Why is education so important? Why do you say it's the greatest challenge the Church faces?
We see so many students and teachers passive, skeptical, and even bored. Since we don't know what to do, we manage the symptoms. Yet, we must face the challenge. The challenge for the educator is to reawaken desire, to experience the restlessness which St. Augustine speaks about. To do so, we must introduce students to a relationship with reality in its totality, with all of its beauty and meaning.
For this reason, it is necessary to put the person at the center, to teach students to look at the world with their own eyes, to think with their own heads, thus developing a critical spirit that makes their "I" more of a protagonist and less a spectator, more a leader and less a follower, more a citizen and less a subject.
This dynamic is only possible when a teacher is a witness to this relationship with reality, not as one who imposes herself or her way of seeing things upon others, in an authoritarian way, but someone who challenges the other by her own way of living.
What changes must the Church make not only to survive, but thrive in today's modern culture?
Christians are faced with an unprecedented challenge. Yet, we are not afraid of wide-ranging dialogue, without any privileges. As a matter of fact, it is a precious occasion to verify the validity of the Christian proposal. The fact that the Church is no longer a moral majority is liberating; it allows us to rediscover the heart of the Christian event. The Church will survive and thrive only through Her witness.
Arguably, though, there are a lot of Catholics who do not find it "liberating" that the Church is no longer the moral majority. Many are actually afraid of this phenomenon, and feel as though Catholics either have to isolate from culture or hold even more tightly to the tenets of Christianity as an increasingly extreme counter-witness. What do you say to this?
That the Church is no longer the moral majority is a fact. It's useless to complain. The fact that many Catholics are afraid of this situation shows the lack of certainty in the unarmed beauty of faith, causing them to either isolate themselves from the culture to 'preserve' the faith, or to see their presence in society as a counter-reaction. To describe what kind of presence is needed today, this observation may be useful:
When we have to defend something in the context of a debate, in order to make our response stronger, we almost unconsciously accept the way the other frames the issue. In doing so, we allow our position to be determined by its opposition. It is reactive instead of being an original position, that is, a position that comes from our experience of faith. This leads to further reducing Christianity, or its testimony, to the mere repetition of a doctrine, of some values or ethics. (Disarming Beauty, pp. 70-71).
Christian faith was born in a pluralistic society in Palestine and spread throughout a multicultural Roman empire. The first Christians based the communication of their faith only in their own witness. Their free and joyful position sprang from the core of their faith, not from fear of the world. "Man today expects, perhaps unconsciously, the experience of an encounter with people for whom the fact of Christ is such a present reality that their life is changed. What will shake up men and women today is a human impact; an event that echoes the initial event, when Jesus raised His eyes and said, 'Zacchaeus, hurry down. I mean to stay at your house today.'" (Luigi Giussani to the Synod on the Laity, 1987).
You reference the malaise of "lethargy and existential boredom." How do modern men and women regain a sense of wonder and desire in front of their lives? In your view, what is the first step, and what is Church's role in this?
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The first step is to encounter somebody who reawakens us from our lethargy and boredom. Regardless of the human situation, something unforeseen is always possible, something unexpected, which makes us regain the sense of ourselves. The Church has a unique possibility to offer a big contribution to the modern situation if she rediscovers the real nature of Christianity as an event, an event that reawakens the person, just as we see in the Gospels.
How do you encounter someone who awakens you? Is there a danger of moral subjectivity, here? Does one just follow anything that attracts?
You can see this when you meet someone who awakens you in your own experience like when you fall in love with someone. You don't need anybody else assuring you that it is that particular person who has awakened you from your apathy, or your meaningless life. It's something objective, something that comes out of you. We can use the same method looking at the origin of Christian faith. As then-Cardinal Ratzinger said in 1993: "we can recognize only something that raises a correspondence in us." Anybody can recognize Christ "because he corresponds to the nature of man…the longing for the infinite which is alive and unquenchable within man." In the opening lines of Deus Caritas Est, he brought this to everyone's attention: "Being Christian is not an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person who gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." The person of Jesus is such a great and precious good, as He alone fully corresponds to the human thirst for happiness. And, the exceptional correspondence He brings about in those who meet him makes them capable of being in relationship with reality in an absolutely gratuitous way.
You speak of dialogue in the book a lot. How is this possible and why is it essential?
Dialogue is crucial because it is the possibility for a person to enter into a relationship with the other's experience. Sharing our own experiences with others, welcoming the experiences of others, is the only way to enrich our life.
Freedom in dialogue comes from the esteem one has for the experience of the other. This esteem permits one to enter into relationship with the richness of the experience of another person – in order to enrich one's own perspective. We can say with Terence: "Nothing human is foreign to us." And when one has this certainty, he or she has no problem entering into a dialogue.