Evangelising in an Age of Identity Confusion
Kerri & Ryan Christopher announce the launch of the Humanum Institute
Identity is the question of the age.
In 2000, Joseph Ratzinger spoke these words to Catechists and Religion Teachers: “Human life cannot be realised by itself. Our life is an open question, an incomplete project, still to be brought to fruition and realised. Each man’s fundamental question is: How will this be realised—becoming man? How does one learn the art of living? Which is the path toward happiness?” 1
How does one learn the art of living? How does one learn to be fully human? In previous centuries, family, country, even ethnic and religious culture may have been the formators of youth. Today, however, the groups which formerly lent identity to the young are no longer in a stable place. Young people now face the very difficult task of trying to construct their own identities, grasping at ideas from any and all sources.
Questions of sexuality, personhood, rights, relationships, and personal identity lie at the heart of a young person’s search for happiness and meaning. Much of secular culture offers a narrative of self-worth based on productivity, success, social media presence, sexual prowess, or even rebellion against these things.
“To evangelise means…to teach the art of living,” explained Ratzinger.
“Who am I?”
Through decades of work with young people in schools, universities, chaplaincies and retreats, we have seen that the core, most immediate question of young people today is not necessarily, “who is God?” but rather, “who am I?”
Evangelizers now face the choice of branding millennials as egocentric, or embracing their questions, engaging with them on their search for happiness and meaning, knowing that, as John Paul II told young people in that same year 2000, “It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness…it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life.”
What does this engagement look like? We’ve seen snatches of evangelical zeal across movements, with young people taken in by the beauty of a teaching like John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” or the Christian community of friendship to be found in regular retreats and prayer groups. These are both beautiful and necessary.
But what we have found lacking is any sort of systematic engagement with the deeper questions of Christian anthropology. What is it to be human? How does a Christian view of reality affect our understanding of what it means to be a person? What is the role of freedom in my life? How does my sexuality relate to my identity?
We believe that a key to the New Evangelization lies in engaging with the core questions of identity that young people struggle with today, because these questions can either open their hearts to the truth of the gospel or close them off from its healing power. A young man who believes that his homosexual tendencies define his identity and value in life, for example, is not open to dialogue with a community he perceives to be rejecting him at core. A young woman whose self-narrative is formed through the identity politics of feminism cannot bring herself to identify with an institution which she perceives to be based on radical inequality. On the other hand, that same young man may find relief in the truth that sexual passions do not define a person, and that young woman may find peace and joy in embracing a worldview in which service of those less fortunate, regardless of their sex, is a mission taken up by all.
To that end, we have recently opened The Humanum Institute, dedicated to engaging with the question, “what does it mean to be human?”
Serving the wider evangelising mission of the Church, our work is designed to help overcome an often reductive anthropology which prevents an openness to the truth of human dignity and purpose. Our programmes and consultancy equip Christians with an authentic understanding of the uniqueness of human personhood and personal identity. Through engaging with contemporary questions and challenges, we enable others to learn and teach how the Christian vision of the person is not only true, but liberating. The Humanum Institute works with schools, parishes, seminaries, and chaplaincies, as well as individuals and church movements.
Our first major event is a conference for Catholic educators and formators, “Understanding Sex and Gender.” The 2-day, multidisciplinary conference, co-sponsored by Choose Life, Choose Love at St. Patrick’s Soho, will be held on July 13-14 at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. We will have experts from the fields of philosophy, psychology, spirituality, law, and others to help us gain insight into the Catholic perspective on this challenging topic. It is open to teachers, parents, chaplains, catechists, pastors, and anyone interested in learning more. (sexandgender2018.com)
On the evening of July 13, our Keynote Lecture by priest and psychotherapist Fr. Anthony Doe, “Sexuality, Discipleship, and Evangelisation: Humanae Vitae 50 Years Later,” will be open to the public.
Our hope is that the conference helps educators to gain knowledge of and confidence in the truth and beauty of the Church’s teaching on the human person in his or her sex, so as to better serve the young people they work with, and help them “teach the art of living” well.
Kerri Christopher serves as the co-founder and director of the Humanum Institute. After completing her BA and MA in theology, she went to complete an STB and STL from Pontifical University of St. Thomas through the faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Michigan, focusing on the New Feminism. In 2012, she became the first woman in the world to receive a Licentiate in the New Evangelisation. As part of her doctoral studies at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, she researched the nature of gender and the vocation of woman. She also has extensive experience in teaching the thought of St. John Paul II, systematic theology and issues of sexuality. Her experience of teaching secondary school students and undergraduates convinced her of the need for a greater provision of holistic and faithful Christian anthropology.
Ryan Christopher serves as co-founder and consultant to the Humanum Institute. Ryan read history at the University of Cambridge before studying Philosophy at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas and Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. His passion for Christian anthropology is the result of years of experience in the field of teaching and evangelisation. Ryan held senior posts at Ampleforth College, York, and St Aloysius’ College, Glasgow as well as teaching in the state sector and private tuition. He now serves as the Senior Policy Officer for ADF International’s London office.