The first View from the Piazza is by Archbishop Rino Fisichella (President, Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelisation). It is the Preface from Reclaiming the Piazza III: Communicating Catholic Culture, which is due for publication soon.
Today Christians are called to live out their vocation in the face of challenges which involve generational change to an extent and at a pace never seen before in the history of humanity. If scientific and technical progress have conferred innumerable benefits on humankind, it is also true that these advancements have been accompanied in recent decades by forms of social, political and economic development which have given rise to a profound crisis of identity at both the personal and community level. These changes have not left the Church unscathed, with a growing detachment from faith in the form of religious indifference which is the prelude to a de facto atheism. Often the lack of knowledge of the basic tenets of Christianity goes hand in hand with a cultural naivety born of a collective amnesia, leading even Christians not only to participate in the overthrow of those moral principles which have served as the foundation of civilization for at least twenty-five centuries of human history, but also to be induced into forgetting the specifically Christian contribution to culture down through the centuries. Thus, it is the relativism of which the Magisterium of the Church has so often denounced the limits and contradictions which emerges as the characteristic note of recent decades, increasingly scarred by the consequences of a secularism which tends to blind our contemporaries to their fundamental relationship with God.
This is the context in which above all the Churches of ancient foundation are called to live, one in which human beings have so distanced themselves from their humanity as to create a spiritual desert without precedent. The new evangelisation as a response to this situation cannot be divorced therefore from the culture in which it operates. As sons and daughters of their time, the temptation for Christians is to just go with the flow, as it were, or risk being relegated to the margins of society. However, if we fail to take cognisance of the cultural and anthropological sea change going on around us, including those aspects which impact Christianity specifically, we risk labouring in vain, not least because we may very well be illuding ourselves that the languages in which we have hitherto expressed our faith are still understood by our contemporaries when this is in fact far from the case.
At the same time, cultural awareness is by itself insufficient for an effective evangelisation. Even a cursory glance at Church history from the earliest apologetes onwards demonstrates that cultural sensitivity has always gone hand in hand with the conviction that evangelisation consists in the Word of God entering into hearts and minds in order to call people to conversion. But it is not just a question of the Word being received by those to whom it is preached. The Gospel also is the criterion by which to measure the credibility of those who profess to live by the salvific Word they are also called to share, and thus becomes the foundation for the collective and individual identity of the community of faith. We forget at our peril that the Church does not evangelise because she is menaced by secularisation, but because she lives in obedience to her Lord’s command to preach his Gospel to every creature. In this enterprise, the style of life of the disciples is paramount because it is on our effective witness to Christ that our credibility, both as a people and as individuals, stands or falls and the transforming power of the Gospel is unlocked.
When the Word of God is announced and lived credibly, especially around the Eucharistic mystery, it has the capacity to transform culture in force of the Truth which it contains. Just as in the Gospels no-one meets Christ and goes away unchanged, so it is for culture when it is infused with the Word of God. It will come as no surprise then that beauty has become a privileged theme of the new evangelisation. The via pulchritudinis is central to announcing the Gospel which by its very nature seeks to express love through beauty. If the ancient philosophers were convinced that only that which is beautiful is worthy of being loved, Christians had to learn also to take on board the full implications of the incarnation, in which God becomes visible and speaks to us in human language, and learn that only that which is beautiful is worthy of being believed. Thus, while other religions run shy of representing God, Christianity positively delights in the artistic representation of the Mystery which lies at its heart.
It is my fervent hope that Communicating Catholic Culture, which comes to complement the earlier two volumes in the Reclaiming the Piazza series, will serve to make Catholics and other Christians more conscious of the diakonia of goodness, truth and beauty which their discipleship of Christ owes to the surrounding culture and which must be exercised as abundantly and creatively today as it has been in previous generations.
Pontifical Council for the
Promotion of the New Evangelisation