Sunday, December 15, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran, Tools for Rebuilding

|BOOK REVIEW: Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran, Tools for Rebuilding: 75 Really, Really Practical Ways to Make Your Parish Better (Ave Maria Press, 2013).
In this follow up book to the extremely popular Rebuilt, Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran offer a series of 75 practical ideas for building a better Parish.  These ideas are given in 14 different categories and are geared towards evangelization and Church growth. Many of the topics do overlap with the previous book, but my overall impression is that it is a very helpful book.
In his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis notes that many of the baptized faithful “lack a sense of belonging to the Church” and that this may be due to “certain structures and the occasionally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems” or “a concentration on administering the sacraments apart from other forms of evangelization” (EG 63).
This new work by Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran, should be approached from this perspective.  In my opinion the goal is not to ‘clone’ or duplicate the experience at Fr. White’s Nativity parish but to seek to live out, in our own unique parishes, a “missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (EG 27).
With this focus Tools for Rebuilding contains a wealth of ideas for reflecting on the life of our own parish in the light of Pope Francis’ call to evangelization.  In the first section on ‘strategic tools’ the authors talk about evaluating schedules and setting boundaries in ministry, establishing a mission, vision and strategies for ministry, clearly defining evangelization, working as a team, the importance of gratitude and enthusiasm, and pursuing excellence.  Under the heading “building tools” the authors discuss the need to set boundaries on the use of parish facilities, the need for the parish to be welcoming and accessible, the need to maintain a clean and inviting space, with a minimum of clutter. 
The authors also talk about the importance of minimizing distractions with such things as mobile phones, but even go further with aggressive announcements regarding the use of “crying rooms” for small children and even volunteers who “politely but firmly” ask parents of noisy or unruly children to relocate out of the main sanctuary!  In my opinion the attempt to justify this through an appeal to St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is unwarranted. 
The next section involves “office tools.” They authors point out that being busy is not the same as being relevant, they suggest that structuring the workspace to promote collaborative team work is best, and that we should hire those who are willing to humbly do small tasks themselves.
Under the heading “communication tools” they suggest that the parish becomes more focused in its advertising, and that it invests in a well thought out website that is relevant, updated weekly, a destination for visitors and parishioners.  The authors suggest that the parish name and “brand” all of its programs to make them more attractive and understandable.  They also suggest that the parish become known to the community and that the parish get to know your community, especially who is not at Church. Repeating a sentiment from their first work the authors suggest that “vestments are like golf clubs.”  If the focus is on bring in the lost, then the cost of beautiful and expensive “church stuff is a turn-off for many, if not most, unchurched people” (p. 93).  This opinion is far from a universal opinion in Catholic tradition and even seems difficult to reconcile with Proposition 20 “The New Evangelization and the Way of Beauty” from the recent Synod on the New Evangelization which notes that “Beauty should always be a special dimension of the New Evangelization” (Prop. 20).  Pope Francis notes, “Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the ‘way of beauty’ (via pulchritudinis)” (EG 167, quoting Prop.  20). In the final thoughts on this section they highlight making ministry accessible, easy and part of parish culture.  The goal is every member a minister.
The next major section is titled “Weekend Tools.”  The first piece of advice is to have a team of enthusiastic greeters welcome everyone who comes in the door.  The second very predicable piece of advice is the assertion that because you are in the communication business the “most important capital investment you can possibly make in your church is a sound system” (p.  102). Thirdly, the authors urge that parishes invest prayerfully, financially and thoughtfully in music.  The authors then ask, without compromising the proper reverence due to the Mass and observing the normal “good pacing, measured pauses, moments of silence and solemnity” of the Mass is there anything distracting or unusually slow taking place?  Linked to this is a reflection on the sometimes jarring effect of transitions and announcements.  Next the authors discuss the process of change which they are aiming for in the weekend liturgy.  They are seeking to invite people in, to transport them on a journey and then to help them reach a destination—deeper relationship with Christ.  The next piece of advice involves being aware of the secular seasons that the neighboring community is involved in and trying to link these sentiments to the liturgical seasons.
The next major section entitled “Preaching Tools.”  The first piece of advice is that the homily and the pulpit announcement must have a focused and consistent message.  Next they advise that the parish commit to having the same message all weekend long, and that the pastor make the homily a greater priority. They also suggest that a clear distinction be made between insiders and outsiders in the parish. Insiders should be challenged, outsiders should be comforted.  They also recommend that the pastor preach the important announcements giving them the added weight of the authority and power of the pulpit.
