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Sunday, February 26, 2017
Text: Fr Timothy Radciiffe OP on Christianity in Europe
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 Fr Timothy gave the following lecture last Wednesday at Westminster Cathedral as part of the Christianity in Europe series. He was introduced by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor. The contribution of Christianity to the future of Europe Just over a week ago, the new Pope chose the name Benedict. Benedict is co-patron of Europe, along with Francis of Assisi and the Dominican Catherine of Siena. At his first general audience he explained that he choose this name because of his concern for the future of Christianity in Europe, which is just the topic I have been asked to address this evening. When I was last in Brussels, one of my brethren gave me two books by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran and Oscar et la dame rose. These books are a publishing sensation! Oscar sold over 400,000 copies in the first year; they have been on the best selling lists in France, Belgium, Germany and Italy. I read them in the plane on the way home. I must confess that I when I finished Oscar I was literally moved to tears. The stewardess came to see whether I was all right, and I persuaded her to console me with another little bottle of wine! These books tell one much about what people hope for from religion in Europe today. In each of these books you see a child who is facing death. Momo, a young Jew, must witness the death of his beloved Sufi teacher Ibrahim; Oscar is a child without any religion who faces death with the help of an ancient Christian female wrestler, Mamie Rose. These children know little about religion, but they are looking for God. In both books, religion is linked to personal experience rather than doctrine. In Ibrahim's Qur'an there are two dried flowers and a letter from his friend. These are his inspiration rather than Islamic doctrine. In an interview Schmitt said that his task was to pose questions rather than to give answers. He said 'Les questions rassemblent alors que les réponses divisent ('Questions gather people together while answers divide') That gives one a snap shot of the Europe that the new Pope wishes to evangelise. It is not secularised. There is a deep hunger for God. People do not only look to Christianity alone but to all the great religions. The young especially are interested in spirituality rather than doctrine. They are interested in God more than the Church. They are a greatly preoccupied by death. The European Values Studies, which are conducted every ten years, confirm all this. The 1999 survey showed an increase in the number of people who described themselves as religious and in belief in the afterlife, especially among the young. But attendance at religious ceremonies is continuing to drop. So Europe has been described as 'believing without belonging. Schmitt's novels hit the bull's eye. Clearly a big challenge for Christianity is how to remain in contact with the millions of people who look for God but do not come to Church. At the centre of Christianity is community; we are gathered by the Lord around the altar. How can we attract people to belong as well as believe? How can we put bums on pews? Thanks be to God, I do not have to answer that question since the Cardinal will when he talks about the future shape of the Church next month. Good luck, Cardinal Cormac! Instead I have been asked to explore another question: What contribution may Christianity make to the future of Europe? Schmidt wrote a trilogy of books. The heroes are Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist. The old Christendom has gone. The Europe that we are called by Pope Benedict to evangelise is the home of all the faiths of the world. The key question for the future of Europe is whether these faiths will live together in peace or whether they will tear Europe apart. Sam Harris wrote in the Times last month: 'One of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the 21st century is for human beings to speak about their deepest concerns ­about ethics, spiritual experience, and human suffering ­ in ways that are not flagrantly irrational. Incompatible religious doctrines have Balkanised our world and these divisions have become a continuous source of bloodshed.Words like "God" and "Allah" must go the way of "Apollo" and "Baal" or they will unmake our world. And one can understand his position. All over the world people are fighting each other in the name of religion. Once again in Europe there is growing anti-Semitism, and tensions between Christians and Muslims is increasing, especially in Holland and Belgium. Christianity will only make a contribution to the future of Europe if it can prove that people like Sam Harris are wrong and that we can make peace. Another reason that the Pope chose the name Benedict was in honour of Benedict XV, a man who sought peace during the First World War. When asked if he was neutral during the war, he replied, 'Neutral, not impartial!' Christians can bring peace to multi-religious Europe because we are able to understand the role of faith in the lives of other believers better than atheists. In 1989, France was split by the affaire du foulard, the controversy over Muslim girls wearing headscarves to school. It was Christian leaders who understood why it mattered to them, people like the Archbishop of Marseille and the Archbishop of Canterbury. We Christians could identify with the Muslims. After all if they could not wear their foulards, then why should nuns be allowed to wear their veils in