Church must engage the future

With Easter round the corner (early April) and the 40 days of Lent having started in February many Christians are preparing for of the biggest festival on the religious calendar. However for years I've heard from wide-ranging quarters, both secular and religious that the church of the first century, as established by Jesus Christ and his apostles, is not relevant to our modern times.

Many people believe we are living in a "new age," with new customs, methods, and inventions and that we need a new church to meet the needs of a new and modern man.

These detractors from ancient Christianity argue that the problems of ancient man were relatively simple in comparison too today's modern day man and the cultured twenty first century; hence, many people are seeking a religion which is capable of solving the problems of today!

Living in this age of doubt and uncertainty, many people simply ask the question…

Is the church relevant today?

There's no doubt the church has left an indelible mark in the history of human society. The strong Christian influence can be seen reaching out everywhere. From the ancient cathedrals in Rome to the cross on the necks of people everywhere and the massive sales of bibles the world over, Christianity has indeed become a fixture in the backdrop of culture in the western world and beyond.

Having played such a major role in shaping our past, does the church still have a role to play in moulding our future? This question, as I have already intimated, has not only been asked by people outside of the church, but also by church congregations and even the church itself!

Church seeks views of its Gibraltar flock

I find it perfectly logical that with an ever changing society, the Catholic church like most other religions, wants to find its 'modern place' in the lives of Catholics, this by seeking the views of the diocese. Bishop of Gibraltar Ralph Heskett was last weekend expected to lead a series of meetings to discuss the concerns posed by a 'church survey-come-questionnaire' that was circulated last year which predominantly highlighted a series of pertinent issues.

These church related meetings last weekend were thought to be important, as I understand, the aim of the meeting was to establish which path local Catholics will take in the future and how the church can better serve the local diocese. It is understood the bishop himself last year instigated the feedback form in an effort to assemble the views of practicing local Catholics.

These are changing times for everyone, none more so than for the church and religion in general who in recent times has endured some pretty turbulent times! Yet you have to say, that the church has always been very resilient, built on thousands of years of history and heritage, it is unlikely that the church will fade away anytime soon. But more than that, the church which is built on Christ and the role he plays in every believer's life, which is something that can be quite profound.

One very ardent local Catholic faithful who in fact is a family member of mine said to me only last week "there is a fresh generation that cries out to experience love. This is the generation that is overwhelmed by all that is happening in the world. In the ever increasing pace of modern society and the multiplying complexities of life, it is so easy to become lost and drown in. Hopelessness abounds, people get increasingly weary of life and all it has to offer. We have an effective government, a tolerant society, and a thriving economy. But there are still broken homes to fix, hope to give, and mediocrity to escape"… pretty potent words I thought!

Bishop, right to seek guidance

I believe the bishop is right to go out and seek guidance from his flock. Although many are of the opinion that the perception of local Catholic flock has changed in recent years… mostly pointing to the church and religion (as they see it) as being out-of-time with 21 century life, but particularly with the demands imposed on society, by people just having to exist in the world today!

The Catholic Church, like any other organisation, has principles and ideals. Those who make a free decision to form part of it accept this and try to live accordingly. But not everyone can or believes that the church is relevant in their lives today!

The Church also believes that it has received from god the mission to pass on to others his teachings, including the important vision on marriage and the family. And yet however many in society including ours, cannot accept for instance the churches interpretation or the concept of today's traditional family. Many people see the modern interpretation of a family composition and marriage itself, as something different. Which at the moment appears an issue that kind-of clashes with the teachings of the church?

Religion and the political sphere

Controversy, dispute and debate have been at the centre of the church since time immemorial. How many times has the current Pope for-instance, come out with some really controversial politics issues, which even I have criticised in this column!

My view on this is that as a movement, the church enters into the political sphere by offering its vision to society. This is true of the church as an institution, but it also true for each and every believer that adheres to it. These beliefs include not only the supernatural, but also the deeply-held convictions of what is good to society in terms of environmental protection, social justice, political ethics and all other social ideals.

