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Christian Faith at the Dawn of a New Era

in Third Millenium
Indian Journal of Evangelization, 9(2006)-3

Christian Faith

at the Dawn of a New Era

 

Marco Guzzi

 

The author gives vent to his reflections on Christianity and its future and concludes that its future task is to become living prophecy of the new humanity. The historical development of Christianity saw the erosion of many significant values from its anthropology due to many reasons. He says that the exodus that we face today from Christianity is not due to any of its inherent weaknesses, but due to the egocentric perspective that developed the world over and within the Church that has given rise to hedonism, consumerism, etc. The author offers a programme to integrate into the Christian formation at the basic formative levels: spiritual, cultural and psychological.

-Editor

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The Propitious Time of a Definitive Crisis

 

  1. We live in times in which we are forced to ask ourselves specific and radical questions, if we don’t want to remain on the surface of the problems, and therefore not even begin to face them. The crisis we are facing doesn’t concern only specific sectors of human reality. In fact it does not only concern the economic globalised system with all its injustices, the world political organization which is disorganized and insufficient, the different African or Asian cultures involved in a dizzy and chaotic process of modernization but it involves also the western populations that are loosing their sense and value from decade to decade: art and philosophy, catechesis and university, school, family and literature, mass communication, book industry, consecrated life and spirituality. What is in crisis and in danger is the essence of man, his free and creative nature and his survival as mankind on the planet earth. In one of his last books the French Catholic thinker Jean Guitton wrote: “In this twentieth century of the Christian era, that can be considered a provisional period, everything moves as if humanity was about to face a crisis, that doesn’t concern this or that accident but the existence of humanity as such. It also concerns a crisis of the essences, of the ‘ideas’, that have constituted the fabric of civilizations until now.”[1]

 

  1. In this ample perspective, dramatic and yet realistic, in order to try to answer in a suitable way to a question on the future of Christianity, the Church in Europe and in the world, we should first of all ask ourselves a few questions and make a reflexive itinerary:

 

  1. a) What is the real course of the transformation in action? In other words what is really dying, ending, and what is trying to emerge on our planet in this initial/ending phase of dramatic consummations and of fatigue?
  2. b) In this transition then how can the Christian believer feel settled? What is the evolutionary positive role, that the Christian faith can play in this transition?
  3. c) Only by answering to these first two questions we can begin to glimpse what future Christianity in Europe and in the world can have.

 

  1. Let’s therefore start from the first question: what is the real course of the historical change in which all of us are involved? When John XXIII announced the Vatican Council II with the Bull Humanae salutis, on December 25,1961, he specified: “Today the Church is facing a crisis of society. While humanity is awakening to a new era, difficult and important tasks await the Church, as in the most tragic times in history”. Ten years ago Romano Guardini had already written in his famous essay the end of a modern era: “With absolute exactness we can say that from now on a new era in history begins. From now on man will live in danger threatening all of his existence.”[2] In short what is happening on the earth? Which awful danger are we running towards to? To answer these crucial questions perhaps the thinker Martin Heidegger, who more than any other has deepened the theme of the actual and chaotic end of a whole historical cycle, can help us: “It is not the atomic bomb, which it is so much spoken about, to constitute the death’s device. What for a long time has threatened man’s death, is a death that pertains to its same essence – it is the unconditional will, in the sense of deliberated and global self-imposition. That which threatens man and its being is the deceptive conviction that, through the production, the transformation, the accumulation and the government of natural energies, man can simplify and generally make the human situation happy.”[3] We could therefore summarize the arduous and complex thought of Heidegger: what is putting in danger our same survival is a certain way of being men, a certain way of thinking and therefore to operate, beginning from a closed subjectivity that we can define ego-centred.[4] This type of humanity tries to dominate the world making it the object of its own will and its technical power. This type of ego-centred man is in contrast with the world, nature, the others, and also God in order to define and control the existence of God himself. This human subjectivity shows its folly and suicidal nature on all levels and is against the same survival of life in general on our planet.

 

  1. This humanity figure, that we define ego-centred is in its terminal phase of living and has produced, during its development, on one hand all the forms of objective knowledge, and on the other all the polemic forms of identity. Every time each of us has the tendency to strengthen his/her own identity in opposition to others, it reproduces a polemic way of identification. And this has dominated the earth till now, so much so that so far history has almost been a history of wars, fought in the name of cultural and religious identity. This type of identity thinks more or less in this way: I am much more myself, male, Christian, Hindu, Italian or Chinese, in as much more as I separate myself from you. I will polemically differentiate myself from you, woman, pagan, heretic, or foreigner, to the point of excluding you or even persecuting you.

