Pierre HEGY. Wake Up, Lazarus! Volume II: Paths to Catholic Renewal. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, Inc., 2013. Paperback, 413 pp. $27.95. Reviewed by Peter PHAN, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057


Readers of these pages might perhaps recall the enthusiasm with which I welcomed the predecessor of this volume (see http://catholicbooksreview.org/2011/phan.htm).  I judged it to be one of the best books on church renewal and that it would be referenced for many years to come. Its sequel, subtitled Paths to Catholic Renewal, could not come out at a more opportune time. With the election of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church is widely perceived to be embarking upon a radical renewal. It is mind-shattering how totally unforeseen events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall—or, closer to home, the resignation of Benedict XIV—can change the course of history. Of course, in 2011, when the first volume was published, Pierre Hegy could in no way anticipate that his research on Catholic renewal would in less than two years be so timely. Yet, the ten “Paths to Catholic Renewal” which he proposes will decide whether Pope Francis’s program of church renewal will remain mere cosmetic rearrangements or will bring about the rebirth—not reform— of the Catholic Church.

As a sociologist, Hegy does not begin with ethereal theological principles but tries to find the facts of the case through extensive and rigorous field studies. His findings should wake up each and  every bishop or priest from his (so far) dogmatic slumber. Hegy is blunt: “The Catholic Church is at a crossroads: it cannot continue business as usual. What is business as usual? Basically, it is the relatively low quality of Sunday services and homilies, the low frequency of sacramental reception, the decline of devotions in homes and parishes, and the lack of of missionary effort in parishes to recruit new members” (p. 2). In developing paths to revitalize the church, Hegy makes skillful use of the pastoral sociology of religion, a lucid outline of which is given in Chapter 1. For ecclesiology and theology, Hegy takes his inspiration from the conclusions of the Fifth General Assembly of the Latin American Bishops, the so-called document of Aparecida of 2007, which is unfortunately still largely unknown to the Western churches (Chapter 2).

To devise paths toward  renewal in  worship, Hegy attended and analyzed one hundred Sunday services, both Catholic and Protestant, fifty in the United States and fifty in Guatemala City (Chapter 3). For preaching, he analyzes the hundred homilies or sermons given there, contrasting the homilies given by Catholic priests with those given by Pastor Jorge Lop´┐Ż©z, the best-known preacher of Guatemala City (Chapter 4).  Chapter 5 argues that the basic Christian message (the kerygma), the Bible, the liturgy, and the sacraments are not unchanging things but function like linguistic systems, symbols,  or metaphors, requiring constant interpretation, re-enactment and memorialization (anamnesis) to be meaningful to the community. Here Hegy first expounds various semiotic theories to explain the nature of religion and, secondly, attempts a semiotic analysis of the basic Catholic doctrines such as original sin, papal infallibility, and obedience to the hierarchical magisterium. Readers who are not interested in this theoretical underpinning of Hegy’s thesis are well advised to skip this chapter as well as the next (which deals with the exercise of papal power) but are strongly encouraged to return to them for a full understanding of the sociological and theological basis of Hegy’s proposed paths toward church renewal.

The heart of the whole book is the last chapter titled “Ten Paths of Renewal after Aparecida.” By “paths” Hegy means the principles that should inform and guide church renewal. These ten paths are not successive steps of a master plan but rather form a web of interrelated ideas and principles for an effective renewal of the church. For clarity’s sake Hegy contrasts each of them with its opposite. First, “missionary discipleship” instead of “evangelization”: there must be an explicit and constant membership drive to attract new people to be disciples or followers of the way and not merely church worshipers. Second, “pluralism” instead of “uniformity”: pluralism seeks to foster active participation, personal appropriation of the Scripture and religious symbols, emotional involvement, and mystagogical transformation. Third, “relationship” instead of “piety”: a lively relationship with God, self, and others through a web of social relationships and volunteer work. Fourth, “communion” instead of “territorial power”: parishes must be “communities of communities.” Fifth, “responsible conscience” rather than “God as judge”: appeal must be made to mature conscience and moral imagination and not to submission to an external authority. Sixth, sacraments as “rites of transformation” instead of “rites of passage”: sacramental celebrations are not simply public markings of different stages of the life cycle but moments and means of personal and communitarian transformation. Seventh, faith as “mystagogy” instead of “orthodoxy”: doctrines must be used not as tools for uniformity but as symbolic vehicles of God’s continued revelation. Eighth, “incarnational cocreation” instead of “redemptive suffering”: Christians are called not to offer their sufferings to God to earn merits but to be co-workers in the creation of the kingdom of God in the world. Ninth, “ethic of responsibility” instead of “ethic of obedience”: the ethic of responsibility requires freedom of conscience and shared governance. Tenth, “the one ecumenical body of Christ” instead of “the one visible Catholic Church”: the church must aim at inclusion and not exclusion.

Of course, these ten paths are not a newfangled panacea for what ails the church today. Rather they are derived from a painstaking sociological research and careful historical and theological analyses. Whether one disagrees with some or all of Hegy’s recommendations, no doubt they present a vision of the church radically different from that which has been in force in the aftermath of Vatican II and has been shown to be a failure. That some of these paths have recently been expounded by Pope Francis, in almost identical words, is reassuring, for indeed what hangs in the balance is the future of Roman Catholicism itself. It is high time for all of us to harken to Hegy’s prophetic iteration of Jesus’ command: Wake Up, Lazarus!