I now want to return to the question raised in my title: “Who speaks for man?” The author of Fides et Ratio reminds us that whoever claims to speak for men and women must base their proposal on a sound understanding of man´s nature, and, specifically, man´s natural aspiration to transcendence, truth and meaning. What then do XXI century men and women look for, and what should be the church´s message to them?
To our generation in the west we must proclaim the gospel which is truth for always and for every man and woman. This gospel of Jesus should be proclaimed in word, through the best media available, through the arts, but especially through sacrificial love and good works. We have received this truth as divine revelation in the written, human words of Scripture, as well as in the person of Jesus Christ who entered our time and space in real history and said “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” We must boldly but humbly share with men and women the Christian faith as summarized in the Nicene Creed, and invite them into our community where we will show them how this truth changes lives and were we will receive them as they are with the love of Christ, who is the same yesterday today and forever. The Christian community we invite them into is our church with a small c, and it is here where the scriptural love, giving, forgiving and bearing one another´s burdens takes place. This church has its own tradition and doctrinal developments within the larger church, which we love, while at the same time knowing all too well its faults and limitations, as well as its own unique insights and gifts. We invite them to stay, worship, study, love and learn with us, but if they prefer, there are other communities and other traditions within Christianity that have their own insights and gifts, as well as their own faults and limitations.
History will show us, I believe, the paternalistic disservice to postmodern men and women of the conforming, disruptive emergents. What contemporary men and women long for is not more of the same playfully eclectic relativism, but to be shown authentic truth by people who are actually living that truth in their own lives.
As we face the challenge of struggling together (sunathlein) for the Christian faith in the 21st century, we do well to follow the wise and balanced leading of John Paul II in the first three lines of his Fides et Ratio: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” Whatever our particular views might be, the cultural canon of postmodernism, with its jettisoning of truth and knowing is at its center, must be withstood with the boldness of Paul at the Areopagus, as well as the humility of a fellow traveler on the journey to final, complete truth. If Jesus Christ is Lord today, as He was to the Philippian Christians in the first century, then it follows that the prevailing cultural norms of our day are not. This standing for the truth of the Gospel must be taken in and with the church past and present and not “emerging” from it in an arrogant and reductionistic fashion, in devout recognition of Christ´s words: “I will build my church.” The same Jesus who laid down His life for the church, warts and all, is deeply involved in building it, even in the midst of today´s cultural challenges. “Maximizing discontinuity” and “abandoning structures as they are outgrown” are recommendations which are hardly compatible with a love for the church which Christ himself is in the process of building, and for which he counts on all of His people. Lastly, this bold stance must be taken in the context of a renewed struggle to achieve Christian unity on the true essentials as summarized in the ecumenical creeds, in fulfillment of Christ prayer “that they may be one.”
“Let theologians always remember the words of that great master of thought and spirituality, Saint Bonaventure, who in introducing his Itinerarium Mentis in Deum invites the reader to recognize the inadequacy of: “reading without repentance, knowledge without devotion, research without the impulse of wonder, prudence without the ability to surrender to joy, action divorced from religion, learning sundered from love, intelligence without humility, study unsustained by divine grace, thought without the wisdom inspired by God”.”
John Paul II, Fides et Ratio.
Final personal note.
I did begin putting these thoughts on paper on the memorable date of September 14th, though I am only finishing today, October 27th, a few dozen changed diapers later. Finish I must, however incomplete and unbalanced this potentially massive topic is presented in these pages. I do hope to have stirred up enough interest to motivate deeper reading, study and prayer among you my friends. Please interact with me as you wish.