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by Rev. Kris D. Stubna, STD
Rector, St. Paul Cathedral
Diocese of Pittsburgh
"I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church's energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes [to all peoples]. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples" (Pope John Paul II, On the Permanent Validity of the Church's Missionary Mandate [Redemptoris Missio (RM)], no. 3, www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_07121990_redemptoris-missio_en.html ). This was a clarion call from Blessed Pope John Paul II to the Church, and to every believer, to carry forward the work of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ "so that it may penetrate the heart of every person and renew the human race" (National Directory for Catechesis [NDC] [Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005],no. 17A). Indeed it is this urgent call to share the light of faith with others that is at the heart of Pope Benedict XVI's proclamation of the Year of Faith. "Today too, there is a need for stronger ecclesial commitment to the new evangelization in order to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith. In rediscovering his love day by day, the missionary commitment of believers attains force and vigor that can never fade away. Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness: indeed, it opens the hearts and minds of those who listen to respond to the Lord's invitation to adhere to his word and become his disciples" (Pope Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei [PF], no. 7, www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/motu_proprio/documents/hf_ben-xvi_motu-proprio_20111011_porta-fidei_en.html).
The Lord Jesus himself commissioned this great work of the Church as he sent out those first Apostles to "go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15). What we learn is this was indeed a work of God, and it is divine grace that brings it to fruition. "They went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs" (Mk 16:20). This special Year of Faith beckons us as pastoral leaders to take up that great commissioning with renewed zeal and enthusiasm so that all the faithful may once again engage in the work that is inherent to our vocation and to the very identity of the Church. Pope Paul VI made this clear in saying that "evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize" (Pope Paul VI, Evangelization in the Modern World [Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN)], no. 14, www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_p-vi_exh_19751208_evangelii-nuntiandi_en.html). It was this same call that was echoed by the United States bishops. "Christ calls all the faithful to proclaim the Good News everywhere in the world and to hand his message on to successive generations by professing, living, and celebrating the faith in Liturgy and prayer" (NDC, no. 15).
is striking in all the Church's documents around the ministry of the New Evangelization
and the proclamation of the Risen Christ is the insistence on the interior
conversion of each believer. "The
purpose of this evangelization is to bring about faith and conversion to
Christ. Faith involves a profound change of mind and heart, a change of life, a
'metanoia.' Such a change can only
arise from deep within the interior of one's being, where one faces the truly
important questions about human life" (NDC, no. 17 A). St. Paul expressed this
thought beautifully in his epistle to Galatians. "Yet I live, no longer I, but
Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the
Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me" (Gal 2:20). The
Christian faith is above all conversion to Jesus Christ; it is the act of dying
more and more to self so that the life and grace of Christ can increase and
abound more completely. "It is the fruit of God's grace and the free response
to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It arises from the depths of the human
person and involves such a profound transformation of heart and mind that it
causes the believer to change radically both internally and externally" (NDC, no.
How important as pastoral leaders that we aim to make this Year of Faith an opportunity to lead the faithful to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, to experience more fully God's love in and through the person of Jesus Christ and his Church. This is the heart of the New Evangelization and where much of our work needs to be done. By leading the faithful to the loving heart of Jesus, true conversion can take place, and the work of the New Evangelization can then bear great fruit. This was the vision of Blessed Pope John Paul II expressed in Ecclesia in America. "Trusting in the help of Mary, the Church in America desires to lead the men and women of the continent to encounter Christ. This encounter will be the starting-point of authentic conversion and of renewed communion and solidarity. Such an encounter will contribute greatly to strengthening the faith of many Catholics, helping them to mature in strong, lively and active faith" (Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in America [EA], no. 12, www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_22011999_ecclesia-in-america_en.html).
We often think of
the many programs and ministries that need to be advanced and promoted in our
parishes that will lead the faithful to a stronger and more vibrant faith. But
of all we can and should do, we must nourish the souls and hearts of the
faithful with the experience of God's love made present in Jesus Christ and his
Church. Our pastoral plans for this Year of Faith and beyond must focus on inviting
people to more frequent prayer; adoration before the Blessed Sacrament; frequent
attendance at daily Mass and the reception of Holy Communion; a regular
encounter with God's mercy and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance; an
experience of the intercession of our Blessed Mother and the saints through the
Rosary, novenas, and other forms of spiritual devotion; and participation in
the Church's Liturgy of the Hours. We must make these experiences more readily
available to our parishioners, teaching them what they are about, inviting them
to participate, and sustaining these practices over the long haul. The pastoral
plan for evangelization of the United States bishops reflects this vision.
"This is crucial: we must be converted—and we must continue to be converted! We
must let the Holy Spirit change our lives! We must respond to Jesus Christ" (United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USSCB], Go and Make Disciples [Washington, DC: USCCB, 2002], no. 14). Pope Benedict XVI shares this hope and vision.
"During this time we will need to keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ, the 'pioneer
and perfecter of our faith' (Heb 12:2): in him, all the anguish and all the
longing of the human heart finds fulfillment. The joy of love, the answer to
the drama of suffering and pain, the power of forgiveness in the face of an
offense received and the victory of life over the emptiness of death: all this
finds fulfillment in the mystery of his Incarnation, in his becoming man, in
his sharing our human weakness so as to transform it by the power of his
resurrection. In him who died and rose again for our salvation, the examples of
faith that have marked these two thousand years of our salvation history are
brought into the fullness of light" (PF, no. 13).
