Saturday, 13 June 2015

The New Evangelization in the light of Blessed J.H. Newman and the Vatican Councils - PART 1

“. . .  you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”  1 Peter 2: 9

As baptized Catholic Christians, we are each and all called, because we are a royal priesthood, to proclaim “the excellencies of him who called [us]’: God incarnate, crucified, risen and ascended, to carry this truth to all people. Our mission, to call others to a relationship with Christ, however, may only be accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit who gives to the baptized a variety of gifts or charisms to enable what our Lord commands in the Great Commission:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Mathew 28: 19-20

This is a most basic definition of what is called Evangelization. Currently we tend to look at Evangelization in two general ways. 


TRADITIONAL EVANGELIZATION 
First of course, is the presentation of Christ to those who are clearly outside of the Church. This is what was traditionally thought of as evangelization until the call in our time by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI for a renewal of those already sacramentalized (i.e. those baptized, given first communion and possibly confirmed) but not in any way more than nominally Catholic.

In his book "Newman on Vatican II", Fr. Ian Ker points out that the Council did not even address Evangelization directly.  The following is based upon some of Newman’s insights about the new Evangelization based upon Fr. Ker’s analysis.

THE NEW EVANGELIZATION
Secondly, then is the evangelization of those who are already baptized or who are culturally Catholic but have not made a commitment beyond a nominal identification as a cultural Catholics. This part of the population is what the New Evangelization is largely aimed at addressing.

As we look at how we may respond to the papal call to a new Evangelization it may help to look at some organizing themes that can help us to discern and to pray for the gifts needed to evangelize in our own day and so we turn to Fr. Ker and J.H. Newman.

Because any Christian project or Apostolic endeavour must begin with prayer (and the Divine Office is an essential element of the Church’s prayer), we should start by looking at some of the great exemplars of prayer and Christian living and how their lives of prayer.

Ker: “The new evangelization, Newman would insist, must preach not Christianity but Christ.”

In his final chapter Fr. Ker notes that the sacramental principle is at the heart of evangelization because we encounter Christ not only in the Gospels and in Christian believers but, as he puts it: “more concretely, directly, and personally in the sacraments.”

J.H. Newman in his writings and sermons identified three great charisms that flow from prayer and have been at the heart of different movements of evangelization and renewal in the Church.  These charisms, not necessarily ones that we might think of first, Newman saw as necessary for Christian life as well as evangelization.

The charisms have been exemplified, Newman says, by three great saints: St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Dominic and St. Ignatius Loyola and, of course, by the three religious communities that they founded.

The gifts or charisms associated with each saint are:

St. Benedict –  Poetic gift of prophecy


St. Dominic –  Breadth of view 

St. Ignatius   Wisdom

Newman claimed that St. Philip Neri the founder of his own community – The Oratorians –  had been graced with a measure of each GIFT:  poetry, a broad and expansive of view and wisdom.

Newman explored these charisms by asking three questions that these saints and their followers pose in light of the charisms that each represents so powerfully :

St. Benedict –  “What to be?”    
St. Dominic –  “What to do?”  
St. Ignatius  –  “How to do it.”

These three questions can inform our own consideration of the new Evangelization.

1) What to be?
This is a question posed at many levels by every person. It relates of course to what we do in society, how we are recognized and affirmed in our work but at more profound levels the question asks how we are to act in the world and with whom we will identify in our lives.  As well, the question of what to be relates to how others identify us and ultimately how we relate to the transcendent God in the living of our lives.

Newman says that St. Benedict prophetically and poetically calls us to a first step – Penance, both personal and collective.  As individuals we must come to repentance and a penitential way of life as we live with and evangelize others in the light of Christ’s atoning love. 

Only being penitent, by living and modeling this first penitential step can we hope to evangelize others in what is a broken world filled with people who have not had their consciences formed in such a way that they can even discern the need for repentance. 

We must truly be penitent, must live as penitents so that those who we live with may be drawn to penitence themselves and so receive the great blessing of the absolution of sin, the first step in mature Christian formation.  (We will look at some practical applications to allow this first step a bit later).


2)  What to do?
St. Dominic and his mendicant and scholarly brothers offer a focus on conversion of life so that we and those we walk with in faith understand ourselves to be on the journey with Christ and in conversation with the Holy Spirit in prayer. We declare the Word of God by example and by word as we converse with God in the daily office and with others in the course of our everyday lives.

This is a process of conversion of our lives on all levels. It is a process rather than a moment or even a series of moments.


3)  How to do it?
Sanctification is the third stage which is exemplified for us by Ignatius and of course this is a goal of Ignatian spirituality and the methods of retreat and encounter which are practised and taught by our Jesuit brothers. This is the way of discernment of spirits so that we may be sanctified in our walk with Christ.  In this process we open ourselves to reach others and to invite them into relationship with Christ.

In a sense we do not "do it" but rather allow the Holy Spirit to work within us; to lead and guide us.  We must discern the Holy Spirit and distinguish the Spirit's promptings from the other spirits that insinuate themselves into our lives.


Newman further identified these three stages of spirituality with reference to the threefold ministry of Christ in the Church as Prophet – calling us to penitence,  Priest – ministry with those in the process of conversion and that of King – sanctification as the royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession. This is the call to welcome all others into a royal or blessed fellowship in the Body of Christ the King – his Holy Catholic Church.