The next section involves “Sacramental Tools.”  The authors assert that “the opportunity give to us at Baptisms” . . . is “not for instruction and catechesis” . . . but for “celebration.”  They should have a warm welcoming experience.  They suggest not calling it a ‘class’ and developing a Baptism ministry team who help make the experience personal, beautiful and joyful.  In regard to the reception of First Holy Communion the authors suggest that we not create a barrier to the Sacrament by imposing all kinds of requirements on families.  Punishment and reward don’t lead to discipleship.  Likewise Confirmation should be an initiation not a graduation.  They recommend keeping youth ministry apart from Confirmation and not attaching difficult requirements to the Sacrament.  Some advice to increase the Sacrament of Reconciliation involves preaching on it, making it accessible, and encouraging children’s participation in it.  They also give advice on making the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick move accessible.  The next point warns about what they call “self-righteous super consumers” (SRSC).  This was a group of dissatisfied, grumpy, self-righteous people who contributed nothing but demanded everything.  The authors suggest setting proper boundaries and firmly opposing them.  There is also a lengthy point about pastoral problems related to Mass intentions.  In order to stop consumerism, Nativity Parish first stopped announcing Mass intentions and then stopped accepting personal intentions at all.  All Masses are offered “for the people.” With regard to funerals, the authors suggest recruiting volunteers to help families, and that the pastor set firm boundaries and beware of consumers while still being aware of special situations.
The next major section deals with children’s ministry. The authors recommend having a safe full service nursery on Sundays and a Liturgy of the Word for children.  They also recommend that the CCD/PSR program be set up so that it doesn’t look like a ‘school.’  The program should be content rich but fun. The authors propose a small group model where the leaders foster relationship with Jesus and with one another.  With teens they suggest that we treat students as adults by “acting as if they really desire to know God—even if they don’t” (p. 184).  They should be challenged to get into small groups which cultivate authentic conversations which challenge them to grow.  They should also be given opportunities to serve.
The next section deals with “Money Tools.”  They note that in parish setting “fundraisers always create sideways energy that casts parishioners in the role of consumers and puts the focus on raising cash rather than growing disciples” (p. 190).  They suggest gradually stopping all fundraisers and focusing only on the offertory.  You should stop doing what doesn’t get funded.  They also suggest that parishes “pass the basket as seldom as possible” (p. 193).  In this same manner they suggest giving generously to the poor out of the parish collection and sealing the “poor boxes.”  Rather than letters of appeal from the pastor or pledge campaigns, the authors suggest serious modeling and teaching on stewardship.  One small quibble with the authors is their appeal to an alleged biblical model of “tithing” which is not a New Covenant ideal or a part of Catholic Tradition. In their parish, appeals for money are done very well only once per year, but stewardship is part of the vision of the parish.  In keeping with our modern culture they authors suggest setting up accounts to allow regular envelope users to give by electronic fund transfer, and set up the parish website to receive gifts.  They even suggest a giving “kiosk” in the lobby that allows parishioners to swipe there card on their way out of Mass (p. 207). They also suggest that the parish be responsible and transparent with the use of the funds donated.
The next section is titled “Staffing Tools.”  The authors warn about over-using volunteers and about the danger of some heavily used volunteers gaining an unhealthy sense of entitlement.  They suggest constantly using new volunteers as often as possible. Following best practices in business they suggest that we “get the wrong person off the bus. “ When we recognize that someone is a bad fit for a ministry we need to gracefully get them off the bus.  We should also be patient when we are hiring.  They suggest looking for character, competency and chemistry (p. 218). Linked to this is the idea that we should be on the lookout for talented people and promote them.  They believe that as we promote talent to our team more talent will be attracted. They suggest scheduling the staff around the weekend, so that the weekend is the big event. They also emphasize that leaders must be learners who are constantly reading and reflecting on their task.
In the next section entitled, “Critical Tools.”  The authors warn that whatever you do you will experience comment, criticism and complaint.  Some tools for dealing with conflict include beginning with prayer, communicating with appropriate diocesan leadership (especially the bishop) and neighboring pastors about the transition and change you are planning and finally exercising the appropriate damage control.  On this point the authors warn that if you attempt to promote change you will inevitably receive very stereotyped letters of complaint by those who do not like change.  We can always learn from criticism but we shouldn’t let this criticism stifle our vision.  We should not be upset when the “wrong people”-- angry, hurtful, critical, dramatic people leave the parish because they won’t follow our vision.  Sadly sometimes even the “right” people will leave because their friends and family don’t like us. As leaders we also need to be willing to admit our mistakes.  The author note “beside what you actually get wrong you might have to apologize for what you get right” (p. 244).  We may have hurt people unintentionally, overlooked someone, or failed to provide what someone needed.  We also need to be humble and to exercise forgiveness and to move on.
The next section of the book is entitled, “Fun Tools.” We need to celebrate successes by first of all defining what success is in our ministry, then by sharing these successes and celebrating them with our staff.  We must emphasize that any success is a team effort.  Reward success by thanking people personally and publically.  Also thank your staff privately.  The authors also emphasize the importance of “fun.”  They suggest that we should laugh at ourselves, and create a fun environment.
In their final section the authors discuss, “Overall Tools.” The first point is that the pastor needs to be careful not to dominate and to delegate responsibility.  Pastors need to model submission to authority.  “Be an authority by submitting yourself to it.” (p. 275).Change takes time.  You need to be discerning about which new projects you take on and to be patient and positive about the pace of change.  There are no silver bullets.  The challenges we face require consistent approaches, focused intensity and time (p. 280).  We need to seek wise counsel in various ways to improve our leadership by choosing wise advisors and looking for specific skills and points of view.  The authors advocate doing something in a smaller way as a trial and then doing it in a bigger way.  Start somewhere, brainstorm and give yourself permission to fail (p. 290).  We need to focus on the hearts of individual people (p. 291) and stop trying to make people go to church, but instead make church matter (p. 294).

