Braving the cold, the winter solstice – and missing the second game of the State of Origin series – some seventy people gathered in Sacred Heart Cathedral last night for the 2017 Cathedral Lecture. This year’s lecture, entitled Christian Faith in a Secular Age, was delivered by Rev Dr James McEvoy, Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology of Australian Catholic University and a priest of the Archdiocese of Adelaide.
Drawing on the work of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, and his book A Secular Age, McEvoy spoke about the reality of the contemporary age not as something to be resisted by those people of faith, as might have been the case during the ‘long nineteenth century’, but rather as a reality with which the Church, and all people of faith, are called to dialogue with. Drawing on the momentous document of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World), McEvoy posits that dialogue must be the normative attitude adopted by the Church. Facing a secular age calls not for retreat on the part of people of faith and the Church but for an active engagement, a preparedness to walk the journey with those who are seeking, those who are exploring, with an accompanying preparedness to learn from those with whom the journey is shared.
This is a radical change from the understanding of the Church’s role in society that was prevalent prior to the advent of the Second Vatican Council. The advent of the secular age is not a denunciation of religion and faith but a recognition of religion and faith is no longer the sole basis for ordering contemporary society. No longer is the Church – any church – able to impose its own understanding of ethics and order simply because it is the Church. The Church must now engage in conversation, in dialogue with society, culture and the contemporary world, and be prepared to convince rather than order. This change of approach requires a momentous change in both the Church’s self-understanding, and its commitment to mission. No longer is mission about the passing on of unalterable truths; mission must be about engagement and dialogue.
Dr McEvoy encountered an appreciative audience for the 2017 Cathedral Lecture, as evidenced by the (all too short) question and answer session at the end of the lecture itself. The questions raised by McEvoy’s lecture are questions that must be faced by the Church in general and, particularly, by the Church in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle as it continues to seek to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a secular and increasingly secularised society.
The annual Cathedral Lecture offers the opportunity for engagement between Church and Society on contemporary Catholic themes through the opportunity to listen and dialogue with lecturers of significant standing in Australia and internationally. The 2017 Cathedral Lecture has certainly contributed to the conversation and dialogue that is necessary in our contemporary world.
The text of the 2017 Cathedral Lecture by Rev Dr James McEvoy can be downloaded below: