November 22, 2012

The Year of Faith and the New Evangelization (Part II in a two-part series)

By Bishop George Thomas *
In last month’s Montana Catholic, I wrote about the Special Synod of bishops in Rome, convened in October by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. I stated that the convening of a Special Synod indicates there are pressing issues on the Holy Father’s mind and heart, concerns needing worldwide consultation and expertise.

We know from his speeches and writings that those issues include:

-religious indifference.
-the spread of secularism.
-the ascent of atheism, especially in nations where religion and the Christian life flourished previously.

In calling for the New Evangelization and a Year of Faith, Pope Benedict also has expressed special pastoral concern for persons:

-who are baptized but inadequately catechized.
-who have been evangelized but largely uncatechized.
-who are marginalized or disenfranchised from the Church.
-whose faith and public life are disconnected, standing as counter-witnesses to the Catholic faith.

The Holy Father called together bishops from around the world to explore theological and pastoral approaches to address these serious matters.

Last month I explored two of four foundational planks that will serve as essential elements in the New Evangelization.

Encuentro theology is fundamental to the New Evangelization, and the Year of Faith. Encuentro theology describes the need for each person to personally and communally meet Jesus Christ in his or her life.

Conversion (in the Greek, metanoia) describes the radical change of mind and heart that occurs when we meet the Lord face to face.

Now we will examine Communio theology and Catholic social teaching, the third and fourth foundational planks.


Communio theology includes many elements.

Sacramentally, baptism is the gateway to communion in the Church, and the Eucharist is the living and lasting center around which the entire community gathers.

Blessed John Paul II wrote, “Through communion with Jesus Christ, we enter into communion with all believers.”

Communio theology includes deep and meaningful solidarity with the local and wider Church.

Communio theology is essential to the Church’s nature, and is made visible in real and concrete ways: through our community prayers for one another; through communion between parish and diocese; through communion between dioceses and the universal Church; through global solidarity with mission peoples; and through communion with the Petrine ministry of the Holy Father, to name a few.

Our communion is expressed most dramatically through the prayerful celebration of the Eucharist, the outstanding moment of encounter with the living Christ.

Communio theology includes deep understanding of Church teaching through sound catechesis. Communio theology requires that diocese and parish provide each generation with teaching so that each individual has the ability “to think with the Church” and also to live and love her life and teachings as their own.

The local bishop is responsible for intentionally building communion in the Church. He is described as “the visible principle and foundation of unity,” and the guardian of lawful diversity who must always “respect and foster plurality and diversification which are not obstacles to unity but which give it character and communion.” (“Ecclesia in America,” 60)

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who now is our Holy Father, once wrote that “the local bishop must not allow the diocese to become self-enclosed. He must open her up to the whole and also introduce into the universal Church the particular voice of his diocese, its particular charisms, assets and afflictions . . . He must leave room for the doubtless and often troublesome multiplicity of God’s gifts, always, of course, under the criterion of the unity of faith.” (“Called to Communion” Page 100)

A major outcome of the Special Synod and the Year of Faith will include new initiatives to systematically teach, form and, in some cases, re-form the minds and hearts of our people, helping them to grow in understanding of the teachings of the Church, especially as they are presented in the Catholic Catechism.

Communio theology also places special emphasis on the Second Vatican Council’s vision of shared responsibility, or what Pope Benedict has described in recent months as “co-responsibility” for the propagation of the faith. Lay persons are on the front lines. Their purview is the transformation of society and culture, the marketplace, the classroom and the public square.

Another major element of the Year of Faith will be forming, empowering and mobilizing the lay faithful as necessary agents of New Evangelization.

Every family has experienced the heartbreak of the sons, daughters, members of extended family and circle of friends who were once Catholic but drifted away or decisively defected from the Church.

Many will prayerfully consider coming home, especially when encouraged or invited to do so by someone who loves Jesus Christ and is an active member of the Church. People of the laity are necessary catalysts for successful evangelization and by turning to them in our diocese and parish, we awaken a sleeping giant.


Catholic social teaching is the language of charity made visible. Catholic social teaching flows from the vision that every person is made in the image and likeness of God, and that this dignity is the source of human rights and duties.

To rediscover and help others discover the inviolable dignity of every human person “makes up the essential task, in a certain sense the central and unifying task of the service which the Church and the lay faithful in her are called to render to the human family.” (“Christi Fideles Laiici,” No. 91)

The problems and challenges we face as a Church and society are daunting and sometimes discouraging. In recent years, the Church has encountered a new brand of secularism, characterized by militancy, organizational savvy, funding sources and political acumen.

Groups like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, Compassion & Choices and various lobbies with agendas antithetical to the Church have displayed growing momentum in the past 10 years. On the national level, we face pernicious U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandates that violate the Catholic conscience.

On the legislative front, in some jurisdictions, these lobbyists and special-interest groups have successfully redefined marriage, targeted the Catholic Church with look-back legislation and passed assisted-suicide laws.

What they have failed to secure in the halls of the legislature, they have taken up in the courts of the country.

Radical secularism on the one hand and religious indifference on the other have made life challenging for the Catholic Church across the land. The laity must become galvanized, organized and mobilized to help turn away these forces and bring into view a culture of life.

St. Augustine once proposed that “if you look deeply enough into the eyes of any person, there you will see something that is divine.” Our vision of the human person gives birth to our preferential love for the poor and the Church’s goal of ensuring no one ever is marginalized.

The Lord’s mandate to serve others is the silent witness that evangelizes culture and society. In his first encyclical, titled “Deus Caritas Est," Pope Benedict writes clearly and compellingly that “charity is the silent witness that brings others to Christ.”

Our vision of the human person gives birth to our preferential option for the poor and a theology of the common good.

Catholic social teaching holds up the vision that no person ever should be marginalized or set aside. All have value and worth that comes not from the state, but from the very heart of God. Together, we can build up the culture of life and lead others to the heart of Christ and the Church by our witness to the sacredness and goodness of every person, every soul.

I have said this before and I say it again: no more camouflage Catholicism! The New Evangelization and the Year of Faith accord each person, parish and diocese a new and blessed opportunity to meet the Lord anew, share his name with others and give powerful and profound witness to the life, death and resurrection of Christ, who is ever in our midst as one who serves.

Reprinted with permission from the Montana Catholic, official newspaper for the diocese of Helena.
Most Rev. George Thomas is bishop of the Diocese of Helena, Montana.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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