The question of God today


In the opening address of the Pontifical Council for the Laity’s 25th Plenary Assembly, Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko expressed a desire that was confirmed during the assembly: “Something that is humanly unthinkable: the infinite and ineffable God, Creator of heaven and earth, addresses a human creature and speaks to humankind... During this Plenary Assembly we wish to experience this amazement yet again, because it is through this amazement that faith is born, and not only is it born, but it is continuously nourished”.

The Assembly was held at Villa Aurelia from 24 to 26 November last. It concentrated on a theme that is connected to the very foundation of being Christians: “The God question today: should we not start all over again from God?”. The second part of the title is taken from a quotation from the pope’s book “Light of the World”.

In his introductory talk, Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko spoke of The God question in the teachings of Benedict XVI. The Holy Father, in addition to being the Pastor of the universal Church, is also undoubtedly one of the greatest experts on the question of God in the world today. He pointed out that “Pope Benedict XVI is a great teacher of the faith who helps us to avoid losing sight of that which is really essential in life. He is a great theologian who is fascinated with the mystery of God. At the same time, he is a keen observer of today’s world with all its complexity and ambiguity. The Holy Father is gifted with an extraordinary ability to identify and name the most pressing challenges of post-modernity facing Christians”.

Following the dicastery president’s synthesis of pontifical teaching on the subject, Professor Sergio Belardinelli spoke on the topic Faith and unbelief in the world today. He addressed the subject from a social-cultural standpoint and emphasised the ambiguous nature of the current religious revival. He said that, on the one hand, the hearts and minds of people need certain conditions that are being eroded in our culture and that are provided by the Christian faith rather than by a generic individualistic faith. People want a sense of reality and a sense of truth. On the other hand, the alternative to truth, reality and God is absolute no-sense. This is the experience today, not of philosophers who theorise on the subject, but of people, especially the young, who tragically fall under its spell. They are left with a feeling of dissatisfaction and a strong desire to escape from it. This desire can open the heart to a search for truth.

The next two talks presented the theoretical and theological premises that allow the question of God to be explored. Professor Luca Tuninetti addressed the topic of Reason and faith in our questions about God. He spoke of the origins of the God question. It comes from human beings themselves who search for answers about reality. Every query about God presupposes a query that arises from our experience. We could say that there is a question about God because there is first of all a question from God. God is querying us through reality. Professor Tuninetti maintains that we do not need to explain why human beings ask about God, but rather why human beings do not. Most Rev. Luis Ladaria, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke on the topic ‘I believe in one God’. The God of Christianity, the faith of the Church. The trinitarian Christian faith is God’s response to the questions that arise in our hearts. Archbishop Ladaria spoke of the biblical, patristic and magisterial bases of trinitarian doctrine which is none other that God’s self-presentation as infinite and absolute Love: Deus caritas est.
The audience with the Holy Father took place the following day (we shall speak of this at the end of this article). There was also a session in which several of the lay faithful told of their personal experiences of the God question. These included Anne Moens (a mother), Marco Bersanelli (an astrophysicist) and Alessandro Tramontano (an entrepreneur). They each gave their answer to the question: God in a Christian’s everyday life: who is God for you? Anne Moens spoke of her experience of God’s presence in daily life as a married person, thanks to her encounter with the charismatic community. Prayer life, acceptance of God’s will in her relations with her children and husband, the experience of providence and engagement in the Church’s work of evangelisation give her happiness. She mentioned her concern about the fact that no one tells new families about the joy of having large families and of being a mother, and of the option for simple living and abandonment to Divine Providence that this involves. Marco Bersanelli spoke of the wonder he feels every day when he observes the universe and how this relates to his life and relationship with God. It all began with his encounter with the Church by means of Don Giussani. He said that his familiarity with God was not due mainly to his scientific research, even though he was so passionate about it. It was mainly the result of a human encounter that he continues to experience. The word ‘God’ would be abstract if he had not met Jesus Christ. This encounter was made possible by means of the attractive and credible witness he had found in the Church. If it were not for this encounter with changed humanity that continues to surprise him and call his attention, he does not know what view he would have of the universe. Sandro Tramontano gave an account of his existential crisis at the age of twenty. His experience in the Church had told him that God existed, but he wondered where God was in his life and sufferings, and in his sins and daily conflicts. He then deepened his relationship with the Church through the Neocatechumenal Way. Now he is the father of a large family, and he is aware of the meaning to be found in his work in producing energy by alternative means. He spoke of how this work gives a new perspective and reminds us that there is a Creator. Not everything is dependent on our actions and good will. He found that having his eyes open to creation also helps with the younger children. They pray the morning prayer together on Sundays and thank God for the sun, rain and wind, and the children know that God created all of this.

