Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cast into Hell Satan and All the Evil Spirits Who Prowl About the World Seeking the Ruin of Souls

Today is the feast day of the Archangels Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and Saint Raphael and one of the readings for today is about Michael:
War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night. They conquered him by the Blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death. Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them." (Rv 12:7-12)
I've not read the entire book, and of course it is a secular work and not at all authoritative on matters of doctrine and theology (and has even been condemned at times), but the epic poem Paradise Lost, by (Protestant) John Milton, is an interesting and fascinating read. Most captivating, from a literary standpoint, is the dramatic portrayal of the war in heaven that is depicted above in the Book of Revelation and Satan's defiant vow after he and his minions are cast into perdition.
"What though the field be lost? All is not lost -- the unconquerable will, and study of revenge, immortal hate, and courage never to submit or yield: And what is else not to be overcome? That glory never shall his wrath or might extort from me. To bow and sue for grace with suppliant knee, and deify his power who, from the terror of this arm, so late doubted his empire--that were low indeed; that were an ignominy and shame beneath this downfall; since, by fate, the strength of Gods, and this empyreal substance, cannot fail; since, through experience of this great event, in arms not worse, in foresight much advanced, we may with more successful hope resolve to wage by force or guile eternal war, irreconcilable to our grand Foe, who now triumphs, and in the excess of joy sole reigning holds the tyranny of Heaven. . . .

"Is this the region, this the soil, the clime," said then the lost Archangel, "this the seat that we must change for Heaven? -- this mournful gloom for that celestial light? Be it so, since he who now is sovereign can dispose and bid what shall be right: farthest from him is best whom reason hath equalled, force hath made supreme above his equals. Farewell, happy fields, where joy for ever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail, infernal world! and thou, profoundest Hell, receive thy new possessor--one who brings a mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven. What matter where, if I be still the same, and what I should be, all but less than he whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least we shall be free; the Almighty hath not built here for his envy, will not drive us hence: Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice, to reign is worth ambition, though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."
This being a website about film, it would be interesting to see such an epic story told on the screen, but I doubt that anyone could successfully pull it off. This is truly "bigger than life" in its scope, beyond ability to fully envision, even if it might be dramatically told in words.

It is for that reason, I suspect, that in films such as Jesus of Nazareth and Bernadette, the cinematographers did not even attempt to show the Angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary, or the Blessed Virgin appearing to Bernadette at Massabielle. Instead, they merely showed an image of light. Conversely, in the otherwise good film that is a word-for-word depiction of the Book of Acts, the filmmakers do make the attempt, showing Jesus floating up to Heaven in the Ascension. And not to be disrespectful of our Lord here, but the scene is rather laughable as depicted. Some events, especially those full of mystery, simply cannot be successfully represented on the screen. In painting, perhaps it can be done, but not on film.

Still, if it could be done in a way that did not look absurd, a big screen epic portrayal of the war in heaven, borrowing some of Milton's great dialogue, would be something to see. Likewise, film versions of Dante's Inferno or C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce would be fascinating. But they will never happen. We'll simply have to make do with allegorical stories, like those of Tolkien, or those works whose characters relate to the fallen Satan here and adopt his vow as their own, like the Creature in Frankenstein (although the Creature is no Satan, merely a wronged innocent who vows revenge for the many wrongs inflicted upon him, and Victor Frankenstein is certainly no God, quite the opposite) or Ahab in Moby Dick or Khan in Star Trek or "John Milton" in The Devil's Advocate.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pope Benedict: "Evangelization, in fact, is not the work of some specialists, but of the entire People of God"

In preparing for the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization, certain questions arise:

Who should be the ones to perform this mission? Shouldn't we leave this work to the bishops and priests, the other professionals, experts, and specialists who have degrees in theology and communications? Aren't they the ones who are qualified for the work while we should simply be concerned with our own issues, making ourselves better and more holy people?

In fact, notwithstanding the fact that I myself have been certified by the Diocese of Arlington as a Master Catechist, and although we are each different parts of the Body, all of us are called to join in this mission to spread the Faith. In the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, we are all called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and help Him in the work of salvation, reconciling mankind to God. As Pope Benedict emphasized just last week,
Evangelization, in fact, is not the work of some specialists, but of the entire People of God, under the guidance of the Pastors. Each believer, in and with the ecclesial community should feel responsible for announcing and witnessing to the Gospel.
(Address of Pope Benedict to Newly Appointed Bishops, 20 September 2012) (emphasis added).

Most especially in the New Evangelization, which, among other things, seeks to find more effective ways to communicate that message of Light to a dark world, it is often the non-experts, the non-specialists who are the best and most effective proclaimers of the Good News because of their varied and diverse experiences and life situations.
[T]he lay faithful "live in the world, that is, in every one of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very fabric of their existence is woven." They are persons who live an ordinary life in the world: they study, they work, they form relationships as friends, professionals, members of society, cultures, etc. . . .

In the apostolate exercised by the individual, great riches are waiting to be discovered through an intensification of the missionary effort of each of the lay faithful. Such an individual form of apostolate can contribute greatly to a more extensive spreading of the Gospel, indeed it can reach as many places as there are daily lives of individual members of the lay faithful. . . . the spread of the gospel will be particularly incisive, because in sharing fully in the unique conditions of the life, work, difficulties and hopes of their sisters and brothers, the lay faithful will be able to reach the hearts of their neighbors, friends, and colleagues, opening them to a full sense of human existence, that is, to communion with God and with all people.
(Christifideles Laici 15, 28, quoting Lumen Gentium 31, see also Redemptoris Missio 44). Conversely, for all its benefits, often that very specialization narrows the focus and understanding of the expert such that he or she is not always the most effective messenger to everyday people. Specialization often means, by its very nature, thinking "within the box" of the specialty, whereas the non-specialist person, because of his or her diverse background, is better able to consider all of the situations and factors of everyday life in the world and, thus, think "outside the box."

With respect to his own evangelization efforts interacting with many different kinds of people in different lands, the Apostle Paul said,
I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew to win over Jews; to those under the law I became like one under the law--though I myself am not under the law--to win over those under the law. To those outside the law I became like one outside the law--though I am not outside God's law but within the law of Christ--to win over those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it. (1 Cor. 9:19-23) (emphasis added)
As with the world-traveling Paul, for us to be successful in evangelization, we cannot be overly-narrow in our thoughts and approaches, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work, we need to be able to understand and appreciate people in their unique everyday living situations and have the ability to adjust our message appropriately.

Pope Benedict has repeated this idea often, that the spread of the Faith is not a task for only the specialists and experts of theology and communications, but for all of the faithful and, indeed, often it is the everyday person who can best perform that task. In meetings with young people, the Pope frequently says to them, as he did for World Youth Day 2008, that these non-specialists are often the best people to spread the faith to their contemporaries.
Today too there is a need for disciples of Christ who give unstintingly of their time and energy to serve the Gospel. There is a need for young people who will allow God’s love to burn within them and who will respond generously to his urgent call, just as many young blesseds and saints did in the past and also in more recent times.

In particular, I assure you that the Spirit of Jesus today is inviting you young people to be bearers of the good news of Jesus to your contemporaries. The difficulty that adults undoubtedly find in approaching the sphere of youth in a comprehensible and convincing way could be a sign with which the Spirit is urging you young people to take this task upon yourselves. You know the ideals, the language, and also the wounds, the expectations, and at the same time the desire for goodness felt by your contemporaries. This opens up the vast world of young people’s emotions, work, education, expectations, and suffering.

Each one of you must have the courage to promise the Holy Spirit that you will bring one young person to Jesus Christ in the way you consider best
, knowing how to “give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but [to] do it with gentleness and reverence” (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).
(Message for World Youth Day 2008)

Some measure of learning and knowledge in the Faith is essential, of course. To speak of Jesus, we must know Jesus. Part of the New Evangelization is the conversion and evangelization of self, to have knowledge of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Faith, most especially the knowledge of the heart, but to be effective and successful in a diverse world, we need to not only speak of Jesus, but speak the way our listeners speak. The spread of the Faith cannot be just the work of the degree-carrying "specialists." Rather, it is the work of all the faithful in prayerful communion and collaboration with pastors, the Magisterium, and most especially, the Holy Spirit as the principal agent of evangelization and mission (Evangelii Nuntiandi 75, and Redemptoris Missio 21, 71 et seq.).
In past centuries, thanks to the generous testimony of so many baptized ones who spent their lives to educate new generations in the faith, to heal the sick and help the poor, the Christian community announced the Gospel to the residents of Rome. This same mission is entrusted to us today, in different situations, in a city where not a few baptized Christians have lost the way to the Church, while non-Christians do not know the beauty of our faith. . . .

The mandate of evangelization does not only concern some, but all baptized Christians. . . . This requires a change in mentality particularly among laymen, who must pass from considering themselves "collaborators" of the clergy to recognize that they are really "co-responsible" for what the Church is and how it acts, thus promoting the consolidation of a mature and committed laity.
(Address of Benedict XVI, Bishop of Rome, Opening of the Ecclesial Convention of the Diocese of Rome, 26 May 2009)

What is needed, what is essential if we are to succeed in the New Evangelization is to understand that effective communication is not a one-way proposition requiring only that the speaker know the words to speak; effective communication requires that the speaker, in addition to knowing the words to speak, knows the words that the listener understands in his own particular situtation. For this, we need those who are not merely degree-carrying specialists in communications, theology, and other aspects of the Faith, but we need those experienced in society and culture, the good and the bad, those experienced in the lives of everyday people, faithful and sinners alike. In this, we mean not only parents being the primary religious educators of their children, rather than abdicating this responsibility to Catholic schools and CCD teachers, for example, but spreading the Faith to the world at-large.

All the lay faithful are summoned to labor in the vineyard of the Lord, especially with respect to interaction with the modern world.
The lay faithful, in fact, "are called by God so that they, led by the spirit of the Gospel, might contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. Thus, especially in this way of life, resplendent in faith, hope and charity they manifest Christ to others."
(Christifideles Laici 15, quoting Lumen Gentium 31)

Who should be the ones to perform this mission? Shouldn't we leave this work to the experts, the professionals and specialists who have degrees in theology and communications?

No, we should not leave it all for others to do. In the New Evangelization, the lay faithful, the everyday person, is not a passive bystander. He or she is called to become an active participant in the mission of the Church as part of our Confirmation duty, but as re-emphasized now in the New Evangelization, this work by the non-specialist everyday person who can speak to the problems and concerns of other everyday people is crucial to its success.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The New Evangelization: Announcing God Who Responds to Our Reason

From the "found while looking for other things" file --

Remarks of Pope Benedict XVI
Press Conference en route to Mexico
March 23, 2012
The path of the New Evangelization started with the [Second Vatican] Council - this was a fundamental intention of Pope John XXIII, which was underscored by John Paul II. The need for it in a world that is undergoing great changes has become even more evident.

The Gospel must be expressed in new ways - new words that can cut through the difficulty of orienting oneself today. The common condition in the world today is secularization - the absence of God, the difficulty of finding him, and of putting him in the center, to see him as a reality who affects my life.

On the other hand, there are also specific dangers. . . . We must start with what we have in common: In our modern rationality, we can rediscover God, as a fundamental orientation for our life, the foundation of those values which can truly build a society, and the way we can best consider the specificities of diverse situations.

So first, I think it is important to announce God who responds to our reason - we see the rationality of the cosmos, we see that there must be something behind it all, and we also see how near God is, the synthesis of greatness and majesty who is close to us and orients us to the values of truth. He is the nucleus of evangelization, the fundamental nucleus we need in order to live with all the problems of our time.

On the other hand, we must consider concrete realities. In Latin America, generally, I would say that it is very important that Christianity was never so much a matter of reason but of the heart. The Virgin of Guadalupe is known and loved by everyone because they understand that she is the Mother of all. She has been present almost from the very beginning in this new America shortly after the arrival of the Spaniards. They know intuitively that she exists to love us and to help us.

But this, let us say, intuition of the heart, must be linked to the rationality of faith and to the profundity of faith that goes beyond reason. We must seek not to lose this intuition of the heart but to link heart and reason, so that man may be whole, and as a whole man, promote the new evangelization.
(originally posted at Vita Nostra in Ecclesia)(Translation courtesy of Benedetto XVI Forum)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Showing this Thursday -
Episode Two of Catholicism: Happy are We - The Teachings of Jesus

Happy are We - The Teachings of Jesus
Fr. Robert Barron's Catholicism
The revelation of Jesus as God is accompanied by a stunning invitation to a unique new way of life, explained in the teachings of Jesus. To every generation, the words of Jesus have proven fascinating, disorienting, sometimes confounding, deeply transformative, and always unforgettable.
Father Barron highlights the Beatitudes, the path of non-violence and lessons of forgiveness, care for the poor and our relationship with God as presented in the parables. Jesus' teachings are illuminated during Fr. Barron's pilgrimages to Poland, Germany, Spain and New York City. Commentaries at these sites also show how the Catholic Church is a living culture, which gives witness to the inviolable dignity of the human person.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Be Bold Heralds of the New Evangelization

Address of Pope Benedict to Newly Appointed Bishops
September 20, 2012
It is the eve of the Year of Faith, of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and of the Thirteenth General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme: "New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian faith." These events, to which the twentieth anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church must be added, are an opportunity to strengthen the faith of which, my dear Brothers, you are teachers and heralds (cf. Lumen Gentium, 25). . . .
Your primary concern must be to promote and support "a more determined commitment of the Church in favor of the new evangelization in order to rediscover the joy in believing and find the enthusiasm to communicate the faith" (Porta fidei, 7). Here too you are called to encourage and foster communion and collaboration between all the realities of your dioceses.

Evangelization, in fact, is not the work of some specialists, but of the entire People of God, under the guidance of the Pastors. Each believer, in and with the ecclesial community should feel responsible for announcing and witnessing to the Gospel. Blessed John XXIII, opening the great assembly of Vatican II envisaged "a leap forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciences," and for this reason - he added - "it is necessary that this certain and unchangeable doctrine, which must be faithfully respected, be both deepened and presented in a way that meets the needs of our time." (Address at the Opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, October 11, 1962)

We could say that the new evangelization began precisely with the Council, which Blessed John XXIII saw as a new Pentecost that would see the Church flourish through its inner wealth and maternally extend to all fields of human activity (cf. Address at the closing of the first session of the Council, December 8, 1962). The effects of the new Pentecost, despite the difficulties of the times, spread to reach the life of the Church in all its forms: from the institutional to the spiritual, from the participation of the lay faithful in the Church to the charismatic flowering and holiness. In this regard, we cannot but think of both Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II, as well as the many figures of bishops, priests, religious and lay people who have rendered the face of the Church beautiful in our time. . . .

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On Shrinking, Growing, and Smaller but Purer

Over at the Archdiocese of Washington blog, our friend Monsignor Charles Pope asks, "What of the 'Smaller but Purer' Vision of the Church?" This follows a prior post asking "What do we learn when an Archdiocese chooses to close more than half its parishes?"

It is indeed troubling to see a progressive process of people leaving the Church in favor of other venues or secularization and, of course, addressing that is part of what the New Evangelization is all about. But we should pay attention to the words of Cardinal Ratzinger in a talk he gave in 2000 to a group of catechists, where he warns against the temptation of impatience.
Yet another temptation lies hidden beneath this — the temptation of impatience, the temptation of immediately finding the great success, in finding large numbers. But this is not God’s way. For the Kingdom of God as well as for evangelization, the instrument and vehicle of the Kingdom of God, the parable of the grain of mustard seed is always valid (see Mark 4:31-32).

The Kingdom of God always starts anew under this sign. New evangelization cannot mean: immediately attracting the large masses that have distanced themselves from the Church by using new and more refined methods. No—this is not what new evangelization promises.

New evangelization means: never being satisfied with the fact that from the grain of mustard seed, the great tree of the Universal Church grew; never thinking that the fact that different birds may find place among its branches can suffice—rather, it means to dare, once again and with the humility of the small grain, to leave up to God the when and how it will grow (Mark 4:26-29).
Yes, there is a temptation to look at things and panic at all the empty seats and the thought of "we could do so much more if more people contributed more money and time," etc.

It is a temptation we should overcome and realize that we don't have to do everything all by ourselves, we can let God do some of the work too. That doesn't mean our kicking back and not doing anything, making God do ALL the work, as all too often we might do, but it does mean, with respect to evangelization, re-evangelization, catechesis, etc., doing what Augustine suggested with respect to our own lives and grace -- do what you can, as much as you can, and then ask God for help (grace) to do the rest.

