In our technological civilization, where telephone communications are fast and free, where news travel around the world in microseconds, the Internet has transformed the culture, the social networks invade our privacy, and the computer dominates all commercial activity, one could question the possibility of a spirituality for the men and women of today. When it is so easy to communicate ideas and feelings quickly and thoughtlessly, what is the place for interiority, the capacity for slow and deep reflection, the paused reading and the rested and unhurried consideration of the deepest truths of religion that form the basis of what Christians understand by spirituality?
Ancient thinkers spoke negatively of the man or woman “effusus ad exteriora”, outwardly turned and unable to look inward so as to “relish internally” (St. Ignatius of Loyola) the spiritual truths that give meaning to life. Have we reached the point of universal inability for introspection and drawing the fruits of reflection as you could do before the computer?
A great Jesuit scholar of the last century, Karl Rahner (1904-1984), foresaw the future from his chair of theology in Innsbruck, Austria, in his article “Elements of spirituality in the Church of the Future” (1978). Without discarding the value of devotions and traditional piety, in an almost prophetic way, Rahner respectfully opened a window to the future. Having been appointed as “peritus” in the Second Vatican Council by Pope John XXIII, he managed to embrace the “monolithic” church before the Council with the Church of the complex world that emerged later.
Instead of going around the bushes, Rahner claims that “the spirituality of the future will focus on the essential data of Christian revelation: that God exists, that He can speak to man, that precisely his ineffable incomprehensibility as such constitutes the center of our existence, and therefore of our spirituality, that with Jesus, and only with him, is it possible to live and die in a definitive freedom from all powers and constrictions, that his incomprehensible cross has been placed upon our existence and that it is this scandal what gives a true, liberating and beatifying meaning to our existence. “
Moreover, according to Rahner, the spirituality of the future should be involved in profane matters: “The spirituality of the Church in the future will also have to have, as it has had in every epoch, a social and political dimension, attentive to the world, capable of assuming responsibilities towards this only seemingly profane world.” It is good to point out here the coincidence of Rahner with the thought of Ignatius of Loyola, who was able to discover God in all things. Why not discover God also in the sociopolitical avatars of our era, such as the problems of immigration, unemployment, social inequality, the “care of our common house” (Pope Francis), racism and human rights?
Rahner glimpsed a more secularized future world with greater ideological diversity than the world before the Council. Therefore, “the spirituality of the future will not be already socially supported… by a homogeneous Christian environment.” The spirituality of the Christian today must find its foundation in a personal and courageous faith, rooted in the personal experience of God, within a church committed in the social sphere and with a vision of the meaning of life that includes the kingdom as a future horizon and not as a concrete realization within our earthly world. “In this situation the personal responsibility of the individual in his faith decision is necessary, and is required in a much more radical way than in the past,” says Rahner.
The role of prayer and the experience of God must be highlighted. In this respect Rahner claims that “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will be nothing.” And he clarifies what this mysticism means in today’s world: “…no strange parapsychological phenomena, but an authentic experience of God, which springs from the center of existence…”
However, the experience of God is not the product of an exaggerated intimacy or individualism. Rahner states that the experience of God must be made within a group, “the experience of the spirit made by a community”, something like the original experience of the Apostles at the first Pentecost. This observation helps us better understand the need that many Christians now feel to associate and pray with others in communities of believers in order to live more fully their faith and to seek together their experience of God.
Finally, the experience of God must be born within the Church: not in an idealized, polished, perfect church, in which there are no tensions or different opinions, but “a church of sinners, of the tent in the desert shaken by all the gales of history , the pilgrim people of God… a church of inner tensions and discords… under the weight of both the reactionary folds of the institution and the easy modernity that threaten to squander the sacred heritage of the faith and the memory of its historical experience”, a Church like the one described by Pope Francis, open to all as “a field hospital”, where the sinners and the sick of all kinds are welcome.
Spirituality has venerable roots in the past with authors such as St. Teresa of Jesus, St. John of the Cross, and St. Ignatius of Loyola, but to be credible, it must speak to young people, to the world of the present and the future. To be able to speak today, Christian spirituality must face challenges. Karl Rahner’s reflection and providential look towards the future can help us face these challenges and find new ways and a new language in order to respond to the needs and desires of contemporary man.