Thursday, September 13, 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.)

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