Monday, November 28, 2011

The New Evangelism

Across the Catholic world, the buzz word is "evangelism". What is being proposed in dioceses in North America is a new way of communicating the Gospel, in the hope of bringing back Catholics who have lapsed and of attracting new converts to the faith.

The emphasis is on education and explanation of the Church's teachings so that the Catholic population will be rejuvenated in their faith and "engaged" with their local church.

In a recent meeting with someone who works in the Catholic archdiocesan centre here, we were discussing how to bring to the fore "life issues"; for the most part, we were discussing abortion. I was seeking this person's insights as to why so few youth here are interested in the right to life of the unborn. The fellow I was talking with said, quite rightly, that we are dealing with a generation of "unchurched" people. In other words, they have not been taught the basics of the faith, unlike my generation who got a great education pre-Vatican II.

This man said that we need to "evangelize" Catholics with the Gospel before we can begin to talk about the hot-button issues of abortion, homosexuality, and contraception, another teaching of the Church that is sidelined for the most part.

What he said sounded good and I could see his point. But I was left feeling as if we hadn't really met any consensus on the matter and that things would continue as they always have, with no real effort being made to bring the life issues into the light.

The talk by Georges Buscemi, at our recent 40 Days for Life banquet, firmed up some of what I was feeling but hadn't formulated. Georges spoke of the need to bring people to conversion, that is the point of evangelisation. And no one is going to feel the need to convert unless they realise they need to be redeemed, and they will not need redeeming unless they first recognize that they are sinners. If one just wants to feel good and do better in one's life, he or she can take an exercise class on Sunday morning or attend any number of lectures on development of the human person for the better. Going to church is different: it is about salvation and our need for it. And we should never sell that short.

The daily readings of the past week in Oswald Chamber's devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, speak of just this: the necessity of putting the Cross first. All preaching must bring people to the Cross; anything other than that is not preaching the Gospel. As St. Paul says:
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2

And this thought was confirmed once again by an article in First Things by George Weigel:

The new approach must begin with the affirmation that life is fundamental. In the 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II analyzed the effects of legalized abortion and euthanasia on democracies, teaching in perhaps the strongest language of his papal magisterium that democracies that erect clear moral wrongs into "rights" risk becoming "tyrant states"...

Today, therefore, there should be no question that the life issues are not only genuine social-justice issues; they are the priority social-justice issues. The defense of life expresses both the evangelical bedrock of the Chruch's social doctrine and engages the most fundamental issue being contested in the Western world today, the dignity of the human person. - Evangelical Reform of Catholic Advocacy, by George Weigel, First Things Dec. 2011

If the new evangelism is proposed as fulfilling Christ's command in the Great Commission ("go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” - Matthew 28: 19-20), then the command to make disciples is also the command to instruct as Christ did.

A pastor of a reformed Presbyterian Church told me that he had several ex-Catholics in his congregation, one of whom was a woman who had had two abortions in her young adult life. She said she had never once heard anything preached against abortion in the Catholic Church. She was swept along by the prevailing cultural belief that abortion was the best solution to her problem, and did not consider that it might actually be breaking the Commandments. Such an example shows quite clearly that teaching about sexual morality and teaching that abortion is a sin is a necessary part of evangelizing Christians. Without clear teaching of the Commandments, how can anyone come to understand the kind of life that Christ calls us to live? This kind of teaching should come right at the beginning of evangelization, not tacked on once people have been "gently brought" into the fold. And then you hit them with the hard stuff.

It is precisely the hard stuff that brings us to the foot of the Cross. So rather than leave it until later on, when people have had a sugar-coated Gospel fed to them, our pastors need to deliver the Good News in its entirety right from the start.

No comments: