The Cardinal Müller Report
An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church
By Father Carlos Granados
233 pages, $18
Ignatius Press, 2017
To order: ewtnrc.com or (800) 854-6316
The title of Father Carlos Granados’ exclusive interview with Cardinal Gerhard Müller calls to mind The Ratzinger Report (Ignatius Press, 1985).
Indeed, Father Granados draws attention to the similarities between his work and the interview conducted by Vittorio Messori of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger more than 30 years ago. In point of fact, Gerhard Müller and Benedict XVI are friends, and one cannot but appreciate how the pope emeritus’ astute assessments echo in his friend’s thought.
The Ratzinger Report, however, addressed a crisis in faith in the aftermath of Vatican II. Today, however, as we witness an even more fundamental crisis of hope, the focus of The Cardinal Müller Report is “to show the life of faith is the wellspring of hope.”
Looking at Christ, the Church, the family and society, Cardinal Müller asks, what can we hope from these? In a culture where a growing number of individuals no longer understand their lives as part of a great drama and beautiful story, having a beginning and an end, more and more people feel themselves hopelessly adrift on a sea of disconnected experiences. They are not asking the tough questions about themselves or their society, and as a result, dangerous and violent trends are unfolding unchecked. Into this, the cardinal invites the Church to propose a “new humanism” that sees “no contradiction between the quest of reason and the act of faith.”
In this context, Cardinal Müller argues that the theological task of the Church must be to re-propose faith in Christ as the only sure ground on which humanity can thrive. He argues that the truth of Christ, our faith in him as a personal reality that opens up a life of truth, is essential for the hope of the Church, the family and society:
“I believe that, in our dialogue with our very secularized world, we run the risk of presenting Christianity as being no more than a system of values. … Christ is our hope, is the only mediator between God and the multitude of men. Only with Christ as our starting point can the other support we need be truly firm and enable us to realize our hope.”
The cardinal is straightforward and sober, qualities that were a blessing to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith while he led it. Yet, his thought, like Benedict XVI, is filled with a deep love for the Church. Convinced that “the truth should be the starting point for all pastoral action,” he conveys the emotions of a good shepherd throughout the work and is committed “to accompany with kindness and devotion, in the midst of many difficulties, the faithful …”
He is a man disconsolate that clergy are failing to rigorously engage great cultural questions of our day (in a manner, he implies, not unlike many of the Church leaders of Nazi Germany, when they felt threatened by the culturally powerful), “so many times do we prepare our sermons inadequately, confess that preaching is tiresome to us, or even hesitate to preach the full Gospel for fear of the world’s accusations! Let us not ignore, either, the fact that some of those who govern our societies are keenly interested in silencing Christian preaching, especially when it exposes their underhanded attempts to control social ideology.”
He sees Pius XI as exemplary in his effort to address the “crisis of faith” that emerged throughout Western culture before Vatican II.
Ideological currents that are antagonistic to faith in Christ were embraced by the culturally elite in the media and higher education. Not only did this view of reality propel national socialism and communism, it has now also allowed the modern nation state an unrestrained and dehumanizing power over the human person.
The teachings of Pius XI from a century ago position the Church to speak against this tyranny with a more profound understanding of reality, in which, what is “good orients and directs being” itself.
Throughout this interview with the cardinal, one feels his love for the piety of the “little ones,” those devoted believers who are perhaps dismayed by these bombastic times, as well as his deep concern for young people searching for answers to life’s most difficult questions.
Here, he proposes that education is not about being programmed emotionally and with skills for mere material ends. The human spirit needs to be trained in virtue or it will be swept away by the currents of our contemporary culture, for “to educate is to open the way to beauty and greatness.”
In this context, Catholics must not be afraid to be a creative minority that works to save societies and families from the nihilism of the culturally powerful.
He challenges us, in other words, to go against the trends and become, in a genuine sense, “a creative minority” that is fruitful in the world not so much by measurable standards as by “a love that has matured, and thereby, has become a virtue.”
To underscore this challenge, he highlights the witness of important Carmelite saints. This is subtle but poignant. St. Teresa of Avila faced fierce persecution from both the Church and society, and yet her profound encounters with Christ in prayer gave her the strength to reawaken the faith of Spain.
Similarly, St. John of the Cross, also persecuted by the Church and his community in particular, proposed a contemplation of the Trinity as filling the world with beauty out of love for humanity. The witness of the martyr St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is also featured. By drawing our attention to the voice and witness of the mystics, one gets a sense that Cardinal Müller sees them as a model for those who want to become a source of hope through faith in Christ in our own times.
In this same vein, he has high praise for the Catholic cultures of Poland and Hungary, living symbols of faith whose histories show the greatness of a Christian culture. These are models to be studied because of the “creative minority” that made Christian hope flourish in the midst of trying times:
“We Christians are permanently on the path and always in the minority, not in the sociological sense, but rather in the ecclesiological sense — that is, as salt of the earth and light to the world, like anyone who is called to give flavor to life and shine on all men.”
In the end, Father Granados shows Cardinal Müller as charting a course by which believers can accompany those whom the Lord entrusts to the Church. He holds up to us the mercy of God and the truth of Christ as the solid ground for humanity’s hope: “How can modern man find peace and reconciliation with himself? There is only one way open to us: compunction or repentance for the evil committed. The Cross of Christ is the only path. There is no other path for evangelization today.”
Anthony Lilles, Ph.D., is academic dean of St. John’s Seminary
in Camarillo, California, and co-founder of
the Avila Institute of Spiritual Formation.