To Christ Through His Church
Observations on the Synod regarding the New Evangelization
Feast of Blessed John XXIII
50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council
Opening of the Year of Faith
For us pastors from the United States, this fraternal gathering in Rome is a powerful reminder of how young we are! We are just “babies” in the Church, when compared to the ancient churches of Rome, the Middle East, the Eastern Rites, and Europe.
Perhaps because of our youth, we have many reasons for hope and promise as we consider the New Evangelization and the Transmission of the Faith in North America.
Here are some of those reasons:
For one, the United States is actually very religious, contrary to the caricature that it is a pagan, secular, materialistic country. Not at all! As Chesterton, the acclaimed British apologist, wrote, America “is a nation with the soul of a church.” The very foundation of American life is the Jewish-Christian tradition. Over 50% of Americans take the Sabbath seriously; over 90% of us believe in God, and consider the Bible a source of God’s wisdom and teaching; and over 80% believe Jesus to be divine. As a recent poll demonstrated, the overwhelming majority of American citizens would have no problem voting for an evangelical, a Catholic, a Jew, a Protestant, a Mormon, a Hindu, or a Buddhist as president – but never for an atheist!
Two, we still benefit immensely from immigration, with devoted Catholics arriving each day from, for instance, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. They bring us wonderful people with a vibrant faith, strong families, who, upon arrival in America, search for welcoming parishes, where they are faithful to Sunday Mass and the sacraments.
Three, the Church in America is vigorous with sacred enterprises of charity and education, especially in care for the sick and our elders, in schools, and in agencies of service. These apostolates are ambassadors of evangelization. Pope Paul VI remarked that men and women today learn more from witness than from words. We attract folks to Jesus and His Church by radiating love. Just look at the witness of our soon-to-be canonized Kateri Tekakwitha and Mother Mary Anne Cope.
Four, the clear, consistent teaching of the Catholic Church is well known, if at times misunderstood or attacked. Even those who disagree with these teachings of the Church – and “their name is legion” – usually, at least, grudgingly admire the Church for her tenacious preaching on the dignity of human life; peace, justice, and charity; solicitude for the suffering of the world; and defense of marriage and the family.
These features give us confidence in the New Evangelization and the Transmission of the Faith.
However…all is not rosy! We have challenges to this sacred commission as well.
Let me list just a few:
For one, while we Americans are, as I noted above, religious by nature, there are undeniably present in our culture those that are not only irreligious but anti-religion. These would be evident in some vocal segments of the entertainment industry, the press, academia, and even in government.
Such forces view faith — especially, pardon my thin-skin, the Catholic religion — as opposed to everything they see as liberating, enlightening, and progressive in the world, a repressive voice to be resisted and maligned.
For us, then, a genuine challenge of the New Evangelization is to present faith in Jesus as alive in His Church as we know Him and her really to be: the premier force in history for all that is good, true, and beautiful in humanity. As the Holy Father claims, the Church is a yes, instead of a no, to all that is honorable, noble, and decent in the human person.
Two, people today have no trouble believing, they tell us; but they’d rather not belong. As a recent newspaper magazine cover put it, “Jesus, yes. The Church, no.”
For us Catholics, such a choice is crazy. As Saul/Paul learned on the Road to Damascus, Jesus Christ and His Church are one. No wonder he would later compare the love of Jesus and His Church to that of a husband and a wife. “What God has joined together” – husband and wife, Jesus and His Church – “we must not divide.”
In a recent interview, Joe Girardi, the manager of the Yankees, reported that, while he was raised a Catholic, he really never met or knew Jesus until he met his future wife, Kim. While I can hardly question Joe’s report, as sad as I find it, I feel compelled to remind him that, literally, billions of people, for 2000 years, have found Jesus through another woman: not named Kim, but a woman known as the bride of Christ, Holy Mother Church. Through her, they have been baptized into His death and resurrection, nourished by His own body and blood in the Eucharist, strengthened by the sacrament of confirmation, embraced by a supernatural family which includes both the saints of Heaven and friends who share faith and values here on earth. This is the Church.
As the great French theologian, Henri du Lubac, asked “For what would I ever know of Him without her?”
Three, as we soberly acknowledge, we today confront a new opponent to the New Evangelization in recent bureaucratic, and judicial invasions against the deep American constitutional heritage of “our first and most cherished freedom,” religious liberty. Recent intrusions upon the integrity of the Church, even presuming to define the nature of the Church’s ministers and ministries, imperil our right to live our faith, in obedience to Jesus, as a light to the world.
Especially toxic to the New Evangelization is the fad to reduce religion to a hobby, limited to Sunday morning, and not a normative, positive influence on everything we do, dream, and dare. Religion is personal, yes; but it is hardly private.
Four, while the durable tradition of freedom in the United States has served the Church well, we now face a chilling reduction of liberty to libertarianism. For some, this means a selfish callousness to the needs of those beyond our own little world, a stubborn claim that we only need tend to ourselves, nobody else, even those in need. For others, this libertarianism means we have the unfettered right to do whatever we want, wherever, however, whenever, with whomever we want, unchained from any limit placed by ethics, morals, faith, or reason. No divinity, no church, no faith, no natural law, they say, has any claim upon our urges and drives.
As Blessed John Paul II would remark, “Freedom is hardly the right to do whatever we want, but the ability to do what we ought.”
A powerful force in America resists any ought, and is suspicious of any authority – including that proposed by the New Evangelization, Jesus and His Church – which would propose an “ought” tethering our freedom to responsibility and reason.
Here at the Synod on the New Evangelization, I am in awe of the more venerable churches of the world, which have millennia of experience. We “baby” Americans are grateful to them for evangelizing us. Now, we Americans are honored to be partners with them in the New Evangelization.