Discerning the Times in Which We Live Print
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 07 October 2009 09:44
John Allen has been turning out a lot of fascinating articles this week and there are several that I find particularly noteworthy.

I'd like to start with the strong sense of gratitude that Allen brought the essay, "The Church and the New Reality of Africa, No Longer the Beggar of the World", by Andrea Riccardi, the founder of Sant’Egidio, to our attention. Sant'Egidio has been heavily and creatively involved in African in the areas of peace-making and the treatment of AIDS for many years. Based upon this experience and very much from a lay perspective, that is, as a serious Christian immersed in the realities of this world and acutely aware of extra-ecclesial currents and movements that impact the Church's life and mission, Riccardi wrote this:

"There’s a young generation emerging, ready to exploit the opportunities of globalization, with a different cultural horizon from the traditional one. When talking about African culture it’s important to be careful, because a discussion of ‘African authenticity’ risks revealing itself as ideological and outdated. African culture today is far more modern than ethnic and traditional images based on folklore, whether they come from Europeans or Africans.

Understanding of Africa must become more sophisticated than the painful and simplified image from the time of the dictatorships. Society, which has become complex, is no longer naturally religious as is so often said. If large masses of people are still caught between the past and the future, many Africans have nevertheless taken an enormous step forward. Given how fast things are changing, perhaps the Catholic bishops should re-read the reality, not trusting in stereotypes, in order to better understand the world in which their faithful live."

Thank God for Riccardi. It is true in Africa as in Asia and in this country: it is so easy for us to rely upon stereotypes that were true a decade or re-fight the battles of one or two generations ago rather than take in the actual-situation-on-the-ground before us now. Cultural change occurs with great speed today and what was true in the 70's or 90's may well no longer be the case in 2009.

Real life is a complicated mixture of continuity and change and we can't know which is which and what is actually happening about us unless we truly listen to and then discern the times in which we live. The apostolic faith of the Church does not change in its dogmatic essentials but it does develop in real ways. The Church's understanding of what God has revealed to her is shaped and does develop as she lives in time and discerns and appropriates the best of what each generation has learned from living the faith in a given historical and cultural context,

How the faith can and must speak to this generation and how it can and must be applied in this particular situation does depend to a great deal upon our ability to grasp the essential issues and needs of our time and place.

If only 35% of the world's Christians live in the industrialized west, if Asian Christians are no longer a static, passive minority, if Africa is about to become the largest Christian continent and young Africans are not necessarily traditionally minded, and if the vast majority of young American Catholics are not only NOT JP II Catholics but aren't even darkening our parish doors, what does it mean for us? What does it mean to respond in Christ's name to this generation?

We cannot fully discern God's call unless we have first discerned the times in which we live.