Be Who You Are

by Jessica Hickey, (c. 2011)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

"I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them." (Is. 42:16.)

"Our only art is Faith, and our music Christ." (St. Paulinus of Nola)

In our last meditation, we considered the apostolic virtues of our patron, Saint Boniface. This week, I would like to examine the teachings of our two Holy Fathers, Benedict and John Paul II, regarding the work of evangelization in our day.

Last month, Archbishop Burke of St. Louis delivered an excellent address (which I will summarize below) on this same topic to the Australian Catholic Students Association. He outlined the decline of Christian culture in the West and also the call sounding throughout the Church to build up this culture anew.

Archbishop Burke reminded his hearers that Pope Benedict has spoken of the many grave sins and evils of our times--the variety of attacks on human life, and on the nature of the family and human sexuality, all stemming from a corrupt and "fatal misunderstanding of freedom which actually undermines man's freedom and ultimately destroys it. "In this way, people choose to live "as if God did not exist."

Modern man lives in the context of this prideful delusion, a foolishness which refuses to recognize that "all he is and has comes from the hand of God, "and which manifests itself, Archbishop Burke explains, in a "culture of addictions, in which we seek our freedom and happiness in some creaturely reality and when we do not find them there, as indeed we never can, we, in our pride, instead of turning in obedience to God, enslave ourselves more and more to the same creature, for example, alcohol, food, sexual promiscuity or pornography, until the creature destroys us."

The Church has a strong concern for those afflicted in this way, including the many Christians whose faith, Pope Benedict said, is being tossed about by various "ideological currents," and who are being deceived and enticed into error, as St. Paul warned the Ephesians. Those now who live according to "a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church" are viewed as extremists, and thus we live under the "dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's ego and desires."4 Under this regime, the moral order ceases to exist, and the path to true freedom and happiness is destroyed.

Benedict has urged us to study the thought of John Paul II as laid out in Veritatis Splendor, and also to understand the necessary complementarity of faith and reason which John Paul stressed:

"The exclusion of religion from the public square--and at the other extreme, religious fundamentalism--hinders an encounter between persons and their collaboration for the progress of humanity. Public life is sapped of its motivation and politics takes on a domineering and aggressive character. Human rights risk being ignored either because they are robbed of their transcendent foundation or because personal freedom is not acknowledged. Secularism and fundamentalism exclude the possibility of fruitful dialogue and effective cooperation between reason and religious faith. Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith; this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent. For its part, religion always needs to be purified by reason in order to show its authentically human face. Any breach in this dialogue comes only at an enormous price to human development."5

This the milieu in which we find ourselves at the present moment of history--a culture bent on sundering faith and reason, living out a wrong-headed concept of freedom, and digging itself into a pit of sins ,misdeeds and addictions. It is a world sorry and impoverished, and its deepest poverty, Benedict declared, is the "inability of joy, the tediousness of a life considered absurd and contradictory . . . [this inability] presupposes and produces the inability to love, produces jealousy, avarice--all defects that devastate the life of individuals and the world."6

Perhaps you won't take it amiss if I feel compelled to quote here one of the "Deep Thoughts" of humorist Jack Handy, which fits this earthly situation all too well: "Hey, where am I going, and why am I in this handbasket?"

In all seriousness, however, in any situation we must acknowledge the truth before us in order to move forward. This the Church has done, as summarized by Archbishop Burke in the foregoing remarks. Now we must turn our minds to the solution, the Church's proposal and her call to arms, which Popes Benedict and John Paul described as "The New Evangelization."

Though often spoken of, the content and method of this New Evangelization has sometimes seemed elusive to me, a little hazy. Often people seem to believe it involves seizing upon every modern method of technology and communication, or the formation of various new apostolates and activities and communities. While undoubtedly these means have their place, the heart of the New Evangelization is at once simpler and vastly deeper. Archbishop Burke summarized it thusly:

"The new evangelization means teaching the faith, celebrating the faith in the sacraments and in their extension through prayer and devotion, and living the faith through the practice of virtues, as if for the first time , that is, with the engagement and energy of the first disciples of Jesus."

In short, the call to the New Evangelization is a call to holiness of life, nothing more and nothing less. "What?" you may be thinking, as I did last week after reading Archbishop Burke's address, "Is that really it ?" But in truth, this is the simple beauty of the New Evangelization. Consider the words of the Venerable John Paul II:
"We ask ourselves today the same question put to Peter in Jerusalem immediately after his Pentecost speech: "What must we do?" (Acts 2:37). We put the question with trusting optimism, but without underestimating the problems we face. We are certainly not seduced by the naive expectation that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you!

It is not therefore a matter of inventing a ‘new programme’. The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem."7

There is no new programme to be invented, no magic formula to be produced. The answer is Christ, who is to be known, loved, and imitated within our living Tradition. New initiatives may be born from this programme, but its essence lies in the personal commitment to holiness.

A few weeks ago, we shared a meditation which considered the problem of "arrested spiritual development" (to borrow the expression of Msgr. Charles Pope) and the failure to have high spiritual expectations for ourselves and one another. I used the image of the Velveteen Rabbit, destined to become Real. In the spiritual lives of many, there has been this latent denial of their own destiny: they never believed they were meant to become Real.

The New Evangelization countermands this state of hidden hopelessness. John Paul II wrote:

"The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled me to beatify and canonize a large number of Christians, and among them many lay people who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life. The time has come to repropose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction."8

Both in our own personal lives and in the lives of those we seek to reach, this commitment to holiness is the key content of the New Evangelization:

"To place pastoral planning under the heading of holiness is a choice filled with consequences. It implies the conviction that, since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethics and a shallow religiosity. To ask catechumens: 'Do you wish to receive Baptism?' means at the same time to ask them: 'Do you wish to become holy?' It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: 'Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.'"9

Pope Benedict further breaks down the contents of the New Evangelization into four essential parts: conversion or the coming out of false self-suffiency into a humble, new and loving relationship with God and the Church; the entry into the Kingdom of God and the awareness of His presence and action in the world; mystical communion with Jesus Christ; and the proclamation of eternal life , which involves our ultimate encounter with God's justice and thus has immediate implications for our lives. He reiterates the simplicity of this plan: "If we take the whole Christian message into well-thought-out consideration, we are not speaking about a whole lot of things. In reality, the Christian message is simple: We speak about God and man, and in this way, we say everything."10

These contents of the New Evangelization require us to pursue the ways of the saint and to call others, not to a shallow imitation, but to the fullness of life. It always gives me some comfort in this regard to remember that all human beings are created for union with God, hard-wired, so to speak, to listen and look for Him. However often this impulse be ignored, repressed, derailed or perverted, it still lies within the soul of every human being we will ever meet. We do not have to create it for them, only to awaken it by allowing them to look within themselves. The New Evangelization offers us the surest means to stir this impulse, to sound a note which the other recognizes and feels rising in his own soul.

Thus, we come to understand the contents of the New Evangelization. What may we discover about its method? The prophet Isaiah once declared:

"Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes,
And the deaf, even though they have ears.
All the nations have gathered together
So that the peoples may be assembled.
Who among them can declare this
And proclaim to us the former things?
Let them present their witnesses that they may be justified,
Or let them hear and say, “It is true.”
“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD,
“And My servant whom I have chosen,
So that you may know and believe Me
And understand that I am He."11

As in our last meditation, we are drawn once more to theme of personal witness, the one who testifies, proclaiming the truth that others might be justified.

Archbishop Burke points toward the faithful living out of our different vocations as a method of witness, and also as a form of martyrdom: "The witness of holiness of life, is in fact martyrdom. In the words of the Holy Scriptures, it is dying to self, in order to live for Christ." In our lives, this may play out as a white martyrdom, a martyrdom of opposition, of censure, of hostility and ridicule. Yet it is this faithful witness that will be both a standing reproach to evil and a light to those in darkness. St. John tells us: "I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining."12 Paul likewise writes: "Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life."13

Pope Benedict has also spoken of this self-giving witness as the method of the New Evangelization, and explains that it is derived from the communion within the Trinity and the example of Christ:

"The sign of the Son is communication with the Father. The Son introduces us into the Trinitarian communion, into the circle of eternal love, whose persons are 'pure relations,' the pure act of giving of oneself and of welcome. The Trinitarian plan--visible in the Son, who does not speak in his own name—shows the form of life of the true evangelizer rather, evangelizing is not merely a way of speaking, but form of living, living in the listening and giving voice of the Father. . . . .

