One of the joys of the ‘Faith and Culture’ remit of CASE is that it brings us into collaboration with many other partners who share our concerns. An important contribution to the field was presented at the recent meeting of the Bishops’ Conference. On the Way to Life is the result of a research project initiated by the Catholic Education Service and worked on by Fr James Hanvey, his colleagues in Heythrop College and others. The work considers the present situation, theological ways of addressing it and the implications for Catholic education, catechesis, formation and evangelisation.
Part I is an examination and analysis of the data produced from several sources, not least the European Values Survey, which measure where we are today. It identifies several aspects of modernity but two stand out: secularisation and subjectivity. Secularisation concerns the declining significance of religion in the webs of meaning which underlie contemporary culture. Subjectivity is about the way meaning is found inside the individual, rather than as coherence with objective truth. The authors locate the outworkings of these two forces in the search for meaning amidst fragmentation, the burden of ordinariness, feminism and the ways people today construct identities. These challenge the Church in many ways, particularly for its evangelising mission. We need to have a vision and language which has an ‘interpretative force’ despite the current ‘crisis of transmission’.
Part II gives us a theological reflection on where we are. Building on insights drawn from Vatican II, it encourages an understanding of a possible Catholic modernity grounded not in itself but in the transcendent. It notes the important shift in understanding of the relationship between nature and grace by which grace is seen as constitutive of human nature in such a way that we cannot think of reality, history or humanity without God in Christ. This is a sacramental vision which gives the Church new resources to meet the challenges of late modernity/post-modernism.
Part III develops resources and responses to meet the identified challenges. There is a remarkable and welcome confidence to this section. It presents a theological rationale which understands the Church to be a gift to the world, it considers the transmission of the content, experience and acts of faith, it affirms the vocation to mission of all the baptised, the orientation to the good of every person and the good of society. Perhaps the key resource for furthering this is the Catholic sacramental imagination: the Church as the ‘home and school of communion’ (Novo Millenio Ineunte 43).
Archbishop Vincent Nichols in his foreword to the document says:
‘This report is I believe of great value. It highlights the ways in which, in this country, we stand at a crossroads. We need to reflect deeply on its contents.’
This is quite right. This report should become a catalyst for reflection and action and I urge as many as able to read it, struggle with the sometimes dense matters it examines and commit themselves more and more to take the risk of a faith encounter with contemporary cultures.