‘The Challenge of Now: What Hope for Faith?’ was the title of a talk Michael Paul Gallagher gave to an audience of about 200 people of all ages who came to hear him in St Ignatius (the Jes) Church on Monday 25 March. And in a follow up podcast and radio interview with Pat Coyle of the Jesuit Communication Centre, he wondered if ‘Ireland had really taken on board the fact that in future Catholicism would be a minority phenomenon in its core of active committed people’. You can listen here to that interview.
In his lecture, he presented a series of photos depicting ‘recent events in Rome’ which was the first cause for hope Michael Paul commented on, all the while paying due respect to Pope Francis’ predecessor for his long-standing appreciation of the importance of understanding the link between contemporary culture and faith and the need to return to the relational heart of Christianity.
Starting from Pope Emeritus Benedict’s document Porta Fidei on the sincere search for meaning of many people which can be seen as an authentic ‘preamble’ to faith in contemporary culture, Michael Paul invited people to consider this ‘culture’. He described it as an iceberg, 90% invisible, ‘hidden assumptions or images underlying our ways of living’.
Quoting amongst other texts Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age (2007), the present crisis he suggested, is a crisis for forms of faith, not faith itself. Emerging new forms, amongst others, are that faith be rooted in choice, be nourishing spiritually and be a source of transformation.
Michael Paul then considered faith and its nourishment, quoting the Basque bishops (2005): ‘today’s culture needs an initiation into an experience of God in the midst of human experiences’. One such experience, Michael Paul suggested, referring to the great 20th century theologian Urs Von Balthasar, was the experience of witnessing a baby’s first smile.
Faith is both a choice and a gift, a choice to receive, to recognise and respond to, but if there is a year given to Faith, it is because this is something we find very challenging. We need to rediscover faith not as a doctrine but as a journey, an adventure, an encounter and growing relationship.
We need a pastoral spirituality of faith so that, again in the words of the Basque bishops, ‘God is known as a heart-friend’, which enables an Exodus encounter and the change of one’s life and life-style and transformation of priorities.
‘If God is missing, evangelisation will mean surprising people with a gift they don’t know they need’. This slide began the second part of Michael Paul’s talk which focused on the special role of imagination and affectivity in faith formation and in pre-evangelisation. Quotes from a wide range of poets and authors convinced every one of their connection with prayer, and connection with our hopes.
Michael Paul then demonstrated how imagination could be used in prayer, offering to return and give a day on this if desired – his offer was duly noted!
‘This man has pop star quality’ said one young woman. ‘He’s so knowledgeable and gives you just enough so you want to hear more, and he’s so nice as well! I hope you will invite him back for a day; I’d certainly come!’
Michael Paul’s visit was part of Jes 150, a year of events celebrating 150 years of continuous Jesuit presence on Sea Road in Galway. The year will close this October with a major international spirituality conference, Voices of Hope: Echoes of the Divine, to be held in the Galway Bay Hotel from Friday 25th-Saturday 26th October 2013. For further information on this and on Jes 150 visit Jesuit Centre Galway or email: [email protected]