St. Peter's Square. Creative Commons CC0

Worldly Hegemony? No, the Offer of a Hope to “Invest” Here Below

Does the Church provide us "a civil religion, a mere ethical element"? Is it "the annunciation of the pure, naked Cross for the salvation of 'every other'"? In a polemic society such as ours, what is the nature of the Church and Her place in the world?
Angelo Scola

“The West has to decide what weight faith should have in the public life of its citizens. It can’t remove the problem.” These sharp words, expressed by a Middle Eastern bishop at the OASIS International Scientific Committee gathering in Amman, have come to mind recently because of the lively debate in the media about the action of Christians in civil society, the dialogue between secular and Catholic exponents (a dialogue that according to some has reached the end of the line), the supposed defeat of Christianity, and the interference of churchmen in public vicissitudes–in a word, a debate about the style with which Catholics should intervene or not in delicate issues of our common life, such as those of bioethics.

It seems to me that this debate often loses sight of the heart of the question: every faith is always subject to a public cultural interpretation. On the one hand, as John Paul II wrote, “a faith that doesn’t become culture has not been fully embraced, has not been fully thought through, has not been faithfully lived.” On the other hand, since the faith–the Jewish and Christian faith–is fruit of a God who has involved Himself in history, it inevitably has to do with the concreteness of life and death, of love and pain, of work and rest and civic action. Therefore, faith itself inevitably runs up against different cultural readings, which can come into conflict with each other.

In this phase of “post-secularism,” two cultural interpretations of Christianity in particular are active in Italian society, both of which seem to me to be reductive. The first treats Christianity as a civil religion, a mere ethical cement, capable of functioning as a social adhesive for our democracy and for the European democracies in grave distress.

While such a position may be plausible for those who do not believe, for the believer its structural insufficiency must be evident. The other, subtler position reduces Christianity to the annunciation of the pure, naked Cross for the salvation of “every other.”

For example, according to this position, focusing on bioethics or biopolitics would avert attention from the authentic message of Christ’s mercy–as if this message were ahistorical and didn’t possess anthropological, social, and cosmological implications. Such an attitude produces a dispersion (diaspora) of Christians in society and in the end hides (crypto) the human relevance of the faith as such, to the point that in the face of the dramas of life, public ones included, this position would request silence of Christians, a silence that risks emptying the meaning of belonging to Christ and the Church before the eyes of others.

Neither of these cultural interpretations, to my mind, manages to adequately express the true nature of Christianity and its action in civil society: the first, because it reduces it to its secular dimension, separating it from the life-giving power of the Christian subject, gift of the encounter with the personal event of Jesus Christ in the Church; the second, because it deprives the faith of the importance of its fleshly aspect.

It seems to me that another cultural interpretation better respects the nature of man and his being in relationship. It runs along the ridge separating civil religion from the crypto-diaspora, proposing the event of Jesus Christ in all its fullness–irreducible to any human alignment–showing its heart that lives in the faith of the Church, to the benefit of the entire people.

How? Through the annunciation, by the ecclesial subject, of all the mysteries of the faith in their wholeness, masterfully summarized in the catechism of the Church.

This annunciation goes so far, however, as to articulate all the aspects and implications that always spring from these mysteries. They intertwine with the human vicissitudes of every age, showing the beauty and fecundity of the faith for everyday life.

Just one example: If I believe that man is created in the image and likeness of God, I will have a certain conception of birth and death, of the relationship between man and woman, of marriage and of family, a conception that inevitably encounters and asks to compare ideas with the experience of all people, even non-believers, however they may conceive of these elementary facts of existence.
Respecting the specific task of the lay faithful in the political field, it is nonetheless evident that if every member of the faithful, from the Pope to the last of the baptized, failed to put in common the answers he deems valid in responding to the questions that daily agitate the human heart, that is, if he didn’t testify to the practical implications of his own faith, it would take something away from the others. It would take away something positive; it wouldn’t contribute to the civil good of constructing good life.
Today, then, in a plural and therefore very conflict-prone society, this comparison has to extend 360° and to everyone, nobody excluded.

In a similar comparison of viewpoints, which brings Christians, Pope and bishops included, to dialogue humbly but tenaciously with everyone, you see that the goal of ecclesial action is not hegemony; it doesn’t aim at using the ideal of the faith for ends of power. Its true purpose, in imitation of her Founder, is to offer everyone the consoling hope in eternal life, a hope that, already enjoyable in the “hundredfold here below,” helps to face the crucial problems that make everyone’s daily life fascinating and dramatic.

Only through this untiring telling, striving for reciprocal acknowledgment, respectful of the procedures agreed upon in a constitutional state, can we put to good use the great practical value that springs from the fact of living together.