In our fast-paced world, “keeping up with the times” can seem like a full-time job.
This constant need for updating can apply to technology, psychology, ecology, meteorology and, yes, even theology; that is, our faith and our beliefs. Literally, if our faith is truly alive and well, it also needs to be updated and reapplied to our ever-changing world.
Unless we choose to live alone on an island, we do need to relate to others. All of us are constantly being effected by the words and images, the triumphs and tragedies, the gifts and challenges of this day and age.
Just a few months ago, a well-known and respected Catholic theologian and writer from Connecticut, Fr. Richard McBrien, died. I was told that he was asked how the Church was able change its view of various topics. He responded that some ideas or practices eventually became “accurate but inadequate”; by this I think that he meant that some ways of looking at ideas or practices were good in their own day but are simply no longer adequate for our present day.
I’d like to offer a personal example that readily comes to mind about keeping up with the times. Within my own lifetime, I am aware of a major change in the Catholic Church’s view of the relationship of Church and Society. As odd as it may seem, until fifty years ago with the onset of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Catholic Church’s view was that She and Society were separate and complete entities, with their own legal system and all necessary resources. Succinctly stated, she saw them as separate, respecting – but not needing – one another.
In response to Pope John XXII’s plea in the early 60s to “read the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:4), he asked the Catholic Church to look again at their faith and how it could respond better to the modern world around us. With the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the Church stated its renewed view of the relationship of the Church and Society:
“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the (people) of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts... this (Church) community realizes that it is truly linked with (humanity) and its history by the deepest of bonds.” (Gaudium et Spes, #1).
As Pope Francis reminds us, the Catholic Church now views all the members of humanity as sisters and brothers in our common effort to attain peace and justice, love and a fullness of life. This is, for me, a fine example of “keeping up with the times” or of realizing that the older view of Church and Society was “accurate” at one time but now “inadequate” for the world of today.
This also happens within our own families, with society’s changing views of what a family is, how it can be structured and how to properly oversee and care for its own members. This also in true in some of our “(once) accurate but (now) inadequate” civil laws that need to be updated.
Our lives seem to be more complex today. The responsibilities involved in raising a family, taking care of our senior members, our awareness of the imminent needs of the poor and the homeless – these are concerns that we all have in common. Therefore these needs and concerns should bind us together as we all struggle to “keep up with the times.”