Church Communion and Evangelisation
The signs of a decline in religion are visible especially in the West. It is pointless to try and deny or conceal this. In some countries Christian Churches have experienced a dramatic rise in official withdrawal from Church membership.
For a mindset that views only what can be verified by experimental science as true, faith is “impossible” to prove. And this is what increasingly you hear people say. For instance, the human aspect of sacred texts that reflects cultural limits and contradictions is put forward as disproving their truth. More and more people genuinely feel that they simply are “not able to believe”. For others, of course, it is simply the distractions of modern life, the hectic pace and constant stream of new stimuli that make it difficult to perceive or think about the deeper dimensions of life.
It would be easy to become pessimistic and think that Auguste Comte and others were right after all when they proclaimed the end of religion – except that the decline took more time than they had expected. In acknowledging this decline as inevitable many also regret it because it brings such suffering in its wake from the lack of meaning and values that abounds.
We can, however, look at this decline in another way. It has been commented by many, not least by John Paul II, that the world today is living through a “collective dark night” which like every night is a prelude to a new light, a new dawn. If we look back over history, we can see that every era experienced deep changes where people felt everything was coming to “an end”. Think of Augustine in the fifth century as Rome and his own city of Northern Africa were being invaded.
But such crises have often turned out to be a wake-up call to a new creativity. Time and again such dark nights eventually led to a new discovery of directions already contained in the preceding patrimony but not yet developed. Gradually, out of what seemed an “end”, a new way opened up, leading to a new synthesis that took humanity a step further along its journey.
Today too, there are signs of a re-awakening. Some point to a “return to the sacred” that is evident in a hunger for spirituality and ritual. Admittedly, not all of this “return” is positive. The rise of superstition, magic and curiosity in the para-normal shows that a certain return to the sacred can be a step backwards where people, faced with rapid change, seek to take shelter in false security rather than face up to the new situation.
But there is also a blossoming of true religious experiences that give hope. We see the rise of new Christian communities made up of committed, converted believers who engage in the world around them, becoming a leaven for humanity today. Here, we can think of Karl Rahner’s phrase: “the Christian of the future will either be mystic (in other words one who has a deep experience of what he or she believes in) or will not be at all.”
Naturally, today this mystical experience has to include the communitarian dimension. Martin Buber puts it well when he comments that we are in a “night of waiting. We await a new manifestation of God, about which we know only the place, and that place is called community”.
It has been said that theology too will find new lymph from the modern Gospel spiritualities that the Spirit is giving rise to in the Church today. Not only that, but these new spiritualities offer new horizons that contribute to a new cultural project for the world of the third millennium.
Our magazine, now in its 11th year, has sought to provide hope by indicating some of the light that comes from one of the new spiritualities in the Church. An interesting example of this is to be found in the article in this number on the relationship between Jesus Forsaken and the Church. Over the past 11 years, the experiences recounted in this magazine have attempted to show that a communional, renewed and attractive evangelization is possible.
The Gospel has infinite depths to offer us. After all, as has been commented before, history “is still a child” and we are only at the beginning of the Christian era and Gospel proclamation.
In opening the 2001 extraordinary consistory, Card. Lustiger of Paris put it as follows: “The proclamation of the Gospel is still only at the beginning and today it is showing a capacity of redemption, justice and peace hardly imaginable to people who lived within the limits of the old world. We are only beginning to intuit the shape of the new world ahead of us. The salvation promised by the Gospel has not exhausted its perennial novelty for this new world. Its contribution to the children of God is the only response worthy of humankind faced with new challenges to human fraternity that arise from the world-dimension of things”.
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