a reliable guide for a young adult. An added bonus comes from the funny and engaging illustrations and photographs that populate the book. They capture the folly and temptations in everyone’s life, even a monk’s life. The book’s tone has no medieval formality, as you might expect, but is instead suited to the young without pandering to them.

Avid surfer, skateboarder, and all-around fun guy though he might have once been, Wetta does not mince words. “Everyone comes to a point in his life when he must choose between fun and joy,” he explains of his choice of monastery over beach. “And to choose the former over the latter leads to a whole lot of emptiness.” Nor does he confine his admonitions strictly to the contents of the Rule. In discussing prudence, for example, he tells of Br. Athanasius, who, when teaching a high-school unit on chastity, walked into the classroom and wrote “No” on the chalkboard, and then asked, “Any questions?” The idea is that if you must ask a question about the boundaries of chastity, the answer is no. But Wetta takes it further: Before you start breaking the rules, be sure you know why those rules exist in the first place. A good rule, like a good fence, is there to protect you. Rather than chafing against rules, copy St. Benedict, who taught his brothers to love chastity. For homework that day, the assignment was: “Think of a rule you don’t like, and reword it in a positive way.”

St. Benedict was a man and wrote for a community of men. From early on, however, his work was adapted for use by women religious. Fr. Wetta, too, seems to be writing for young men. It would be a mistake, though, to think his book is limited to that group. Like the original Rule, Humility Rules is for men and women, young and old alike. It would make a fine graduation gift for any young person, in high school or college, and be of far more use to him than that popular currency of the Starbucks gift card.

- Elizabeth Hanink





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