Perhaps one of the most famous lines that made it to trend in the recent Oscars was that of Neil Patrick Harris’ opening lines: "Tonight we honor today’s best and whitest…” However, after reading John Allen’s 10 mega-trends shaping the Catholic Church, Harris’ famous line may be said only in reference to the Church’s past. Today what could be referred as the Church’s best and whitest times are only part of Church annals. Time has changed, new trends creeping in, many things are new and so is the color that fills the Church today.
Gone are the days when missioners would only mean Caucasians; when the Roman Catholic Church is synonymous to something western; and the Church’s perspective is seen only in Rome. Gone are the days when European churches are overflowing with people to the extent that it overflowed to developing countries to share their abundant faith in mission ad gentes. Nowadays these churches are empty and the Church’s pecuniary condition is also running empty due to major abuses and blunders made by the clergy.
Perhaps this era may be considered the Church’s “darkest” times in post-modern history because of the offenses made by the clerics that erupted in the west. However, this “darkest” times could mean not only to refer to the stigma caused by abuses but also because the hope of the Church today shines brightest not among the best and whitest but the poorest and “darkest” people of this world. Perhaps the color change happening in the Church today from White Caucasian to sun-kissed Asians and dark Africans may be a reflection of the revolution that is going on within the Church. It is a manifestation of the change that is on-going within - from the triumphalist and elitist Church to a Church that is more service-oriented and sensitive to the needs of the poor; from a Church that speaks from the perspective of the comfortable first world to a Church that preaches mercy and compassion and responsive to the situation of poverty, oppression and injustice of developing countries.
Color change is indeed inevitable. Changed has not only occurred in colors of complexions but also in the color of outer garments. Gone are the days when men garbed in white hold monopoly to the truths of divinity. Nowadays with the rise of lay empowerment and involvement in the Church white garbs are no longer the predominant color in the Church’s ministry but it is one among the many different colors worn by the laity who work hand-in-hand with the clergy and religious in proclaiming the gospel ever anew.
The Color of the World
With the color change that has become inevitable in the Church, the world we are in now has also become so diverse, so wide and so colorful. If we look around many of the things that are happening were only once considered science fiction. What the Church has attempted to respond and address in the past by way of providing theological reflections and moral guidelines can no longer be seen as black and white. At present situations and experiences of people can no longer be narrowed to either black or white. There are lots of gray areas now and the shades of these gray areas are wider and wilder than the fifty shades of grey.
Think of bio-ethical issues. Consider gender differences. Reflect on the many realities happening in cyber space. Think of the quality of human relationships vis-à-vis the existence of social media, the internet and smart gadgets. Consider the megatrends shaping the Catholic Church. Where would the Church situate herself now in this wide and diverse situation of the world and human life?
The Common Man Re-Imagining the World
Perhaps in the Church’s “darkest” of times, we honor with gratitude the best times that happened in the history of the Church made by the “whitest” and well educated people of the Church. However, cognizant of the color change that is happening perhaps the Church can bank on the new color that fills her to respond to a more colorful context that confronts her. This can be done by allowing new voices to be heard, by listening to the voices of the common people that builds the Church today, and permitting this people coming from developing countries to re-imagine the face of the Church in this complex and diverse world that she is in right now.
As the famous dictum goes, Vox Populi Vox Dei, maybe the time has come for the Church to listen to what her people is saying and not saying; maybe it is time for her to allow her people to speak and allow the Spirit to work within them and contribute in the shaping of the Church; perhaps the time has come for the Church to allow the needs and concerns of the common man to be heard. If there is somebody that is so affected by these mega trends it is not the Church hierarchy, it is not the rich but the common man- the faceless, nameless common man who struggles to survive and live this complex world.
Abraham Lincoln once said “God must love the common man, He made so many of them.” God has indeed loved the common man and He speaks to them through their struggles, through their plights, through the everyday complexities they face day in and day out. And for the Church to respond to the complex world, she needs to listen to God speaking through the common man.
I say this using the language of the common man with much respect to the Church who has moulded and nurtured me. I say this as a common man who speaks on behalf of all common people who continues to struggle the complexities of the gray areas of life: “Kung hindi mo maibahagi ang sariling kulambo, makibahagi sa kagat ng lamok. Kung hindi mo maibahagi ang sariling payong, makibahagi sa patak ng ulan.” Only when the Church is able to listen, share and understand the concerns of the common man, will she be able to allow the common to participate in the re-imagining of the Church today; only then will she be able to empower the common man to become her evangelizers; only then will the Church be able to respond to the colourful trends that confronts her and only then will she be able to let the new colors sneaking in her shine brightest in her “darkest” times.
With all these megatrends and the big words that theologians are talking about these days, in the future when we shall have seen the bigger picture and the common man is heard and has participated in the re-imagining of the church, perhaps all these megatrends with just be trivial and people will just laugh at its pettiness. As the famous line of Virgil in Aeneid goes, “Perhaps one day, these things will be a pleasure to recall.”