Refocusing the lens through which we understand and explain our faith’s mysteries

The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner once wrote that Christians in the future will become mystics or they will cease to exist.

I have always thought (based on a very limited understanding of Rahner) that this means Christians must develop a deeper appreciation for the Incarnation as the great mystery which is slowly but surely enveloping and transforming the whole of creation, human nature and the church.

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I think our gradual re-discovery of the dy­namic and unfolding nature of the Incarnation accounts for the fact, which I suggested last time, that we find ourselves today in a kind of “in-between time” – no longer the church we used to be, but not yet the church we are in the process of becoming.

And it is this “in-between-ness” that, as far as I can tell, creates so many challenges to the church in general and adult faith formation in particular.

What this means for you and me as parents, grandparents or teachers, is that we are slowly refocusing the lens through which we understand and explain the mysteries of the faith and the practices of the faith community:

… focusing now not so much on another time and place, but on the here and now – not so much on a heaven to come, but on the Kingdom which Jesus says is already among us;

… focusing not so much on personal salvation and private piety, but on the whole of the human community, which is both the object and the source of God’s saving grace and our own humble efforts on behalf of peace and justice;

… focusing not so much on our fairly secure, safe and homogenous parish communities, but on the world around us, as diverse, messy, imperfect, sinful, challenging – and yes, disrespectful – as it is;

… focusing not so much on preserving and protecting our privileged enclaves of grace and truth, but on the church outside the walls – a church “on the margins,” as Pope Francis says – where so many of our children and grandchildren have taken up residence.

Let’s be clear; it’s not that the mysteries of the faith are changing; it’s that the context in which we perceive, understand, appreciate – and explain – the mysteries is evolving, growing and, one would hope, spiritually maturing.

The challenge to adult faith formation in these times arises out of the fact that among Catholic adults today there are at least three distinctive audiences: those who long for the church that was, those who long for the church that will be, and a fairly good number who are lost somewhere in-between, confused, overwhelmed or disillusioned.

I don’t think we will have much success in adult faith formation unless we get a lot better at recognizing and addressing the needs of people at various places along this continuum.

What do you think?

 Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group dis­cus­­sion or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how aware you are of the mystery of the Incarnation, which is gradually transforming us and the world around us. How would you have rated yourself five years ago?
  • Where have you seen signs of God’s transforming grace in your personal life, the life of your children or the world at large? What about this mystery encourages you? What about it confuses or scares you? What are (or can) we do for our children, grandchildren and students who are living on the margins in “the church outside the walls”?
  • I think the great mystery of the Incarnation is …

Join the Conversation

Add your comments to this week’s discussion at facebook.com/FaithLeaders­Corner/.

Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.

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