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Preaching the gospel in the twenty-first century,

Robert Schreiter, C.PP.S.

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General Chapter of the Order of Preachers
Providence, Rhode Island, USA, 11 July 2001

One of the tasks of a General Chapter is to set the direction of a religious institute for the coming period of time. In order to do that, some assessment of the situation in which an institute finds itself, both in terms of its internal life and in terms of the environment in which it seeks to work, must be undertaken. To address the latter part of this charge-namely, the larger environment in which your Order finds itself-is a formidable task, one much larger than any one individual can undertake. This General Chapter, coming as it does immediately after the celebration of the Great Jubilee Year in the Church of the beginning of the third millennium of Christianity, prompts us to think conjunctorily, that is, in terms of fundamental shifts which may be now taking place in our world which will affect what we do for a long period to come.

Every age, of course, likes to think of itself as being at a time of fundamental change. Only history may judge if indeed we do find ourselves at such a place as the turning of the millennium in the Gregorian calendar tempts us to believe. But however we may be seen a generation or two hence, we do have a responsibility now to probe as deeply as we can into the movements and currents of our own time in order to live out faithfully the commitments to preach the Gospel which are incumbent upon us. This seems especially to weigh upon you as Dominican friars. Your charism, as I understand it, is not only to be an active and positive force for the Gospel in the world, but also to ground your evangelical activity in prayer and study in a community context. That study, it would seem, finds its source and sustenance not only in the great tradition to which you are heir within our Church, but also requires an investigation of the context which that tradition must engage today.


What I will try to offer you here is one such set of probings of that context, limited as it is as one person's reading of what we need to watch and to engage in the immediate years ahead of us. As all of you well know, the world in which you serve is exceedingly complex and increasingly interdependent, and so the necessary simplifications which must be made here to gain some clarity will distort the picture. As a General Chapter, you need to grasp the largest threads which are shaping the weave of the world. And what I try to offer here will, I hope, help you to do that.

This presentation will focus upon three major themes which are shaping our life in the world today. They relate to one another in a variety of complex ways, some of which I hope to sort out here. Again, they can be sketched out here only in the broadest detail. These three themes might be understood as, first, a framework in which to situate our world ; second, a hermeneutic with which to read it ; and third, a pressing issue which deserves our special attention.

The three themes are : (1) where we are with globalization in its second decade ; (2) the uneasy coexistence of the premodern, the modern, and the postmodern in the contemporary world ; and (3) the interaction of religion and violence in the world today. Globalization, for better or for worse, is the single most adequate way of describing the context in which we work today. While globalization may describe our context, its emphasis on modernization is not a wholly adequate hermeneutic for the experience of those living in this context. There is a (not always peaceful) confluence of premodern, modern, and postmodern currents in our world. And finally, this is exemplified in one of the most challenging issues facing us today, the relation of religion to violence in our conflicted world. Modernity alone cannot explain the resurgence of religion nor its effects. Its connections with violence make us rethink the very essence of religious teaching itself.


To explore each of these three themes is not enough in itself. I would like to them one step further and suggest something of what the response from the Gospel might be, what the ministry of preaching will be in the coming period of time. This will not be to work out in theological detail such a vision, but to indicate where we will need much prayer and study to be faithful to our commitment to preach the Good News.

Globalization in Its Second Decade

The concept "globalization" has become shorthand for describing the world order which has been emerging since the end of the political alignment of the Cold War in 1989, and the gradual emergence of new relationships in the world. Globalization is marked by the interconnection of four features of that world : (1) advances in communications technologies ; (2) the dominance of neoliberal capitalism ; (3) a new alignment in the political order, still finding itself and as yet far from certain ; and (4) dramatic sociocultural changes attendant upon the changes in communications, economics, and politics. It must be said immediately that, although all four of these features point to a more interconnected and interdependent world, they are also sharpening and widening the chasm between those included in this new world order, and those excluded from it. The majority of the world's population finds itself on the excluded side of the divide. As a Church and for you as an Order within the Church, a sense of justice demands that this divide be addressed and indeed denounced in the name of the dignity and well-being of humankind. How we will go about addressing and engaging this divide requires an analysis which does not simply repeat the nostrums of the past, but reads the situation in such a way that action might be taken.

The concern here is not to go into a lengthy description of globalization. Such descriptions are now available in abundance. What I would like to do is simply note some salient elements in the communications, economics, politics, and sociocultural ramifications of globalization, and then move quickly to what might be the contours of globalization which will need to be addressed, now that this period of globalization is in its second decade. For this is not the first time patterns of globalization have presented themselves in our world. (Most scholars would say that the most recent one previously was from roughly 1870-1914.) Despite the immensity and complexity of globalization currently, it is not inevitable, and can come to a halt, as peoples and nations might suddenly decide to build walls around themselves. The purpose of this presentation, then, in this first part, is to set the stage for what we as agents of the Gospel might be doing within this larger picture.

Globalization is based on connectedness and the speed with which that connectedness can be utilized. As one observer has put it recently, it is the close connection between distant parts of the world. Scholars of the previous history of globalization point to advances in transportation (the large sailing ship, the steam engine) and communication (telegraph and the telephone) as the technologies which drove globalization in the past. For the current phase of globalization, it is certainly the electronic technologies which made the new networking of the world possible.

Two things need to be noted here about these technologies. First of all, a significant proportion of the world is excluded from them, although that number of persons continues to shrink. It has been estimated that as much as forty-two percent of the world's population has never used a telephone, the basis for Internet technology, simply because these are not available. While that number continues to go down, thanks to cellular telephone technology and the next generation of computers, it will take a long time to sink further. Exclusion at this fundamental level means that the gap between rich and poor will continue to stalk the well-being and the unity of humankind.
Second, the communications technologies have democratized the flow of information. That means, on the one hand, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep information from people (with all the political and social consequences thereof), but also that people at the grassroots level can organize public opinion against powerful political and transnational combines. As is now well known, the international treaty against personnel landmines was organized on the Internet. And similar organizational efforts have forced transnational companies to become more responsible ecologically. The potential for organizing mass public opinion is a powerful resource for social change in the future.

The economic features of globalization are perhaps the most prominent. They rely on the information technologies, but wield a powerful influence on the rich and poor of the world alike. The relatively unbridled capitalism of the 1990's is likely to be tethered somewhat in the coming decade, as it becomes clearer that the short-term profit margin can completely undermine the entire system. There is a likelihood that more measures of self-policing, and other forms of regulation will emerge. These will probably not grow out of a larger vision of humanity, but out of more utilitarian reasons and rational choice.

The political realignments coming with globalization still remain uncertain. The nation-state's influence will continue to be reduced, but not to a point of zero. There are important services which cannot be delivered and maintained on an international basis, but must be delivered at more local levels. Economics has, however, eclipsed and now dominates politics. Ideological differences have become increasingly moot points in many countries, as the fundamental criterion for holding and staying in office becomes the building and sustaining of economic prosperity. Hence, transnational regional arrangements, will likely continue to spring from economic motives, as we see in things like the European Union and various treaty organizations.


The end of the Cold War seems to have brought to an end the bipolar political arrangement of the world which had prevailed since World War II. What a truly multipolar world will look like still remains to be seen. Whether the dominance of countries like the United States will continue is difficult to say. With regard to the possibility of wars, the interstatal wars of the next decade will likely be about access to natural and energy resources, as we have already seen in the Persian Gulf and in Western Africa. Intrastatal wars about cultural identity and sovereignity will continue, but in diminished number.

Sociocultural movements will continue to reshape our lives together. Migrations of peoples are creating multicultural societies for which, in most places, there is still no social policy about how people of great diversity might live together. Europe struggles with this perhaps more than any continent today. It also likely will be facing decline because of its greatly diminished birthrate, which will diminish possibilities for innovation so important to neoliberal economy. This demographic diminishment is being only partially counteracted by immigration. And with the absence of coherent social policies for the integration of immigrants, Europe faces greater conflict in the future.
The dominance of the social media (with its preponderance of American programming) will continue to be a create a kind of world hyperculture, with the control of news media in ever fewer hands. At the same time, local forms of cultural resistance will likely also increase in terms of resilience of local languages against the overwhelming presence of English, and protection of local cultural forms.

The negotiation of the great gap between rich and poor will likely become a more prominent issue than it is today, as has already been mentioned. It is not so much inequality as the absolute poverty and destitution into which populations are being thrown which will become politically and socially explosive. Thus, the issues are not just economic, but also social and political. The current paralysis before the situation of the continent of Africa, with the wars fought for its natural resources, the helplessness before the ravages of AIDS, and the profound political instability of much of the region represent the forestage of what may be mirrored later regarding the countries of the former Soviet Union, and the poor regions of Latin America and Asia.

Similarly, the rhetoric about environmental protection will need to be translated into action, as the evidence of physical deterioration and depletion of the environment continues to increase. Decades of rhetoric will have to find action if life is to be sustainable on the planet.

These features of the current phase of globalization, now in its second decade-dependent partially on where technological innovation goes, how economic well-being is negotiated for the poor, whether new political alignments will assure stability, how cultural production will make a genuinely multicultural existence possible in the world, and how the physical environment will be sustained-will be shaping the contexts in which we preach the Gospel in the first part of the twenty-first century. To see how these complex factors translate into strategies for action, I would like to focus on two places where the Gospel will need to be brought. These are the two dominant forms of discourse in the kind of world which I have just tried to describe : the emerging forms of global discourse, and the proliferating forms of local discourse.

Globalization is in its current form has much to do with the articulation of the global and local forms of discourse, that is, how each is expressed, and how they relate to each other. What we are seeing in the second decade of globalization is increasing attention to global forms of discourse, i.e., the formulation of ways of living together as a single planet. Concerns, for example, about developing a global ethic have been going on now for over ten years, and the attendant difficulties of articulating an ethic for behavior acceptable worldwide become ever more apparent. The international language of human rights, first codified after the Second World War, became more salient in the 1990's, especially regarding the rights of women, indigenous peoples, and other populations at risk. Most recently, discourse about international justice has been in the forefront of concern, with the establishment of international tribunals for crimes which happened within the borders of nation-states, borders which heretofore were large inviolable, and a growing concern about international crime and terrorism. It seems to me that religious believers need to be more active in engaging and contributing to these global discourses about environment, human rights, and international justice. Catholic Social Teaching, a treasure in itself, will need to be extended more consciously into these areas, as is now already being cautiously done. An Order of scholars and preachers such as your own needs to take leadership in contributing from a Catholic and evangelical, point of view, what the Gospel has to offer in these areas which will be essential for the sustainability and peace of the planet.

The other part of globalization has to do with the local. The profound ambivalences of globalization are felt most keenly here. Global contributions to life at the local level-where most people live-can be intoxicating, giving a new sense of cosmopolitanism. But economic globalization especially also takes away local autonomy regarding basic decisions about human well-being. Powerful social media can threaten to overwhelm local language and cultural expression. Issues of identity and autonomy can drive people in local settings to powerful resistance. Such efforts are often necessary for survival. They can also be manipulated by local powers for selfish ends. Whatever the case, they create the fundamental paradox about globalization, namely, that even as the world seems to be becoming more uniform, it deepens its diversity, continues to assert itself. Again, at the grassroots level, where most people live out their lives, the Gospel must speak to concrete and immediate realities. One of the tasks of agents of the Gospel is to help people articulate local identity in light of their faith, and to relate that identity to the larger realities impinging upon it. The relating to global realities inovloves both situating what is happening at the local level, but also criticizing and resisting it if necessary. Put another way, a task of our ministry is to create the social spaces where people can find themselves and one another, and take hold of their own lives.

