Pope Benedict XVI, as well as his predecessor, continually reminded us that we live in a world characterized by a “culture of death.” With the new Bishop of Rome, I hope the official Catholic stress will now shift to viewing the world through the lens of a culture of encounter.
Certainly a culture of encounter resonates better with our traditional Catholic understanding of the Incarnation: The contemporary world, our daily life events, the people and things around us are the place — the only place — where the Divine-human encounter occurs. God is not “up there,” nor “out three” but “in here.” We need to unhinge our church-talk from a supranaturalistic and mythological worldview that increasingly people find totally meaningless; and we need to shift the official rhetoric from fighting phantom evils of birth control, homosexuality, and women priests and direct our attention instead to signs of the Divine in places like shopping centers, unemployment lines, and shelters for the homeless.
A couple months ago, one of my university students said religion bored her to death, but she would really like to experience God. Indeed, the time is ripe for a culture of encounter. Contemporary-rooted people are not interested in a religion that simply hands out lists of things one has to swallow. They are far more interested in a faith that responds to the question: “what is there to eat?”
One of the most central and distinctive features of our Christian Faith is the deeply intimate and personal relationship with the Devine summed up in Jesus’ word “Abba” : “Daddy.” It is this relationship, at the heart of the universe, and at the very core of reality, for which Church leaders today must find contemporary expression. The time is ripe.
I am reminded of a poem by Christopher Fry, that continues to energize and motivate me:
The human heart can go to the lengths of God,
Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, and begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us till we take
The longest stride of soul humans ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
Is exploration into God.
Yes I continue to work for church reform and yes I remain a critical Roman Catholic; but more and more I want to shift the conversation. I want to engage people and engage with other people in the journey — in the exploration. I want to challenge our bishops, our theologians, and all church leaders at every level to move from harangues about the culture of death to the creative openness of a culture of encounter.
It’s an exciting life journey; but we need people who are trust-worthy map-makers to guide the way. without good maps, contemporary people cannot travel far without losing direction. If maps are absent or defective, all exploration into God will simply goes around and around in circles.
As an older theologian I now understand that the church cannot define God but it can point the way. Then, each woman and each man must make the journey……and if I understand Jesus correctly, he did say that it helps to have fellow faith-filled travelers along the way.
A life-giving culture of encounter.
Now I need to adjust my GPS…….