This encounter with the Living Christ and the transformation of the human heart by grace opens a person more deeply to the saving truth of the Gospel. The Church also faces a pressing need to lead the faithful to a deeper understanding and knowledge of the profession of faith. As St. Augustine often said, "We cannot give to another what we ourselves do not at first possess." Pope Benedict XVI expresses this need for catechesis as foundational for the New Evangelization. "Evidently, knowledge of the content of faith is essential for giving one's own assent, that is to say for adhering fully with intellect and will to what the Church proposes. Knowledge of faith opens a door into the fullness of the saving mystery revealed by God. The giving of assent implies that, when we believe, we freely accept the whole mystery of faith, because the guarantor of its truth is God who reveals himself and allows us to know his mystery of love" (PF, no. 10). Sadly, we live in an age in which so many of the faithful have not been well catechized. And yet, a deep hunger and longing exists in every human heart to know the true meaning of the deepest questions of life. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, "The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for" (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 2nd ed. [Washington, DC: Libreria Editrice Vaticana–USCCB, 2000], no. 27). This represents an opportunity of immense proportions for pastoral leaders in the Church today. The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (USCCA) shares this hope. "Seekers can begin to find in the Church fulfillment of their heart's desires. They are invited to undertake a spiritual journey that is focused on Jesus Christ and his Kingdom of salvation. . . . This is the Church's invitation to seekers who want to discover a satisfying answer to their spiritual hungers. Her invitation is rich: to seekers, old and new, and those who might label themselves as alienated or indifferent, the Church offers Jesus Christ and his love, the fulfillment of hope" (USCCA [Washington, DC: USCCB, 2006], 6-7).
The challenge is to utilize more fully the means that present themselves for the catechesis of the faithful. Many programs provide excellent means of formation in the faith for those who present themselves. Our parishes need to ensure that these programs are a regular part of the parish life and ministry, and our outreach to the unchurched also requires careful attention in our pastoral plans. However, since so many of the faithful come to Mass each week, we must seize the opportunities we have to ensure that these are moments of formation and learning as well. The homily represents an ideal moment to help the faithful deepen their understanding and appreciation for the saving mysteries of the faith. "The homily occupies a privileged position since it 'takes up again the journey of faith put forward by catechesis, and brings it to its natural fulfillment" (NDC, no. 35 D). "At the same time it encourages the Lord's disciples to begin anew each day their spiritual journey in truth, adoration, and thanksgiving" (Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, no. 48, www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_16101979_catechesi-tradendae_en.html). Those who preach must find ways to lead the faithful to a deeper reflection on the essential teachings of the faith that present themselves in the regular cycle of the sacred liturgy. But other opportunities are often minimized or overlooked in the work of ongoing catechesis. These communication channels include the weekly parish bulletin, the parish website, and the tools of social communication, including Facebook and Twitter.
But the proclamation of the Risen Christ involves not only personal conversion and the strengthening of faith. It must lead, as well, to the change of culture. Evangelization is the totality of the Church's efforts "bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new" (EN, no. 18). This is a particularly difficult task in our American culture today. Attitudes in the United States continue to foster a "culture of disbelief," and one that, in fact, not only marginalizes religious belief but also works to antagonize the Christian faith. "Society has reached the stage in which people of faith are pressured to act publicly as though religion does not matter. This has caused many believers to think their faith is strictly a private matter and that it should have no influence on society and politics" (USCCA, 16). This attitude runs counter to the Church's mission to evangelize and must be for all pastoral leaders a priority of the greatest significance. The Church reminds us that rays of light and goodness exist in every culture. Our response is one that affirms and builds on what is good and just, while at the same time working to change what is not. The work of evangelization requires courage, fortitude, patience, and trust in God's providence. As those who through faith already possess the divine life of grace within us, we must approach this work with a joyful spirit and a tireless heart. We remember that it has never been easy in any age for Christians to live in the world, and yet the faith has continued to thrive and bear fruit abundantly. As St. John expressed so well in the prologue of his Gospel in speaking of the Christ, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (Jn 1:5). The pastoral plan for evangelization in the United States expresses this goal. "Seeing both the ideals and the faults of our nation, we Catholics need to recognize how much our Catholic faith, for all it has received from American culture, still has to bring to life in our country. On the level of truth, we have a profound and consistent moral teaching based on the dignity and destiny of every person created by God. On the practical level, we have the witness of American Catholics serving those most in need, educationally, socially, materially and spiritually" (Go and Make Disciples, no. 59). God has entrusted us with this noble task of sharing the light of faith and creating a civilization of life and love. We are his human instruments, but it is his work, a work of grace and an effort that will be completed in God's own way and in his own time.
The proclamation of the Risen Christ is a work of beauty and grace. It is both an invitation and a challenge. I am reminded of St. Paul's questions to Romans. "'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? . . . 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring [the] good news!'" (Rom 10:13-15). Pope Benedict XVI, in concluding his call for this Year of Faith, offers this prayer: "We hear this invitation directed to each of us, that none of us grow lazy in the faith. It is the lifelong companion that makes it possible to perceive, ever anew, the marvels that God works for us. Intent on gathering the signs of the times in the present of history, faith commits every one of us to become a living sign of the presence of the Risen Lord in the world. What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end" (PF, no. 15).
Copyright © 2013, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to duplicate this work without adaptation for non-commercial use.
Excerpts from Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, copyright © 1975, Libreria Editrice Vaticana (LEV); Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, copyright © 1990, LEV; Ecclesia in America, copyright © 1999; Catechesi Tradendae, copyright © 1979; Pope Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, copyright © 2011, LEV. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture excerpts used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, rev. ed.© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, copyright © 2000, Libreria Editrice Vaticana—United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
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