school? I believe that it is still technically illegal for religious to wear their habits in public in England and so I am at this moment liable to be arrested! So if you feel that this lecture goes on too long, then just ring for the police! In 1974 the French Catholic Church established the Secrétariat pour les Relations avec l'Islam. Visit the website! You will discover Christians being invited to share Ramadan with Muslims, and Muslims to share Lent with us. There is advice on how to raise children of Muslim/Christian marriages. Young Muslims from St Ouen charmingly wished French Christians a happy Christmas with an Irish blessing. In Britain, CAFOD works closely with Islamic Relief. So the first contribution that Christianity must make to the future of Europe is to help other believers to feel at home. Religion may tear Europe apart or knit it together. Christianity first made Europe into Christendom. Now our challenge is to help Europe flourish as the home of many faiths. But what about the specific contribution of the gospel? How is the gospel good news for Europe today? Let us go back to Schmitt's two small heroes, Momo and Oscar. They are both pilgrims. Oscar makes a spiritual pilgrimage during the last week of his life, as he lies on his bed quizzing God and his guru, the Christian female wrestler. The Jewish Momo makes a real pilgrimage back to the homeland of his Sufi master. They are both seekers. According to Grace Davie, this is one of the primary ways in which modern Europeans think of their religious identities. Princess Diana typified the modern seeker, getting a little bit of spirituality here and there. Maybe that is why she is supposed to have got on so well with Cardinal Hume whose best known book was 'To be a Pilgrim.' Pilgrim paths crisscrossed medieval Europe, going to Rome, Jerusalem, Chartres, Santiago de Compostela, to the tomb of Becket at Canterbury and hundreds of other places. One might say that Europe was knit together by the paths of pilgrimages. This articulated a profoundly Christian sense that our lives are journeys towards God. The two great classics of Christian spirituality, the Summa Theologia of Thomas Aquinas and the Divina Commedia of Dante, both see the life of faith as a journey towards happiness and God. Today pilgrimages are still flourishing. Five million people go each year to Lourdes, two million to Fatima. Hundreds of thousands walk to Santiago, to hug the statue of St James, dressed like a pilgrim himself. People make their way to Iona, Taize, Medjugorje and Czêstochowa. Often these pilgrims do not go to Church regularly. They do not 'belong' officially. And yet these pilgrimages express some sense that there is something to be sought. As I was waiting to check in at Stansted airport the other day, I saw a sign over the Ryanair desks advertising a book on Science and Medicine. It said, 'Fuel for your spiritual journey.' That's what much of religion is in Europe today, cheap travel and a spiritual journey. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish pilgrimage from tourism. It is often said that the end of the twentieth century saw the collapse of the grand master narratives. Fascism, Communism and even, to some extent, Capitalism, gave human beings the road maps to paradise, and crucified millions on the way. In July I visited Auschwitz for the first time. At the entrance there is a big map that shows the railway lines from all over Europe leading to the extermination camp. The lines end at the gas chambers. That is literally the end of the line. Rabbi Hugo Gryn describes how when he arrived at Auschwitz, the entrance to the camp was littered with thrown away condoms and tefillin. I am not sure what to make of the condoms, but the tefillin were used in Jewish prayer. It was a sign that here in the camp, there was no point in praying in any longer. And Auschwitz has become a place of pilgrimage itself, to remind us what happens when we impose road maps on human beings. So people are suspicious of anyone who claims to know the roadmap to Paradise. Often it leads to the Killing Fields. But the hunger for a journey still remains. Maybe this is why The Lord of the Rings is one of the most popular books ever written. We can identify with Frodo and Sam, setting off not knowing quite where they are going and what they are to do. And Christianity does not offer a road map. We have no more idea than anyone else what will happen in a hundred or a thousand years. But it invites us to set out on the journey and offers a glimpse of the goal. This evening I wish to suggest that we Christians should accompany people on their pilgrimages. Specifically we should travel with people as they search for the good, the true and the beautiful. According to traditional Catholic theology, human beings are made for these. Every human being hungers for the good, the true and the beautiful. These are desires that are part of our hard wiring. Our contribution is to remind people of these deepest desires which are rooted in our nature, like the migratory urges of salmon or terns, making us restless until we arrive. We should be with people as they search for the good, the beautiful and the true. To be frank, I suspect that today there is little respect for Christianity as source of moral teaching about goodness. Most Europeans respect Jesus as a teacher, but not the Churches. This is no doubt partly because priests and religious have been found guilty of sexual abuse and have lost respect. But the roots are much deeper. It is because the Church's moral teaching usually is thought of as telling people what they must or must not do. The EVS identifies 'individualism' as perhaps the key characteristic of the modern European. This puts a stress on the supreme value of the individual's personal autonomy, on our right to take our own decisions about our lives. We cherish the freedom to decide our moral values. This implies the rejection of excessive interference by any institutions, whether the Church or the State. According to the EVS, the young do look to the Church for spiritual guidance, but overwhelming deny the Church any right to personal interference in people's private lives. A religion which conflicts with personal autonomy will be rejected by most modern Europeans. Also, at the heart of the Church's moral teaching is a vision of the family, of husband and wife living in lifelong mutual fidelity, and having sex so as to produce lots of children. This is indeed a wonderful ideal, and much to be cherished, but most people do not live like that. For better or worse, vast numbers of people are either divorced and remarried, or living with partners, or practicing contraception or are in gay relationships. So they will either feel excluded from the Church, or else, if they do wish to belong, then they may either be nagged by guilt or else must mentally shut out this part of the Church's teaching. What can the Church do? If she stands by her moral teaching, then she will be seen as standing in judgement over a vast percentage of Europeans. One often hears the complaint, 'In the eyes of the Church, I am just a second class citizen.' If she does not, then she will be seen as surrendering to modernity. Often we try to find a middle way, proclaiming the teaching but quietly letting it be known that it's OK to come to communion. This is called 'the pastoral solution' but it can simply look like dishonesty. I must tell you, before you get too excited, that I do not know the answer. But part of the answer must be to reflect upon what it means for the Church to teach the way to goodness. Seeking the good is not primarily about rules and commandments. It is not about what you are obliged or forbidden to do. Thinking that morality is all about commandments is a relatively new way of thinking, since the Reformation. We need to return to an older vision, which saw being good is primarily about making a journey towards God and happiness. What was central was not the commandments but the virtues. The virtues help one to be a pilgrim. 'Virtus' means literally 'strength.' The cardinal virtues ­ courage, prudence, temperance and justice ­ form one to be strong for the journey. Faith, hope and charity are virtues that give us a glimpse of the end of the journey, life with God. Becoming good is not about submission to rules but about becoming a moral agent, who knows how to struggle with hard decisions and decide what is right as we shape our lives and choose which paths to take. Above all the virtues form us for happiness with God. Fergus Kerr OP wrote, 'Thomas Aquinas offers a moral theology, a Christian ethics, centred on one's becoming the kind of person who would be fulfilled only in the promised bliss of face-to-face vision of God. ' If one thinks that being good is fundamentally about obeying rules then one will focus on individual acts. No sex outside marriage and one must go to Mass every Sunday. And if you fail, then nip into the confessional box and start again. Virtue ethics look at the shape and unity of the whole of human life, as we make our way to God. As St Paul says to the Corinthians when he talks about love, 'I will show you a more excellent way.' Seeking the good is keeping walking in the right direction. So, one contribution of Christianity to Europe should be to help people in their moral pilgrimage. We must accompany them beginning where they are, regardless of whether this conforms to Church teaching. We must not be like the person asked the way to Dublin and who replied 'If I wanted to go to Dublin I would not start here'. We start where people are, even if it is not where the Church says that they ought to be. Samuel Beckett wrote: 'To find form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist ' That is also the task of a pastor. When the good Dominican, St Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence, asked Cosimo de Medici to ban all priests from gambling, he replied wisely, 'First things first. Shouldn't we begin by banning them from using loaded dice? ' Of course there are rules, but they only exist to remind us of the buried desires of our heart. As Herbert McCabe OP wrote, 'Ethics is entirely concerned with doing what you want, that is to say with being free. Most of the difficulties arise from the difficulty of recognizing what we want. ' And this is exactly the challenge that faces Europeans today. We live in the Free World and do not know how to be happy in our freedom. At the end of the 1990 EVS, Bart McGetrick writes that Europeans need a 'pedagogy of freedom'. Freedom is understood in very limited terms, as the freedom to choose between alternatives, the freedom of the market place. Pepsi Cola or Coca Cola? But this freedom is usually experienced as vacuous. Zygmunt Bauman is a typical modern European, teaching at the Universities of Leeds and Warsaw. He wrote, 'There is a nasty fly of impotence in the tasty ointment of freedom, cooked in the caldron of individualization; that impotence is felt to be all the more odious, discomforting and upsetting in view of the empowerment that freedom was expected to deliver. ' We are like children who long for a bicycle but then do not know how to ride it. People should look at Christians and ask themselves, 'What is the secret of their astonishing freedom?' But they do not. To make that contribution to the future of Europe we Christians must ourselves be liberated. St Paul wrote that 'for freedom Christ has set us free.'