The second decade of globalization, therefore, requires that a transnational Order such as your own find ways of contributing to and linking global and local discourses. Those connections will be entail both being faithful to living out the Gospel in local life, and remaining critical of global (and local) discourses and practices which distort and degrade the dignity of the human person. The agencies you create within the Order will need to reflect both these local and global demands upon your energy and resources.

Put more theologically, the second decade of globalization prompts us to find new forms of solidarity at both the global and the local levels. Solidarity has to be more than a battle cry or a general notion of intellectual agreement ; it must translate into concrete forms of action. Both the global and the local must be attended to. Development of the theological concept of solidarity, as it has come into Catholic Social Teaching in the last twenty-five years, will be central to this endeavor.

The Coexistence of the Premodern, the Modern, and the Postmodern

Definitions of globalization often equate glovalization with the modernization process. Indeed, globalization has many of those features, especially as it enters premodern societies. Like modernization, globalization is seen to bring in its wake a differentiation of spheres (such as the religious from the political, the economic from the social) ; democratization with its attendant concern for human rights, individual conscience and choice, and the rule of the rational over the traditional. All of this has been true in many rural societies now caught up in economic globalization. However, in the second decade of globalization, the reality emerging is more complex. In societies which have not yet experienced modernization on a broad scale, globalization does indeed bring modernization, although the way it is received into the local culture will often be markedly different. In those settings, the premodern and the modern will often continue to coexist, side by side. This is seen especially in the urban settings in poor parts of the world, where rural people take up an existence located socially somewhere between their villages and the megalopolis.

In societies already modernized, globalization is bringing on a postmodern, where the promises of the modern to bring progress, equality, and inclusion are sorely tried. The unity which the rationality of the modern promises seems to fragment on the pressure of so much diversity. The postmodern, where the limits of these promises are experienced, exists alongside the modern.
Because of patterns of immigration to modernized societies, the premodern, the modern and the postmodern now often exist together, and people-especially the poor and the immigrant-find themselves exiting and entering these spheres every day.

It pays here to spend a few more moments on the postmodern, the newest of these developments. If the premodern is characterized by a primacy of the traditional over the rational, of the collective over the individual, by a religious worldview serving as a "sacred canopy" over the other sectors of society, how might we characterize the postmodern ? The postmodern is a response to the shortcomings or the limits of the modern. The postmodern is undergirded by the modern, with its concern for the individual and the individual's rights, but questions the total reliance on the rational and the assumptions about progress. It does not have unitary vision as is found in the modern. Sketching it broadly, it comprises three responses to the modern, each based on a different reading of the limits of the modern.

One reading is to see the modern project of the emancipation of the individual from tradition through reason and progress as one which, at least on the moral level, has failed. Rather than creating a more rational and just society, modernity and its rational approach have perpretrated more violence in the form of world wars, genocides, and the threat of nuclear and ecological destruction. The response to the modern project and its rationality is to reassert, albeit selectively, features of the premodern, traditional world. What should be reasserted or retrieved will vary-from entire institutions to distinctive features of them. We are familiar with this in the Church and in theology, from restorationist movements to postmodern theological strategies such as the "radical orthodoxy" found in the English-speaking world. Fundamentalism, however it might be defined, is yet another form of this retrieval of the premodern to counteract the acids of modernity.

A second reading of modernity sees its limitation in its being an unfinished project. That is to say, the problem with the world is that it has not yet really experienced the emancipation which the Western Enlightenment, carrier of the values of modernity, had promised. We have not had enough reason rather than too much of it. Consequently, we must continue to work toward the progressive ideals set forth by modernity, albeit perhaps more critically and with less naivete than may have marked an earlier stage. One sees this kind of approach in the work of the European philosopher Juergen Habermas, or in the discourse of those who wish to continue the utopian projects of the 1970's and 1980's.

