The Holy Father's Plea
On May 30, 2011, Pope Benedict announced the convening of a special Synod of Bishops in Rome, beginning Oct. 7, 2012. Bishops from all over the world, including four from the United States, were invited to participate in this gathering.
A special Synod indicates there are issues and concerns of particular urgency on the Holy Father’s mind, issues and concerns that require expansive consultation and expertise, and intensive prayer.
We know from the Holy Father’s writings and addresses just what is weighing on his mind and heart.
On Sept. 21, 2010, Pope Benedict wrote, “Whole countries and nations where religion and the Christian life were formerly flourishing… are now put to a hard test, and in some cases, are even undergoing a radical transformation, as a result of a constant spreading of an indifference to religion, of secularism and atheism.”
Indifference, secularism and atheism, coupled with what the Holy Father has called “moral relativism,” constitute pressing problems for the Church. We see all around us evidence of an encroaching spiritual desert, a spreading void, as individuals and whole groups of people attempt to live lives without God.
We also know from experience that not all the problems we face are external to the Church.
In 1990, Blessed Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical “Redemptoris Missio,” wrote, “Of all the painful difficulties the Church is not confronting are those which are internal to the people of God: the lack of fervor, division among Christians, the de-Christianization of Christian countries, the counter-witness of Christians, and religious indifferentism, the belief that one religion is as good as the other.”
What does Pope Benedict have in mind as he gathers bishops from all over the world?
What kind of solutions will emerge as the bishops attempt to counter the pernicious forces of atheism, secularism, relativism and indifference?
The New Evangelization and the New Pentacost
The answer begins in our midst, in our hearts and homes, and in our parishes and dioceses. The Holy Father has called for a New Evangelization for the transmission of the Christian Faith. It is no accident that this ambitious initiative serves as the centerpiece for the Year of Faith, and coincides with the golden anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.
In short, Pope Benedict is calling for a “New Pentecost,” with the “liberating grace of the Gospel” to serve as an antidote for the toxins that disease both Church and society.
That New Pentecost re-proposes to all humanity “Jesus Christ as the one Savior, yesterday, today, and forever.” The Synod re-proposes the Church as “the first and necessary instrument of this work of Christ because it is united to him as a body to its head.”
This New Pentecost begins with you and with me, and with that “universal call to holiness” spoken about by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
What is New About the New Evangelization?
The Holy Father first points out the missionary nature of the Church, and her need to preach the Gospel to those who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ. In short, “the Church exists to evangelize,” and therefore never ceases to bring the graces of Christ and the Church to the ends of the earth (missio ad gentes).
But there is also pressing need for a New Evangelization, for the sake of:
-those who are baptized but are inadequately catechized.
-those who have been evangelized but are largely uncatechized.
-Catholics who are marginalized or disenfranchised from the Church.
-Catholics who are baptized, but are largely indifferent toward their faith.
-those whose faith and public life are disconnected and stand as counter-witnesses to the faith.
Four Foundation Planks
As they speak and write about the New Evangelization, the Synod Fathers will undoubtedly explore four foundation planks that are the essential elements for the Year of Faith. The planks are Encuentro Theology, Conversion (metanoia), Communio Theology and Catholic Social Teaching. At the same time, “The variety of situations demands careful discernment; to speak of a new evangelization does not in fact mean that a single formula should be developed that could hold the same for all circumstances.” (UeS3)
The first great theme of the New Evangelization, Encuentro Theology, is described by Pope John Paul as that encounter with the Risen Christ that transforms believers by giving them new life. Encounters with Christ are both personal and communal:
Encuentro Theology bids us to ask hard questions:
-How am I, spiritually, at this moment, this hour?
-Have I wholeheartedly embraced my identity as a baptized member of the Lord’s house?
-Do I encounter Jesus Christ daily through prayer and contemplation?
-Am I leading my children and grandchildren to love and serve the Lord?
-Have I ensured that our participation at weekend liturgy is a non-negotiable priority?
-Is Jesus truly the Lord of my life?
-Do I turn to him in good times, or only in bad times?
-Do I listen to his voice in the prayerful reading and proclamation of his Word?
-Is my faith strong and vibrant, or tentative and tepid?
In the final analysis, the Church will be renewed internally, not by a formula or a program, but by a deep, loving and lifelong relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. An encounter with Jesus Christ changes everything.
The second theme that you will hear frequently in the days ahead is the theology of conversion, in Greek, metanoia. The Church Fathers will tell us that “today, more than ever, evangelizing means witnessing to the new life, transformed by God, and thus showing the path” to Christ.
Metanoia means a radical change of heart and soul.
Conversion and witness go hand in hand.
Conversion bridges the gap between faith and daily life.
The Synod Fathers have given special emphasis to the sacrament of reconciliation in order to “evangelize the evangelizers.” In short, they call us to encounter Christ the Divine Physician, who offers us healing and mercy before bringing the message of salvation to the world.
The late Pope Paul VI once wrote, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and when he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
-Am I a public witness to Christ and the Church, or am I just one more camouflage Catholic?
-Do I remain mute as the Church is assailed, silent as the Church is excoriated, hidden as the Church and her message of life are criticized and belittled?
-Do others see evidence in my word and example that I am a committed disciple, or do I blend into the scenery of secularism?
-Do I understand and embrace the challenging words of Philippine Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who told Synod Fathers, “The new evangelization calls for a new humility…the Gospel cannot thrive in pride?”
-Am I allowing the Holy Spirit to activate my gifts and talents in service to the Church?
-Is my faith tepid and tentative, or courageous and transparent?
-Am I allowing the Lord to heal the wounds of sin and division in my own heart, and am I actively reconciling broken relationships in my family and circle of friends?
-Am I an informed Catholic, able and willing to articulate the Church’s beliefs, and able to faithfully re-present her teachings?
On Aug. 24, 2012, Pope Benedict spoke to a group of Romanian pilgrims. He told them, “The world needs your courageous and credible testimony to bring the hope of the Gospel to all areas of culture and society.” He told them they were “co-responsible,” along with the clergy, for actualizing that mission of hope for the world.
The New Evangelization calls for the whole Church and each individual Catholic to become courageous witnesses and agents of evangelization. The New Evangelization beckons Catholics to embrace anew Jesus Christ and the Church’s life and teachings “in season and out of season,” in private and in public, in thought and in action. It speaks of the power and necessity of both word and action to lead others to Christ.
Am I a witness or a counter-witness to the faith? Am I there at the time when Christ and the Church need me the most? Am I a Catholic whose daily life and example lead others to Christ? Or not?
Reprinted with permission from the Montana Catholic, official newspaper for the diocese of Helena.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.