October 2020: Editorial

A Changed Landscape

During an inter-faith live-streamed service, an advertisement persisted to come on the screen about institutional religion and individualised spirituality. It had an enticing message for people of faith and those who want to deepen their awareness of God’s presence in their lives through the daily routine of the ordinary and the every day. People are searching for a renewal of their relationship with God. This search is linked to an anti-institutional stance, a distrust of authority, dogma, doctrine and a top-down religious approach of perceived instructions to be obeyed. The fact that we are networked via the internet and culturally informed and influenced by it, means that many people will no longer connect with hierarchical models of faith practice. The breaking away now is not of people losing their faith, but people no longer thinking it is important or relevant. The 2011 Irish census, records 269,800 people registered as having no religion and in the 2016 census the number increased to 468,421. We must also bear in mind that 3,729,100 people registered as Catholics in the 2016 census.

While there is still a hunger for meaning, our Christian Churches have a distinctive message about the person of Jesus Christ, who is the embodiment of God’s saving love for all people. We face a challenge to share and witness to the gospel message and mission in a changing time where we encounter people of different faiths and nationalities. There are many ways to preach and share the gospel message. The gospels show us that the pace, style and tempo of learning discipleship is so varied – from Peter to Zacchaeus, to Nicodemus to the Canaanite woman and the Centurion and the good thief on Calvary. We forget that transcendence happens in moments when a boundary is crossed and we defy limits that usually define ourselves.

It is when something sacred happens in an ordinary place like Jacob’s Well – where Jesus defied the law and faced the tensions of encounter as he spoke to the Samaritan woman. She was voiceless, forgotten and ignored – like the way many people feel in the Church today. This is the calling of the Church today: to listen in a changed faith landscape, especially to the voiceless, the forgotten and the ignored. Today, people are looking for a religious experience in a new landscape and the Church must be there searching with them. As a Church we need to embark on a patient, meandering conversation with a spectrum of different kinds of encounters and show respect for difference and plurality – so that the encounter with the Lord can happen in the way that it is meant to happen. Only then, will people see things through the lens of a faith encounter in a new way, see themselves, one another, God and the world we all share as the blessed gift that is – our common home.

John Cullen

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