A third reading of modernity concludes that the limitations of modernity do not mean its negation, but rather that we must draw the logical consequences of these limitations, and live in the territory toward which those limitations point. This is perhaps the best known response, articulated by Jean-Francois Lyotard : there is no metanarrative which holds our individual stories together ; everything is indeed provisional. There is no single rationality, but a host of competing, internally consistent, but mutually incompatible rationalities. We must cobble together an identity out of the fragments of existence, or retreat into cultural-linguistic communities and there live in them as if they were foundational certainties to guide our lives. But no such sure foundations exist.

Postmodernity, therefore, is a combine of different options, clustering around these three poles. It assumes the modern, but tries to move behind it, ahead with it, or beyond it in selected ways. The coexistence of the premodern, the modern, and the postmodern constitute a hermeneutic lens through which to view the immediate future. I make this point about the coexistence of the three in order to assert three points about preaching the Gospel in our times.

First of all, the age group which is now in leadership was nurtured on the Church's move from the premodern to the modern. In the retrospect of thirty-five years, it could be said that the principal purpose of the Second Vatican Council was to bring the Church into the modern world, as Gaudium et spes expresses it so eloquently. Although Vatican II was an ecumenical council (and perhaps the most ecumenical to date in the history of the Church), it addressed best the problems of the secularized world of Europe, North America, and Australia. Those who came of age during the period of the Council or in the decade immediately thereafter are likely to read the ecclesiastical world especially as a transition from the premodern to the modern situation. At this juncture in time, they may wish to press that transition to its logical conclusion (the second position sketched above), or disillusioned by its promises, recreate some premodern option. Much of the leaderhsip struggle in the Church today is between these two options.


Nearly four decades on, however, we find ourselves in a different situation-a situation where the premodern, the modern, and the postmodern are likely to exist together. This will call for a different strategy than simply a struggle between the modern and the postmodern.

Second, the youngest members of our religious institutes have come of age in this postmodern situation, and will probably be more able to negotiate its difficulties than those who came of age with the Church's then new engagement with the modern world. Their retrieval of the premodern is not restorationism, since they did not know the pre-Vatican II period. The same is the case for those who converted to Catholicism in the postconciliar period. To engage and lead the young-which now make up a substantial proportion of the Order of Preachers (I understand that a sixth of your membership is now in formation)-one must be able to navigate these postmodern waters in all their complexity. The leadership which you choose must be able to have this more comprehensive vision.

Third, the issue is not just dealing with the postmodern. The mix of the premodern, the modern, and the postmodern varies in different parts of the world, and even within distinctive regions. Premodern cultures are having to deal with a pace of change over which they have no control. Indigenous peoples in many parts of the world have had to deal within one or two generations with change which Europeans had five or six generations to master. The disintegration and outright destruction of indigenous cultures are painfully evident, with the deep and often tragic human consequences which follow upon that. Modern cultures are also confronted with the postmodern in measures which also elude control. The struggles in the former communist countries of Europe are striking examples of this. For a global entity such as the Dominicans, leadership must attempt to encompass the entirety of this reality, for this is the reality of our world and of our Church today. Each facet of it must be dealt with critically, for there are elements in harmony with, but also contrary to, the Gospel in the premodern, the modern, and the postmodern. Migration into cities makes this reality more acute. A global youth culture, afloat (some might say, adrift) in the waters of postmodernism, is the framework out of which the next generation will spring.

What does this coexistence of the premodern, the modern, and the postmodern mean theologically ? A kind of pluralism in theology will be necessary to garner the insight that each dimension offers, as well as provide the basis for a critique of each. There must be a greater sense of the pleroma or plenitudo in which we live. I think that it is not accidental that there has been a nearly unparalleled interest in the theology of the Trinity in the West in recent years. Implicitly, this is a way of critiquing one kind of monism which does not serve us well in an increasingly pluralist world. Returning to imposing a uniformity will perhaps promote a strategy, but in the long run will undermine communion. How the ideological struggles within the Church are interpreted in light of this becomes important. To cast it completely in apocalyptic terms of good versus evil will also not help. Nor, however, can the dynamics of power be excised from the equation. The pursuit of truth and the passion it entails can rarely be insulated from the exercise of human ambition. Our theologies of communion, put forward so consistently in recent years as the way to read the meaning of the Church, must have within them an ample sense of catholicity to help illumine what unity means for us. Being able to assess what is worthwhile in the premodern and the postmodern as well as the modern can make an important contribution to having a sense of the fullness of faith and the catholicity of the Church.