 

Here is the anthropological figure of humanity, this is the egoico-war figure, the old man that is collapsing on all the earth, and in truth from centuries, evidently showing more and more his destructive nature. On one side the forms of objective knowledge (which are ego-centred) have been in crisis at least for a century, in their pretence to represent the supreme and definitive forms of knowledge of reality, from Einstein to Freud, from Heisenberg to Heidegger;[5] while on the other side the atomic explosion has made total war impossible, forcing humanity to start a deep afterthought on the rational legitimacy of war as such, and in general on the well-advised affirmation of his/her own identity in polemic opposition to the other.

 

  1. Therefore the crucial passage we are living in seems to lead us toward the progressive abandonment of a whole anthropological figuration of humanity: the ego centred/war like one. We face an extreme danger because we do not realise what the same evolution requires from us, and our perseverance, together with our desire of dominion and war, leads us to suicide. So such crisis paradoxically shows its propitious nature, because it pushes us with strength toward a new and different figuration of humanity, a post-war one, a figure similar to that of a new humanity, that strengthens itself through the relationship (of love) to the other, and the same brotherly ties which Jesus Christ started 2000 years ago in Palestine. It is this humanity that can emerge with renewed power on the unified stage of the planet.[6]

 

The Task of the Churches:

Become Living Prophecy of the New Humanity

 

  1. Perhaps we are now better equipped to continue with our second question: how can we as Christian creatively settle in this process of anthropological change? What we immediately have to say is that all the cultures and religions nowadays are called to a rigorous purification, because each of them carries strong fighting components.[7] And this also applies to the historical Christianity, which must first of all purify itself of all the polemic aspects belonging to the old man, to speak in evangelical terms. We must in fact admit without too many simulations or hypocritical justifications that as Christians we have laboured and we still labour a lot to live our identity as exodus, opening to the other, waiting for the promise that will effect and change our heart with the revelation of Christ. Instead, along the centuries of Christian civilization we have repeatedly pretended to possess in full the truth about ourselves, God, and about every aspect of reality, and to be able, or rather to have to impose it on others, for their good and their salvation… we have conceived Christian identity as a sort of well provided small fortress of theological weapons able to cut and to fire. Confident in our Christianity we have inexorably condemned, persecuted or marginalised everything else and all those who rejected it. Thus persecution has been for centuries the primary mode of maintenance of the order of “Christianity”: the heretic or the Hebrew, the Christian of another confession or women who have to be kept always silent. These have been the principal victims of this aberrant form of defense of faith. From the psychology of the ‘900 we have learned that when our Self is too rigid and self-confident, it is always forced to fight with extreme hardness all that seems to oppose its power. For a rigid and inconsistent Self, in fact, the other becomes an enemy to be crushed or assimilated. And this was (and unfortunately still is) the psychological-spiritual condition from which all the violent forms of persecution of Christianity derive.

 

  1. Only from a few decades really, and always with difficulty, the Catholic Church has begun to take into account the aberrations of the most authentic Christian identity, that have dominated for centuries on the theology and on the pastoral practice. Therefore the public confession of these sins and the repeated request of pardon started in view of a real re-beginning. In fact it was John Paul II during the first Sunday of Lent in the year 2000 who started the great confession of the sins committed by the Christians to impose their truth to others, to destroy for thirst of power and ego/theological arrogance the unity of the Church, in the relationships with the Jewish, the rights of women and the fundamental rights of each person. This extraordinary confession represents a new principle in the history of Christianity, and a prophetic action still to be understood and to be adequately absorbed in innovating behaviours. And in fact the document Memory and reconciliation: the Church and the guilts of the past, compiled by the international theological Committee as explanatory accompaniment of the request of pardon, shows almost with embarrassment the oneness, and the singleness of this penitential action: “In none of the jubilees celebrated till now there has been, a realisation of possible guilts in the past of the Church, neither of the need to ask for pardon to God for behaviours of the past. It has never happened in the whole history of the Church to ask for pardon related to guilts of the past.” Here we do not see the ordinary application of purification of the Church (always in reformation), but a realisation of structural errors that for centuries have deformed the whole pastoral routine, and therefore the same identity of the Christians. This is the point: reading again the whole past of Christianity, and confessing its distorted formalities, selfishness, and therefore its violence, that were part of the historical expression of their faith. Christians open themselves to a new way of being Christian, with a deep transformation of their own identity.

 

  1. With this request of pardon the Catholic Church takes possession of all the conquests that the modernity has got in relation to the absolute liberty of each person, and the full respect of the stages of its free maturation. It is the historical Christianity that sees itself as a spiritual father of these conquests, once even opposed to Christianity and thus sets the bases of that relationship among ecclesial tradition and development of modernity that, in our opinion, is at the base of the new figure of humanity that will be able, among others, to take back the leadership of the process of planetary unification in progress, to direct it in a non destructive way.

 

In synthesis: the Christian churches can settle in a creative way in the vortex of the great transformation in action, 1) purifying themselves of all the egoico-war distortions that are still part of its language and its routines (liturgical, ecclesiastic, catechistic, and spiritual), 2) assimilating and recognizing as intrinsically evangelical all the inherent evolutionary contents in the secular motion of modernity, 3) and in this way rediscover their own identity: that is to be the avant-garde of a New Humanity that doesn’t strengthen itself contrasting the others neither pretending to possess the truth, but really dispossessing itself, emigrating out of itself, and opening itself to the continuous transformation within relationships. As Christians we can contribute to make this time propitious if we become a living prophecy of this new humanity, representation that is pressing in to be born and to save us.

 

To Renew Christianity, to Renew the World

 

1.In order to become a living prophecy of the New Humanity that is emerging on the planet earth, Christian Churches, both in Europe and in the rest of the world, should go through a complex process of purification and transformation. It seems to me that the future of Christianity is tied up to problems to a large extent common to all Churches. We must first of all free ourselves of all those mental and institutional structures that have divided us during the second millennium, and that derived from distortions of the word of Jesus. We simply have to ask ourselves about the exercise of authority in our Church, from Peter’s office. In what measure does it oppose the worldly criterions of the dominion and every form of enslavement, proclaimed by Christ (Matthew 23,1-11)? In what measures does the hierarchical structure, as we have built it, facilitate the growth of men and women in liberty and autonomy? In other terms, the future of Christianity is tied up to a deep afterthought of the structure of the Church, which should emphasise the evangelical criterions of the parity among people, the individual liberty, brotherly love, not only proclaimed, but showed with daily gestures. We need to edify real community and not be satisfied with parishes that define themselves as community or families, where people do not even know each other’s name. We need to show and really mean the holy words which for centuries have only been proclaimed. Only this can make us trustworthy before the humanity of the XXI century, who has been taught for centuries not to give credit to abstract proclamations, and to look only and foremost for facts. Christianity will certainly have a great future in the measure in which it will be able to show a humanity delivered from every sacred enslavement and driven only from the liberty of love.

 

  1. And here we open the great chapter of the new formation, on which I desire to go in depth, since it seems to me of capital importance. How can we favour this new humanity both in ourselves and in the Church? How can we deeply renew the catechist so that we can help women and men to love and to create? The assignment is immense, since we are speaking of a regeneration of the whole Christian-western culture, effected by the transformation of the single human cells, from where every authentic anthropological reform has to start. In these years of intense experimentation with different groups I have understood that in order to grow as people and as Christians of a new era we have to learn to conjugate the three formative levels (spiritual, cultural/mental, and psychological) which at the moment live separately and often in opposition between them.[8] The formative line of the new humanity implies on the contrary a synthesis among these levels, in other words a greater integration of the person. Here I will only offer a sort of programme of what seems essential to integrate in the formation of the new humanity.

 

■ Each one of us should first of all find his/her own centrality, a space of silence and regeneration, a sort of internal solitude without which all of our discourses could seem vain and rhetorical. We have to say with clarity that the process of our transformation requires a progressive modification of our relationship with time. We have to learn to wait. To breathe, we need to find quiet time in the vortex of this complex life. And all of this requires a strong pedagogy of meditative contemplation, listening to the Word of God, and mental pacification. If we don’t learn to take care of our heart, to silence the daily chit chat of the mind and the emotions, we won’t find the strength to be born again to contradict the tendency of the times. If we don’t learn to experiment the joy of being together, of the present love, the joy of the bare simplicity of this moment given us as a gift to be discovered, we will continue to pursue ghosts of liberty and deadly dreams of better worlds. Many Christians have estranged from their tradition not because of materialism, or from the relativism, or from the dominant hedonism, but because the transmitted Christianity was too moralistic, too intellectual, too abstract not spiritual enough. We therefore have to rediscover and to revive our secular traditions, and the intimate listening of the Word, the dialogue with God and the joyous communication with the Spirit of peace and love, that can also use different forms like the meditative methods to find internal peace, like yoga or Zen, as part of our process of initiation and rebirth in Christ.

