I have come to Germany in this Pentecost season to reconnect with important personal roots. Thirty-three years ago, I was ordained a deacon by Johann Baptist Neuhausler, who as a young priest, preached against National Socialism and was arrested while removing his vestments after Mass.
Neuhausler spent 1939-1945 in Hitler’s concentration camps – first in Sachsenhausen and then later in Dachau. Before ordaining me a deacon, he passed along what he had learned in the camps: “Paul, whenever the Icon of God, the human person is defiled, you with your life must say ‘no’”
Neuhausler is buried in Dachau as he wished. He remains a personal source of inspiration. I have also come to Germany to spend a little time with good friends from student days. I studied four years of theology here in Germany and continue to find conversation very stimulating.
While the Cardinals were gathering in Rome for their special meeting, a few Redemptorists were gathering there as well. We were concerned about new pastoral initiatives for our congregation in these postmodern times. I found the meetings stimulating, providing much food for thought. Certain moments in Rome can be very life giving, especially when reflection is nourished with a good Italian wine.
There is a general consensus that we are living in postmodern times. There are many definitions of postmodernism. I offer the following: In postmodernism there is a loss of a unitary worldview. Reality is fragmented on every level. The subject is under question. The postmodern is asking who or what, if anything, we are. There is an existential rootlessness, abandonment in an impersonal cosmos. Foundations have been subverted. There is nothing stable on which to base one’s life. There is no meta-narrative. As the theologian David Tracy of Chicago would say, we have lost the sense of the classic.
There are many responses to this postmodern world. There is the nihilistic or radically deconstructive postmodern. These groups have moved beyond modernity to embrace the characteristics I have suggested. There is no reality beyond the pragmatic requirements of the moment.
A second response might be called the nostalgic postmodern. This group simply rejects modernity as a worldview. It embraces the advancement of post modernity in technology and material progress, but on the other hand it derives its values and social agenda from pre-modernity. This group feels that Vatican II sold out the church by embracing modernity. It feels called to resist and to restore the medieval absolutism of the pre-conciliar church. Sandra Schneiders, in her book Finding The Treasure suggests that John Paul II and Mother Angelica are examples of this conviction.
Thirdly we have the late moderns. Schneiders calls this group the constructive post-moderns. This group feels that much of modernity has run into a dead end: anthropocentrism, individualism, consumerism, masculinism, materialism, scientism, progressivism and much of the rest of modern heritage are socially, politically and morally bankrupt. This group resonates with the postmodern intuitions of the relativity of reality and the questionableness of absolutes. This group, however, acknowledges that modernity also birthed important values: the dignity and rights of the human, the validation of critical reason against dogmatic authoritarianism, tolerance, freedom of conscience and a commitment to the well-being of all within a world order based on justice. Most Catholic theologians find themselves within this group.
Reflecting and musing on this beautiful Ascension Thursday in Munich, I am grateful for a word passed along by Sandra Schneiders. It is the French word Bricolage, which means piecemeal work: an assembling of what is at hand for the best solution to the presenting problem without trying to establish that such a solution is some kind of absolute and valid for all time. The unity of the final product and its utility result not from some preordained plan correctly followed but from the inner directedness of the one creating. I try to create for others and myself as I revisit Rome and Johann B. Neuhausler, I continue to dialogue with Schneiders and her writings and I listen to the lives lived on the streets of our large multicultural cities. Small wells here and there that continue to nourish and give much hope, bricolage.
Paul E. Hansen