Religion and Violence

An issue which will be of great importance in preaching the Gospel in this first part of the century will be dealing with the relationship of religion to violence. As violence increased through the 1990's, how religious claims have legitimated violence between groups has become a matter of grave concern. This has involved violence among Christians (in Europe), and between religious traditions. The intolerance associated with fundamentalism has also been on the upsurge. If secularization and atheism were the principal concerns seen as facing the world just a few decades ago, today the resurgence of religion and its frequent pairing with social and political violence has become a central concern. The world has become "desecularized" to some extent, that is to say, secularization can no longer be the lens through which the inevitable direction of the world may be perceived.

To be sure, religion has often been paired with violence in the past. One only need think of the apologies made by Pope John Paul II during the Jubilee Year and since to be aware of that. The Crusades, the sixteenth century wars of religion, anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism have all marred the face of Christianity. Other religious traditions have similar experiences, both in the past and most recently. But what accounts for so much recent violence associated with religion ?

Globalization has sharpened the edges of the world, and raised the stakes regarding modernity. The struggle of the local against the global creates conflict as well. Conflicts of competing identities in the same territories will grasp for clear differences to demarcate the terms of distinctiveness. Others argue too that the normative, indeed absolute commitments entailed in religious beliefs necessarily create the conditions for conflict and intolerance.

No one has yet come up with a satisfying theory of the relation of religion to violence. Each religious tradition can rightly point to a message of peace, harmony, and well-being within its doctrines, but must likewise acknowledge how those same beliefs have been put to work to foment and sustain violence. Are religions so inextricably bound up with violence that our only hope, as some secularists aver, is to abandon them altogether ?

However one may think about the relation of religion to violence at the theoretical level, we know that many people are at risk today at the practical level because of violence. This is especially the case where religious groups find themselves to be in the minority, such as is the case for Christians in different parts of Indonesia or in India, as well as for religionists in other parts of the world. Members of our religious institutes, as leaders and coworkers in those communities, suffer the same risk. A theory of the relation between violence and religion will not end the violence in itself, but can point the way to a possible solution at some point in the future.

At this point in time, three ways of looking at the way religion and violence relate can be seen to be emerging.

First of all, the pretext of difference in religion is used to pursue other agendas. This happens in many of the cases of religion and violence around the world. Hindu communalist violence against Muslims and Christians in India is often really about maintaining Hindu political hegemony where it appears threatened by growing numbers of minority religionists. A similar pattern might be seen in the long-standing civil war of the Muslim north against the traditionalist and Christian south in the Sudan, or in the battle of Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka. The pursuit of political ends by religious means is especially suspect in places where different religions had been able to live side by side (albeit sometimes uneasily), but now there are outbreaks of violence. In these and similar settings, deeper motives of actions need to be plumbed in order to see whether the resources of religion are simply being invoked to legitimate other action. Similarly, when religion is the most identifiable difference in populations which are otherwise largely the same or even identical, one needs to suspect that religion is an epiphenomenon in the rise of violence rather than its root cause.
A second way of looking at the relation of religion and violence is seeing the resources of religion as a shield against modernization and globalization. In this way, a religious view of the world becomes a cosmic stage or battleground for the warring of the forces of good (God and God's cause as construed in a religious tradition) against the forces of evil (secularization/modernization/globalization/the West/etc.). Taking up violence for the sake of defending or promoting God's cause against those forces of evil then mobilizes the resources of a religious tradition to war against the forces which would destroy it. While such forces can be mobilized by a provocateur from outside, it can arise also from leaders within a religious tradition. Here religion is more than a badge of identity vis-a-vis others ; it articulates deeply felt threats to existence itself. Martyrdom for the sake of religious cause then becomes feasible in the fight against the forces of evil.

A third way of looking at the relation of religion and violence is perhaps the most complicated and ultimately the most important. Here one has to explore the mechanisms which can trigger violence in themselves. These have to do with violence embedded in the tradition itself, despite all its protestations of harmony. For Jews, it may be the cursing psalms which legitimate the destruction of enemies. For Christianity, it is the language of violent death and sacrifice which lie at the heart of the interpretation of the mission of Jesus itself. For others, it may be in the very cosmic order itself (Zoroastrianism, Vedic Hinduism), or the insight that violence is but yet another face of the suffering which arises from illusion (as for Buddhists). It may be possible to explain references to violence away historically as part of clan-based societies which struggle to survive in violent times (in Judaism or early Islam), but how religions negotiate the relation of life and death, how they explain the presence of evil in the world, and what should be done about it inevitably bring one up against this problem. To date, no theory of the presence of evil, or the necessity of sacrifice, has been far-reaching enough to win the assent of large groups within any given religious tradition, let alone among them or even beyond them.

It is the from the keen awareness of what seems to have been an upsurge of violence in the last few decades, as well as the embeddedness of violence in social systems through the mechanisms of racism and other forms of social oppression, that the theological theme of reconciliation has come so to the forefront at the beginning of this new century. However reconciliation is construed-from conflict management and reduction, to the healing of memories, to the moral reconstruction of societies-it is incumbent upon all religious traditions which look to some form of transcendence of the present time with all its shortcomings and ills to plumb and bring forth what it can create a better earth in the midst of all the violence which is present. The litany of ills could go on almost endlessly. How are we to honor those who have died, how are we to seek justice for the living, and how are we to create societies where such evils cannot be perpetrated again ? For Christians, the Good News of Jesus Christ finds perhaps its most compelling form for our time in the message of God reconciling the world.

Preaching the Gospel Today and Tomorrow

It seems to me that we can summarize, in one kind of way, the challenge of preaching the Gospel in our immediate future under these three headings.

First of all, finding new forms of solidarity with humankind. This has to happen on the global level with the forms of discourse that try to imagine how we can hold our world together, in search of a global ethic, the guarantee of human rights, and the quest of international justice. The global ethic encompasses how we will treat one another and the earth. Human rights touches upon both political rights (so-called first-generation human rights), and economic rights (second-generation human rights). International justice must pursue human rights abuses and international crime and terrorism which threaten to fall beyond the purview of any national or regional authority.

Solidarity must also address local discourses as well, helping them situate themselves within their own and the larger picture so as to prevent ideological distortion, and to challenge those forces, from within and without, which threaten genuine well-being. This represents a second generation of the work of inculturation, at a time when first-generation efforts are being blocked in so many places. Some harmony between a theology of creation and a theology of redemption should require that, pace Gaudium et spes, the Gospel is not alien to any culture. Consequently, inculturation is possible everywhere. As the Church has taught, every culture is in need of purification, but that assumes that faith and culture encounter one another in the first place.

The interaction of global and local discourses is not just an issue for the sociocultural, political, and economic spheres. It has to do also with the conduct of the life of the Church itself, as a communion of churches. Recent efforts to create ever greater centralization seem to disregard a dynamic evident in how the global and the local are beginning to relate in the world today, but also one foreseen already in the theology of the Second Vatican Council.

Concern for the relation of the global and the local flows into the second challenge for preaching the Gospel in the immediate future, namely, how to relate to an irreducible plurality as a legitimate part of our world, without forcing it into monistic categories. Multicultural and multireligious realities are not going to disappear from our world. We do not want to succumb to a facile kind of postmodernism which is in effect simply another manifestation of indifferentism. Our commitments are real and not to be surrendered. But can we live with otherness and difference in integrity without succumbing to violence ? Can we find a way to articulate otherness and difference theologically which can lay the groundwork for Christians living in constructive harmony with their neighbors ? In a concrete way, this is the challenge of Christianity as it looks toward Asia today. Calls for the evangelization of Asia necessarily entail, it seems to me, a profound new evangelization of the West and other non-Asian parts of the world looking toward the world's largest, most populous, and most variegated continent. Here all the transnational religions of our current world were born ; here they have had centuries of experience in trying to live together, however tenuously. The offense some Asians have taken at Christian language of evangelization cannot simply be considered the scandal of the cross ; it is a profound invitation to examine our own hearts as Christians.

One place to begin that examination is how we ourselves deal with the confluence of the premodern, the modern, and the postmodern in our own midst. Some of us struggle to create the social space whereby premodern cultures might be able to maintain some measure of autonomy as the waves of modernization wash over them. Others see the unfinished agenda of modernity as offering the sought-for utopia which has been derailed by neoliberal capitalist forces. And a whole new generation has been shaped by the variegated forms of postmodernity as their lens upon our future. These pluralities are not something outside ourselves against which we form our identities. They are profoundly within us, in a world-church and in an order which exists in so many cultures and places. Unity has been and must remain a sign of the Church. The articulation of that unity calls us to explore the other three of the traditional marks of the Church as a way of giving that genuine and faithful expression in our time.

Third and finally, the realities of violence in all its forms, and the frequent implication of religion within the emergence and sustaining of violence, calls us to plumb more deeply the resources of peace-making and reconciliation within our faith. Looking at the killing fields of our world, created by neglect or by design, the immensity of suffering, and the open wounds that cannot be brought to healing prompt us to seek the transcendence promised us in the vision of reconciliation where God reconciles all the world in Christ, making peace through the blood of his cross (Col. 1 :20). That we believe that true peace will come through the blood of the cross already says something about how eventually a vision of violence and reconciliation is present at the heart of the Christian mystery. The situation in which we now live at the beginning of the twenty-first century urges us to plumb the meaning of the Paschal Mystery in a way in which we have not had to before.

The challenges which face us and face you as an Order of Friar Preachers will call upon the very best of your traditions. It will require first of all the discipline of contemplative prayer, of union with the God who has walked among us, and has known our sufferings. It has become more and more clear to me that, in dealing with the unspeakable horrors of what we as human beings have done to one another, we can only sustain our strength in the realization that it is God who works reconciliation in the world, not us. The outcome of all of this, what a genuinely new creation will look like, can only be seen from God's perspective. Without union with God in contemplative prayer, we cannot hope to sustain the struggle before us. We will burn out, the forces of evil will insinuate themselves into our lives. We are ambassadors of God's reconciliation, as the Apostle Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 5 :20), we are not its authors.

The issues which face us need not only a life of contemplative prayer, but the profound study which also so marks the Dominican tradition. The issues I have tried to articulate here-about global and local discourses, about engaging the pluralism of our world, about seeking healing and reconciliation-we but barely understand. They are not new issues, but they also have taken on forms new, strange, and urgent for us. We need the best of minds to explore them, especially bringing to bear upon them the resources of our faith and our tradition. The concern for study which has always been so much at the heart of what you do, and which has been so inspiring to me, must be engaged here.

Your emphasis on community, too, plays a role in all of this. First of all in mirroring the kind of communion to which we are called, a communion which can encompass and value our differences, yet make them a source of challenge and enrichment rather than one of division and diminishment. A fragmented, postmodern world needs visions of community, as does a world which suffers disruption and dislocation. Without romanticizing its possibilities, community must find today its deepest roots theologically, in a Trinitarian God where difference and unity find their deepest communion.

It is in this combine of prayer, study, and community which a genuine preaching of the Gospel can take shape. It can then be a preaching which can be heard within the tonalities of cultures situated at the crossroads of the local and the global, but also a preaching which takes its hearers to a new place. Where that new place is, and how God is leading us there, can only emerge in our prayer, in our study, and in our life together. May the Lord truly be with you on your journey as an Order of Preachers. puce

 

Design & management : Fr. Yves Bériault, o.p.