Address by Rev Professor Eamonn Conway
Kildare and Leighlin Diocesan Congress March 8-9, 2013
Congress Theme: LORD, INCREASE OUR FAITH
click on link to download full text – ‘What are the Fundamentals of Christian Faith?’
The most important things in life always come to us as a surprising and unexpected gift. There is a world of difference between receiving something, and simply taking it. In both instances you end up with something you didn’t have, but to receive a gift gratefully requires great humility. You have to let go, you have to be accepting. To take or seize something requires nothing of the sort. You are still in control, you are still powerful.
The Christian mystic John Moriarty used to say that we are generous givers, but we are damned mean receivers.
This brings me to the fundamentals of our faith. Life is about receiving, not taking. Life is about realising and accepting that we are dependent human beings, creatures, utterly dependent upon God for all that we have, and all that we are. We are not, nor can be, self-made men and women. Everything that is important to us, that has any real value, we cannot make or create for ourselves. Think about it: love, happiness, healing, forgiveness, and acceptance, all of these, no matter how much we strive for them, when they happen we always experience them as a surprising gift.
Our culture tends to teach us differently. It teaches us to strive after, to grasp, to try to be in control, to seek to determine and shape things. The atheistic philosophers, people like Sartre and Camus, for instance, spoke of their conviction that there is nothing outside of ourselves that we could receive, that we are condemned, as they put it, to ‘making ourselves’ down to the last detail. For them, life is essentially about inventing ourselves. There is nothing given. In fairness, they recognise this as an ‘intolerable burden’.
The Christian sees things very differently. Who and what we are is essentially given freely by God as a gift. We have to discover ourselves, but not invent or make ourselves. Our basic dignity, our basic self-worth, is not something we have to create for ourselves. It is given as a gift, part and parcel of simply being a human being.
Professor Eamonn Conway
Prof Eamonn Conway is a priest of the Tuam diocese. He studied philosophy and sociology at the National University of Ireland and theology at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and the University of Tuebingen. He was awarded his doctorate in theology in 1991 and taught Systematic Theology for seven years at All Hallows College, Dublin. He was appointed Head of Theology and Religious Studies at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick in 1999 and in 2000 he also became co-director of the Centre for Culture, Technology & Values.
A Catholic priest of the Tuam diocese since 1987, he is author of The anonymous Christian – a relativised Christianity? An evaluation of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s criticisms of Karl Rahner’s theory of the anonymous Christian (Peter Lang, 1993), and has edited seven other books. He has several publications in international journals, and has lectured in Europe, Australia and the USA, as well as in Singapore and Cambodia.
Father Conway has served on a number of Irish Government advisory bodies, including the Information Society Commission for which he chaired the Working Group on Ethics & Values in a Digital Age and was a member of the E-Futures and E-Learning Committees. He also served on the FuturesIreland Advisory Panel of the Irish National Economic and Social Development Office.
Prof Conway served as President of the European Society for Catholic Theology 2009- 2011 and was elected as President of the International Network of Societies for Catholic Theology (visit the INSeCT website) in 2011. In 2012, Pope Benedict appointed him as an expert adviser to the XIII World Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation.