Thursday, July 16, 2009

An Important Talk (III)

In the next part of his presentation the Secretary of the Congregation for Education has some interesting observations concerning the recent history of the Church and the sort of young man currently responding to a priestly vocation. Twenty years ago, as a seminarian, I attended a talk given by the Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy. In the questions afterwards a concern was raised about the growing number of 'conservative' students for the priesthood. Amusingly the Secretary asked for a clarification and then leaning back said simply: "Oh you mean the swing of the pendulum!" Two weeks ago I was at a European vocations conference and was surprised to hear the same concerns being voiced in terms of a fear that we were 'returning to the ghetto'.
Bishop Brugues puts the matter into a different context. For him the key is recognising that the Council took place at a time of great secularisation. The Zeitgeist of secularisation led many within the Church to interpret the 'openness to the world' called for by the Council with a 'conversion to secularisation'. This has led, not so much to the Church suffering under the secularising programme of social or political interest groups, but rather from an internal malaise: "In this way, in fact, we have experienced or even fostered an extremely powerful self-secularisation in most of the Western Churches". As evidence he offers the following examples:
"Believers are ready to exert themselves in the service of peace, justice and humanitarian causes, but do they believe in eternal life? Our Churches have carried out an immense effort to renew catechesis, but does not this catechesis itself tend to overlook the ultimate realities? For the most part, our Churches have embarked on the ethical debates of the moment, at the urging of public opinion, but how much do they talk about sin, grace, and the divinised life? Our Churches have successfully deployed massive resources in order to improve the participation of the faithful in the liturgy, but has not the liturgy for the most part lost the sense of the sacred? Can anyone deny that our generation, possibly without realising it, dreamed of the 'Church of the pure', a faithful purified of any religious manifestation, warning against any manifestation of popular devotion like processions, pilgrimages, etc?"
What is most interesting is the way the bishop sees this to have changed the profile of Church membership today. He says: "We could advance the hypothesis that we have passed from a Church of 'belonging', in which the faith was determined by the community of birth, to a Church of 'conviction' in which the faith is defined as a personal and courageous choice, often in opposition with the group of origin". For him, therefore, it is not a straightforward liberal/conservative dichotomy. Seminarians and young priests of today belong to this "Church of conviction" and have come from a social environment that does support them. As a consequence "they offer better-defined profiles, stronger individuality, and more courageous temperaments. In this regard, they have the right to our full esteem". He sums up succinctly what he wants to say in the concluding paragraph of this section:
"The difficulty to which I would like to draw your attention therefore goes beyond the boundaries of a simple generational conflict. My generation, I insist, has equated openness to the world with conversion to secularisation, and has experienced a certain fascination regarding it. But although the younger men were born in secularisation as their natural environment and drank it together with their mother's milk, they still seek to distance themselves from it, and defend their identity and their differences".
In the final part of his talk the bishop will discuss two different approaches to secularisation. The official English text renders them as 'composition' and 'contestation'. It's always difficult translating from another language and I don't think the best job has been done here. For what it's worth, in my opinion, I think by 'composition' we should read 'accommodation' or 'compromise' and for 'contestation' we should read 'conflict'.

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