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Sunday, December 4, 2016
Text: Cardinal Cormac on Evangelii Nuntiandi
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¬†Speech in Westminster Cathedral Hall, 7 December 2005, on the 30th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi. Dear friends, "Here begins the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Those first words of Mark's Gospel, which we heard last Sunday, have a fresh, dramatic, fireside ring to them. One can imagine a group of new Christians≠ some already initiated, others yet to be baptised ≠ gathered round Mark, eager to hear the Good News, the astonishing news that was then still within the living memory of some of the early Church: Mark, it is thought, had heard the Good News from Peter himself; and he set it down at around the time of Peter's martyrdom. Pope Paul VI, writing Evangelii Nuntiandi in 1975, just 10 years after the end of the Second Vatican Council, asked in it three "burning" questions: - In our day, what has happened to that hidden energy of the Good News, which is able to have a powerful effect on man's conscience? - To what extent and in what way is that evangelical force capable of really transforming the people of this century? - What methods should be followed in order that the power of the Gospel may have its effect? They are questions which burn today more strongly than ever. Attendance in Catholic churches in England dropped by 42 per cent between 1979 and 1998. I know from my postbag how anxious people are about the erosion all about us of the landmarks left by centuries of our faith. The cry regularly goes up that what we need is more evangelisation, a greater effort placed in our witness, a greater confidence in who we are. And of course, I agree. But sometimes I worry that evangelisation has become a kind of panacea: a "solution" to a "problem", rather than an invitation to a deeper and more sincere life of faith. All the Christian churches have in recent years been making great efforts to spread the Gospel and to let others know about their faith; the Catholic Church in England and Wales has a dedicated agency, CASE, with a team under the leadership of Mgr Keith Barltrop. They do excellent and necessary work. But they know better than anyone that evangelisation cannot be siphoned off from the Church as a whole. They know that evangelisation presents not just an invitation to those outside the Church but a profound challenge also to those within it. As Fr Timothy Radcliffe says in the introduction to his new book: "We talk about love, freedom, happiness and so on, but unless our churches are seen really to be places in which people are free and courageous, then why should anyone believe us?" When we fail to persuade others of the Good News of Jesus Christ, it is not just because our society does not listen. It is because we haven't first listened ourselves. In many ways, our society at this time is more receptive than at any time in my lifetime to the Good News. It is common knowledge that we are passing through a "crisis of modernity", in which the grand narratives of the Enlightenment are under question as never before. There is today a distinct disenchantment with modernity ≠ by that I mean the end of the age of reason and the enlightenment which strove to privatise religion, exalt science, technology and progress. This is partly because, notwithstanding the many benefits that science has given us, it has also revealed questions today that now haunt us. There are billions spent on arms, on going to the moon, while millions starve. Our world, it is now seen, is not something of which we seek to be masters, but of which we are stewards. Take, for example, the geneticists who explore the processes of life but don't answer the question, 'where does life begin?' These are religious questions. The Judaeo-Christian tradition speaks out of a great narrative in the Book of Genesis which says that God made us in his own image and likeness. This is not an ideology but a key to meaning. It is what makes everything else ≠ our ideas, our lives, our actions ≠ meaningful. It underpins what our civilisation, whether or not it is conscious of it, holds dear. We live in an age of post-modernity. It is a curious time. It is partly a crisis in secularism: we no longer have faith in no-faith. And it is partly a time of uncertainty about our certainties. There is no longer a great narrative such as the Enlightenment offered. There is no tradition to underpin our way of life, our laws ≠ only faith in present events, the present moment. The result is a loss in faith in institutions: in monarchy, parliament, the Church, the law. Post-modernism does not ask, 'what is truth?' but, 'whose truth?' It is the me-me society and what Pope Benedict calls 'the dictatorship of relativism'. Yet what is most promising about our age from the point of view of evangelisation is its lack of opposition to conversion and choice. Indeed, these are highly valued. And that is good for our task of evangelisation, because the Catholic faith is always a choice - the greatest choice of all. It is choosing Christ as the model and centre of your life, and rejecting the alternatives. And it is choosing Christ within the ecclesial community and tradition of the Catholic Church. The choice is made - or should be made ≠ in the depths of our conscience, in the still, small voice of the heart, in the peace and joy that come from knowing you are home. Our society upholds such a choice in a way that - in say the 1950s - society did not. In the 1950s, to migrate to another faith or even to marry outside your own faith was deeply threatening to the communities and families involved. Nowadays, few question that freedom ≠ even though there is a greater fear of the commitment that choice entails. There are other ways, too, in which the land is now more fertile for the seeds of the Gospel. Our new way of living remorselessly on the surface of things ≠ our mobile-phone, iPod-induced twitchiness ≠ means we lose depth and reflection, and so feel the need of these. There is in society a feeling of banality, partly because everything around us has been so over-hyped. We are bombarded with so many insignificant or simply untrue claims that we will tend automatically to discount all of them. Yet that produces a greater yearning for Truth itself. The three-part series The Monastery showed how powerfully a space of hospitality and retreat can speak to modern people. It offered peace and centredness instead of twitchiness; instead of bellowed banalities, it offered truths so deep they needed to be contemplated. How attractive Worth Abbey proved to those young men. Today it is contrast that counts. That is why, more than ever, our evangelisation depends on a self-evident difference. The monks of the Monastery met the young men where they were, but they did not dilute monasticism for their sake. Fr Radcliffe's new book sets out to answer the question, "What is the point of being a Christian?" It is the question people ask; it is, perhaps, the 21st-century question, in much the way that, 'Is it true?' was the 20th-century question. Behind it lurks a suspicion that everything good and helpful about Christianity ≠ or religion in general ≠ can be imbibed without signing up to credal formulae or an institution or a community of believers. Of course, people do not become Christian because Christianity serves a particular end; they surrender to Truth. But long before that surrender they want to know what are the consequences of belief ≠ what difference it makes. We need to grasp that behind this question is yet another ≠ one that will be certainly unconscious to the questioner. And that is: who, or what, is God? Because when someone asks what difference faith makes, they want to know what difference God makes. They look at our lives in order to know what Jesus Christ looks like. It is not us they are interested in, but Christ. Witnessing to Christ means living in such a way that would make no sense if God did not exist. That is why Christians should be puzzling people; they look and speak like everybody else, but at the same time be very obviously different from everyone else. Evangelii Nuntiandi contains a striking passage which summarises the difference it should make to be a Christian. "Take a Christian or a handful of Christians," Pope Paul VI writes, "who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one" [EN, 21] What inspires the observers is the vision of Christ they glimpse in Christians. John the Baptist, the greatest evangelist of them all, was not afraid to be different. His wild ways ≠ his obvious "difference" ≠ attracted attention; yet his simplicity and austerity deflected attention from himself onto Christ. John was an effective evangeliser because he led people to expect Christ, to wait for his coming, to look beyond the Baptist to the one who would come after him. That is how we evangelise: we withdraw to make way for Christ. There is always a danger, in evangelisation, of believing in the power of our own enthusiasm, to prefer hype to faith. When we do that we are putting ourselves forward, not Christ. We rely on our own strengths, not his. St Anthony of Padua, the thirteenth-century Franciscan, complained that the Church of his time was "bloated with words". As one of those who contributes to that bloating, I include myself in this complaint. We need to be especially concerned about our language. Everything we say needs to be examined in the light of what it points to in the mind of others. We need to keep reminding people of what faith does: how it frees us to enter into relationship with God. As the dialogue of the woman at the well shows, evangelisation is the bringing to light of our need for life, and the inability of the world, for all its goodness, to satisfy that need. So when we evangelise we need to dare to be different. And we need to explain what difference our faith makes. That means that when we speak of salvation, we must be clear about the theological reality to which it points: the yearning human heart finding its true object. When we speak of sin, we should remember that it is what closes off that yearning heart. And so on. And we need to address that question: Why is church necessary? When we speak of Church, we should be clear that it is not a hierarchy of power or an institution or a club, but a communion of those who seek and accept that salvation through Jesus Christ - in our words, our deeds, our liturgies. It is where we meet Christ. The Catholic faith without the Church is like a plant without soil. That is why, in Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul quotes St Augustine referring to the twelve apostles: "They preached the word of truth and brought forth Churches." That is our task, too. Source: Archbishop's House
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