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Faith Exchange: Advice for a church in transition (REUTERS)
Faith Exchange: Advice for a church in transition (REUTERS)


One Pope. Five experts. Our faith panel picks a pontiff Add to ...

Guy Nicholson: This is really at the heart of my question, Peter. I love to play golf, and I don’t want golf to change to accommodate others with less stake in the game. I imagine there are many Catholics who feel this way.

Peter Stockland: As a fanatical golfer myself, I love the analogy, Guy. But it’s not just a question of nostalgia or rules for rules’ sake as if we were all a bunch of pukka colonels watching the sun set on the Empire. I play golf, badly, to respect the living game of golf. Likewise, I live the Church because it is alive. And, in my belief, Christ is alive. Christ is something that is happening to me. If Christ, if the Church, were just a series of ethical precepts, or a sepia historic memory of someone who died long ago, I would just go play even more golf than I already do. But it is not. As the old movie saying goes, it’s alive.

I remember years ago when Helen Gurley Brown, the founder of Cosmo magazine, turned 80, I think, and some clever headline writer, mischievously tweaking the amount of plastic surgery she’d undergone, wrote, “Helen Gurley Brown, parts of whom are 80 years old …” Who would want a Church that headline writers would say, “The Catholic Church, parts of which are 2,000 years old …”? We don’t want a Church that is a full of add-on plastic inserts. We want a Church that, in its essentials, is what it was because what it was and is remains very much intact, present and alive.

Chris Stedman: I understand and appreciate why the Roman Catholic Church would want to engage with the broader world – as our society becomes increasingly globalized, religious diversity is becoming less segregated. But I am skeptical that evangelizing is the most effective way to go about engaging difference. As a non-religious person, I am particularly aware of how such efforts are likely to be received by my own community. And this is a group that is growing quite rapidly in many parts of the world. In the United States, where I live and work, the number of people who don’t affiliate with any religion is at an all-time high: Today, about one in five Americans claims no religion. And that number is even higher – about one in three – among U.S. citizens under the age of 30.

What is especially noteworthy about this population is that the vast majority of religiously unaffiliated Americans claim that they aren’t actively seeking membership in a religious community. They’re unaffiliated and likely to stay that way. So while I think that engagement between Catholics, people of different faiths and the non-religious is profoundly important, I suspect that evangelizing isn’t the best way to go about it. Now is the time for a mutually enriching dialogue about our differences.

Paul Hansen: Thanks Chris, I appreciate your comments. This New Evangelization comes out of a direction in Catholic theology that has it roots in St. Augustine, who was a Platonist. Joseph Ratzinger studied and did his doctorate on Augustine and later Bonaventure, another St. Augustine follower. The New Evangelization was a suggestion of the founder of the Communion and Liberation movement. This is a world view that does not mesh at all with our world view of today. I note that the first day that Benedict was in his new home he was reading Hans Urs von Balthasar, who is also of this school. This approach to the Evangelization is not a good starting point for a dialogue with modernity, if not postmodernity.

Cheridan Sanders: We have to invite people to experience the beauty of Catholicism first; from there, people will want to conform their life to that reality. In a postmodern context, you cannot begin with finger-wagging or talk about this is right or that’s wrong. Here I think of what attracted people to Jesus; it must have been his presence. How many people have been converted by the sheer presence of a saint? There’s authority that comes from authenticity.

Peter Stockland: But, Chris, it strikes me that the problem there is with the definition of evangelization. If we think of that word as a synonym of hectoring and finger-wagging and a holier-than-thou attitude, I completely agree with you. But what if evangelization is itself a mutually enriching dialogue in which the promises of the Church (that is, of Christ) are put forward as proposals, as encounters, not as edicts? Then we are talking about the manner, not the fact, of evangelization, aren’t we?

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