Fr. Timothy Radcliffe’s “Can Christianity Touch the Imagination of Our Contemporaries?”

On January 17th, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., former master of the Order of Preachers and author of Why Go To Church?, The Drama of the EucharistTake the Plunge: Living Baptism and Confirmationpresented a lecture, “Can Christianity Touch the Imagination of Our Contemporaries?” at the University of Notre Dame. I was moved by Fr. Radcliffe’s preaching earlier in the week and was happy to receive the following notes on his lecture from Laura Billeci, a M.Div. candidate at the University of Notre Dame. 

Lecture Notes:

Imagine there is no heaven; it is easy if you try…

  • Christian imagination can’t be explained by atheist position. (Debate between Dawkins and Ronan Williams). Radcliffe’s claim is that atheism is not an intellectual problem, but a imaginative problem.

The Scandal of Particularity

  • Think about the movie, Of Gods and Men…Why is this film so powerful and transcends believers and non-believers alike? First, because it is about concrete, particular people. We believe as Christians that universal belief is found in a particular instant. This is the scandal of particularity! Saints are all about this scandal of particularity. Our world of insecure identities looks for uniformity and conformity. People long to be real.
  • Virtue is the hard work of becoming someone. Only in our virtues are we original/unique, only in our vices are we like others. Most of religion is boring because it is abstract. McJagger: “You don’t want to talk about Jesus. You want to see him face to face.” “What if God was one of us?”
  • When have you experienced the closeness of God? God as one of us

The Cross, Drama, Doctrine, and Questions…

  • Another reason Of Gods and Men is loved by so many is because it is a drama. We watch their struggle to decide to stay. We see the abstract played out in the particular. In the gentleness and love in the ending, as the monks are being led away, you see the paradoxical nature of goodness.
  • In the Old Testament, it seems the bad will get their comeuppance. In the New Testament we are brought face to face with Christ’s paradoxical victory of goodness.
  • In our western imagination, we are stuck in the “good guy getting the bad guy.”
  • The vitality of Christianity depends on the beauty of doctrine. But these doctrines make no sense apart from the drama of the death and resurrection of Christ. There is always a risk of martyrdom. This brings the story to life. We have to find dramatic ways to express our faith. Not just an innocuous spirituality, candles, etc. it is about getting caught up into God or it is nothing. We must offer the full body Christianity!
  • When Jesus meets people he asks questions, he does not communicate facts! He asks “What do you seek?” “Do you love me?” Questions. You are provoked into moving further into the drama, deeper on the journey. Christianity is not about answers. It is about mystery and about invitation. Heresy offers truth as tied up as an answer. Evangelization can be seen as a beacon of light passing to another beacon.
  • Blessed John Paul II believed in the theater of resistance, or poetry of resistance. He enriched the imagination of the Poles. Only once he could paint the beauty of the true world, the gray dismal world of communism would implode around them.
  • In our Catholic tradition, we have people like Fra Angelico and Caravaggio who touch our imaginations.

On Imagination

  • Who are the most creative people around us? They are ones to help us glimpse the story of God became man and make it present again. T.S. Elliot writes “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring. Will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.”
  • Anyone who is searching for the deeper questions, honestly, is an ally.
  • The enlightenment put a divide between reason and imagination. Reason is scientific and love is emotional. We must heal this divide. We must recover the grandeur of reason—poetic and imagination.
  • All kids are imaginative and we educate them out of it. Art must become apart of the tissue of ordinary culture. Telling kids stories! Stories before doctrines.
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