PUBLISHED IN LANTAYAN Vol. 11 (Academic Year 2012-2013)
Pastoral-Theological Journal of Don Bosco Center of Studies, Paranaque City, Philippines
We came together confused yet willing to listen, hurting yet full of hope, feeling abandoned yet reaching out to help. We were a sign of contradiction for the world and for ourselves. We came as evangelizers who were also in need of hearing what is good and holy, beautiful, and true. In prayer, we told Jesus our confusions and doubts, our hurts and pains, our sins and betrayals, and he spoke to us and gave us hope. We recognized the Lord as he spoke to us in prayer and as he broke the bread. We can say with joy now, “We have seen the Lord” (Jn 20:25).
Indeed, the new evangelization must be the fruit of discernment coming from a Church in contemplation. Without contemplation, any action on behalf of evangelization is but a human exercise. Evangelization is an impetus coming not from intellectual hair-splitting analysis or strategic planning but coming from above, from the Spirit who is constantly at work in the Church, the Spirit to whom Jesus consecrated his Church.
The new evangelization is neither the Church’s self-defense for her self-preservation, nor is it her means to protect herself from irrelevance. It is not for the sake of maintaining the status quo—of ensuring the Church’s influence in a world that is so different from the one that the Lord Jesus offers to his disciples, a world to which the Church must never belong. It is not a self-absorbed, self-conscious attempt of the Church to reinvent herself so she can be more attractive. In fact, the new evangelization is not for the sake of the Church. Rather, it is for the life of the world, pro vita mundi. It is for God who is at work in the world.
What must we do?
We must look for the poor. The poor are forgotten or ignored, and have been made invisible and distant. The poor are not asking for charity. Like sheep without a shepherd, the poor cannot recognize their shepherds anymore because they smell differently. Indeed, the good shepherd must smell like the sheep. The poor are not asking for money. They are asking for Jesus. They can get food from the social welfare agency. They can get medicines from the public clinics. They can be housed in government housing sites. From the Church, the poor only want Jesus. Who else can they turn to but the Church?
We must recognize the privileged place of the poor in our communities, a place that does not exclude anyone, but wants to reflect how Jesus bound himself to them. The presence of the poor in our communities is mysteriously powerful: it changes persons more than a discourse does, it teaches fidelity, it makes us understand the fragility of life, it asks for prayer: in short, it brings us to Christ. (1)
The poor ask for a little more of our time. They ask us to be with them without making them feel that we are in a rush for better things to do, or for more important people to meet. They need to be assured that, for their pastors, the faces of the poor are more important than the face of a wristwatch.
The poor ask for friendship. The Church, while serving the hungry, the thirsty, and the naked, must not forget that she is not a poverty alleviation agent of society but the conscience of humanity. It is our duty to make society understand that the poor are Jesus. It is the duty of our Church to make the poor understand that they are not too poor as to be unable to give Jesus to the affluent. The Church must be the conscience of the poor and the rich so that there may no longer be poor or rich and all may be one. Money is the least of all gifts. The first gift that we must give one another is Jesus himself. At the sunset of our lives, we can only bring to heaven what we have given away. Nothing that has been given to us can be brought to the doors of God’s Kingdom, not even the graces we have received. Every grace is for sharing, for the building up of his kingdom, and every bit of grace hoarded is lost. It is when we have truly emptied ourselves and given up all that we can truly say we have loved like Jesus.
Where are the children?
The Church must look for the children and youth. The youth should not be told to wait for tomorrow to become relevant and important. The youth are the majority of the people in the world. Today belongs to them as much as the future. The new evangelization must be ready to give the youth a voice and the Church must lend the youth her ears and her heart. It is, indeed, only through the heart that we can hear the voice of the youth. Let us not wait for the youth to shout at us. Let us listen as they whisper. Let us listen to what they tweet and what they blog. Let us listen to their questions. We might not be able to answer all of them, but they do not expect us to do so anyway. If we can encourage the youth to talk as we listen to them as Jesus listens, and then teach them how to listen to Jesus, we will have a powerhouse in the Church not in the future but now. We do not need to be flippant and humorous to be with the youth. We just need to be Jesus for and with them.
Have we really lost the sheep?
The new evangelization must reach out to those who have been alienated from the Church. Those hurting and the disillusioned, the misled and the confused, the ignored and the neglected must feel welcome and safe in the Church again. We, the pastors, must show that we are detached from the perks and privileges of our office; that our ordination is not a career ladder to pursue but a path of real service; that we can suffer without complaint; that we can be ignored and not hold a grudge; that we can let go generously without reluctance; that we can seek pardon without first offering excuses; that we can differ from those who do not share our opinions without losing civility and courtesy. Those whom the Church calls disillusioned Catholics say to us their pastors, “We are not lost sheep.” Instead, they tell us, “You are lost shepherds.” They say that we do not really care for them. The sheep can endure our frailties but they cannot bear our arrogance in the confessional and the pulpit. Let us listen like Jesus did to the Samaritan woman by the well. The alienated are not asking for another desk to attend to them. They do not need an added survey to investigate their plight. They are only asking for us their shepherds to return to the sheepfold and show them that we do care for them like shepherds for the sheep.
The new evangelization is not a call for new desks and new commissions. Rather, it is a call for a new attitude of ministry, a new way of looking at the world, a new way of being. The new evangelization is a call to conversion and that call is addressed to the evangelizers. If the evangelizers do not rise to the occasion, the world will not believe. It is the poor, the children, and the disillusioned—the least, the last, and the lost who will bring us to heaven.
How can our damaged credibility be restored? How can we make the youth, the poor, and the disillusioned regain their faith in God and the Church?
We must remember that the first Christians imitated Christ before they worshipped him. “Imitation before worship” can very well be the first principle for the new evangelization. The first Christians attracted others to become followers of Jesus because they were faithful imitations of Christ. The dogmas were not defined yet. The rubrics of the liturgy were not even discussed. They just imitated Christ—and how credible they were! It is necessary to allow Christ to disturb our value system. To say “I believe” can be easy. “I imitate Christ,” on the other hand, is more difficult to say and live by.
The second principle for the new evangelization should be “Conversion before celebration.” We must first strike our breasts and say, “Kyrie eleison,” before singing, “Glory to God, alleluia!” Indeed, celebration without conversion is cheap joy. The Church must not be a dispenser of cheap happiness. Speaking about the prophetic role of bishops, Pope John Paul II stressed:
A drastic moral change is needed. . . . Some endemic evils, when they are too long ignored, can produce despair in entire populations. How can we keep silent when confronted by the enduring drama of hunger and extreme poverty, in an age where humanity, more than ever, has the capacity for a just sharing of resources? . . . The hopelessness of so many children and youth abandoned to life on the streets, the exploitation of women, pornography, intolerance, the scandalous perversion of religion for violent purposes, drug trafficking and the sale of arms . . . (2)
The new evangelization cannot afford to be a “feel good, please everybody” program. The call to conversion is an essential part of our mission.
Lastly, the evangelization of the poor, the children, and the disillusioned must give priority to “Listening before proclaiming,” the third principle for the new evangelization. It has been said but hardly lived that “we were given two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” The Church of the new evangelization must be a contemplative Church again sitting by the feet of the Lord and listening to him.
Moments of contemplation must interweave with people’s ordinary lives: spaces in the soul, but also physical ones, that remind us of God; interior sanctuaries and temples of stone that, like crossroads, keep us from losing ourselves in a flood of experiences; opportunities in which all could feel accepted, even those who barely know what and whom to seek. (3)
We are not afraid of the setting sun. We can walk through the night held securely by the hands of the Lord. The beauty of the moon and the brilliant stars will lead us to the dawn of another beautiful day, the day of the Lord! Behold, he makes all things new!
1 XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Message to the People of God (October 2012), 12.
2 Pope John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis (October 16, 2003), 67.
3 XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Message to the People of God, 12.