As a Catholic, I am conscious of insitutional weaknesses and failures. I grasp the horror of it: priests ensconced in scandal, others trapped in addictions and adulterous affairs, and still daring to preach from theoretical and intellectual perspectives. Childhoods threatened, and no real sense in pursuing patterns or being part of a community that so willingly attempted to protect the organization rather than the persons. I see it.
I see, too, the historical context of all that, the time periods that birthed it and the dominance of traditional organizational structures politically and economically. The individual was expendable: the organization and its preservation appeared to be the key to social stability. And then came the shift: individualism erupted in the 12th century and burst forward in the eclecticism of the twentieth century. Scienific inquiry partnered with emerging technology and opened another chapter.
There was the promise of freedom for all voices and the advent of an unprecedented era of personal expression. It was impossible to chart the consequences: the creation of new and virtual communities and the steady erosion of earlier mainstays. Change and its accompanying anxieties, adaptation and adjustments were inevitable. And that is where we live now, in a world re-evaluating meaning, personal choice and decisions, community living and values. Individuality and individualism have become dominant influences; social and economic structures are adapting and re-defining purpose and meaning.
There is a certain fear factor in the midst of all that, one that echoes the patterns of history. And there is a reality as well: the insitution does fail, over and over, but faith somehow remains. Traditional understandings of faith, expressions of it, can be altered, challenged and rejected. History shows that the essence of faith itself somehow survives for reinterpretation in a new age. And in this age?
Can there be such a thing as God? Can the teachings of religion find a place in a world driven by gigabytes and memes? Can simplicity find a place in a culture veering towards self-gratification and geared towards consumerism? When the churches are emptied and the crosses are known only as symbols of abusive power and destruction, will the shades of gray that mark the delineation of right and wrong, moral and immoral, be any more clear? But maybe there is another question.
What place is there for faith in God in this world? Is there, somehow, some other-than-human power? Rejecting the past and the concepts of faith, attached such as they are to the trauma of contenporary memories and the flaws of earlier generations, have allowed the shaping of an emerging social landscape that allows for gender fluidity and equality, the unmasking of bias and a consciousness of the dangers of exploitation and denigration of others. These goods are not necessarily divorced from a foundation of faith. Can secrets buried in history that confide a strength and strategy for navigation of this new world?
Faith allows for a depth of wonder, a sense of the spectacular that is beyond the scope of human limitation. Faith allows for a trust that no one person is travelling alone on this journey. Faith allows that tragedies are not visited upon us by the punitive force of the universe, but we are not forgotten in the complexity of human suffering. Faith allows, too, for the sense that something Divine completes the imperfections of humanity. Faith allows that there is more to self and to this world than what is seen, named and known. Faith confides the idea that each is loved in every incarnation of self at every ligfe stage…and so is everyone else. Essentially, God is completely Other. The courage to embrace that means daring to see self as part of a flowing mosaic that traverses centuries.