(Galatians 5.1). If you look at Christians, that is not always obvious. Nietzsche once wrote of Christ that 'His disciples should look more redeemed' So as a Church we must find ways to enjoy the freedom that is truly ours. The next challenge for Christianity is to remind Europeans that we are called to seek the truth. We are pilgrims in search of understanding. As Aristotle wrote, 'All human beings desire to know. ' But the moment that religious leaders start to talk about truth, then people become nervous. And this understandable. All over the world violence is associated with different faiths quarrelling about the truth. Christians make claims for Jesus, Muslims for the Qu'ran, Hindus for Krishna. These cannot all be true, and so believers start killing each other. Truth claims are associated with intolerance, with arrogance and indoctrination. This is undeniable. But if the truth cannot be sought, then we shall all just be stuck in our differences. After the Second World War, Albert Camus said in a lecture to the Dominican brethren in Paris, 'Dialogue is only possible between people who remain what they are, and who speak the truth .' There is no point in dialogue if there is no truth. The only basis upon which I may build communion with the believers of other faiths and none is in the shared search for truth. Our society has lost confidence in the power of reason, except perhaps scientific reason. Modern Europeans do not trust that through reflection and argument we can discover what is the meaning of human existence, and what is the purpose of our lives. There is little debate around the big questions: Why is there anything rather than nothing? For what am I made? In what may I find my happiness? When people have different convictions, then we tend either to live in mutual tolerance or else beat each other up. Why disagree with someone who thinks that they are a re-incarnation of Napoleon, as long as they are happy with the idea? But we can only draw close to people who think differently if we believe that we can reason together and so learn. Claiming that you have got the truth wrapped up does breed violence and intolerance. Believing that together we may arrive at the truth can heal difference. This is not a fashionable belief. The new Chief Executive of British Airways, Willie Walsh, claimed that 'a reasonable man gets nowhere in negotiations.' Negotiations in our society are not about thinking one's way through to what is best, but trying out one's strength. Even Parliament does not appear to be a place of debate. What matters is winning, and the last resort is the law. Paradoxically, one of Christianity's contributions to Europe at this moment should be to believe in reason. Despite all the lunacy of the last century, all the absurdity of war and genocide, we believe that humans being are rational and are made to seek the truth. Hard thinking may heal divisions and further us on the journey. A society which loses confidence in the very possibility of truth ultimately disintegrates. St Augustine called humanity 'the community of truth'. It is the only basis upon which we may belong to each other. The motto of the Dominican Order is Veritas, Truth. I hope that Robert Kilroy-Silk notes that we have had that motto for almost eight hundred years! It is said that Dominic was inspired to found the Order after a night spent in argument with an heretical pub keeper. They debated all night long and, as one of my brethren remarked, Dominic cannot have spent all the time saying 'You are wrong, you are wrong, you are wrong.' One only goes on arguing because the other person is also in some sense right. We argue not to win but so that the truth can win. It must infuriate many people that John Paul II saw Christianity as the great defender of reason. In that wonderful Encyclical Fides et Ratio he wrote, 'The church serves humanity with the diakonia ­ the service - of truth. We are partners in humanity's shared struggle to arrive at truth.' 'We see among the men and women of our time, and not just in some philosophers, attitudes of widespread distrust of the human being's great capacity for knowledge. With a false modesty, people rest content with partial and provisional truths, no longer seeking to ask radical questions about the meaning and ultimate foundation of human, personal and social existence.' In a debate between Bertrand Russell and Freddie Copplestone SJ, the question came up as to why the Universe existed. Why is there anything rather than nothing? Russell asserted that this is a question that cannot be posed. The universe is just there. It was the Christian philosopher who insisted that he was giving up thinking too soon . So part of our mission in Europe as Christians is to be the people who go on thinking, posing the difficult question, searching for answers. For the children of the Enlightenment it must seem crazy that the Papacy stands up for reason. And yet sociologists have demonstrated from studies in Sweden, Canada and the United States that once people drift away from mainstream Christianity then they tend to start believing crazy things. According to Rodney Stark, Christians are much less accepting of 'UFOs as alien visitors, of ESP, astrology, Tarot cards, séances, and Transcendental Meditation than students who said they had no religion. ' As GK Chesterton said: 'A man who won't believe in God will believe in anything'. So Christianity should remind Europeans of