But aside from that, I suggest that it is also a matter of perspective. Without being overly optimistic with wishful thinking, we need to look at things with a broader and more precise view in how we "count the numbers." We might have more than we realize.

It is not a matter of the Church being composed of only those faithful sitting in the pews, with "the world" out there being filled fully with pagans and idol worshipers and nonbelievers and anti-believers. Rather, the outside world is, if not believing Christian, then it is a society that is Christianized -- both areas that seem to be post-Christian, where the Faith seems to have lost ground to secularism (such as Europe and the United States), and those areas which never had many professing Christians. In both of these areas, even if they no longer profess Christ, still they are imbued with Christian ideals, Christian ethics, a Christian worldview. Here in the United States, even many of the atheists are Christianized in that their values are implicitly Christian.

The fundamental ideas of good and evil, right and wrong, helping the sick and oppressed, a desire for social unity, the inherent dignity of the human person, peaceful harmony amongst people. One of those ideas is the idea of forgiveness and mercy, even in war, such that, instead of entire populations being wiped out in genocidal retaliation in war, humanity has survived. Without getting into the debate of the morality of dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we might even suggest that without Christian morality, the world would have erupted into planet-killing nuclear war long ago. All of these are Christian ideals, they are not universal ideals. Indeed, we need only go to some areas of the world to see where these concepts have been rejected.

So, notwithstanding the fact that it appears in many places that we have returned to pre-Christian Rome, a culture of hedonism and violence, the numbers may not necessarily be as bleak as they might seem. There may not be as many Mass-attending and parish-active Catholics (and that is a valid concern), but there are many out there in the world who nevertheless have the embers of Catholicism still glowing within them, and there are many others who, although non-Catholic or non-Christian, are yet Christianized with Christian ideals and ethics, a Christianity without Christ I suppose, and these even include not a few agnostics and atheists.

The question is -- How to reach them? How to bring them the rest of the way? How to appeal to them in words they will listen to and can understand? What is the right hook to use to catch them and reel them in? How to act in ways they find to be admirable and worthy of emulating?

"Be prepared in season and out of season," counsels Paul (2 Tim 4:2). OK, if direct evangelization is not in season, if people will not listen or are unable to understand even if they do hear, then perhaps we need to resort to "pre-evangelization" during this out-of-season time. If they will immediately reject and run-away at the mention of the words "God" or "Jesus" or "heaven" or "hell" or "sin," perhaps we need to speak to them in their own language, that language of the residual Catholicism/Christianity of those who have become secularized, and the language of those Christianized ideals and ethics of right and wrong, helping one another, etc.

We need to make use of these pre-existing elements and use them as a way to get in the door, rather than have the door slammed in our face. We need to be surreptitious, we need to go around their pre-built defenses against us and our message if we are to succeed. Speak of Jesus without words, and in the words we do use, let them come to know Him without using that particular word "Jesus" just yet. We need to prepare the soil by:

(1) Encouraging them in the search for truth, encourage them merely to seek truth (the mention of "Jesus" can wait for a bit here, after all, God Himself waited thousands of years to prepare people to receive Him), which is what St. Augustine went through. During that search, his mother Monica had asked a bishop to speak to him and set him straight, but the bishop refused to do so. At that point, Augustine was not ready, he was "unripe for instruction," and to speak to him then might have only pushed him further away. Instead, difficult as it was for Monica (and Augustine), he had to struggle a little bit more before he would be ready, before the iron was hot enough for striking.
(2) Encouraging them in love, explain and help them to understand what authentic true love is (where the longing for the other is directed toward, not selfish gratification, but toward a gift of self, again, without scaring them off with the mention of "Jesus" or "the Church"), rather than the counterfeit that so many know today, and how the real thing brings so much more joy than the transitory superficial counterfeit that leaves so many broken people behind.
(3) In love and truth, disabusing people of the many falsehoods and mischaracterizations of so many things. Protect and defend the truth as pertains to the inherent dignity of the human person, of the living humanity of the entity in the womb, respecting the inherent dignity of woman in her fertility as being the true pro-woman stance, rather than the true anti-woman stance which seeks to suppress and destroy that which is unique to woman.
(4) Be a light of Christ by allowing Him to shine through you in your actions, exposing people to Him even if you have not yet said His name. This was often the approach of Mother Teresa.

It is this kind of pre-evangelization of appealing to those pre-existing Christianized elements of right and wrong, justice, help for the downtrodden, etc., that might be necessary -- both for those who have never believed and those who stopped believing (or stopped practicing) in favor of secular, worldly things -- before we can succeed in the new evangelization. Again, God in Salvation History and Jesus during His ministry did exactly that, often drawing people in by revealing God without directly mentioning Him, and only later being more direct. We must get people to drop their defenses, to open up their ears and open up their hearts ("Ephphatha") before we can proclaim to them the Good News of Jesus Christ, and that what is even more hopeful and joyous and life-affirming than mere believing in those philosophical and ethical ideals is to fully embrace He who is Love and Truth in relationship with Him.

And, as part of this, it is essential to clear out the rocks and weeds in preparation of the soil, we need to correct the many misunderstandings and misconceptions about the Church and the Faith, that we are anti-woman, anti-gay, a bunch of child molesters, full of greed for money and power, that our history is nothing but gleefully torturing heretics and suppressing science by locking up Galileo, etc. I am convinced that many of the stumbling blocks, if not THE NUMBER ONE stumbling block to people embracing the Catholic Church and Faith is this false understanding that they have. As Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen famously said, "Not one hundred in the United States hate the Roman Catholic Church, but millions hate what they mistakenly think the Roman Catholic Church is."

Part of clearing away the rocks and weeds of misconception is to remember that we are in the business of joy, and not complaining and moaning about how bad this is or that is. We proclaim GOOD NEWS, GLAD TIDINGS, REJOICE. We must go about our service in a positive manner, not a negative one.

All too often were a drifted-away Catholic or a fallen-away Catholic, or a non-Catholic to see and read what Catholics themselves say about the Church, about how this is bad, that is bad, they would run away and never look back. And rightly so. Why would anyone want to revert or convert after reading such stuff?

If all that people ever hear, from the progressive side or from the traditional side, is how awful and lousy this aspect of the Church is or that aspect of it is -- or we present Church teachings unenthusiastically or with a wink-and-a-nod that signals that we disagree with them -- then we are essentially locking the front door and pushing people out the back door. And then we wonder where everyone is.

Now, none of this calling people back home with the Lord, or inviting them to meet Him in the first place, will be easy. It will be hard and arduous work. It is work that will take the rest of our lives. Finding the right hook and the right time to go fishing is a task that will require a more dynamic approach than we might have engaged in before. And because we are all different, it is not a one-size-fits-all program that will work, but a case-by-case, one-on-one approach. We must be like Paul discovered that he needed to be -- "become all things to all" (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Perhaps beginning with ourselves, renewing and re-evangelizing ourselves. But it is not the work of drudgery, even if at times frustrating, but is the work of joy and hope.

And if we do it the right way, if we begin the work with prayer, with asking God to help us and accompany us along the journey, it will be even more joyful and quite a bit fruitful. Because, as we should tell people after preparing them, after getting them to drop their defenses, that truth and love which they seek and desire and need are not merely nice ideas, Love and Truth are a reality, Love and Truth are a Living Being, such that we do not simply have to agree with or believe in them, we can allow ourselves to become one with Love, one with Truth, and thereby realize the fullness of our potential and attain that happy life, that life of beatitude which all people seek.

(cross-posted at the ADW blog site)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Who Do You Say That I Am?"

In Episode One of the Catholicism series, Fr. Barron explored the question of who and what Jesus is. Today's Gospel reading for Mass (Mk 8:27-35) asks that very question too.
Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way He asked His disciples,"Who do people say that I am?"
They said in reply, "John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets."
And He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" . . .
That question is just as relevant today as the day it was uttered. Just as the question of whether or not God exists is unavoidable, so too are the questions of: Who is Jesus? What is Jesus?

At His trial, Jesus was asked if He is the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One? In response, Jesus echoed the words of God in telling Moses His name, “I AM.” (Mk 14:53-64) On other occasions, Jesus similarly declared “I AM.” (e.g. Jn. 8:58)

With these words, there are only three possibilities -- either (1) Jesus was rightfully condemned as a criminal for committing blasphemy by wrongfully taking the Lord’s name in vain and equating Himself with God; (2) Jesus was delusional and insane, thereby mitigating His alleged blasphemy; or (3) He is, in fact, the “I am,” that is, God.

Faith informs us that Jesus is the Christ, which is Greek for “the anointed one,” the one anointed by God. Jesus is the Son of God – God Himself – the Word (Logos) made flesh through whom the world was made. He is not only God in a spiritual sense, He is God incarnate, God become man. Fully God, yet fully human, united in one. He is one divine person with two complete natures, both human and divine, and two wills, with fully human freedom. Like us in all ways except for sin. He is Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.” (Mt. 2:23) He is not merely a pleasant story, he is not merely a nice philosophical idea, but an actual historical event. He is God entering into time and taking tangible physical and bodily form. And, as fully man, Jesus knows fully our human pain, suffering, fear, anguish, and sadness.

Why did He do this? Because God is Love and God is Truth.
(a) Because He loves us, as the name Emmanuel suggests, He wanted to be “with us,” like us, and among us – not only at a single point in time, but always and forever.

(b) He wanted to teach us, to give us a deposit of faith, and be a Light for us -- the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

(c) He wanted to “save” us -- to redeem us and repair the rift. Indeed, the Greek name “Jesus” (Yeshua or Joshua in Hebrew) means “God saves.” As the Son, consubstantial with the Father, Jesus wanted to reconcile Fallen Man to God, to bridge the gap that man had created and reunite us. Jesus is the culmination of salvation history.

(d) He wanted to sanctify us, to make us sharers in His divinity. Jesus assumed our nature so that He, made man, might make men gods.
The Transfiguration, which gave the Apostles a glimpse of His glorification, shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

And after fully revealing God’s love and truth, Jesus, the Son of God, gave us the grace of salvation and eternal life by becoming the spotless lamb who was sacrificed for sins, and whose blood would be sprinkled so that death would pass over, and we would be led from the bondage of sin and death to freedom and life. He is the innocent righteous man, the suffering servant, upon whom the Spirit of the Lord has descended, who is pierced for our iniquities, and who pays the ransom with His own life. By the transformative power of His love on the Cross and His resurrection, Jesus, the Son of Man, has defeated suffering and death and established His kingdom of salvation.

Because God transcends time and space, for Him specific points in time continue to exist forever. The Passion and Crucifixion were not isolated events in some distant past. Rather, His sacrifice is an on-going event. He is not crucified again and again, but is one sacrifice. He is perpetually being scourged, eternally on the Cross. Every sin of ours is another lash on His flesh, it is another pound of the hammer, driving nails deeper into His hands.

At the same time, to be one with Jesus means to be one with Him on the Cross. Although Jesus is fully man, and thus suffered greatly, He is also united with the Father of Love -- as He calls us all to be, and as we all can be -- and so that fully human and excruciating pain and suffering are transformed and overcome, and therefore made bearable. Through the Cross, even death is overcome, and He makes all things new. By uniting our sufferings with His, by offering them up to Him on the Cross, they obtain redemptive meaning. The martyrs could truly smile in joy amidst the flames and beasts that tore at their bodies because they too were one with Him, and so their agonies were transformed by love.

God’s plan for man does not stop at his redemption and salvation, that is, reconciling man to God, but continues toward our sanctification, that is, making men more like God. Jesus calls us to be holy and perfect in love and truth, just as His Father in heaven is perfect. He calls us to be true to the purpose for which we are made, to love and be loved in truth. To love God and love one another as Jesus has loved us, including extending forgiveness and mercy to others. And to help us attain that perfection, to help us love in truth, Jesus, promising to be with us always, to the end of the age, has established His Church and sent us His Holy Spirit.

Why the Passion? Why such terrible suffering?

Because God is not only Love, God is Truth. And the truth is that sin exists. Sin exists and it has evil effects, sin causes horrific suffering. The effect of sin is made manifest in Christ’s flesh. God takes that horror, caused by man, upon Himself. Had God instead simply waved His divine hand, that would have been a lie. To simply pretend that the sin did not happen, that sin does not have horrific consequences, would have been wholly contrary to truth. And it would have been contrary to that aspect of truth which is justice.

The sin happened, the window was broken. You can forgive throwing the ball through the window, but you cannot simply act as if there is not a gaping hole in the glass. To pretend like the window is not still broken, even after forgiveness, is to allow the rain and snow to come in. The truth is that the window is broken, the scales of justice must be balanced, justice requires a return to the status quo — an unbroken window. Thus, truth is, and justice demands, that someone needs to suffer all the trouble to fix it.

Jesus volunteered for the job. Jesus takes the reality of sin, the truth of evil and the horrific consequences of sin, upon Himself so that we do not have to take it upon ourselves. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said immediately before he was elected Pope, in Jesus on the Cross, love and truth coincide.
Christ's mercy is not a grace that comes cheap, nor does it imply the trivialization of evil. Christ carries the full weight of evil and all its destructive force in His Body and in His Soul. He burns and transforms evil in suffering, in the fire of His suffering love. The day of vindication and the year of favour converge in the Paschal Mystery, in the dead and Risen Christ. This is the vengeance of God: He Himself suffers for us, in the person of His Son.
The truth is that suffering caused by sin exists. If Jesus doesn’t take this terrible suffering upon Himself, we have to, as a matter of truth and justice, take it upon ourselves.

It Does Not End With Salvation

Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that no one could come to the Father except through Him. (Jn. 11:25-26; 14:6) He is our one and only Redeemer and Savior. But salvation in Christ is not our ultimate goal, our ultimate destination. Beyond Salvation History lies Sanctification History, becoming not only saved, but made pure and holy to the point of divinization. The heaven that we are called to is not merely being near God or with God, yet still separate from Him, but in its fullest sense is to be in God, to be one with Him, a loving and fruitful communion of persons.

Jesus came not merely to save us, but to take us unto Himself in an eternal life of the fullness of Love. (CCC 1023 et seq.)
_______________________

For further discussion: What are some of the descriptions of Jesus and types of relationship we might have with Him?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Pope Benedict on the New Evangelization

The method of the New Evangelization is necessarily one of flexibility and, while respecting the need to proclaim only the truth in the faith, is one left largely to our own prudent judgment. To be sure, Pope Benedict counseled a wide range of latitude in saying to youth, "Each one of you must have the courage to promise the Holy Spirit that you will bring one young person to Jesus Christ in the way you consider best." (emphasis added)

Of course, such an approach requires a much more dynamic faith, a much more active participation in the mission of the Church in order to respond differently to the various different situations. We cannot lazily simply quote things to people, but must actively engage with them. However, take heart, we are not alone in this endeavor, we are not left entirely alone to our own devices. In Confirmation, we received the grace of the Holy Spirit, the helping hand of the Paraclete who is the primary agent of evangelization, as we ourselves are mere co-workers in truth.

Besides, the message that we have to proclaim to people is a message of glad tidings and joy and hope in these difficult times. So once we get beyond our reserve and reticence and throw ourselves out there onto the stage, we will discover the blessed joy we ourselves receive in bringing Him who is Love and Truth and Light and Life to others.

The Great Challenge of the New Evangelization
Message of Pope Benedict XVI to the
2012 Assembly of the International Catholic Action Forum
To guide others to an encounter with Christ by announcing his message of salvation with language and ways understandable in our own day, which is marked by rapidly transforming social and cultural advances, is the great challenge of the new evangelization. I encourage you to continue generously in your service to the Church, by fully living out your charism, whose fundamental feature is that of adopting the apostolic goal of the Church as a whole, in a fruitful balance between the universal and local Church, and in a spirit of intimate union with the Successor of Peter and of active co-responsibility with one’s own Pastors.

Spreading the Faith in a Comprehensible and Convincing Way
Message of Pope Benedict for World Youth Day 2008
To proclaim the Gospel and bear witness to the faith is more necessary than ever today. There are those who think that to present the precious treasure of faith to people who do not share it means being intolerant towards them, but this is not the case, because to present Christ is not to impose Him.

Moreover, two thousand years ago twelve Apostles gave their lives to make Christ known and loved. Throughout the centuries since then, the Gospel has continued to spread by means of men and women inspired by that same missionary fervor.

Today too, there is a need for disciples of Christ who give unstintingly of their time and energy to serve the Gospel. There is a need for young people who will allow God’s love to burn within them and who will respond generously to his urgent call, just as many young blesseds and saints did in the past and also in more recent times. In particular, I assure you that the Spirit of Jesus today is inviting you young people to be bearers of the good news of Jesus to your contemporaries.

The difficulty that adults undoubtedly find in approaching the sphere of youth in a comprehensible and convincing way could be a sign with which the Spirit is urging you young people to take this task upon yourselves. You know the ideals, the language, and also the wounds, the expectations, and at the same time the desire for goodness felt by your contemporaries. This opens up the vast world of young people’s emotions, work, education, expectations, and suffering. Each one of you must have the courage to promise the Holy Spirit that you will bring one young person to Jesus Christ in the way you consider best, knowing how to “give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but [to] do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15). . . .

Be prepared to put your life on the line in order to enlighten the world with the truth of Christ; to respond with love to hatred and disregard for life; to proclaim the hope of the risen Christ in every corner of the earth.

Be Missionaries of Joy
Message of Pope Benedict XVI for World Youth Day 2012
The Church’s vocation is to bring joy to the world, a joy that is authentic and enduring, the joy proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born. Not only did God speak, not only did he accomplish great signs throughout the history of humankind, but he drew so near to us that he became one of us and lived our life completely. In these difficult times, so many young people all around you need to hear that the Christian message is a message of joy and hope! . . .

Whatever brings us true joy, whether the small joys of each day or the greatest joys in life, has its source in God, even if this does not seem immediately obvious. This is because God is a communion of eternal love, he is infinite joy that does not remain closed in on itself, but expands to embrace all whom God loves and who love him. God created us in his image out of love, in order to shower his love upon us and to fill us with his presence and grace. God wants us to share in his own divine and eternal joy, and he helps us to see that the deepest meaning and value of our lives lie in being accepted, welcomed and loved by him. Whereas we sometimes find it hard to accept others, God offers us an unconditional acceptance which enables us to say: “I am loved; I have a place in the world and in history; I am personally loved by God. If God accepts me and loves me and I am sure of this, then I know clearly and with certainty that it is a good thing that I am alive.”

God’s infinite love for each of us is fully seen in Jesus Christ. The joy we are searching for is to be found in him. . . .

I would encourage you to be missionaries of joy. We cannot be happy if others are not. Joy has to be shared. Go and tell other young people about your joy at finding the precious treasure which is Jesus himself. We cannot keep the joy of faith to ourselves. If we are to keep it, we must give it away. Saint John said: “What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; we are writing this so that our joy may be complete” (1 Jn 1:3-4).

Christianity is sometimes depicted as a way of life that stifles our freedom and goes against our desires for happiness and joy. But this is far from the truth. Christians are men and women who are truly happy because they know that they are not alone. They know that God is always holding them in his hands. It is up to you, young followers of Christ, to show the world that faith brings happiness and a joy which is true, full and enduring. If the way Christians live at times appears dull and boring, you should be the first to show the joyful and happy side of faith. The Gospel is the “good news” that God loves us and that each of us is important to him. Show the world that this is true!

Be enthusiastic witnesses of the new evangelization! Go to those who are suffering and those who are searching, and give them the joy that Jesus wants to bestow. Bring it to your families, your schools and universities, and your workplaces and your friends, wherever you live. You will see how it is contagious. You will receive a hundredfold: the joy of salvation for yourselves, and the joy of seeing God’s mercy at work in the hearts of others. And when you go to meet the Lord on that last day, you will hear him say: “Well done, my good and faithful servant... Come, share your master’s joy” (Mt 25:21).

Friday, September 14, 2012

"From the Cross of Nowa Huta Began the New Evangelization, the Evangelization of the Second Millennium"

As noted in the post below, use of the term "New Evangelization" by the universal Church can be traced back to the following homily given by Pope John Paul II during his return to his native Poland in 1979 after being elected pope. And it is quite fitting that the New Evangelization should begin where the cross had come to a place without God and triumphed over those who sought to deny God to the people, with the church that was eventually built there constructed upon a foundation containing a stone from the tomb of St. Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus has built His Church.

A “New Evangelization” Has Begun
Homily of Blessed Pope John Paul II
Apostolic Pilgrimage to Poland, 9 June 1979
Let us go together, pilgrims, to the Lord's Cross. With it begins a new era in human history. This is the time of grace, the time of salvation. Through the Cross, man has been able to understand the meaning of his own destiny, of his life on earth. He has discovered how much God has loved him. He has discovered, and he continues to discover by the light of faith, how great is his own worth. He has learnt to measure his own dignity by the measure of the Sacrifice that God offered in His Son for man's salvation. . . .

Where the Cross is raised, there is raised the sign that that place has now been reached by the Good News of Man's salvation through Love. Where the cross is raised, there is the sign that evangelization has begun. Once our fathers raised the Cross in various places in the land of Poland as a sign that the Gospel had arrived there, that there had been a beginning of the evangelization, which was to continue without break until today. . . .

The new wooden Cross was raised not far from here at the very time we were celebrating the Millennium. With it, we were given a sign that on the threshold of the new millennium, in these new times, these new conditions of life, the Gospel is again being proclaimed. A new evangelization has begun, as if it were a new proclamation, even if in reality it is the same as ever. The Cross stands high over the revolving world. . . .

From the Cross of Nowa Huta began the new evangelization, the evangelization of the second Millennium. . . . The evangelization of the new millennium must refer to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. It must be, as that Council taught, a work shared by bishops, priests, religious and laity, by parents and young people. The parish is not only a place where catechesis is given, it is also the living environment that must actualize it.
That was Pope John Paul II in 1979, but what is the story behind the homily? What is the story of the workers' paradise, Nowa Huta, the town without a need for God?



The Story of Nowa Huta
The struggle to build the Nowa Huta church is one of the great clashes between the Catholic Church and Communists in post-war Poland. Of all the conflicts between the Church and the Communists involving Karol Wojtyla, this story perfectly expresses his growth into political leadership. It is a small gem of a story, multifaceted, twenty years in the making, combining all the elements of Wojtyla's own political journey -- both prosaic and dramatic, gradual and surprising. Ultimately, this story is revealing of the man, the priest, the emerging leader who understood the importance of tenacity and compromise, as well as the great communicator who is exquisitely aware of symbolism and timing.

Nowa Huta was a brand new town built by the Communists in the early 50's outside of Krakow. The town was in Wojtyla's jurisdiction. It was meant to be a workers' paradise, built on Communist principles, a visible rebuke to the "decadent," spiritually besotted Krakow. The regime assumed that the workers, of course, would be atheists, so the town would be built without a church. But the people soon made it clear they did want one. Wojtyla communicated their desire, and the regime opposed it.

The conflict became an intense symbol of the opposition between the Catholic Church and the Communist state. It was a conflict between the workers' world that was supposed to be beyond religion -- and the actual workers singing old Polish hymns that started with the words, "We want God." The Communist Party reluctantly issued a permit in 1958 and then withdrew it in 1962.

Years went by as Karol Wojtyla joined other priests -- especially, Father Gorlaney -- met with authorities,and patiently filed and refiled for building permits. Crosses were put in the designated area and then pulled down at night only to mysteriously reappear weeks later. Meanwhile, Bishop Wojtyla and other priests gave sermons in the open field, winter and summer, under a burning sun, in freezing rain and snow. Year after year, Bishop Wojtyla celebrated Christmas Mass at the site where the church was supposed to be built. Thousands peacefully lined up for communion, but tension was building. Violence did actually erupt when the Communist authorities sent a bulldozer to tear down the cross. Lucjan Motyka was roused out of his hospital bed to be jeered at by the demonstrators. As he reminisced with us one morning about this humiliating moment, Motyka clearly believed that it was Wojtyla's calming words that helped to avert an ugly and potentially dangerous confrontation.

By this time, the Communists, local leaders, residents and Catholic Church had dug in, their positions seemingly intractable. The Communists' compromise to allow a church to be built outside of the town was rejected -- until Karol Wojtyla, the realist, the negotiator, broke the stalemate, persuading everyone that the existence of the church transcended all other considerations. The time to bend was now. In May 1977, a year before he became Pope, almost twenty years after the first request for a permit, Karol Wojtyla consecrated the church at Nowa Huta. What the worshippers were most proud of -- and it was a symbol Karol Wojtyla helped to make into a reality -- is the gigantic crucifixion that hangs over the new altar. It was made out of shrapnel that had been taken from the wounds of Polish soldiers, collected and sent from all over the country to make the sculpture in the new church.
(excerpt from John Paul II and the Fall of Communism, PBS Frontline)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

New Evangelization and the Revelation of God Become Man

(The following is a supplemented version of the presentation made this evening at Cinema Catechism's viewing of Episode One of the Catholicism series.)(supplemented further Saturday, September 15)
The Catholicism website says that the series answers "the call for the new evangelization," and I would invite all of you to use this series in preparing for and living the Year of Faith and New Evangelization.