When the church and its members enter this kind of dialogue with society, they are motivated by their beliefs. But when communicating their ideas, they do so in a 'secular way', comprehensible to all!

Although if you analyse this issue even further, you could say that in secular terms, the church teachings could be called 'politics' in the original sense of the word. Although it's also a fair point, that all movements become 'political' when offering their ideas to be considered by society at large. Such ideas, if socially accepted, are consequently promoted and defended by the state we know as the government.

In Gibraltar, as in many other Christian countries, the number of practising Catholics and the influence of the church, I believe has declined. Is this because the church is no longer relevant? These are the thoughts of many, but I'm also sure not the majority!

The environmental, economic and technological changes achieved over a short period have left us gasping for comprehension and bearing. The continuous need for orientation, assessment and direction is felt at many levels of life…the Church is no exception. It is the continuous questioning of who we are, where we come from, what we are doing here and where we are heading that can help us keep track of our direction. It is within this context that we might come to decide the role of the church today in Gibraltar!

Moving away will not improve society!

There are people who often find themselves searching for some meaning in life and also search for Jesus, but I sometimes worry that the church is answering questions that people aren't asking anymore? Too often the church becomes consumed in irrelevant theological arguments that haven't been settled for centuries and probably never will be. In fact the church at times is guilty of majoring in minor things and minoring in major things. Becoming a relevant church is necessary if the church is to fulfil its call to reach future generations!

In today's world, people are constantly bombarded with information and messages sent out by different media in this pluralistic society. The church has to compete with that and make itself relevant and also interesting!

Yet importantly, I also believe that ignoring and moving away from the church will not improve our society in this respect. The solution too many of our problems lies in having the right building blocks: the individuals and the family. The institutions, the technologies, all the drugs and weapons in themselves do not have much relevance. It is the person behind them that affects society.

But my own true beliefs!

Religion is so complicated, and discussions on it, so heated. So, I'm going to navigate these waters very carefully and hope you still understand me at the end. Personally I believe in Christ, I do so (and I've said this before) the way I want to understand and accept him. I also practice religion the way it suits me, and not necessarily in the way manner others of Catholic faith, who follow a more traditional view of the church teachings would like me to follow. Having said that, I also believe in the modern concept of what constitutes today's traditional family composition.

However, my beliefs are entirely my own. I truly respect all other beliefs and religions and find them fascinating to learn about. I attempt to surround myself with people of all different backgrounds. Because, really, how boring would it be if we were all the same? I was raised in the Catholic Church. I attended a Catholic school. I assumed I would always be Catholic; much like my name would always be Leo. It was all I knew and I didn't really know I had a choice. I am still a Catholic, admittedly I have changed, but the church still remains the same!

So, where does that leave me?

Where does that leave me? Well in a place I feel really good about. I still pray, daily in fact. I consider myself a spiritual person. Some might say I'm agnostic, if we must label it, which I don't think I am anyway, I don't mind saying that I'm not always sure what's out there, but who really does. Yet I don't think there is anything wrong with simply saying, "I'm not sure or don't know."

I truly believe, in my heart of hearts, that there is 'someone out there or up there' looking out for all of us, be it god a family or friends that have passed over, I doubt I'm going to be on his or hers hell-list - simply because I didn't follow this religion or that one by ancient teachings…or because I don't attend mass or eat meat on Fridays. Or because I believe everyone should be able to marry who they love not withstanding sexual orientation.

Deep down, in my opinion, it's all about the simple things. Like how you choose to treat those around you. I suppose, in a sense, I have my our own practicing religion which really is not that far flung from the mainstream one, only I do it in my own way and style, in fact I still go to church frequently, although not necessarily to attend mass, after all, are we all welcomed in the house of god and not only those fervent believers!

Be nice... don't judge… respect others and be tolerant of their beliefs…lend a hand… to each his own... have compassion… always share your food… leave this world a little better than you found it: what more could any religion ask of anyone?

I have no doubt the Catholic Church will continue to play a very strong role in meeting the spiritual needs of this society. Yet I also believe the church also needs to better understand.

This in my view should be done in a manner that is relevant to all in today's world!