"Every form of self-referentiality is fatal". And a church that does not evangelize, that is not missionary, is a self-referential church. These were the words of Martin Brüske, professor of ethics at the Aarau School of Theology, in his lecture "Reformation without schism". This was the start of the fourth online study day of the initiative "A Reformation without Schism. Neuer Anfang ("New Beginnings"). Six speakers from Germany and Austria addressed various aspects of a "structural, cultural and spiritual" renewal of the Catholic Church, according to moderator Dominik Klenk.
These study days are due to this initiative, a group of German-speaking laymen, anthropologists, philosophers, theologians and publicists. They have proposed to communicate theological and philosophical points of view as an alternative to the "Theology of the World".synodal journeyThe "Reform Manifesto", with blogs, analysis, videoconferences and study days. After the plenary assembly of the synodal journey in February 2022, the initiators drafted a "Reform Manifesto". It was signed by more than 5,000 faithful and delivered to Pope Francis.
The real reform
In relation to the "criteria for a true reform that can lead to an authentic renewal because it brings the Church to the source of its life", Martin Brüske reread the book by Yves Congar Real and false reform in the Church ("False and True Reforms in the Church") of 1950. According to Brüske, this book - which both John XIII and Paul VI "read intensely" - is not a theoretical program of reform, but a response to the realization that France had become a "mission country". As such, it offers answers for pastoral work. The question of how a reform can succeed without breaking ecclesial unity is highly topical. Congar's answer: rediscover tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Fathers of the Church.
From this, Martin Brüske comes to the conclusion that the Church must be reformed in such a way that it retains its unity of structure and life. Fidelity to the future implies fidelity to principles, to tradition. For the Church, reform means strengthening the presence of the Gospel, the relationship of people to Christ. For this, the "conversion of hearts" is essential, which he called "the dimension of the subjective": true reform consists in the "living relationship of each person with Jesus Christ".
Looking to tradition
About true and false reforms The Dominican nun Theresia Mende, who directed the Institute for the New Evangelization of the Diocese of Augsburg from 2018 to 2021, also spoke. In doing so, she drew on the messages to the seven churches of Asia Minor recorded in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.
In the Church there is a need for reform from the beginning. From the reproach to the church of Ephesus: "I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember, therefore, from whence you have fallen, and repent," he concludes: "a Church without the fire of first love will not endure." From those words, he said, a clear directive is inferred: "who can deny that this, precisely this, is what is lacking in our Church today?" Outwardly, it seems to be going well: "we have beautiful buildings, a centuries-old tradition, we have sufficient financial resources, we have an impressive administrative apparatus, schools, social institutions, projects and even synods...". The question, however, is: "what about the first love, aren't our communities often tired inside, little on fire for Christ? They often maintain an apparatus, but they are no longer full of life".
The Church in Germany
For a true reform of the Church in Germany, Sr. Theresia recommends that the admonition to the church in Ephesus be taken seriously. It should devote all its energy to the renewal of the inner spiritual life of every believer, to a personal encounter with the Lord. The most important thing the synodal journey should do would be to renew the personal relationship with Jesus. "This is what the last Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and also Francis call new evangelization." Rhetorically, she asks: "but is spiritual renewal, the new evangelization, really the main theme of the synodal journey?". According to her, this calls rather for a structural reform of the Church with the usual political-ecclesiastical questions. "Where is the call to return to our first love? Only prayer and above all Eucharistic adoration "face to face with the Lord" lead to renewal.
The true reform of the Church
Referring to the third epistle, to the community of Pergamum, in the Apocalypse and to the warning it contains against "the doctrine of the Nicolaitans," who wanted to adapt to society in order to avoid difficulties and disadvantages. Sister Theresia asks herself: "Where is adaptation to secular society necessary and possible, where is the limit" to renounce one's own identity? A true reform of the Church must consist in a clear commitment to Jesus Christ and an "uncompromising adherence to the teachings of the Catholic Church".
On the contrary, the synodal path deliberately abandons the terrain of Catholic teaching in the belief that "the universal Church will join German progress." The sexual morality reforms The reforms advocated by the synodal path are not biblical, a true reform, but "a dissolution of morality".
The present church resembles above all the church of Laodicea, outwardly rich and inwardly empty and poor. The seventh epistle of Revelation addressed to this community deals with lukewarmness in love and spiritual life. "How is reformation in a lukewarm church, in a self-indulgent church that has become blind to its own poverty?" True reformation, he said, consists not only in returning to Christ, but also in a willingness to "be purified and cleansed by him."
Use of the sacraments to reform the Church
Purification is given in the sacrament of baptism and is given again in the sacrament of penance. "For a true reform of the Church, we must rediscover the sacraments of Baptism and Penance. For the sacraments are places of direct encounter with the Lord. No reform of the Church is possible without the rebirth of these sacraments."
The other conferences of the IV Online Study Day also dealt with the reform of the Church by going to the sources. From Sacred Scripture (Thomas Schumacher), from the Fathers of the Church (Manuel Schlögl) and from prophecy (Marianne Schlosser). The conference offered approaches for a renewal of the Church from Scripture and Tradition, especially from the inner renewal of each believer.