our buried desire for the truth, and walk with them as we search. But we will only be able to do this convincingly if we are seen to be pilgrims ourselves, who do not know all the answers in advance. We must be seen as those who not only teach but also learn. The Church must have the courage to proclaim its convictions, but the humility to learn from other people. Christian leaders will speak with more authority if they say more often 'I do not know.' We will stand for reason if the Church is seen to be a place of more open debate. As Augustine said, 'Whoever thinks that in this mortal life one may so disperse the mists of the imagination as to possess the unclouded light of unchangeable truth.understands neither what he seeks nor who he is that seeks it. ' Let us return for a last time to our two young heroes, Momo and Oscar. They both face death. Momo must witness the death of his Sufi teacher; Oscar faces his own death, with the help of the beloved female wrestler, Mamie Rose. Death is a growing preoccupation of our European contemporaries, and we still turn to the Churches to help us face it. There is a decrease in the number of Christian baptisms and marriages, but people still look to their Churches to bury them. In France, a relatively secularised country, 70% of the population wish to be buried by the Church. Even President Mitterrand, that well known agnostic, left an enigmatic instruction before his death, 'une messe est possible. ' And he had two! The European Values Study show that a growing percentage of young people believe that there is something after death. For some reason Protestants tend to believe in life after death, but Catholics believe in Heaven. Why is there this concern with death and what follows? Maybe it is the collapse of the grand narratives that dominated the twentieth century. We have lost confidence in any story that can be told about the future of humanity, and so we are more concerned with our own individual story. Does my life lead anywhere? The religion of modern Europe is a pilgrim faith, but does the journey have a final goal, or are we going nowhere? As Christians we share our hope, for each person and for humanity. We really are on our way to happiness. And one way that we express that hope is through beauty. CS Lewis said that beauty rouses up the desire for "our own far-off country" , the home for which we long and have never seen. Modern Europeans are resistant to Church teaching. Dogma is a bad word! But beauty has its own authority, an authority to which every human being responds, and an authority that in no way threatens. We need to find ways of disclosing God's beauty to our contemporaries. We must give people a glimpse of Christ's beauty, for as Augustine said: He is beautiful in Heaven, beautiful on earth: beautiful in the womb, beautiful in his parents' hands: beautiful in his miracles; beautiful under the scourge: beautiful when inviting to life; beautiful also when not regarding death; beautiful in laying down his life; beautiful in taking it up again; beautiful on the cross; beautiful in the Sepulchre; beautiful in heaven . It is said that once in the sixties George Patrick Dwyer, that terrifying and irascible Archbishop of Birmingham, went to attend a parish Mass. The parish had prepared a rich liturgy, with the most modern songs accompanied by lots of guitars. And half way through one song, the Archbishop slammed the hymn book shut and shouted, 'Enough of these trivial ditties. Let's sing something decent. Turn to page 82' or whatever. At the end of the Mass, the parish priest thanked everyone for their contribution and then publicly apologized for the dreadful rudeness of the Archbishop. There was an awful silence and then Archbishop Dwyer said: "Well I have something to say. At least there is one courageous priest in this diocese." But one has a certainly sympathy with the Archbishop's irritation. I hope that I never again have to break bread together on my knees! We need to find an aesthetic that does speak of God's beauty. Beauty is not added extra, icing on the liturgical cake. It is of the essence. Every great revival of Christianity has gone with some new exploration of beauty, from the Post-Tridentine Baroque, which I do not like much, to Wesley's hymns. Surely this Cathedral is an attempt to give us a glimpse of Paradise, sustaining us in the belief that the journey is going somewhere, and that one day we shall arrive. Recently I was in the Philippines for a meeting of Asian Dominicans. One night our Pakistani brothers and sisters played a video of a Sufi singer. He was a rather unattractive fat androgynous figure, but when he began to sing we were enchanted. A sister gave me a rough translation of his words, but it was evident that he was struggling with the boundaries of what could be said. The music was reaching for the unsayable. How often do our liturgies pull apart the veil even for a moment? In the words of St Ephrem the Syrian: The Lord of all is the treasure store of all things: Upon each according to his capacity He bestows a glimpse Of the beauty of his hiddenness, of the splendour of his majesty. All who look upon You will be sustained by Your beauty. Praises be to your splendour . So, to conclude, Christianity must accompany our European pilgrims as they journey, seeking the good, the true and the beautiful. It is not enough just to talk about them. Otherwise our words will be empty. We must work hard to make the Church evidently a place of abundant freedom, of a passion for truthfulness, and a delight in beauty. Source: Archbishops House
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