Review © Scott McKellar 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013


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Francis wave2Fr. Longenecker has posted an interesting blog in which he compliments a piece by Ross Douthat at the New York Times which I agree seems insightful.  The trouble is that some of those who are accusing Pope Francis of being ‘naïve and simplistic’ about the economy are actually ‘naïve and simplistic’ about the Church’s social doctrine and doctrine of the Church’s magisterium.  Just to clarify I am not talking about Fr. Longenecker, who for me has been a great stimulus for thought.
One small historical example would be the fact that when Leo XIII condemned ‘socialism’ he mostly meant what we today call ‘communism’ though he may have had in mind what later developed as National Socialism in Germany.  My point is that modern western democratic governments which happen to be frankly mildly ‘socialist’ when compared to the US are probably not what Pope Leo had in mind with his condemnation of ‘socialism’.
Nor has the developing social doctrine of the Church taken sides and condemned all attempts at modern democratic socialism (as defined above).  A recent work by Maciej Zięba, OP (Papal Economics, ISI Books 2013) has a section highlighting the change and ambivalence in the use of these terms through various modern Popes in the Church’s Papal teachings (p. 57-60).
I think Fr. Longenecker is on to something when he says;
The stereotyped economic debate still seems to be centered around certain naive assumptions: that capitalists are always money grubbing, greedy villains and that collectivists are always high minded, idealistic brothers and sisters of the poor.
What if the Pope isn’t trying to ‘take sides’ economically, but rather asking for new dialogue in which the Church’s venerable ethical traditions are allowed to question our current economic theories?  Are we right as Catholics if we say that the Pope has no authority to say anything in this area?  I want to be careful here.  It is the broad principles of social doctrine which are timeless and binding, but what reaction is called for by the Catholic faithful to the ordinary magisterium of the Church when it suggests certain critiques or application of these principles to real situations?
Tim Worstall, a Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London, contributes an otherwise interesting opinion piece to Forbes about Evangelii Gaudium in which he fasley concludes,
Fortunately the idea of Papal Infallibility only applies to occasions when the Pope himself declares that he is speaking infallibly. Which, from memory, has only been done once to assert the possibility of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. So it is still OK to disagree on this point about the nature of a desired economy.
While Worstall  is partly right, (it is OK to disagree about the nature of a desired economy) yet his comment displays a common misunderstanding of authority and infallibility.  This opinion falsely believes that if something is not formally pronounced in an infallible statement we are free to ignore it as mere opinion.  Recently Avery Cardinal Dulles published a work on Magisterium (Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith, (Naples, FL: Sapientia Press, 2007) which outlined some of the nuances of this doctrine including various levels of infallibility attached to Church documents. Dr Martin Rhonheimer points out that it is important in the case of the Church’s social doctrine to observe a “distinction between two levels: on the one hand, the level of the principles of the doctrine of the Catholic faith; on the other hand, that of their concrete historical application.  (Nova et Vetera, English Edition, Vol. 9, No. 4 (2011): 1029–54).   Dr Rhonheimer notes;
In the magisterial declarations—in particular in those touching on political, economic, and social issues—many elements are found that depend upon historical circumstances. The magisterium of the Church in the field of social teaching also contains, together with immutable principles founded on the doctrine of the faith, a mass of implementations that are often, in hindsight, rather dubious. What is involved here is not a type of “teaching” similar to Catholic teaching in matters of faith and morals, where the Church interprets the natural law in an obligatory manner—as in the cases of questions concerning contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and other moral norms in the field of bioethics. (p. 1046).
Fr.  Anthony Figueiredo has pointed out that “the classical conception of the magisterium emphasizes four basic characteristics regarding the teaching function of bishops”.[1]  First the Pope is seen as the head of the college of bishops.  Since all authentic teaching authority is concentrated in the episcopal order, and since the pope is the head of the College of Bishops, then the pope is the supreme and universal teacher of the Church.[2]  Secondly the pope and bishops alone are the authentic teachers of the Church because they have received their office or powers through Holy Orders.  Those who have received these orders are given the special assistance of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:25) which is rooted in the gift conferred on the Apostles enabling them “to know the mind of God, and to interpret Scripture as God willed”[3]  This assistance of the Holy Spirit allows the magisterium of the Church to be infallible in two ways: in an extraordinary way in the infallible definitions of a Council or in the infallible pronouncements of a Pope when he speaks ex cathedra, and secondly in the “ordinary  and universal teaching of the pope and the bishops in union with him.”[4] This does not imply that other acts of the magisterium which are in the form of solemn definitions, are necessarily subject to error and a matter for open debate.[5]
While paying attention the distinction made by Fr. Rhonheimer above, what sort of response from the faithful is called for in relation to papal teachings which are not given at the highest level of infallible pronouncements? The fathers of the Second Vatican Council specifically outlined the degree of ascent various types of teachings.
In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent (religioso animi obsequio adhaerere debent). This religious submission (religiosum obsequeium) of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to (sincere adhaereatur), according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking. (Lumen Gentium, 25)
The Catechism quotes this point explicitly noting;
Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” (religioso animi obsequio adhaerere debent )422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. CCC 892
Again returning to Fr. Rhonheimr’s distinction, in the Church’s social doctrine we must be in complete submission to the general principles of social doctrine but the concrete historical situations are subject to change and debate.  While Lumen Gentium 25 might not have as great a force for the specific historical applications of social doctrine, should not the principle be that we are at least willing to listen to the Pope and to allow our hearts to be challenged by what he says in these areas?  Rather than dismissing the Pope as ‘naïve and simplistic’ are we not rather called to offer him docility and respect?  I was particularly moved by a post on First Things by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in this regard. Once again I do acknowledge that their can be respectful disagreement on the specific applications of social doctrines.  I should point out that this respectful dissagreement requires that one knows the principles of the social doctrine and that one is applying them rightly, and not that in an unprincipled manner we can do what ever we want.  Yet as a further challenge to those of us who are catechists, what example are we giving to to other Catholics if we publically disrespect the Holy Father’s official teachings?

[1] Figueiredo, Anthony J. The Magisterium-theology relationship: Contemporary theological conceptions in the light of universal church teaching since 1835 and the pronouncements of the bishops of the United States  Tesi Gregoriana: Serie Teologia 75. (Rome: Pontificia Universita Gregoriana, 2001), p. 30.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., p. 32.
[4] Ibid., p. 33.
[5] Germain Grisez, “Infallibility and Specific Moral Norms: A Review Discussion,” The Thomist 49 (1985): 248-87 and his “The Ordinary Magisterium’s Infallibility: A Reply to Some New Arguments,”Theological Studies 55 (1994) 720-32.
© Scott McKellar 2013