We've been hearing a lot about the Year of Faith and New Evangelization, but just exactly what are they?

Occasionally, the Pope will proclaim years to reflect and focus upon various themes, recently the Year of Priests. And Pope Benedict decided to call a Year of Faith to begin October 11, on the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, and in connection with that, to hold a synod of bishops on the New Evangelization.
Ever since the start of my ministry as Successor of Peter, I have spoken of the need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ. During the homily at the Mass marking the inauguration of my pontificate I said: “The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.” . . .

In the light of all this, I have decided to announce a Year of Faith. It will begin on 11 October 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and it will end on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, on 24 November 2013. (Porta Fidei 2, 4)
But what is this "New Evangelization" we keep hearing about all of a sudden??

First, it should be noted that "the New Evangelization" has been described in various ways in varying contexts since the call first went out. Thus, there is no one single answer to the question of "what is the New Evangelization?" However, in all of its usages, it involved some core concepts, with more or less emphasis placed on this or that, and inevitably overlapping into other related areas.

The term "New Evangelization" was first used in a document by Latin American bishops, but its usage by the universal Church has its origin in a homily given by Blessed Pope John Paul II at Nowa Huta during his first apostolic journey to his native Poland in 1979. Nowa Huta was a factory town that had been built without a church after WWII, as planned by the Communist rulers who said that workers had no need for God. The Polish faithful knew otherwise, and they came and erected a large cross in the town where then-Bishop Karol Wojtyla celebrated Mass for the people. Afterward, the Communists knocked down the cross, and kept knocking it down after the people and Bishop Wojtyla would put it back up. And now the cross is there to stay, as well as the church that was finally built, and consecrated by Cardinal Wojtyla in 1977, with a stone from the tomb of St. Peter, a gift from Pope Paul VI, placed in the church's foundation. So it was fitting that there, where the cross had come and triumphed over a place without God, that the call for a New Evangelization should be made.

In making this call, John Paul said that, in pursuing the New Evangelization for the new millenium, we must refer to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Thus, it is fair to say that the idea of the New Evangelization has its roots in Blessed Pope John XXIII's opening address to the Council, where the Pope said quite explicitly,
The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine be safeguarded and expounded more effectively. . . . What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith, without forfeiting that accuracy and precision in its presentation which characterized the proceedings of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council. What is needed, and what everyone imbued with a truly Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit craves today, is that this doctrine shall be more widely known, more deeply understood, and more penetrating in its effects on men's moral lives. What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else.
The Pope went on to say that, while condemnations were sometimes necessary, there should be a preference for spreading the Faith in a positive manner. After all, the Lord is an occasion for joy.
Successive generations give rise to varying errors, and these often vanish as quickly as they came, like mist before the sun. The Church has always opposed these errors, and often condemned them with the utmost severity. Today, however, Christ's Bride prefers the balm of mercy to the arm of severity. She believes that, present needs are best served by explaining more fully the purport of her doctrines, rather than by publishing condemnations.
Accordingly, considering John Paul's call for a New Evangelization in light of the Council:
Number One -- safeguard the Faith. People who say that there was a reinvention of the Faith at the Council are wrong. In opening the Council, Pope John repeated emphasized that there was an obligation to transmit the Faith "in all its purity, undiluted, undistorted." We are mere servants here.
Number Two -- find better and more effective ways to spread the faith.
Number Three -- spread the faith in positive terms, charity in truth. For example, rather than be merely anti-abortion, we should be pro-life in our approach. Rather than merely condemn contraception as evil and wrong, we should do so by promoting the positive good of marriage and the fullness of authentic love in human sexuality. Rather than rail at people, "Bad News, you're going to burn in hell," we should proclaim, "Good News, in Jesus Christ you can be saved."

So, with respect to the New Evangelization --

The New -- in an address to Catechists and Religion Teachers in 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger differentiated between "classic evangelization" and the "New Evangelization."
We can see a progressive process of de-Christianization and a loss of the essential human values, which is worrisome. A large part of today's humanity does not find the Gospel in the permanent evangelization of the Church . . . This is why we are searching for, along with permanent and uninterrupted and never to be interrupted evangelization, a new evangelization, capable of being heard by that world that does not find access to "classic" evangelization. Everyone needs the Gospel; the Gospel is destined to all and not only to a specific circle and this is why we are obliged to look for new ways of bringing the Gospel to all.
These new ways, new methods, might include new technologies, such as the Internet, film, art, etc. Cinema Catechism and Fr. Barron's Catholicism series are examples of the use of new technologies, new media to spread the Faith in the New Evangelization.

The new ways might also involve new formulations -- fresher, more effective, more understandable ways of speaking the truth, including recognizing the need to correct people's misconceptions and false ideas about the Faith and Church. This would include presenting the faith in your own words of witness and experience of your life. Know your audience for effective communication. We need to speak the language that they speak. Latin is the language of the Church, but to the world, Latin is a dead language and were we to speak only Latin to people, it would be noisy gibberish to them and we would fail to engage in real communication with them.

In fishing for men and women, we need to have the right kind of hooks for that particular fish, we need to have the right kinds of nets to catch those who might slip through more classic nets, and we need to know the best time of day to go out, to fish when they are biting. Casting our nets at the right time and in the right place might involve more surreptitious methods rather than the direct frontal assault method of asking people, "Are you saved? Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?" (an approach by some Protestants that I'm sure we are all personally familiar with). It might mean stealthily going around their pre-built defenses or infiltrating them, allowing them to see the love and truth of Jesus reflected in your actions and words even if you do not initially use the name "Jesus." This is something that Mother Teresa quite often did. Encourage them in truth and love, and only when those defenses are down may the time be right to cast the net.

Now, in using new formulations, new words to spread the Faith, we need to be careful to protect and safeguard the Faith, to proclaim only what the Church teaches and not our own personal ideas. This is not a license to proclaim the Church of Do Your Own Thing. We are mere servants, workers in the vineyard of the Lord, and it is His Church, not ours to remake as we please. Moreover, the people we encounter have a right to learn the fullness of the Faith of the Church, and not be subjected to our own fancies.

However, if the classic method works, go with it. Stick with the tried and true, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, but if one is not responsive to that classic evangelization, we need to use another hook.

The New also includes rediscovery of old forgotten sources, or those that we did not have ready access to before, like the ancient writings of the early Church fathers or CDs of early church music, chant and polyphony. In this, the new technologies, like the Internet, are of enormous assistance.

In addition, the New also includes a revitalization of the classic evangelization, a renewal and reinvigoration of our own faith lives. It begins with us, it must begin with ourselves, and if we are married, that includes spouses evangelizing each other, building up the faith of the other, helping each other to grow in the Lord, as they are called to do in the Sacrament of Matrimony. And, in connection with that, parents evangelizing their children, conveying to them the most precious gift that is the love and truth of God, as well as evangelizing other members of our family, including that family whom we call fellow Catholics, our brothers and sisters in the Church.

And so, given the need for personal renewal, the New Evangelization must begin with prayer. Where the ultimate goal is communion with God, to be one with Him and in Him, it is proper that we should begin with communicating with Him, by responding to Him and asking Him to join with us in our journey to help us with grace and speak through us. We are called to be a light, but we ourselves are not the light, He is the Light, and we must allow His light to shine through us to others.

In this connection, John Paul teaches in Christifideles Laici and Redemptoris Missio that a related step in the New Evangelization is re-evangelization -- personal conversion and renewal (CF 34). We cannot effectively proclaim Christ and have Him shine through us if He is a stranger to our hearts. And it is witness that is the first form of evangelization. As John Paul recognizes, "people today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories" (RM 42). Thus, we need to know Him first-hand if we are to be His witnesses to our spouses, family, fellow Catholics, and the world.