So, what are some practical applications for the New Evangelization and, in Newman’s terms, how we do it in light of what we are called to be in prayer and in community. What are we called to do as those commissioned to bring others the Good News of salvation and lead them to the healing and saving embrace of the Catholic Church.

  
A) The Call  to Penitence – This is often seen to be a hard sell in this age and in a society which promotes narcissism and unbridled greed, but human nature has not changed.  People still seek reconciliation, if often in problematic or wrong ways. 

A clear alternative, a heroic countercultural witness is often attractive to young people –  witness the youthful vocations to communities with strict rules – The new ecclesial movements and religious orders.  I think, for example of the Madonna House community, the Sisters of Life and others.  The witness of these Catholics by their way of living conveys the Evangel in a profound way.

In a way too, their witness echoes St. Benedict’s poetic call to the idealism of youth.

On a parish level, I note the focus on the Sacrament of Confession at the Newman Centre at U. of Toronto (and elsewhere). At Newman, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available daily.  The Sacrament is available at noon before Mass and is often provided after Mass to accommodate the many and often quite young penitents. 

Far from downplaying this sacrament and the call to repentance, which precedes it, the Catholic Church needs to enhance the proclamation of the need for penance and reconciliation in programmatic ways.  This, of course, has to be at the parish level and in ways that engage people of the particular parish. As well, as parishes and as individuals we must reach out to the many in our secular society who are burdened with guilt and despair.  

The twice annual days and now Weeks of Confession in this archdiocese are a good way to reach out to those marginally connected to the Church and to those looking for peace and possibly a way to reconnect as Catholics.

We need to offer this profoundly counter-cultural witness to the secular society  in a way which is compassionate and open while being honest about the reality of sin and the culture of death that prevails in the Western World.

B) Conversion:  This brings us to the second of Newman’s categories. There are a variety of methods of instruction and preparation for those who have come to the point of penitence and absolution, those returning or being received into the Communion of the Church. As an example, the offerings of  Fr. Robert Barron such as his  beautifully filmed series “Catholicism” have been used in discussion groups around the English-speaking world.  There are opportunities to use both established and social media to convey the Evangel to people of all ages. 

A new just underway this week is the Toronto website Longbeard, put together by young Catholics involved in the electronic media. It is an effort to connect and inform people of all ages and backgrounds with Christian groups and agencies.  This includes Catholic singles looking to find others who share their faith.

Since we are dealing here with Evangelization we will leave the related matter of sanctification aside while noting that it is inextricably linked to penitence and conversion of life, the first fruits of evangelization.

Diocesan Level:
Weekend retreats and conferences including Cursillo and other parish-based programmes continue to reach people who have fallen away from the Church or who  are simply searching for meaning.  In so many cases, as with Retrouvaille – an organization which offers support for those going through marriage difficulties, it is often individual witness and invitation that reaches people at points of need.

A personal invitation to a weekend or to meet with a group is proven to be the most powerful tool of evangelization for those at any age or in any social grouping.


Parish-based Evangelization

+ PUBLIC DAILY OFFICE  Meeting daily for prayer or if that is not possible commitment to the shared daily office with the intention of discernment for evangelization is the starting point, as mentioned.

+ ST. THOMAS MORE ORDINARIATE PARISH, TORONTO
After prayer and the commitment of several families we have initiated this year a ministry for home-schoolers, BALDWIN ACADEMY, along with a sacred choral music programme for children, STM Choristers.  This has attracted some children from Catholic families and some nominal families who have just begun to develop a relationship with STM by attending Mass when the children sing and occasionally at other times. 

This summer we will reach out to families and children in the Cabbagetown/ St. Jamestown neighborhood to invite them to the after-school choral music programme. We will provide bursaries for the children whose families cannot afford the programme. This is a long-term commitment that seeks to evangelize through a Catholic educational model accompanied by commitment to a high standard of sacred choral music. 

+ MISSIONS
An old but still effective way in larger parishes especially if active parish members have discerned the topic and method and are committed to inviting lapsed family members and friends who has been away from the Church to come to a series of mission liturgies during Lent or at other seasons.

+ MINISTRY ON THE MARGINS OF FAITH
Very much in the order of what is called the royal and priestly ministry  (both lay and ordained) is the work of the parish ministering to those on the margins of faith.

Reaching out to people in times of joy and sorrow when many are present in parishes, if only then, is important and challenging work that needs to be prayed about and local methods developed to reach people with the challenge and the hope of faith in the midst of the rites of passage and those of loss.

The CCCB has developed discussion groups dealing with approaches to Evangelization under the theme: “In Joy and Sorrow: Catholic Weddings and Funerals as Moments of Evangelization”

The notion of “hatch, match and dispatch” which has been common in parishes needs to change in such a way that people are called to penitence and conversion leading to engagement with a parish or community which is committed to sanctification.



We have only touched the surface here of the question of Evangelization and its offer of a personal encounter with and relationship with Christ. The categories suggested by Fr. Ker’s analysis of Newman may serve to stimulate discussion about how we share the encounter and relationship as members of Christ’s body – the Church.

In future  we will look further into the Documents of the First and Second Vatican Councils in light of Newman's thought.


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