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Pope Francis featuredIn the previous section of his exhortation Pope Francis emphasized a need for a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ and for a transformation of the Church in light of a new missionary impulse.  In the next section, Pope Francis outlines some of the challenges of today’s world such as our “throw away” culture which treats human beings as “consumer goods to be used and then discarded” (EG 53). Economics and financial reform need to be open to an ethical approach which favors integral human fulfillment (EG 58).
Culture itself needs to be evangelized by confronting such challenges as; attacks on religious freedom, widespread indifference, relativism, the negative aspects of the media and entertainment industries which threaten traditional values, and the proliferation of new religious movements (EG 62-63).
He also notes that many of the baptized faithful “lack a sense of belonging to the Church” and that this may be due to “certain structures and the occasion­ally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems” or “a concentration on administering the sacraments apart from other forms of evangelization” (EG 63).
The process of secularization has reduced faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal through (EG 64). “Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will” (EG 66).
There are many temptations faced by pastoral workers in our current globalized culture (EG 76-77). We need to develop a new missionary spirituality which resists relativism and the exaggerations of personal freedom in our culture (EG 78-80). Pope Francis also notes the danger of negativity and pessimism, so that we do not appear to be “sourpusses” (EG 85).
The greater possibilities for communication in our modern world must turn into “greater possibilities for encounter and solidarity” (EG 87) allowing us to overcome suspicion (EG 88) and the isolation of unhealthy individualism (EG 89).
Pope Francis warns of two extremes of ‘spiritual worldliness’, one which is a purely subjective faith based on experience and the other a faith which ultimately trusts only in its own powers and feels superior to others because it observes certain rules or remains intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. (EG 93-94).
Pope Francis also discusses the challenges of lay people in the Church (EG 100-101).  The laity can be hindered by lack of formation or by limitations to their actions caused by “an excessive clericalism which keeps them away from decision-making” (EG 102).  Even when the lay faithful are involved in lay ministry they are often not involved in their essential role of a “greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors” in the midst of the world (EG 102).
The need to uphold the dignity of women and to create still broader opportunities for women in the Church is highlighted. At the same time Pope Francis still affirms the reservation of the priesthood to males, “as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist” (EG 103-104).
In the light of these challenges Pope Francis discusses the proclamation of the Gospel.  He warns that, “there can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord” (EG 110). The task of proclaiming the gospel belongs to the entire people of God (EG 111). Every member of the Church is a missionary disciple.  The sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work in all the baptize impelling them to evangelize. All members of the People of God are agents of evangelization (EG 119-120).
The Gospel is frequently communicated in person to person conversation which forms a type of “informal preaching” (EG 127) “which is always respectful and gentle” and “the first step in personal dialogue” (EG 128).  Only then does the opportunity arise to humbly share the biblical message about Jesus’ offer of salvation and friendship (EG 128).  This message can take a variety of forms since the Holy Spirit enriches the entire evangelizing Church with different charisms (EG 130). The duty of proclaiming the Gospel message to different cultures also involves proclaiming it to professional, scientific and academic circles (EG 132) and requires “an encounter between faith, reason and the sciences with a view to developing new approaches and arguments” and creative apologetics (EG 132).  While stressing the importance of the scholarly work of theologians he notes that theologians must always remember that “the Church and theology exist to evangelize, and not be content with a desk-bound theology” (EG 133).
The task of proclaiming the gospel is especially linked to the homily (EG 135).  Pope Francis urges pastors to renew their efforts at effective Biblical preaching (EG 136) which “is not so much a time for meditation and catechesis as a dialogue between God and his people” (EG 137).
Pope Francis warns that, “the homily cannot be a form of entertainment like those presented by the media . . . it should be brief and avoid taking on the semblance of a speech or a lecture” and that “. . . preaching should guide the assembly, and the preacher, to a life-changing communion with Christ in the Eucharist” (EG 138). The Church is a mother that speaks to her child (EG 139).
The homily should be a dialogue of heart to heart communication.  Pope Francis notes that an “inculturated preaching consists in proclaiming a synthesis, not ideas or detached values” (EG 143). Pope Francis gives pastors an extended set of advice on how to prepare and deliver a homily (EG 145-159). The preacher should prayerfully study the sacred text and prepare a message which will touch the heart of his hearers.
In this section of his exhortation Francis moves on to discuss evangelization and the deeper understanding of the kerygma or the initial preaching of the gospel. He points out that education and catechesis are at the service of the gospel (EG 165).
In the next extended section he discusses what he calls the importance of the “art of accompaniment” (EG 168-173), which “teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5)” (EG 168). This allows men and women on the basis of their experience of accompanying others to become “familiar with processes which call for prudence, understanding, patience and docility to the Spirit, so that they can protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock” (EG 171).
The proclamation of the gospel should be centered on the Word of God. All evangelization is based on the word of God, “listened to, meditated upon, lived, celebrated and witnessed to” (EG 174).  The study of the sacred Scriptures is essential in all our efforts to pass on the faith. “Evangelization demands familiarity with God’s word, which calls for dioceses, parishes and Catholic associations to provide for a serious, ongoing study of the Bible” (EG 175).
© Scott McKellar 12/13/2013


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This is the first installment of a three part review and summary of Pope Francis’ latest Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.
Pope Francis’ Apostolic ExhortationEvangelii Gaudium(The Joy of the Gospel) is truly an inspiring manifesto for the missionary reform in the Church. Pope Francis wishes firstly to “to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization” marked by joy of the Gospel and secondly to point out “new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come” in relation to this evangelical mission (EG 1). Pope Francis issues a challenge; “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” (EG 3).  It is principally through our personal encounter with Christ that we gain the love and joy which is “the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization” (EG 8).
Living a fulfilled life involves reaching out to others and seeking their good.  By its very nature the Gospel causes us to experience delightful and comforting joy as we reach out to others.  The recent Synod on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith (EG 14) highlights three principal settings for evangelization.  The first setting is the work of evangelization in ordinary pastoral ministry of the Church which seeks to help believers to grow spiritually.  The second is the ministry to the baptized faithful whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism and who lack a meaningful relationship to the Church. Finally, evangelization has always been first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ (EG 15).
The proclamation of the Gospel should always flow from our joy.  Pope Francis notes “it is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’” (EG 15). Giving some practical guidelines the reform of the Church in her missionary outreach he notes that we must go forth “from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (EG 20).
Calling for a renewal of pastoral life, Pope Francis says pointedly that the status quo or ‘mere administration’ is no longer enough. The Church needs to examine itself and to seek to renew itself. He warns that “there are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization” (EG 26).  Pope Francis calls for a pastoral conversion and renewal of the Church‘s structures in light of our mission.
“I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation (EG 27).
Because of its flexibility, the local parish is precisely the place where this can most easily take place. He notes that this is true only if the parish is truly in contact with the wider community and not just ministering to a chosen few (EG 28).  Other types of small communities, and movements, and apostolates can also bring a new evangelizing fervor to renew the Church. But, he notes, “it will prove beneficial for them not to lose contact with the rich reality of the local parish and to participate readily in the overall pastoral activity of the particular Church” (EG 29).
Each particular Church, under its bishop “is likewise called to missionary conversion” (EG 30).  The particular Church is the “primary subject of evangelization” and “the concrete manifestation of the one Church in one specific place” (EG 30).  Missions should especially be focused on those of greater need and on the “the outskirts of its own territory or towards new sociocultural settings.”
Pope Francis notes that “the papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion” because “excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach (EG 32). He warns that we must “abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way’” and challenges us to “invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization” (EG 33).
We must seek to convey the heart of Christ’s message and not to confuse this with even important secondary aspects of the faith (EG 34).  We also need to be “realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying” (EG 34).  He notes that, “Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed, instead the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary” (EG 35). While it is true that “all revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel” (EG 36).  The ‘pastoral consequence’ of this is that in preaching the Gospel “a fitting sense of proportion” has to be maintained “in the frequency with which certain themes are brought up and in the emphasis given to them in preaching” (EG 38). Because of the organic unity of the faith we need to avoid portraying Christian morality as “a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults” (EG 39).  The Church’s doctrinal and moral teaching need to be presented in the context of the Gospel message which “invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us” (EG 39).
He notes the importance of culture observing that, “today’s vast and rapid cultural changes demand that we constantly seek ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out their abiding newness” (EG 41).  Quoting the famous words of Blessed Pope John XXIII, he notes, “The deposit of the faith is one thing… the way it is expressed is another” (EG 41). He also points out that, “all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness” (EG 42). Without abandoning the evangelical ideal, pastors and teachers need to accompany others with mercy and patience through the “eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur” (EG 44).
(c) Scott McKellar 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Introducting--Hither, Thither and Yon: Resources for the New Evangelization