This leads to initial proclamation of the Good News.
This is the "Good News" which changes man and his history, and which all peoples have a right to hear. This proclamation is to be made within the context of the lives of the individuals and peoples who receive it. It is to be made with an attitude of love and esteem toward those who hear it, in language which is practical and adapted to the situation. In this proclamation the Spirit is at work and establishes a communion between the missionary and his hearers, a communion which is possible inasmuch as both enter into communion with God the Father through Christ. (RM 44)
Only later, after the proclamation of the Good News, can catechesis and instruction fruitfully occur.

So that's the New, what about the Evangelization part?

The Evangelization – In the broadest sense, the New Evangelization is about spreading the fullness of the Faith, depending upon whom you are interacting with. Even if you are dealing with a person well-versed in the Faith, we need to help revitalize and strengthen them in their faith, and help make sure that they are oriented in the right direction toward God and not pointed toward the wilderness. But instead of that broad sense, I would like to focus on that word "Evangelization," which is from the Greek euangélion (also spelled euaggelion, pronounced you-on-gellion), often translated as "Glad tidings" or "Good News."

Before going on, I’d like to ask -- Are you better off than you were 5-10 years ago? Or do you perceive that things are getting worse, not only economically, but socially, culturally, politically, etc.? Our social climate is more coarse and corrosive than ever. There is resentment and bile and disharmony and fear for the present and future. People feel unjustly burdened and some face threats to their lives and freedom. A lot of people are hurting out there and they don't expect things to improve, only get worse. And I have been one of those people -- I've known the stress and anxiety of severe underemployment, the pain of feeling unwanted, and I am approaching that stressful period in life where I am facing the loss of my parents, who are in their sunset years. But, of course, I am not alone in these things and many have things much worse.

A lot of people are anxious, many in despair. Many have given up. Even people who have jobs and many worldly riches are afraid of losing what they have and end up spending much of their time seeking to increase that wealth rather than focusing on the more important things in life. Even in the best of times, many find that something is lacking in life despite all their riches, they may love their gold, but their gold does not love them back. And, not to get political, but many think that there is a good chance that our entire economic structure is going to collapse and crash and burn. So, none of us are immune.

The world is in desperate need of some good news, some real hope, hope as a reality, not a slogan. People need some good news in these times where all the news looks bad and grim. Many of you need some good news. I am very much in need of some good news, some glimmer of hope.

And that is what we have to offer to people -- Good News. And that is what keeps me afloat, the Good News of Jesus Christ. By that, we mean not so much that the Good News is about Jesus Christ, or that the Good News is from Jesus Christ, although it does involve those things, but we primarily mean that the Good News is Jesus Christ. He Himself is the Good News. Christianity, Catholicism, is primarily not a philosophy, an ideology, or set of ethics, but is relationship. The ultimate goal is not merely for people to know facts about Jesus or to agree with His ideas, but to establish a relationship with Him personally. It is about an encounter, an intimate encounter, with a person, the person of Jesus Christ, Love and Truth and Life in person. Intimacy with the Lord, staying with Him, is what Christian discipleship is fundamentally about.

In my own struggle, He is my rock and salvation. If I build my life on Him, I can withstand the storm. Jesus, with His Blessed Mother at His side, our mother, my mother. I have some money saved up, but without Him and Mary and His Bride, I would have nothing, I would then be truly without all hope. This is not theory, these are not warm platitudes we offer, this is personal. This is not the first time that I have gone through hard times or the threat of dark times, the prospect of doom, and it won't be the last, and it was the Lord and His Holy Bride and my most precious Mary who have held me and saved me. And in love and truth, we need to share this gift of Jesus with the cold and dark world out there. They need Him, they have a right to Him.

The world is in desperate need of this Good News, a lot of people are anxious and struggling, poor and rich alike. A couple of years ago, there was a famous professional golfer who was simply astounding to watch. He was by far the best in the world and primed to be the best ever before certain aspects of his personal life came to light, resulting in the break-up of his marriage and family. Fr. Barron notes that, again, Jesus is not like Buddha, offering primarily a philosophy of life, a spiritually liberating path, but instead offers us relationship with the Love that brings new life. This professional golfer is not Christian, he is Buddhist, and there was a bit of a controversy in some quarters when retired newsman Brit Hume suggested that what he really needed was Jesus Christ, from whom he could obtain forgiveness and redemption, which is not a part of Buddhism. Was Hume correct to suggest this? Well, it should be noted that this golfer isn't the same as he was, his game has never recovered and his family remains tragically shattered. Although he puts on a brave face in interviews, one can detect that he is not a happy person, there is an emptiness there despite his remaining a very wealthy person.

Yes, people everywhere need the Good News of Jesus Christ. Now, ultimately the Good News is Jesus Christ, but recognizing the need to proclaim Him in an effective manner, we may need to begin with something more fundamental.

Good News! Rejoice! We have found what your restless heart has been searching for -- God exists. Our own existence is not random and accidental. We are not at the mercy of arbitrary and irrational forces in the universe, the universe is not ruled by chaos. Rather, God exists and you are wanted. You and your life have meaning, to love and be loved in truth. He is loving and merciful and truthful, but more than that, He is Love, He is Truth. You are loved!

And the truth is that man was made for life, made for a blessed and happy life, for love and truth and freedom.

But we can immediately see that this world is not a paradise, the history of mankind is a history of hardship and pain and suffering, where mere survival is a struggle.

However, Good News, God is Love and Truth, so in His Love, He will make sure that we obtain that life, that life of beatitude if only we accept Him, even if we have rejected Him in the past and are responsible for misfortune coming down upon our own heads by our own wrongful deeds. And to that end, He came down from heaven and became man.

Good News -- The Kingdom of God is at hand, Jesus Christ is Emmanuel, God with us. This God is Love, God is Truth, who is the fullness of reality itself, beginning and end, Alpha and Omega, has come to dwell amongst us in Jesus Christ, the Word, the Logos. He came and gives sight to the blind, comfort to the poor, He comes to free us from the oppression of hardship and sufferings of this world, to save us even from death. The Good News of the Cross, which by the transformative power of the fullness of love, new life is possible. He shepherds us through the valley of the shadow of suffering and death, and He makes all things new. If life in this world reduces you to tears, He stands ready to dry your tears and hold you.

And beyond salvation, Good News, He also comes to sanctify us, to perfect us, to make us holy. In his book, Fr. Barron notes that the word "sin" is from the German "sunde," meaning "to sunder or separate," which is what sin does, separate us from God. He also notes that the word "holy" sounds like it is related to "whole," such that to be holy is to be made whole, to bring together what has been separated by sin and to be one with Christ.

We are destined for divinization, transformation into God by being one with Him. Two become one. A fruitful loving communion of persons in one being. As Fr. Barron says, the coming together of incongruous things, the divine and the human. You are loved! You are loved by a Bridegroom who is the fullness and perfection of Love and who wants to give to you the infinite goodness that is to be one with that fullness and perfection of Love.

Good News -- Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, join with Him and though you were dead, yet shall you live. This world is not the be all and end all, there is something better that awaits us. But even while we journey through this worldly life, if we do so with Him, we have hope, we can endure. We know that we are loved, that we are wanted. And even beyond that, we are needed. We are not useless and pointless. People need to be not only wanted, but have a sense that they are needed, and we do have a purpose, we are needed, the Lord asks us for our help. He asks us to help others to be able to experience His love for themselves. The Eternal Lord asks us to be as Joseph and Mary, carrying Him in our arms and in the depths of our very being, to become pregnant with Him in the wombs of our hearts, so that the others that we visit and encounter might know Him.

But this is not always easy and is often difficult. Today, just as 2000 years ago, Jesus can be a deeply disconcerting figure, a sign of contradiction with the way of the world. As much as people struggle and suffer in this world, all too often they prefer wandering in the desert or a life of slavery to worldly concerns, they prefer the illness to the cure, they are afraid to let go and detach and put things in proper priority.

So -- Who is Jesus, What is Jesus, Why should we care, Why should anyone care? Which brings us to episode one of the Catholicism series, Amazed and Afraid: the Revelation of God Become Man.

After watching, we’ll have a group discussion. If our response to Jesus should be relationship, I’ll ask about what are the various kinds of relationship we might have with the Lord. Fr. Barron only touches briefly on the “Afraid” part in the title, so we can explore that further. If evangelization is about proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, what about those who already believe in Jesus, although they may not be Catholic, do we need to engage in evangelization with our Protestant brothers and sisters? And another question I will put to you is an unsettling question that perhaps might add to that “afraid” part, and it is this – Are you willing to suffer and die with Jesus Christ?

