Towards a Christianity of freedom and grace

The first two stages of our journey have helped us to understand how a change of epoch demands a change of pastoral paradigm from the ecclesial community. Evangelii gaudium presented us with a new way of understanding the mission, a new vision of the Church, a new way of conceiving the content of the proclamation. But another question remains, the most important.

We are not only called to change our apostolic mentality: we are invited to review the figure of faith that we have received and that we unconsciously communicate to others in our mission. Let us go in search, for ourselves and for others, of a figure of faith “culturally inhabitable, liveable, sensible and desirable” in our apostolate contexts, now marked everywhere by plurality, by biodiversity.

What figure of faith in a plural context? From duty to grace

The Christianity of duty

We come from a Christianity of duty. To say Christian faith was basically to say three things: doctrine (the things one must know); religious practices (the functions one must attend, first of all Sunday Mass, on pain of mortal sin; to confess at least once a year and communicate at least at Easter); commandments (what one must do and cannot do). At the center was duty.

This way of conceiving and living the faith was in tune with a culture of order, a hierarchically constituted society, in which one was educated to honor the imperatives, to faithfully carry out one’s tasks, to carry out the orders received, to respect the conformity of behavior. In this culture Christianity was appreciated as a decisive contribution to coexistence and social stability. One layer of us all is indelibly constituted by this figure of faith. Christianity is the religion of duties, towards God and towards others.

The Christianity of commitment

But there’s a second layer. That of a figure of faith born in the period of the Council and developed in the following years: the Christianity of commitment, of causes, of humanitarian and socio-political challenges, of charitable organizations, of service to the poorest. This form of faith marked an important passage compared to the first, without supplanting it, in this case too a culturally marked passage.

We were in a context characterized by great confidence in human development, by optimism about what a man’s strength can do, by the image of a future characterized by unstoppable progress and well-being. This Christianity remains in us as a second layer: we are Christians at the same time of duty and commitment, those of the commandments and boundless generosity.

Beyond dutifulness and voluntarism

Now this way of understanding faith (duty and commitment) is no longer attractive, it is no longer felt to meet the profound needs of people today, including us. Why? Because we are in crisis compared to those two cultures characterized by duty and commitment. It is no longer the age of stability and conformity; it is no longer the age of dreaming of the transformation of the world on the basis of an optimism without limits in human forces. Duty has been replaced by freedom, omnipotence by a sense of the limit.

The culture of duty has given way to that of freedom, with the risk, of course, of an empty freedom (a freedom ‘from’, without being accompanied by a freedom ‘of’, ‘for’ and ‘with’). The culture of commitment, after the disenchantment, has brought out a calmer desire for care, first of all for oneself, for nature, for the future of our planet, for our humanity.

The Christianity of grace

It is a Christianity of grace. Faith in the sign of grace is based on the experience of unconditional love. Everything is given to us: the Gospel, the common house to keep, the love of couple and family. This experience is marked by joy (certainly not by lightheartedness) the mission of the Church (to evangelize), the care of creation and human life in each of its expressions. It is therefore faith in the possibility of living with hope, because we are preceded and guarded. This is not by our own strength, but by grace.

Such a faith does not ask us to scrap anything of what we have had in our formation, neither the moral structure that has been given to us (for which we are grateful), nor the generosity and commitment to which we have been trained. But it transfigures them. It does not make them the starting point, but the grateful echo of lives marked by evangelical joy, even in darkness and suffering, so that you may be saved.

Faith identified with duty and even faith identified with commitment have no future and no longer speak to people today. Neither the former nor the latter are a “missionary” faith figure, that is, capable of surprise, of questioning, of conversion.

Any renewal of the mission will not succeed if we have not carried out this conversion and if we have not entered into a horizon of grace, that grace which makes us responsible and committed. In us people need to see reflected the joy of a faith that leads us to free witness and commitment. Not a faith linked to the duties and voluntarism of our strength. Only our conversion of faith to grace can surprise and revive other people to faith.