Hither, Thither and Yon: Resources for the New Evangelization

I have decided to launch a new website devoted to the New Evangelizaion.
The Hither, Thither and Yon site is devoted to the New Evangelization in the Catholic missonary Tradition.  Jesus command us to  “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16).
sgmfaceThis site is run by Scott McKellar, Director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute, an apostolate of the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph, MO.

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Friday, September 6, 2013

The Cost of Discipleship

Followme2Recently I heard a story shared by one of the African Bishops who attended the Synod on ‘The New Evangelization.’ In this bishop’s diocese there was a maximum security prison. He decided that he should visit this prison to minister to any Catholics who might be there. The prison was underground and had no windows. The bishop journeyed deeper and deeper into the darkness of the prison before he eventually heard some singing and he was taken to a lighted room with a number of prisoners in it. The bishop became angry when he saw how many men were in the room and he confronted them asking, “Please tell me why so many Catholics are here in this prison for serious criminals?” Pointing to one of the prisoners, the other men replied, “Bishop, not one of us was Catholic before we met this man. We were so struck by his peace here in the prison that we all wanted to be like him. We are following him.”

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus challenges the great crowds that are following him to take stock of the cost of his discipleship. Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Jesus is not literally telling us to hate our families but warning us that Jesus must be our first love. If there is a conflict between loving Christ and respecting or honoring our family, the cost of discipleship is to renounce our family for the sake of the kingdom. Jesus continues, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Being a disciple comes with a cost. We must be willing to suffer. Notice the two aspects of discipleship highlighted in these verses. Jesus says. “If anyone comes to me. . .” and then in the next verse he says, “come after me.” Our faith is both a beginning and an ongoing journey. Our modern culture, which is perhaps influenced by certain types of Protestantism, tends to focus only on the initial decision or the ‘altar call.’ If the focus is only on the beginning, then we will fail to grow and continue the work of conversion than God has started in our heart.

During the Nazi occupation of Germany, the German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer complained against those who professed faith in Christ but allowed the Nazis to control the German State Church and to commit atrocities against the Jews. He helped found a dissident free ‘Confessing Church’ and eventually was executed in a concentration camp for his views. Bonhoeffer believed that our faith should impact the Christian’s role in the secular world. He called the separation of faith and living, “cheap grace.” In 1937 Bonhoeffer wrote, “Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace” (The Cost of Discipleship). Have we committed ourselves to intentionally following Jesus?

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council noted a similar problem at the time of the council. They complain about the error of those, “who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age” (GS 43).

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus is calling us to live one unified life in him. We must not have a separate family, political or business life and a private religious life. We must follow after him completely even if it is a costly call of discipleship. Jesus gives two illustrations on counting this cost and then he concludes, “In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

Once again this is not a call to hate our family, or to despise the world and all earthly possessions. The cost of discipleship is a daily endeavor, it means keeping Jesus at the center of our world. One traditional practice for this spiritual accounting is the examination of conscience. St. Ignatius of Loyola proposed a method involving five simple steps. First, begin by making an act of thanksgiving (Luke 17:15-16a). Next, pray and ask God for the grace to know ourselves and to have the courage to correct our faults. Thirdly, take a few minutes to review the hours of our day noting our faults in thought, word, deeds and omissions. Fourth, pray and ask God’s pardon for our sins. Finally make a resolution to improve ourselves in some small point of struggle during the next day (Spiritual Exercises, 43).

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity

Joan_Baez_1963One of the more celebrated achievements of Second Vatican Council was to give the Church a clearer understanding of the nature and role of the lay faithful. Who are the lay faithful?

Answers to this question have witnessed two false extremes. While debating the draft of the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, one Austrian bishop illustrated a point by telling the assembly that when he looked up “layman” in an old theological dictionary the entry said, “see clergy.” One false extreme is clericalism—in which the role of the lay person is reduced to nothing more than supporting the work of the clergy. The opposite extreme is the false belief that the Fathers of Second Vatican Council wished to do away with the hierarchy altogether and create a so-called “circle church” where everyone is equal and no one has an office of leadership. The documents of the council do not support either of these extreme positions. Twenty years after the council, the 1987 Synod of Bishops clarified a balanced view of role of the lay faithful resulting in Blessed John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici.

In 1964, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church had already defined the ‘laity’;

. . . to mean all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church. These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ. . . (LG 31; AA 2).

This constitution highlights the profound gift given to the lay faithful through baptism which makes them one with Christ and sharers in the “priestly, prophetical, and kingly” ministries of Christ. This sharing does not involve the ‘sacred powers’ that are conferred in the Sacrament of Ordination but none-the-less it results in a unique ‘vocation’ and ‘apostolate’ (LG 31, AA 1). One of the key ideas is that the lay vocation is to be ‘secular’ and is to “seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God” (LG 31). While the lay faithful can and must perform may vital roles within the life of the Church the primary vocation of the lay faithful is performed in the midst of the secular world. The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, develops this notion further noting that the apostolate of the laity is exercised;

. . . by their activity directed to the evangelization and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel. In this way, their temporal activity openly bears witness to Christ and promotes the salvation of men. Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ (AA 2).

All of the faithful, both clergy, religious and lay faithful share in the one vocation to holiness (LG 39) exercised in different ways in keeping with their individual callings. The lay faithful have a specialized apostolate to evangelize and sanctify their daily lives and their secular vocations. This is accomplished through the work of “the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies the people of God through ministry and the sacraments” (AA 3). The Holy Spirit gives the faithful special gifts (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7). These charisms of the Holy Spirit are given to be exercised both “in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the building up of the Church” (AA 3).

