Monday, March 30, 2009

“The New Evangelization” (part I)

(part I)

The term New Evangelization became a characteristic expression of Pope John Paul II during his pontificate. Pope Paul VI called evangelism the 'deepest identity' of the Church and Pope John Paul II continued and extended this vision. Beginning with his address to the Latin American Bishops in 1983, Pope John Paul II noted,

The commemoration of the half millennium of evangelization will gain its full meaning if it is a commitment on your part as bishops, together with your priests and faithful: a commitment, not to re-evangelization, but to a new evangelization, new in ardor, methods and expression. Permit me in this regard to sum up in a few words and dwell with you on those aspects which seem to me to be fundamental for the new evangelization.

Following up on the Puebla conference of Latin American Bishops on "Evangelization at Present and in the Future of Latin America" (1979), Pope John Paul II explains, that the New Evangelization means a need to arouse fresh vocations to the priest hood and to "train them properly in the spiritual, doctrinal and pastoral aspects of their calling." Secondly in regard to the laity, both because of the lack of priests but also in light of the self understanding of the Church as seen in Second Vatican Council, bishops ought to be "engaged in forming an increasing number of laity who are ready to collaborate effectively in the work of evangelization" (Origins Vol. 12.41).

Together with the synod Bishops, Pope John Paul II reviewed and extended the goals of Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi in his own Apostolic Exhortation,Christifideles laici, On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in The World (1988). The idea of "the self understanding of the Church as seen in Second Vatican Council" mentioned in 1983, is greatly expanded and clarified in Christifideles laici.

This document begins noting the fundamental dignity and grace received by all the faithful through baptism. Through baptism the lay faithful participate in communion with Christ and become sharers in his ministry through the Church which is his body.

The participation of the lay faithful in the threefold mission of Christ as Priest, Prophet and King finds its source in the anointing of Baptism, its further development in Confirmation and its realization and dynamic sustenance in the Holy Eucharist. It is a participation given to each member of the lay faithful individually, in as much as each is one of the many who form the one Body of the Lord (CL 14).

The lay faithful are characterized by a special manner of life. Pope John Paul II notes; "The Second Vatican Council has described this manner of life as the 'secular character': 'The secular character is properly and particularly that of the lay faithful' (LG 32)." Pope John Paul II observes that in ordered to full appreciate the lay vocation one must gain a deeper understanding of the theological nature of this secular character. All the members of the Church are sharers in this secular dimension but in different ways (CL 15). According to the council the way which is "properly and particularly" theirs is to be expressed in its "secular character" (AA 5). Pope John Paul II explains this secular character by referring to the text of Lumen Gentium;

The laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven (LG 31).

He explains, "The 'world' thus becomes the place and the means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation, because the world itself is destined to glorify God the Father in Christ." This vocation does not take the lay faithful out of the world, or into seclusion, quoting The Apostle Paul, he notes, "So, brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God" (1 Cor 7:24).

The prime and fundamental vocation of the lay faithful is the call to holiness. The universal call to holiness is "an undeniable requirement arising from the mystery of the Church" and is rooted in baptism (CL 16). The lay faithful exercise this call to holiness "in a particular way in their involvement in temporal affairs and in their participation in earthly activities" (CL 17). The specific manner of living his out is highlighted in the Pauline scripture, "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col 3:17). John Paul II notes,

Likewise the Synod Fathers have said: "The unity of life of the lay faithful is of the greatest importance: indeed they must be sanctified in everyday professional and social life. Therefore, to respond to their vocation, the lay faithful must see their daily activities as an occasion to join themselves to God, fulfill his will, serve other people and lead them to communion with God in Christ"(Propositio 5).

As we noted above the Fathers of Second Vatican Council admonished us, the "breach between faith and daily life among so many must be considered on of the more serious errors of our time" (GS 43, cf. AA 4). The universal call to holiness implies a response of apostolate and missionary effort. The particular place for this effort for the lay faithful is in the midst of the world and is lived by demonstrating a faithful to a unity of life.

Holiness, then, must be called a fundamental presupposition and an irreplaceable condition for everyone in fulfilling the mission of salvation within the Church. The Church's holiness is the hidden source and the infallible measure of the works of the apostolate and of the missionary effort. Only in the measure that the Church, Christ's Spouse, is loved by him and she, in turn, loves him, does she become a mother fruitful in the Spirit (CL 17).

John Paul II moves on to discuss the Church as communion, the diversity and complimentarily of the Spirit's gifts to the Church. He notes;

The various ministries, offices and roles that the lay faithful can legitimately fulfill in the liturgy, in the transmission of the faith, and in the pastoral structure of the Church, ought to be exercised in conformity to their specific lay vocation, which is different from that of the sacred ministry (CL 23).

Quoting the exhortation the Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, the Synod Fathers again highlight the secular nature of the fields of evangelizing activity open to the lay person, "the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, as well as the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media. It also includes other realities which are open to evangelization, such as human love, the family, the education of children and adolescents, professional work, and suffering" (CL 17). John Paul II discusses the role of charisms of the Spirit in the life of the Church and the role of the lay faithful in individual and group participation in parish life.

The Chapter on mission notes the intimate connection between being in communion with Christ and the necessity for mission. John Paul II exhorts, "Communion and mission are profoundly connected with each other, they interpenetrate and mutually imply each other, to the point that communion represents both the source and the fruit of mission: communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion" (CL 32).

John Paul II notes that there is a need to re-evangelize those regions that were once Christian but have given in to the "constant spreading of an indifference to religion, of secularism and atheism" as well as the spread of sects (CL 34). He notes that, "Only a re-evangelization can assure the growth of a clear and deep faith, and serve to make these traditions a force for authentic freedom" (CL 34). We must work to mend the fabric of society, to "first remake the Christian fabric of the ecclesial community itself present in these countries and nations" (CL 34). This is accomplished but revealing Christ's saving power to the "confines of states, and systems political and economic, as well as the vast fields of culture, civilization, and development (CL 34). In a vital synthesis, the lay faithful must allow the Gospel to shine and give testimony in their daily lives. John Paul II notes,

This re-evangelization is directed not only to individual persons but also to entire portions of populations in the variety of their situations, surroundings and cultures. Its purpose is the formation of mature ecclesial communities, in which the faith might radiate and fulfill the basic meaning of adherence to the person of Christ and his Gospel, of an encounter and sacramental communion with him, and of an existence lived in charity and in service (CL 34).

Clearly something more than regular parish life is envisioned here. These communities must offer active participation in the life of the community through words, and testimony but also through missionary zeal. Related to this missionary outreach is the need for the lay faithful to offer systematic work in catechesis, especially parents to their children.

Much of the previous section relates to the mission of the lay faithful in the midst of their ordinary lives. John Paul II continues with a more extraordinary ministry of the lay faithful, who following the example of Aquila and Priscilla (cf., Acts 18; Romans 16:3ff.), will agree to 'go' as missionaries to other countries.


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