Friday, July 20, 2012

A note on the challenge of the New Evangelization

Because I am long overdue reading more Von Balthasar, this blog is long overdue in featuring a lengthy extract from his ouvre. Last night I began reading his book Epilogue, written after his magnificent trilogy, which, when complete, came to some sixteen volumes. His reason for writing a succinct epilogue was "to afford the weary reader something like an overview of the whole enterprise." He is most emphatic that it is not "a kind of Reader's Digest version" of his magnum opus.
The slogan is much bruited about these days that we should try to meet modern man "where he is". According to one report, "in America an adolescent by the time he has reached the age of seventeen has on average sat in front of a television set for 15,000 hours, the equivalent of almost two full years." Here in Europe, according to a recent study, children even as early as three- to six-year olds sit before the TV screen on average of five to six hours a week, and ten- to thirteen-year olds devote more than twelve hours a week to to it. Hans Meier quite justifiably wonders aloud "whether, in this age of the media, we are handing on a cultural legacy (and a religious faith)" and, if we are not, "whether we not finally lose, with the lost language, our very ability to hear and see anything at all."

So severe is this situation that most teachers of religion ask, with equal justice,just who these ruins are whom we should try to "meet" (against their will) "where they are". A missionary toiling in the savannas of Africa or on the atolls of the Pacific has it relatively easy: he encounters a perhaps primitive anima natura christiana. What might come across to the native as pure theological Chinese he can easily translate into the simplest of languages. But where is the famous "point of contact" with the anima technica vacua? I for one certainly do not know. Some table-rapping, a séance or two, some dabbling in Zen meditation, a smattering of liberation theology: enough"
The anima technica vacua is the empty technical soul of the modern human person. It is important to note that these words were initially published twenty-five years ago, in 1987, just a year before Von Balthasar's death. He is not giving in to despair and expounding hopelessness, just highlighting the challenges we face of the kind that Catholic bloggers and others seriously engaged in media outreach are trying to face. Most importantly, he highlights the insurmountable limits of such technologies. To give a simple example, watching Mass on TV is very different from going to Mass at your local parish.

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