All too often, the focus of these spiritual gifts is only on their use ‘in the Church’ and not also on the more fundamental apostolate of evangelizing and sanctifying our daily lives and the temporal order. This can lead to a false compartmentalizing of life. A specialized ‘lay spirituality’ emerges in the minds of the council Fathers. They urge that;

“The success of the lay apostolate depends upon the laity's living union with Christ . . . This life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is nourished by spiritual aids which are common to all the faithful, especially active participation in the sacred liturgy. These are to be used by the laity in such a way that while correctly fulfilling their secular duties in the ordinary conditions of life, they do not separate union with Christ from their life but rather performing their work according to God's will they grow in that union (AA 4).

It is not enough to simply live virtuous lives in the midst of the world, although that is important, we must join our daily lives to Christ. The temporal affairs of the world include the, “prosperity of the family, culture, economic matters, the arts and professions, the laws of the political community, international relations, and other matters of this kind, as well as their development and progress” (AA 7). “The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation” (AA 7). The council Fathers recognize that, “in the course of history, the use of temporal things has been marred by serious vices” and the whole Church has the duty to rectify distortions in the temporal order directing them to God through Christ (AA 7). Pastors must form the laity in the necessary moral and spiritual principles to renew the temporal order in Christ. This formation should be uniquely tailored to the lay vocation. The Fathers note that the apostolic formation of the laity “is specially characterized by the distinctively secular and particular quality of the lay state and by its own form of the spiritual life” (AA 29). Preparation for the lay apostolate involves lifelong well rounded human, spiritual and theological formation and is aided by lay groups and associations dedicated to the lay apostolate (AA 29-30).

The Purpose of Divine Revelation

shipOn November 18th, 1965 the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) was endorsed by 2,344/2350 votes from the council fathers. This was a peaceful end to what had been a three year long debate on the floor of the council. The title Dei Verbum means "The Word of God" in Latin. The draft schema of this constitution went through a series of very fruitful editorial changes before finally receiving a positive endorsement by the vast majority of bishops at the council. The council fathers explain the purpose of this constitution as follows;

In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4). (DV 2)

The purpose of divine revelation is found in the mystery of God’s will. There are two spiritual benefits mentioned: ‘access to the Father in the Holy Spirit’ and ‘participation in the divine nature’. Ultimately this mystery involves our very communion with the Holy Trinity.

The word ‘revelation’ comes from the Latin revelare ‘to unveil’ what is hidden. God has not allowed his presence to remain hidden. It was his eternal desire to reveal himself and his plan of salvation to us by allowing us to share in his divine life.

It was the constant unfulfilled desire of the Old Testament saints to “see the face of God.” This desire is now fulfilled in Christ. The incarnate Christ becomes the face of God which can be seen. “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him (John 1:18). Although God chose to reveal himself through both words and deeds to the people he chose for himself, our finite ability to comprehend God leaves this knowledge in a state of mystery. We can only know through God’s revelation and by analogy. We learn about God’s love through the analogy of human love. God is like the very best loving father, he is like a young groom in love with his bride or the love shared between friends. Such human loves make us capable of some small understanding of God’s own love. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God has communicated his truth and holiness to us by means of what St. John Chrysostom, calls a wonderful “condescension” of the Eternal Wisdom (Gen, 3,8 (Hom. 17:1). God has adapted his speech to our needs so that we can know Him. As the Fathers of Second Vatican Council note: “Indeed the words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men” (DV 13).

We can also seek to know God through creation, especially in the human person which is a reflection of the image of God. The apostle Paul notes, “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what has been made. As a result, they have not excuse.” (Romans 1:20). God as creator leaves his mark on his creatures and through this mark we can learn something of God’s existence. God’s revelation through creation is called natural revelation (CCC 27-49, DV 3). We hold as a matter of faith that it is possible to know God through this type of revelation.

Although God does reveal things about himself through his creation he has also directly revealed himself through words and deeds in history. “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Our record of this activity is found in the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. To distinguish this activity from natural revelation we call this divine revelation. The ultimate fulfillment of the desire to see God’s face occurs in the Incarnation. As Christ tells his disciples, “If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7).

God has chosen to reveal himself gradually in what has been called the ‘Divine pedagogy’ (CCC 53, n. 5; GDC 139-147). Retrieving certain concepts from the Church Fathers, we must see God’s own pedagogy as a model of a “school of Faith” which embraces the entire Christina life (GDC 33). In the Old Testament God begins to announce prophetically the coming of Christ, Our Redeemer and the messianic kingdom. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council remind us that initially this revelation is “imperfect and ephemeral” (DV 15). It was matched to the ability of the People of God to understand. Gradually God guided his people to a fuller understanding of himself aided by the action of the Holy Spirit.

We can now behold the face of God in Christ. Christ who knows the Father as the Only Begotten Son reveals the Father to us and allows us to join in his own prayer and communion with the Father. The fullest revelation of God’s love for us is seen in the Jesus death (John 15:13) which is anticipated in the institution of the Eucharist and re-presented in each Eucharistic celebration (CCC 1366).

Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition

800px-Vatican_StPaul_StatueAs we contemplate the vast complexity of the universe beyond our solar system, or the equally intricate details of microbial life we are struck by the humble limits of our knowledge. As finite human creatures we cannot hope to fully understand God but we can know him by His divine mystery revealed to us. Divine revelation is God’s self-communication to man – the unveiling of the invisible inner life of God Himself: “The eternal life which dwelt with the Father and was made visible to us.” (DV 1, cf. 1 John 1:2) God can reveal Himself through His creation, through the words of his prophets, or ultimately though the very Person of Jesus Christ. It is the face of Christ which reveals God most fully to man (GS 22).

God reveals his own inner life because He wants to share it with us! He wants us to partake of the richness of infinite love! “God’s will was that men should . . . become sharers in the divine nature” (DV 2). Specifically, this is why the Father sent His Son into the world: “For God so loved the word that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). Also, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

God’s motivation for revealing Himself is purely His own love for us. Love is the whole motive of Revelation! “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). How does God communicate this revelation to us?

God reveals Himself in word and deed. Ultimately the human words God uses to speak to us become fully manifest as the human person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the “Word of the Eternal Father” who took on “the flesh of human weakness” in order to reveal the Father’s love to us in its fullness (DV 13). The revelation of God is the Divine pedagogy in the Father (GDC 139), which becomes the pedagogy of the Son (GDC 140) and finally the pedagogy of the Spirit as this teaching is passed on to Christ’s disciples in the Church (GDC 141-143).

