I do a lot of work in catechumenate ministry. RCIA team members will often ask what the catechumens have to know before they can become Catholic. I understand the motivation for the question, and yet I often feel uncomfortable answering it. It is akin to asking what a bride needs to know before she says “I do” on her wedding day. A lot, to be sure. But exactly what is difficult to say. And ask anyone who has been married for a year, five years, ten years—on your wedding day, did you know this is the person your spouse would become? Did you know this is what marriage is? Of course not. The “knowing” is always a work progress. A mystery unfolding. An ongoing revelation.
I thought of the catechumens today when I read John Allen’s article in the National Catholic Reporter (“Trent launches world revolution in theology”). He is reporting on a July 24-27 gathering of nearly 600 Catholic ethicists and moral theologians, representing four continents and 73 countries. Half the theologians were laity and at least 200 were women.
A radical new lens for theology
If Allen and the organizers of the event are right, the content of theology will not change all that much in the future, but the way it is expressed will be racially different. That means that the catechisms, textbooks, sacramental preparation programs, liturgical adaptations, ritual music, and prayer resources of the future will look and feel and sound a lot differently than they do now. All of these resources will still reveal the same person—Jesus Christ. But the lenses with which we view the person of Jesus Christ will be much different. Think of it as an 80-year-old woman looking at the man she married 60 years ago. He’s the same man. And yet there is so much more to see and he looks so different.
According to Allen, there three significant implications of the “revolution”:
- Future theological and pastoral resources will be much more attentive to diversity in the church.
- Future resources will have a broader sense of the key issues in society that impact our faith. Allen’s article noted five in particular:
Finally, no resource will rely on exclusively on one’s own national perspective.
- Human dignity (and not just in the context of health care and “life” issues);
- Justice (North/South, but also within cultures);
- The environment;
- New technologies;
- The position of persons within institutions.
An example of this last point might be the resource the U.S. Bishops publish each election cycle on how Catholics are to participate in the election process. Future editions might begin to be influenced by how democracy is understood by Catholic theologians in the Ukraine, Italy, Brazil, and so on.
The revolution will be social
The church moves slowly, especially in matters of theology. So I’m not sure how much of the revolution many of us will see in our lifetimes. However, as scholars and theologians begin to develop these new ways of seeing, writing, and teaching, their work will not only appear in dusty tomes shelved in European theological centers as may have happened in the past. They will also begin to appear on blogs, Facebook updates, and Twitter posts. Marshall McLuhan once said the medium is the message. That is perhaps especially true concerning the revolutionary way the gospel message will be proclaimed.