Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Church in Dialogue with the World: Looking Through and Beyond the Spirit of Vatican II by Saju Chackalackal

THE CHURCH IN DIALOGUE WITH THE WORLD Looking Through and Beyond the Spirit of Vatican II Saju Chackalackal CMI 1. INTRODUCTION An openness of the Church, built on faith in Jesus Christ, to the realities of the world opened up new springs of Christian life and understanding of the world through the Vatican II. In spite of the hue and cry over the “hermeneutics of rupture and discontinuity” or the “hermeneutics of renewal in continuity,” what has unfolded through the Council and the last five decades of renewal in the Church can be seen as a guarantee of God’s providential presence and guidance in the world. Considering the amount of confusion and scepticism adversely affecting the faithful, in general, and the western Church, in particular, Pope Benedict XVI has rightly stated that a “dialogue must now be developed with great open-mindedness but also with that clear discernment... [I]f we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.” Keeping this perspective in mind, I propose to look at the general positive outlook that is built into the inner recesses of the Church through the Council and how we shall approach the realities encountered in the contemporary world of our Christian living, especially by focussing on the Church’s relationship with different nations, ideologies, and religions. If we could proceed with proper discernment, founded in the Scripture and Tradition and inspired and accompanied by the Holy Spirit, the Church would find the Council as a handy compass that would drive us in the right direction in our Christian sojourn in today’s world. 2. A CHURCH IN DIALOGUE WITH THE WORLD AND THE NATIONS The Church’s self-understanding is at the same time an understanding of the realities of the world and the context within which she lives. This renewed self-understanding has paved the way for the Church to offer its ground-breaking insights and inspiring teachings on the world, society, and religions. It has also paved the way to develop better mutual respect and the readiness to improve reciprocity between the Church and the world. As the Church is not a static body, in response to its vocation, the Church has to “scrutinize the signs of the time” and “interpret them in the light of the Gospel” (GS 4). The Church being constituted by human members, its transformative mission is to be carried out by involving itself in the socio-political life of the society in which they are members. Just as Jesus Christ lived for others, today, every member of the Church, and the Church leadership in particular, should be the living examples of total self-giving. This would mean that the Church would exist and stand not only for her own members, but for all; hence, the Church leadership would speak not only when the members of the Church are meted out with injustice and violence, but would stand up against any injustice, even if it is perpetrated by her own members, or organizations originated and managed by Church herself. Further, positive measures are to be undertaken in realizing equality for women before law, which is yet to be realized in many parts of the world. As the Church aims at the establishment of a true humanism, along the pattern that has been offered by Jesus Christ, the above mentioned domains should continue to inspire the Church, first of all, to introspect and realize these values within its own life and mission, and through its instrumentality to realize the common good (GS 74) in the larger world of political dynamics. Given the context of India, the insignificant numerical strength of Christians in the land, and its political dynamics, the Church in India may not seem to be a power to reckon with. If the Church in India, despite its better penetration in the healthcare and educational sectors of the country, has not yet been able to equip its members, she has to take cognizance of this serious lapse and launch headlong into the process of moulding committed Christians into leadership roles of the nation, contributing to the vital areas of governance, such as legislature, executive, and judiciary. 3. DIALOGUE WITH IDEOLOGIES The newly realized dialogical existence of the Church in the modern world has significantly influenced its approach towards divergent ideologies; as the Church has come of age in its own self-understanding, instead of the condemnatory attitude of rejection and attempts at their annihilation, the Church began first to recognize the possibility of having ideologies that are variant, sometimes even those that would contradict its own fundamental positions. The changes that we have witnessed in the last few centuries have made a vast and lasting impact in Church’s understanding of the human person, the universe, and the socio-cultural existence of the humanity itself. Hence, she has opened up the avenues in better understanding and appreciating good aspects of movements, including post-modernism, liberalism, feminism, etc. The Council has also offered a creative platform for dialoguing with and in recognition of the contributions of various sciences and scientists. While emphasizing the fact that every Christian is called to seek and love “what is true and good” (GS 15; see also GS 36), the Church has always moved cautiously in approaching the new inventions and breakthroughs not only in physics and other theoretical sciences but also in biotechnology and other life sciences. The Gaudium et spes has categorically stated that although our age stands in need of scientific wisdom to conduct our daily life, human destiny would be in peril unless “wiser men and women are forthcoming” (GS 15). If the sciences that were made for human assistance and wellbeing begin to set and control human destiny, humankind would lose its ability to regulate its own life and would, in turn, be made subservient to them. In spite of these dangers, the Council has adopted an open and positive attitude towards sciences and scientists and to involve them in an on-going dialogue. Approaching different ideologies or value systems with an attitude of openness, and the Church’s newfound intellectual freedom to recognize certain goodness in them, despite their ideological divergences, has opened up the Church towards divergent systems; subsequently, they also started to recognize the good that the Church has been instrumental to realize through her members. 