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Benedict XVI: how to make the new evangelisation more effective
It is a fact that human life cannot be realised by itself. We need guidance. Life is a continual learning experience with mankind searching for the answers to fundamental questions: "How is my life to find fulfilment? How does one learn the art of living? How do I achieve happiness in my human living?
Pope Benedict XVI states: "To evangelise means: to show this path - to teach the art of living." And at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry he says: "I have come to evangelise the poor" (Luke 4:18).
In other words, "I have the response to your questions; I will show you the path of life, the path towards happiness - rather I am the path" (The New Evangelization: Building the Civilization of Love, Cardinal Ratzinger, par 2, 12 December 2000).
Today many observers tell us we live in a world of poverty. But poverty of spirit can be found in many forms among the rich and poor alike throughout the world. It can include an inability to love, jealousy, avarice, and a host of other defects.
What then are the best ways of empowering the new evangelisation in order to address the needs of those in spiritual poverty and to teach the art of living?
From the outset, we need to preach the Good News that each one of us is dear to God.
During his homily at his Mass of Installation, Benedict XVI said: "We are not some casual meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."
We are dear to God as precious children: we need to hear that the tears and the sorrows of this age will be wiped clean in the next, through the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ; that the individualism, materialism and rela- tivism of the Western world are symptoms not causes.
We as a Church must provide a positive and vibrant vision that generates hope of new life in people's hearts. As the disciples on the road to Emmaus said: "Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us" (Luke 24:30-35). This is the preaching of the Good News of the Gospel.
Pope Benedict XVI further explained in his earlier document on the new evangelisation: "Everyone needs the Gospel; the Gospel is destined to all and not only a specific circle and this is why we are obliged to look for new ways of bringing the Gospel to all."
As a Church we need to remember that not everyone approaches the world as academics do. For most people, the reality of the Church is determined very often by the experience of concrete pastoral care for their material and spiritual welfare on a local level, and by their perception of its care and concern for others around the world.
However, doctrines and the authorised teachings of the Church must always be adhered to and respected, especially when the successor of Peter and the College of Bishops assisted by priests of the Church speak on such matters: "I tell you Peter: you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my Church and not even death will ever be able to overcome it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven; whatever you prohibit here on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit here on earth will be permitted in heaven" (Matt 16:18-19).
We ought also remember, as members of the Church, that the Holy Spirit needs to be infused in our hearts with love so that we do not merely rely on the wisdom of our minds and the world.
Perhaps the words of St Paul to the Corinthians apply to us in these times of clashing opinions: "If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming, a cymbal clashing. If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all the mysteries there are, and knowing everything, and if I have faith in all its fullness, to move mountains, but without love, than I am nothing at all. If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but without love, it will do me no good whatever" (Cor 13:1-4).
Moreover, as any student of St Augustine knows, the decisive mark of the Catholic Church is charity.
Benedict also reminds us that the new evangelisation 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). And as an old proverb reminds us: "Success is not one of the names of God."
The new evangelisation means surrendering to the mystery of the grain of mustard seed and not being so presumptuous as to believe it will immediately produce a large tree.
Fr Dennis W. Byrnes is parish priest of Kempsey, NSW.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 18 No 8 (September 2005), p. 20
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