The Apostle Paul writes; “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24). To transmit means to ‘pass down’ or ‘hand on.’ These expressions come from the world of discipleship. A disciple was expected to preserve and ‘pass down’ the tradition of his master or rabbi. The words of the Institution of the Eucharist are part of the essential apostolic tradition St. Paul ‘received’ and ‘handed on.’ The process through which God reveals himself in the Sacred Scripture is called divine inspiration. While the precise inner working remains a mystery, we have the combined activity of normal human authors who use “their powers and abilities” . . . “as true authors” (DV 11) and the work of God himself who remains the primary author of what is written through the Holy Spirit. The fathers of the second Vatican council note: “Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” (DV 11). The inspiration of the Holy Spirit guarantees the truth of what is said when it is understood in the context of apostolic tradition.

“For man to be able to enter into real intimacy with Him, God willed both to reveal Himself to man and to give him the grace of being able to welcome this revelation in faith” (CCC 35). Not only does God reveal himself in a special and clear way through divine revelation, but he also makes possible the acceptance of His revelation through the power of grace working in our souls. Without the grace to accept this revelation, it would not be a help to man. Yet, God does not merely reveal those truths which are unknowable through human reason alone, for example the Triune nature of the Godhead. He also reveals those truths knowable by reason alone that man can know them easily and surely (CCC 38). Sacred Scripture not only speaks of creation from nothing, but also the love of God and His perfection, truths which can be discerned from reason alone.

God’s revelation includes both the written deposit found in Sacred Scripture and the living traditions pass on by the successors of the apostles in the Church. The whole content of Divine Revelation, written and oral, entrusted to the Church is called the deposit of faith. The fathers of the Second Vatican note, “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the Word of God” (DV 10). We can distinguish between Sacred Scripture as “The word of God as consigned to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” (DV 9) and Sacred Tradition “the Word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles” and handed on to their successors in its full purity (DV 9).

“Holy Scripture is the utterance of God, in so far as it was written down under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration; while sacred Tradition hands on in its entirety the word of God, that was committed to the apostles, by Christ our Lord and the Holy Spirit to their successors, in order that being enlightened by the Spirit of Truth, they may in their preaching faithfully preserve, set forth and disseminate it” (DV 9, GDC 139-143). Both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition “spring from the same divine fountain, and so in some manner merge into a unity, and tend towards the same end” (DV 9). Sacred Scripture was intended to be rooted and understood in the context of apostolic discipleship or the succession of the apostles. As Blessed John Paul II reminds us, “at the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth” (CT 5). We are joined through Baptism to Christ’s own living and ongoing discipleship in the Church “as sharers in the divine nature” (DV 2).

The Church in the Midst of the World

st augustine detailIn 1965 the Fathers of Second Vatican Council complained about Catholics, “who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life.” They remarked that “this split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.” (Gaudium et Spes 43). Clearly these words are still very true today.

The Council Fathers produced two Constitutions on the Church. They followed a distinction borrowed from Trinitarian theology. The actions of the Church were described in terms of the interior works or the nature of the Church versus the Church’s exterior works or mission in the world.

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) was intended to describe the nature of the Church itself, while a new schema was drafted to describe the Church in relation to the world. This new schema was eventually named Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World).

In order to understand this outward directed mission, the Fathers highlighted the deepest understanding of what it means to be human. Each of us desires true and eternal happiness, or the integral fulfillment of the human condition. While the human condition offers many false substitutes, Christ is the ultimate foundation of our happiness (GS 10). The Council sought to solve fundamental human questions in the light of Christ “in order to shed light on the mystery of man and to cooperate in finding the solution to the outstanding problems of our time” (GS 10).

The fundamental truth is that “only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light” (GS 22). The Fathers note that, “the root reason for human dignity lies in man's call to communion with God.” and that “…many of our contemporaries have never recognized this intimate and vital link with God, or have explicitly rejected it. Thus atheism must be accounted among the most serious problems of this age, and is deserving of closer examination.” The problem of systematic unbelief has not lessened in our time.

One highly significant facet of the mission of the Church in the world is the role of the lay faithful who are called to carry out “all their earthly activities . . . humane, domestic, professional, social and technical enterprises by gathering them into one vital synthesis with religious values” (GS 43). The lay faithful are called to be Christ in the midst of the world, in their daily life and professions. The General Directory of Catechesis notes;

The formation of lay catechists cannot ignore the specific character of the laity in the Church, and cannot be regarded as merely a synthesis of the mission received by priests and religious. Rather, "their apostolic training acquires a special character precisely from the secular nature of the lay state and from its particular type of spirituality" (GDC 237).

The relationship between Christ and culture has generally followed three patterns. One pattern is to attempt to remove oneself from the world, to live in a kind of a monastery in the desert or on a mountain. While such a calling has definite merit, especially for prayer, it is not the vision of the council for the lay person. A second model involves an uncritical assimilation to culture either by abandoning faith or by compartmentalizing or privatizing it so that it has no relevance to daily life. This view was condemned as serious error by the Council Fathers (GS 43). The final proposal is to allow Christ to transform culture through the daily lives of the faithful. This view requires us to be “in the midst of the world” but to fuse our life to our faith in a vital synthesis which transforms culture and bears witness to Christ.

I am reminded of a story told to me by a priest who had lived for a number of years in Europe. He knew Catholic women of deep faith in the city of Milan, Italy who had spent her life working as a designer in the fashion industry. One day while she was visit a fellow fashion designer she noticed that his newest line of apparel where created out of nearly transparent fabric with no attempt in the design at layering or some other method of making the outfit be less revealing. This concerned her deeply because this had potential to influence the whole fashion industry and thus impact the culture of Europe. I was told she looked at him and placed her hand under the fabric and holding it up asked him, “Would you dress you wife in this?” He thought for second and then replied, “No, I wouldn’t.” After she left his studio he apparently got on the phone and reordered his fabric in light of her comments. The presence of this Catholic fashion designer in the midst of a highly secular profession allowed Christ to be present and to transform this small part of culture. The council envisioned the transformation of all human culture as the lay faithful bear witness in every honest and upright vocation.

