restricted access 5. Christianity Faced with the Challenges of the Present
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P A R T 2 A  E       R       C H A P T E R 5 Christianity Faced with the Challenges of the Present “Can one believe while being civilized, i.e., a European?, believe without reservation in the divine nature of Jesus Christ, the Son of God?”1 This passage by Dostoevsky identifies the challenge that faith in Jesus Christ faces today. It is not a generic question about whether absolute faith in Christ is possible. The decisive aspect of the Russian writer’s question lies in his reference to a specific context: contemporary Europe . It was addressed to what Dostoevsky termed a civilized person: a cultured, educated European, who does not renounce the exercise of his reason with all its demands, who brings into play all his need for freedom, all its affective potential, that is, a person who does not give up any aspect of his humanity. For a human being with such characteristics , is it possible to believe in Jesus Christ? “Believe without reservation?” insists Dostoevsky, as if wanting to emphasize that it is a faith that truly rises to the level of the nature and demands of reason. 53 Dostoevsky’s insistence on the circumstances in which—for over a century now!—we are called to live the faith shows to what extent he rightly considers them decisive. Indeed, “the circumstances God has us pass through are an essential, and not secondary factor of our vocation, of the mission to which He calls us. If Christianity is the announcement that the Mystery became incarnate in a man, the circumstance in which one takes a stand on this, in front of the whole world, is important to the very definition of witness.”2 We know very well the circumstances in which we Christians are living the faith today. They can be summed up in the realization that we live in a pluralistic world, where Christianity—and the conception of man and life that comes from it—has become one option among many. We are called to live the faith without a context to protect us; not only without privileges, but sometimes even persecuted. More and more often we see a view of the human being taking shape in legislative form that is entirely opposite to the one that to us seems more human, and which until recently was shared by all, even by those without Christian faith. We can live in this new situation with anger, because the tide is going in a direction that we do not agree with, or we can accept the challenge. This challenge does not allow us to take for granted the survival of what was once our common heritage; it calls us to show the relevance of the faith to the needs of personal and social life. Faced with this unprecedented challenge, Christians, not surprisingly, develop different interpretations about how to deal with it.These positions range from retreating into one’s shell, refusing to witness the public importance of faith, to believing that the only way to defend Christian values is to take a reactive position, without bothering to give reasons for the positivity of those values within the culturally pluralistic context in which we live. We all see how inadequate these attitudes are. But in order to be free of them it is not enough to show our desire to discard them or to wish not to succumb to them. In order to overcome them, we need to find a way of living the faith, within this social reality and pluralistic culture, such that others can perceive our presence not as something to defend themselves from, but as a contribution to the com54 An Event of Rebirth mon good and their own personal good. We need a way of being present without a will to dominate or oppress, and at the same time with a commitment to living the faith in reality, in order to show the human benefit of belonging to Christ. Years ago Pope John Paul II explained the magnitude of the challenge to us. “Many Europeans today think they know what Christianity is, yet they do not really know it at all. . . . Many of the baptized live as if Christ did not exist. . . .The great certainties of the faith are being undermined in many people by a vague religiosity lacking real commitment. . . . ‘When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ (Lk 18:8).”3 Pope Benedict XVI confirmed that the situation...


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