.- Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia has called on Catholics to be “active witnesses” of their faith, taking inspiration from the 17th century missionary Blessed Junipero Serra.
Rejecting the idea that the Christian faith is “a useful moral code” or “an exercise in nostalgia,” he stressed that the Christian faith is “a restlessness, a consuming fire in the heart to experience the love of Jesus Christ and then share it with others – or it’s nothing at all.”
“Young or old, we need to live our faith as Junipero Serra did – all in, 100 percent, holding nothing back, with charity, endurance, passion and hope,” Archbishop Chaput said. “That kind of faith changes lives and remakes the world.”
The words “new evangelization” are “overused and underthought,” he said, warning against speaking of the “new evangelization” in an empty way, “as if saying the slogan, or talking about it, actually makes mission work happen.”
“Unless we reconfigure our lives to understanding and acting on it, the ‘new evangelization’ is just another pious intention – well meaning, but ultimately infertile,” he warned.
The archbishop spoke June 22 at the Serra International Convention on the Spanish island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean. The convention marked the 300th anniversary of the birth of Bl. Junipero Serra, an influential Franciscan priest who founded many Christian missions in what is now California.
Serra International is a global lay apostolate that promotes and supports vocations to the Catholic priesthood and religious life.
Archbishop Chaput said Bl. Junipero Serra was “an extraordinary man” who lived at a “pivotal moment” in the history of the Catholic Church, when Catholic and Protestant powers competed for territory around the world as the threat of Muslim invasion of Europe waned.
Fr. Serra left his life as a university professor in Mallorca at the age of 36 to serve in the New World. The priest had a “supple, inquisitive, brilliant mind,” “tremendous personal energy” and “remarkable organizational skills,” the archbishop said.
Working to bring the Christian faith to the indigenous population of Mexico, Fr. Serra walked thousands of miles during his lifetime despite a wounded leg that never healed. He built a network of missions and confronted military and political leaders who wanted to exploit American Indians.
“He could be a demanding father to his native converts, but he was fierce in defending their dignity from the colonial authorities,” Archbishop Chaput observed.
The archbishop praised Fr. Serra’s foresight, endurance, political skill and leadership in a situation with “a very limited mix of people and resources under brutally difficult conditions.”
He stressed the need for all Catholics to spread the faith, saying that “Jesus commands it. We can’t call ourselves Christians and not be missionaries. We need to be active witnesses of our faith.”
Evangelization must begin with “our own repentance and conversion,” Archbishop Chaput said.
“As individuals, we control very little in life; but we do control what we do with our hearts. We can at least make ourselves available to God as his agents. Personal conversion is the essential first step. It immediately affects the people around us,” he explained.
Evangelization must also take into account the nature of contemporary society, he added.
Modern American society produces “a kind of radical self-focus and practical atheism” because it renders God “irrelevant to people’s needs and urgencies of the moment,” he said. Real individuality, self-mastery and the communities that shape individuals “can’t compete with the noise and flash of consumer society.”
Any new evangelization must begin with the “sober knowledge” that many once-Christian lands and many self-described Christians are “in fact pagan,” the archbishop stressed.
In addition, true evangelization is self-renewing, he said, explaining that at the core of “every fresh work of evangelization is this kind of ardor; a passionate faith that can only come from seeking out and giving ourselves entirely to Jesus Christ, no matter what the cost.”
“The irony, the glory and the joy of faith in Jesus Christ is that the more we give it away to others, the stronger it grows, and the more we have for ourselves to feed our own hearts,” Archbishop Chaput said.
“Junipero Serra heard the Gospel, and believed, and acted on it. Today, here, beginning now, God calls us to the privilege of doing the same.”