Prayer for the New Evangelization

Spirit of Life, who in the beginning was moving over the abyss, help human beings in our time to understand that the exclusion of God leads them to lose their way in the desert of the world, and that it is only where faith enters that dignity and freedom flourish and the whole of society is built in justice.

Spirit of Pentecost, who made the Church one Body, restore to us, the baptized, an authentic experience of communion; make us living signs of the Risen One’s presence in the world, a community of saints that lives in service to charity.

Holy Spirit, who equips us for the mission, grant that we may recognize that so many people in our time too are in quest of the truth about their life and about the world.

Make us work for their joy by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s grain of wheat that enriches the soil of life and ensures an abundant harvest.

Amen
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--Pope Benedict XVI, May 24, 2012

The New Evangelization Begins With Prayer

Tonight, Cinema Catechism at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church begins its fall series, in preparation for the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization, with discussion and a showing of episode one of Fr. Barron's Catholicism.

In preparing for that New Evangelization, the question naturally arises, "Just exactly what is this 'New Evangelization' we keep hearing about all of a sudden??" But before explaining what the "New Evangelization" is, we must first ask where and how it should begin.

To be fruitful and faithful, the New Evangelization must begin with prayer. "It is always important for us to remember that the first condition to speak about God is to speak with God," instructs Pope Benedict XVI (May 24, 2012), echoing what he said before he became Pope, "We ourselves cannot gather men. We must acquire them by God for God. All methods are empty without the foundation of prayer. The word of the announcement must always be drenched in an intense life of prayer." (December 12, 2000)

That our beginning point should be prayer, communicating with God, is not only necessary, but appropriate since our ultimate end point, our ultimate goal, is likewise communion with God, becoming one with Him and in Him. We make the journey with Him at our side, from the onset and throughout, to provide us food and strength and shelter and hope and guidance, so that we might surely meet Him upon arriving at our destination.

In his Wednesday Audience catechesis on prayer in the Book of Revelation yesterday, September 12, 2012, Pope Benedict helps us to understand how crucial and vitally important prayer is as we begin our work in the New Evangelization of renewing ourselves in the One who "makes all things new," so that we might help to renew the world by spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to a cold and dark world sorely in need of His Light and Love.
By raising our gaze to God's heaven in a constant relationship with Christ, by opening our hearts and our minds to Him in personal and communal prayer, we learn to see things in a new way and to grasp their truest meaning. Prayer is like an open window that allows us to keep our gaze turned toward God, not only for the purpose of reminding us of the goal toward which we are directed, but also to allow the will of God to illumine our earthly journey and to help us to live it with intensity and commitment.

[In Revelation], the Lamb opens the four first seals of the book, and the Church sees the world in which it is inserted, a world in which various negative elements exist. There, the evils that man commits, such as violence, which comes from the desire to possess, to prevail against one another to the point of killing one another (second seal); or injustice, as men fail to respect the laws that are given them (third seal). To these are added the evils that man must undergo, such as death, hunger and sickness (fourth seal). Faced with these oftentimes dramatic realities, the ecclesial community is invited to never lose hope, to believe firmly that the apparent omnipotence of the Evil One collides with the true omnipotence, which is God's.

And the first seal the Lamb opens contains precisely this message. John narrates: "And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and its rider had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer" (Rev 6:2). The power of God has entered into the history of man, [a power] which is not only capable of offsetting evil, but even of conquering it. The color white recalls the Resurrection: God drew so near to us that He descended into the darkness of death in order to illumine it with the splendor of His divine life: He took the world's evil upon Himself in order to purify it with the fire of His love.

How do we grow in this Christian understanding of reality? Revelation tells us that prayer nourishes this vision of light and profound hope in each one of us and in our communities: it invites us to not allow ourselves to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good, to look to the Crucified and Risen Christ, who associates us in His victory. The Church lives in history, she is not closed in on herself; but rather, she courageously faces her journey amid difficulties and suffering, by forcefully affirming that ultimately, evil does not conquer the good, darkness does not dim the splendor of God.

This is an important point for us; as Christians we can never be pessimists; we know well that along life's journey we often encounter violence, falsehood, hate and persecution, but this does not discourage us. Above all, prayer teaches us to see the signs of God, of His presence and action; indeed, to be lights of goodness that spread hope and point out that the victory is God's.

This perspective leads us to offer thanksgiving and praise to God and to the Lamb: the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures together sing the "new song" that celebrates the work of Christ the Lamb, who "makes all things new" (Rev 21:5). But this renewal is first and foremost a gift we must ask for. And here we find another element that should characterize prayer: the earnest entreaty to the Lord that His Kingdom come, and that man may have a heart that is docile to God's dominion, that it be His will that directs our lives and the life of the world. . . .

And before the throne of God, we see an angel holding a golden censer in which he continually places grains of incense, i.e. our prayers, whose sweet aroma is offered together with the prayers that rise before God (Rev 8:1-4). It is a symbolism that tells us how all of our prayers -- with all the limits, difficulty, poverty, aridity and imperfections they may have -- are as it were purified and reach the heart of God. We can be certain, therefore, that there are no superfluous, useless prayers; not one of them is lost. And they find a response -- even if it is oftentimes mysterious -- because God is Love and infinite Mercy. The angel -- St. John writes -- "took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on earth; and there were peals of thunder, loud noises, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake" (Rev 8:5).

This image signifies that God is not indifferent to our prayers; He intervenes and makes His power felt and His voice heard on the earth, He makes the systems of Evil tremble and disrupts them. Often, when faced with evil, we feel incapable of doing anything, but prayer is the first and most effective response that we can give and that strengthens our daily commitment to spreading goodness. The power of God makes our weakness fruitful (cf. Rom 8:26-27).

I would like to conclude with some mention of the final dialogue (cf. Rev 22:6-21). Jesus repeats several times: "Behold, I am coming soon" (22:7,12). This statement does not merely indicate the future perspective of the end of time; it also speaks of the present: Jesus comes. He establishes His dwelling place in the one who believes in Him and welcomes Him. Then the assembly, guided by the Holy Spirit, repeats to Jesus the pressing invitation to come even closer: "Come" (22:17a). It is like the "bride" (22:17) who ardently longs for the fullness of marriage. A third time the invocation is repeated: "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (22:20b); and the reader concludes with an expression that manifests the meaning of this presence: "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints" (22:21). . . .

Revelation, despite the complexity of its symbolism, involves us in a very rich prayer. Therefore, we too listen, praise, give thanks and contemplate the Lord, and ask his forgiveness. . . . The richness of prayer in Revelation makes us think of a diamond, which has a fascinating array of facets, but whose preciousness resides in the purity of its one central core. The evocative forms of prayer that we encounter in Revelation therefore make the unique and inexpressible preciousness of Jesus Christ shine forth.
(emphasis added)(The full address by Pope Benedict is available here.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fall Schedule for the Catholicism series

Thursday evenings from 7 p.m. until about 8:30 p.m., with prayer and a short lesson before viewing the episode and group discussion after. Each episode is about 50 minutes long.

September 13 --
Amazed and Afraid – The Revelation of God Become Man – Fr. Robert Barron illuminates and explains the conviction of the Catholic Faith that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah and the revelation of God become man.

September 27 --
Happy are We – The Teachings of Jesus – Fr. Barron shows how the revelation of Jesus as God is accompanied by a stunning invitation to a unique new way of life in the Beatitudes and other teachings of Jesus.

October 11 --
The Ineffable Mystery of God – That Than Which Nothing Greater Can be Thought – Fr. Barron considers the nature of God, His ineffable majesty and mystery, and the challenging question of evil and the existence of God, as discussed by Saints Anselm and Thomas Aquinas.

November 8 --
Our Tainted Nature’s Solitary Boast – Mary, the Mother of God – Fr. Barron correlates the Catholic Faith’s testimony to the revelation of God in Christ with the vivid practices of reverence offered to His Mother, Mary, who an on-going presence, an actor in the life of the Church.

December 13 --
The Indispensible Men – Peter, Paul and the Missionary Adventure – Following the trail of Apostles Peter and Paul as they took the Gospel to the ends of the earth, Fr. Barron presents the foundations of the apostolic faith, particularly the revelation of Christ s resurrection from the dead.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Seeing the Face of God in an Onslaught of Evil



See also, Days When Life As You Know It Ends, with personal remembrance of that day, September 11, 2001.