Mary Catherine Hilkert: “Grace-Optimism”: The Spirituality at the Heart of Schillebeeckx’s Theology
SPIRITUALITY TODAY,
Fall 1991, Vol.44 No. 3, pp. 220-239.

Schillebeeckx’s theology of hope flows from his belief that God offers us a future full of hope and that human beings are the words God uses to tell the story of grace. (Hilkert)

This is a wonderful, hopeful, challenging article. Hilkert describes how, after Vatican II and the disappointment felt by many Catholics, Schillebeeckx witnessed a, “spirituality of hope that emerges amidst significant experiences of setback, discouragement, and even repression within the church.”

In his Church: The Human Story of God, Schillebeeckx further connects the contemporary difficulty with belief in God with the way churches as institutions not only domesticate religious experience, but also become real stumbling blocks to the preaching of the gospel. Given the human condition, Schillebeeckx grants the necessity of some “institutionalization of belief in God,” but he continues:

However, things become different when the official religious institution, in its behavior and attitude, above all as a result of explicit or at least de facto alliances with the “powerful of this world,” in practice leaves the little ones in the lurch and in one way or another contradicts the message which it preaches. In that case the institution becomes incredible and a stumbling block to belief in God.(3) (Hilkert)

There is a lot to mine in this article. I want to spend time with it and ponder. But at first read, I cannot but feel that Schillebeeckx would be horrified by the behaviour of the Catholic Institution on the one hand and yet hopeful that this “contrast experience” (a negative experience that evokes protest and leads to positive change) will reveal how and where the Holy Spirit is active in the grass-roots communities that are working towards healing and radical change.

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