Professor Manfred Lütz, a member of our dicastery, spoke about ‘God’: a book that became a best-seller. His book about God was very successful in many countries, especially in Germany where normally religious publications do not have a wide readership. Professor Lütz is the author of many widely read books. He spoke about the fundamental criteria of his work which are fidelity to the truth without compromise, the use of direct language that is not technical and avoids expressions that are excessively ecclesiastical, and an approach that is not polemic but rather provocative and entertaining in order to highlight the inconsistencies that are contained in the dominant mentality.

The panel that discussed the topic of Today’s Courtyard of the Gentiles: responding to this request of the Holy Father included Giancarlo Cesana and Giuliano Ferrara, editor of Il Foglio newspaper. Giancarlo Cesana spoke of his experience in Communion and Liberation and of the many possibilities that Christianity gives to people who follow their heart. Giuliano Ferrara emphasised the importance of Benedict XVI’s proposal for a courtyard of the gentiles. It is a space for encounter and search for God by believers and non-believers alike. He suggested that the courtyard of the gentiles should not be limited to gatherings for debate among intellectuals, but that it should be extended to places where believers and non-believers are working together for the defence of life and the dignity of human beings, and for the fundamental values of civil life, education and family.

On the last day, Professor Fabrice Hadjadj, a writer and philosopher from France, spoke on the topic How to speak about God today. He made it very clear that this is a difficult thing to do. Human beings are incapable of speaking about God satisfactorily, and there is always the danger of ending up by talking pretentious nonsense that is disrespectful of the mystery and is inevitably reductive. The essential condition needed in order to speak correctly about this question is that, as well as a relationship with the person being addressed, you should have a personal relationship with God. On this subject, Professor Hadjadj responded to the request of the assembly by giving an account of his conversion to the Catholic Church which was a special grace from the Mother of Our Lord.

The Assembly concluded with the Program review and future plans of the Pontifical Council for
the Laity presented by Bishop Clemens. This was a review of the work done in the dicastery since the previous plenary assembly and an account of the activities being planned. These include a Congress of the Lay Faithful of Africa in September 2012 on the theme Witnessing to Jesus Christ in Africa today - salt of the earth, light of the world, and World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.

The members and consultors of the Pontifical Council for the Laity contributed immensely to the sessions with their numerous interventions. They developed the topics of the talks with their different points of view, and they enriched the subject matter through their different geopolitical and cultural perspectives. They showed how the God question is essential for human beings today all over the world.

The highlight of the Plenary Assembly was the audience with the Holy Father, an occasion that shows how our dicastery works together with the Pastor of the universal Church. Benedict XVI thanked the Pontifical Council for the Laity for their contribution to the mission of the Church. He mentioned in particular the Congress of Asian Catholic Laity, and how World Youth Day in Madrid was an occasion when “an extraordinary cascade of light, joy and hope illuminated Madrid, and not only Madrid but also old Europe and the entire world, clearly reproposing the timeliness of the search for God. No one was able to remain indifferent, no one could think that the question of God was unimportant for the human being of today”. The pope was very pleased with the theme of the Assembly. He said that “the question of God is, in a certain sense, the question of questions. It takes us back to the fundamental human questions, to the aspiration for truth, happiness and freedom inherent in the human heart that seek fulfilment”. Benedict XVI said that “the question about God is revealed by the encounter with those who have the gift of faith, with those who have a vital relationship with the Lord... Your role as faithful lay people is particularly important here... You are called to bear a transparent witness to the importance of the question of God in every field of thought and action. In the family, at work, as well as in politics and in the economy, people of today need to see for themselves and to feel tangibly how with God, or without God everything changes”. The Church too must always keep this question alive: “Christians do not dwell on a far off planet, immune from the world’s ‘diseases’, but share in the upheavals, bewilderment and difficulties of their time. Hence it is no less urgent to repropose the question of God in the ecclesial fabric itself too... The first response to the major challenge of our time lies in the profound conversion of our hearts, so that baptism, which has made us the light of the world and the salt of the earth, may truly transform us”. The Pope then blessed the Pontifical Council for the Laity and entrusted their mission to the intercession of Our Lady.

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On 1 September 2016 the

Pontifical Council for the Laity
ceased its activities.
Its responsibilities and duties
have been taken over by the
Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.