New Orleans, La., Jun 12, 2014 / 17:19 pm
The call of Benedict XVI and Pope Francis to connect the issues of poverty and the new evangelization has come not a moment too soon, George Mason law professor Helen Alvare told the U.S. bishops June 12.
Speaking at the U.S. bishops' Spring General Assembly in New Orleans, Alvare presented three themes which the last two Bishops of Rome have proposed in linking service to the poor with the new evangelization.
The first was an "exhortation to integrate our services to the poor with an introduction to the person of Christ," who "placed himself in circumstances of profound condescension," in humility, poverty, and in his crucifixion.
Alvare noted that in the mind of Pope Francis, this has to be done through both "style and tone, words and gestures … we need to convey physically as well as verbally, humility, tenderness, and the warmth of the love of Christ."
She added that as part of this, the Church's organizational structures and procedures should harmonize with the call to poverty and evangelization: "prioritize introducing people to the one who loves them, not the care and feeding of bureaucracy … there should be a simplicity about our endeavors that allows others to see that our wealth is God, and nothing else."
Alvare's second theme was a great attention to those on the peripheries, saying the poor are "often socially invisible, and may be often outside the organized structures of our own Church." She went on to note that there are spiritual and moral poverties, as well as material, and that all of these "must provoke the particular offer of Jesus Christ."
The final theme, she said, is to remember what the poor have to offer: "the possibility of finding joy in life that is not calibrated to possessions or pleasure."
The law professor then presented possible ways of implementing these themes, including introducing Christ to the poor by name, and sharing Christ and his meaning through "images that can act as a bridge."
She suggested that "a whole body of literature exists doing this," noting such works as "Atchison Blue", "Cloister Walk", and "Christianity Rediscovered", which recount the effect that encountering Catholics living out their faith has had on secular persons..
Alvare's third means for enacting the link between poverty and the new evangelization was the example of religious "working and living in ways that provoke conversations" about Christ. She gave the example of Sr. Cristina Scuccia, the Ursuline nun who recently won The Voice Italy, who led her coach J-Az to say that "the light in her eyes makes me especially curious."
The final means suggested by Alvare was the use of religious symbols such as the crucifix and religious garb; and choices of venue, citing the recent Mass for migrants said on the US-Mexico border, and the importance of the internet and social media.
Concerns Alvare raised around the adoption of these measures included the potential for reluctance, and a lack of trust: "will we run afoul of laws, will we lose government funding … will we be less respected" by charities with which we partner, and organizations involved in accreditation and evaluation?
She also noted concerns including the audience of the Church's charity becoming less involved with organized religion; practical difficulties of material destitution, sacrifice of social status and lack of free time, along with a preoccupation of the state, interest groups, and cultural institutions with "sexual expression divorced from children" as a "necessary condition for health" and well-being.
However, Alvare said, the fact "that the world's wisdom on the imperative of sexual expression is on a collision course with Pope Francis' wisdom on the necessity and content of our charity, provides us the opportunity to transcend the ignoring or misunderstanding of our anthropology."
She also noted the measures allow the unpredictable, unruly freedom of God's word to be unleashed; the potential for the conversion of those performing works of charity; and she expected that with time it will become evident to legislators the "integrated religious nature of our institutions."
Following her presentation, she responded to the questions of some of the bishops, noting that it will likely become increasingly difficult to partner with the state in offering charitable services, but saying that in response to this, the Church should lobby legislators and regulators, and demonstrate that such partnerships are for the common good and have grassroots support.
Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit asked in what ways the bishops themselves are called to convert, or what they are to let go off, according to Alvare's vision, and she responded that foremost is the "power of personal interaction."
Even though it seems like there is no time to devote to this, she urged its importance and how she has seen that there are "things nobody can substitute for but a priest or a sister."
"It's very difficult to give time, but I don't see any solution but personal interaction. The Gospel has to be communicated in a love relationship, and that takes some personal time."
Bishop James Wall of Gallup, itself a poor, mission diocese, spoke to CNA following Alvare's talk, saying the type of poverty which most struck him during her discussion was moral poverty.
"And in the Scriptures we see that the answer or the solution, the remedy to that; we see that in the woman at the well, as she encounters Jesus Christ, her life is changed – she goes away and becomes a powerful evangelizer. So I would say, as we look at the whole aspect of moral poverty, the remedy or the answer is always Christ."
Bishop Wall went on to say that he particularly liked Alvare's discussion "about the language or images to engage our society, and two things came to mind: the renewed interest in C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, through the Chronicles (of Narnia) and through The Lord of the Rings; and the other is, what I would hope would be a renewed interest in Flannery O'Connor and her writings, because in all three of those, they're drawing people in, and inviting them through beauty; beauty and liturgy, which provide for an opportunity to encounter Christ."