 

■ Besides this strong and permanent contemplative formation we need a cultural reflection able to illuminate the sense of our present, that is a real prophecy of the history that is translated in a pastoral intelligence. In order to understand the modernity and the XX century we need keys able to interpret and to start a radical reorientation of our civilization. We have to develop a new critical culture, so that in the next years it can spring the energy for an opposition also political, of all the homicidal powers of this world.

 

■ Finally we have to give body to our path of transformation through a psychological work of deep knowledge of ourselves. Moreover, what is needed is a work of psychoanalysis gathered in 100 years of experience and research that will unwind through the help of competent trainers and through sessions of group and sharing. We should not look down on these factors with the risk of tangling the spiritual itinerary which, if not dealt with, could lead to existential failures and other means of religiosity, which are entirely unbearable from an historical and cultural point of view. As believers we have to discover and as a daily routine purify those old patterns that still affect our childhood hurts, our fears, the deceptions and everything else which pollutes our intentions to open up to God and to others. The authentic spiritual way of the next century will imply a therapeutic constant comparison with our fears, both personal, structural and institutional, where what is asked of us is a deeper level of conversion and purification. Today we know for certain, that nobody can become holy, in other words become happier and freer, removing or repressing (in the unconscious) what we hold as bad, but we have to recognize it in ourselves without excessive fears or shames in order to turn it into potentials of good which are often hidden or distorted. The God that punishes and pursues, asking us sacrifices of blood, is only a projection of our childish mind, or our enlarging of our experiences with our authoritarian and cruel father or mother. It seems paradoxical, but as men we succeed in transforming ourselves only if we first accept ourselves, if we learn to love ourselves, and if we don’t torment ourselves with guilt or inhuman efforts of perfection that can make ourselves worse. To accept ourselves doesn’t mean however to act in a negative way or to forgive ourselves, but to welcome our negative sides in the therapeutic space of pardon, in that serene and cheerful climate in which the true God, who is unconditional love, welcomes and forgives us operating the only authentic transformation.

 

  1. Only this transformative work can free us for the correct action, and that is for those concrete works of liberation and recovery of our brothers and the environment that God wants from us. Through that, we become those authentic and effective channels of regeneration, which humanity and history need. From this work that flourishes more and more our authentic vocation, who we really are, and our manifold mission of the creative love that our time requires takes place.

 

  1. If the greatness of a historical phase is given by the complexity and by the difficulty of the challenges that it has to face, then ours is indeed a decisive era and in a certain sense unique. To climb costs, Ungaretti sang, but it is the only way to reach the peak, where our joy will be full, that joy which already lives there and that is the only true ignition of the transformation. I believe that we should always remember this, especially as Christians: only joy convinces and only liberty makes one grow. This is the most propitious time to understand it and to experiment it to the end.

 

 

[1] J. Guitton, Silenzio sull’essenziale, Ed. Paoline 2002, pag. 22.

 

[2] R. Guardini, La fine dell’epoca moderna, Morcelliana 1979, pag. 88.

[3] M. Heidegger, Sentieri interrotti, La Nuova Italia 1977, pag. 271.

[4] To get more on the interpretation of Heidegger si cfr. M.Guzzi, La Svolta – La fine della storia e la via del ritorno, Jaca Book 1987.

[5] Si cfr. M. Guzzi, Cristo e la Nuova Era, Ed. Paoline 200, pag. 153-155.

 

[6] For all these themes,  cfr. M. Guzzi, La Nuova Umanità – Un progetto politico e spirituale, Ed. Paoline 2005.

[7] P. Crépon, Le religioni e la guerra, Il Melangolo 1992.

 

[8] cfr. M. Guzzi, Darsi pace – Un manuale di liberazione interiore, Ed. Paoline 2004.