Norman Tanner, observes that there was a definite shift in emphasis as the Council began "proposing itself and the Catholic Church as moral points of reference for contemporary society" This was a deliberate attempt to seriously respond to Pope John XXIII's desire that the Council be pastoral in character. The schema was initially presented to the council by Cardinal Cento and Bishop Guano on behalf of the mixed commission that prepared it. Cardinal Cento proposed that the Council should conduct a dialogue with the people of our time. Bishop Gauno noted that "the Church had the right and duty to respond to the needs and aspirations of the world." He also observed that the council should be "a sign and vehicle of this dialogue between the Church and mankind." Cardinal Angelo Scola observes that "the category of dialogue as explored by the Magisterium of Paul VI in the Encyclical Escclesium suam provided the keystone for the development of this different way of looking at reality" He notes further that "it was in the nature of a pastoral Constitution to remain open to later developments."

There are two difficulties which arise from the idea of promoting a dialogue between the Church and the world. The first involves the doctrinal complexity of the relationship between the Church and the world. What does 'world' mean? What is meant by 'Church'? Secondly how does one find the balance between the unchanging principles of the faith and the contingencies of the present historical reality?

Cardinal Scola highlights two fundamental principles which relate to both the content and the method of Gaudium et spes. First, the teaching of this Constitution is based on a Christocentric anthropology, or an understanding of the human person which is centered on Christ. Secondly it is founded on a pastoral dimension which is attentive to the "signs of the times" and seeking the best way to present Christ to the human family.

Clear examples of a Christocentric anthropology is seen in a great number of passages from Gaudium et spes such as GS 10, 22, 32, 38-39, 40-41, and 45.

Cardinal Scola notes that the nexus between dialogue and Christocentric anthropology is seen most explicitly in GS 10;

The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, Who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever (Cf. Heb 13:8). Hence under the light of Christ, the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of every creature, (Cf. Col 1:15) the council wishes to speak to all men in order to shed light on the mystery of man and to cooperate in finding the solution to the outstanding problems of our time. (Gaudium et spes 10).

Although the council provides many sections of Gaudium et spes which clearly offer features of an objective Christocentric anthropology they are fragmentary and seen "in embryo." Cardinal Scola's point mentioned above may be revisited; he notes "it was in the nature of a pastoral Constitution to remain open to later developments." Commenting on the reception of the Constitution after the council he notes that there is still an imperative need for "an organic reconsideration of the subject." The work of the Council that began in embryo needs to be continued to be developed by the Church and fully worked out as an objective Christocentric anthropology of the human person.

The second important dimension Cardinal Scola mentions is the pastoral dimension. This theme is expressed in terms of dialogue and resonates with themes of aggioramento and of the signs of the times. In his Encyclical Escclesium suam Pope Paul VI calls theme of aggioramento the guiding principle of the Council.

Pope Paul VI notes;

We cannot forget Pope John XXIII's word aggiornamento which We have adopted as expressing the aim and object of Our own pontificate. Besides ratifying it and confirming it as the guiding principle of the Ecumenical Council, We want to bring it to the notice of the whole Church. It should prove a stimulus to the Church to increase its ever growing vitality and its ability to take stock of itself and give careful consideration to the signs of the times, always and everywhere "proving all things and holding fast that which is good" (Cf. 1 Thes 5. 21.) with the enthusiasm of youth.

Cardinal Scola highlights three problems which arise from the above two themes.

1. The need to find a language adequate to express the dialogical (pastoral) dimension of the Council.

2. The problem of the pastoral nature of doctrine (particularly Magisterial pronouncements).

3. The question of the relationship between Christ as absolute Truth and the need for the "respect of the insuperable freedom of each person."

Do All Good Atheists Go to Heaven?

Pope-FrancisRecently in a daily homily in the Chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis commented on the idea that all people are capable of ‘doing good.’ The Holy Father refuted the notion that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” In order to clearly emphasize the universal ability of all humanity to do good, Pope Francis notes emphatically;

"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! . . . We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

The Holy Father highlights two points here. Firstly that “doing good” is a principle that unites all humanity and creates a “culture of encounter” that unites us. ‘Doing good’ is a duty which flows from the depths of the human conscience. Further he emphasizes that Christ died for all of humanity. He notes,

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”

The Huff Post responded to this remark with apparent alarm, by reporting,

Pope Francis rocked some religious and atheist minds today when he declared that everyone was redeemed through Jesus, including atheists.

Such inaccurate reporting even prompted an official Vatican clarification on the subject. The Catholic Church teaches the universal availability of Christ’s atonement to all people. The idea that Christ died for all is found in Sacred Scripture and is a firm part of Catholic belief. We read in St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy;

This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

In a similar manner, St. Peter’s writes,

The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

The Catechism notes,

“The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: ‘There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.’” (CCC 605).

This doctrine is central to the teachings of Second Vatican Council. The Council fathers note;

All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way (LG 16). For, since Christ died for all men,(Romans 8:32) and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery (GS 22).

If we understand Pope Francis through these words, we can see that even atheists “of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way” are offered “the possibility of being associated” with the redeeming work of Christ. Does this “possibility of being associated” with Christ require an explicit faith manifest through the Church? The keystone text on this issue is found in the Constitution on the Church which notes;

Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel (LG 16).

The Church recognizes two extremes of error related to this doctrine. On the one extreme is the error of those who say that only those with explicit faith manifest through the Church may be saved. On the other side is the error of believing, with full assurance, that all will be saved regardless of their cooperation with the Divine will. Blessed John Paul II commented,

It is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for salvation. Both these truths help us to understand the one mystery of salvation, so that we can come to know God's mercy and our own responsibility. Salvation, which always remains a gift of the Holy Spirit, requires man's cooperation, both to save himself and to save others (Redemptoris missio 9).

Even the very generous words of the Second Vatican Council Constitution on the Church (LG 16) contain specific conditions for those who may obtain salvation outside the Church. Their lack of knowledge of the Gospel must be “through no fault of their own” (LG 16) and they must “sincerely seek God” even if perhaps not yet arriving “at an explicit knowledge of God” (LG 16). They must also be “moved by grace . . . to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience (LG 16). Moved by grace each of us should desire to ‘do good.’ Pope Francis says, “If we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter” which may become the one mystery of salvation even for those who do not yet explicitly know Christ or it may lead to an encounter with those who directly proclaim this mystery on behalf of the Church.

  [Reformatted from the published version in the Catholic Key 45.12 June 2013]