We must add another step. Jesus preached by day, by night he prayed--this is not all. His entire life was--as demonstrated in a beautiful way by the Gospel of St. Luke--a path toward the cross, an ascension toward Jerusalem. Jesus did not redeem the world with beautiful words but with his suffering and death. . . . . Augustine comments . . .'Tend my sheep' means suffer for my sheep. . . .A mother cannot give life to a child without suffering . . . and becoming a Christian is a birth. . . . We cannot give life to others without giving up our own lives.

This process of expropriation indicated above is the concrete form (expressed in many different ways) of giving up one's life. And let us think of the words of the Savior: 'Whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel's will save it.'"14

Thus, if we are willing to lay down our lives, to give them to God that he may shape them to His purpose, and to make the sacrifices necessary for holiness, we at one and the same time become imitators of the communal life of the Trinity, imitators of Jesus Christ, and become able to help Mother Church to give life to more children.

We have entered into a phase of history when many of the structures that once upheld man in his quest for Faith have been stripped away or rendered (we hope temporarily) useless or, at any rate, less potent. We see the crowds of youths, yawning their way through the great cathedrals of Europe, past the still white tombs of the saints and the flickering sanctuary lamps which cannot compete with their iphones. How many of today's jaded people would have the patience to hear the sound rhetoric of the Doctors of the Church, to ponder Aquinas' Five Proofs, to visualize the rungs of Bonaventure's mystical ladder? I have been through exhibits of breathtaking religious art with people about me barely affording a glance to the glorious Madonnas and crucifixion scenes, sometimes offering a snicker or a wry remark. They share the same human nature as those who have been reached by the Church all over the world for all those centuries, but today their souls seem closed up like the shells of little beetles. So much of the beauty of God is to be seen--Have they all gone blind, deaf and senseless? we might wonder.

God commanded, in that vision of Isaiah's, that we must bring out the people who are have eyes but are blind, those who have ears but hear nothing--and we must bear them witness. And now it is as if every other human art has failed them, and we have just one left with which to reach them, the only one that really matters, as it happens, for it is not a human art, but a divine one. It is holiness, the art of living the supernatural life which God gave us, the art of being who we are: people redeemed by the blood of Christ, nourished by the sacraments, guided by the Spirit of Truth.

One day, when we have rebuilt our lost earthly country, we may well find men ready to hear the learned discourses, be enthralled by the polyphony, weep before the icons. But for now we may say with St. Paulinus: "Our only art is Faith, and our music Christ."

The New Evangelization is an art that "can only be communicated by one who has life, he who is the Gospel personified," says Pope Benedict. Thus, at this hour of history, what matters is to be true to ourselves, true to the identity Christ gave us, and true to the vocations to which he has called us. He tells us, as he told St. Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."15

Let us pray this week to be who we are, children of the light and bearers of God's love, that we may live out our Faith with the passion of the first Apostles and Disciples, and that God may receive glory and honor through us to the ends of the earth.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
1 Pope Benedict's Christmas Greeting to the College of Cardinals, 2010.
2 Pope John Paul II, Chrifidelits Laici, 34.
3 Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke, "The Fall of the Christian West," 22 February 2011.
4 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Homily of 18 April 2005.
5 Benedict XVI, Caritatis in Veritate, 56.
6 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "The New Evangelization: Building the Civilization of Love," 12 December 2000.
7 John Paul II, Novo Millenio Ineunte, 29.
8 Ibid., 31
9 Ibid., 31
10 Ratzinger, "The New Evangelization: Building a Civilization f Love."
11 Is. 43:8-10
12 I Jn 2:8
13 Philippians 2:14-16
14 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "The New Evangelization: Building the Civilization of Love."
15 2 Cor 12:9

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