4. DIALOGUE WITH CULTURES AND RELIGIONS The global presence of different cultures and religions and the shrinking of the world-space into a small digital village have made the Church come face to face with them. Hence, for any Christian, especially in Asia, plurality of religions is an existential reality, a positive response and a vivid relationship with them being an incessant necessity. Had it not been for the vision unveiled in the Nostra aetate it would not have been possible for the entire Church to conceive of events where members of various religions would come together under the initiative of the Church authorities (e.g., the Assisi event of 1986); it would not have been possible for a number of Catholic institutions spread across the globe, especially in countries like India, where a number of live-together, living interreligious encounters, dialogue and prayer sessions (e.g., the Centre for the Study of World Religions at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram, Bangalore, and its flagship programme called ‘FIRE’ – “Fellowship in Religious Experience” and Divyodaya Interreligious Centre, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu) involving faithful belonging to divergent religious beliefs and traditions to become a reality. In spite of the theological precision as to what course must be charted in approaching other religions, the Nostra aetate offers an alternative path by inviting members of the Church to “protect and to promote together, for all men, social justice, moral values, peace and liberty” (NA 3). As the Church is a means to facilitate realization of the Kingdom of God by relying on the wisdom and faith brought to us by the revelation in Jesus Christ, initiating an appreciation for and association with members of other religions would offer a common platform for the Church and the other religions to jointly pursue a goal that is closer to the mission of Jesus and such collaborative activities would eventually enhance mutual understanding and appreciation (GS 92). Moreover, the true and the holy, if encountered anywhere should not remain alien to Christians; it must be embraced within their dynamic life-matrix through the processes such as inculturation and interculturation, without, however, adversely affecting our foundational faith in Jesus Christ. Church’s openness to the true and holy in other religions is certainly not only a paradigm shift in her own self-consciousness and in approaching the other, but has also offered a lead to many other religions and nations to adopt more of a positive approach to religious and cultural entities that are considered to be alien to them. Although her initiatives are praiseworthy in setting in motion processes of unity among religionists, her responsibility is doubling as there are more instances of discord and disunity being spread by the vested interests of separatist forces. 5. CONCLUSION Seen from the perspective of continuity and complementarity within the two thousand years long existence of the Church, the rich corpus of Christian experience spread across two millennia equips the present generation Christians, particularly those living in the twenty-first century, to experience that they are standing on the shoulders of giants. Hence, Vatican II should be seen not in isolation, as an intuitive impulse, but as an organic development within the corpus of Catholic theology, to which a number of world events and responsible persons in the church have played their significant role. They could achieve what the Council ultimately could only because the Christian doctrine and the mind of the Church were in a constant process of moving outward – to the neighbour, to the other societies, cultures, religions, and ideologies. The Vatican II remains a great but unfinished agenda; yet, the qualitative leap that the Church has made at the Council invites us, after fifty years, to realize the vision that was shaped in response to the modern world and its anxieties and aspirations. The problems of the world are certainly issues that the Church has to address and resolve out of necessity, as a God-given mandate. She is present in the world not only for herself and her own members but for all (LG 1). As we take stock of the Church’s response, questions need to be posed as to what extent we have been successful in realizing this goal of the Church existing for the world. If she has been becoming more self-centred, she has not only acted against the spirit of the Vatican II but certainly against the mission that is entrusted to her by the Lord himself. Continuing the legacy of the Vatican II in the present Christian life and to bring about continuing renewal within, the need of the hour is to re-calibrate the sources of the Church. For, it is not only a question of bringing in novel dimensions into Christian living, but also making sure that the Christian sources that are available with us in and through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ are put to their optimum use in order to re-orientate the Christian living across the globe. The deliberations and teachings in the Council shall be signposts for us Christians in the twenty-first century; it would necessarily mean that none of us get stuck with what has already been attained. In Pope John XXIII’s words, “the Church should never depart from her sacred treasure of truth inherited from the Fathers. But, at the same time, she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and the new forms of life introduced into the modern world.” While we remain firmly anchored in Jesus, the Church has to keep abreast of the way the whole world thinks, speaks, and acts so that her presence would be a proactive one and she would then continue to leaven the world and its realities with the Spirit of God.

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