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.

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