Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Being on Fire with Truth and Love in the New Evangelization

Again, part of the New Evangelization is finding better, that is, more effective, ways to proclaim the faith, whether it be to people in places where secularization has taken hold in traditionally Christianized areas or out in the greater world. This means speaking the language that our intended audience of today speaks, rather than persisting in using "church speak" or the language of the 13th century.

Actually, this aspect of the "New" Evangelization is anything but new. The Church has sought to speak in the language of our audience since the very beginning, including appropriating various concepts from Greek and Roman philosophy to better explain Christian theology. An earlier example of using the words our intended audience uses is the very term "evangelize," which is not derived from the Aramaic and Hebrew used by Jesus and the Apostles, but is instead rooted in Greek. The word itself first appears, not in Salvation History, but in Greek literature and it is only later used in scripture by the prophet Isaiah to express more effectively, and to a larger audience, the announcement from God of a reason for His people to rejoice, that He would rescue them from exile and bondage.

Pope Benedict opened the first session of the Synod of Bishops with an explanation of the history and meaning of this term "evangelization," which interestingly shows itself to be implicit in the New Evangelization in and of itself. The Holy Father also meditated upon other various terms in his address, which was something of a lectio divina on the hymn for the "mid-morning" prayer (Terce) of the Liturgy of the Hours. (thanks to the incomparable Teresa Benedetta of the Benedetto XVI Forum for the translation)

Although God is all-powerful and thus is not dependent upon anything, Pope Benedict reminds us that the Lord has chosen to seek our help in the work of salvation. Jesus is our one and only Savior, but He also wants this to be a group effort. However, in making this effort, we must remember that the Church belongs to the Lord and we are mere servants, we can only cooperate with Him and not act solely on our own.

The Pope recalls the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in teaching that we must allow the Faith to so penetrate our being that it resounds through us, that we confess the Lord with our very lives, that we become witnesses of Christ even to the point of following Him to the Cross. We must know Him in our hearts so that we might speak of Him to others from our hearts in addition to speaking of Him intellectually from the head. This means working with the Spirit of Truth and Love, allowing our living faith to become enflamed and not merely lukewarm and passive.

The fullness of love, love to the extent of being on fire, is by its nature creative and transformative. We must allow ourselves to burn with this fire, the Fire that is the Lord, and only in this way will we be able to be effective in being not only a light to the world, but to help Him in the redemptive and sanctifying work of transforming the world from one of suffering and death to one of joy and eternal life.

Reflections of Pope Benedict XVI
Opening Session of the Synod on the New Evangelization
9 October 2012
My meditation refers to the word "evangelium", ("euangelisasthai" in Greek) (cf Lk 4:18). In this Synodal assembly, we wish to know more what the Lord is telling us and what we can and should do. The reflection is divided in two: the first, on the significance of these words, and then, I wish to try and interpret the hymn of the Third Hour, "Nunc, Sancte, nobis Spìritus," on Page 5 of the Book of Prayers.

The word "evangelium," "euangelisasthai," has a long history. It appears in Homer as the announcement of victory, therefore, an announcement of something good, of joy, of happiness. Then it appears in the "Second Book" of Isaiah [the the Deutero-Isaiah] (cf Is 40:9), announcing the joy of God, to say that God has not forgotten his people, that God who had apparently retreated from history is around and present. God has power, God gives joy, he opens the doors that lead from exile. After the long night of exile, his light appears, the possibility of his return to his people, renewing the story of goodness, the story of his love.

In the context of evangelization, three other words appear most frequently: dikaiosyne, eirene, soteria - justice, peace, salvation. Jesus himself reprised the words of Isaiah when he spoke of this "Evangelo" in Nazareth, bringing them to those who were excluded, to those in prison, to the suffering and to the poor.

But for the meaning of the word evangelium in the New Testament, beyond the Deutero-Isaiah (Isa 40-55), which opens the door - equally important is the use of the word in the Roman Empire, starting with Emperor Augustus, in which the word evangelium refers to a message coming from the emperor. Thus, the emperor's message, in itself, meant something good - a renewal of the world, salvation. An imperial message and therefore a message of power and might, as well as a message of salvation, renewal and well-being.

The New Testament accepts this situation. St. Luke explicitly confronts the Emperor Augustus with the Baby born in Bethlehem. Evangelium, he says, is a word from the emperor, the true emperor of the world. The true emperor of the world has made himself heard - he speaks to us.

This word evangelium, as such, is redemption, because man's great suffering - then, as now - is this: Behind the silence of the universe, behind the haze of history, does God exist or not? And if there is a God, does he know us, does he have anything to do with us?

This question is as relevant today as it was then. So many people want to know: Is God just a hypothesis? Or is he a reality? Then why doesn't he make himself heard?

"Evangelium" means God has broken his silence, God has spoken, God exists. This in itself is salvation: God knows us, he loves us, he has entered human history. Jesus is his Word, God-with-us, God who shows us that he loves us, who suffered with us to his death and then resurrected. This is the Gospel itself. God has spoken, he is no longer the great unknown, he has shown himself to us, and this is salvation.

The question for us is this: God has spoken, he has broken the great silence, he has shown himself to us - How can we make this reality reach men of today so that it becomes their salvation? In itself, the fact that he has spoken is salvation, it is redemption. But how can we let contemporary man know this?

This, to me, is both a question as well as a demand, a mandate for us, for which we can find an answer by meditating on the hymn for the Third Hour, "Nunc, Sancte, nobis Spìritus."

The first verse says, "Dignàre promptus ingeri nostro refusus, péctori" - namely, let us pray so that the Holy Spirit may come, to be in us and with us. In other words, we cannot "make" the Church - we can only make known what God has done.

The Church did not begin with our "doing," but with God's "doing" and "speaking." Thus, the Apostles did not say, after some meetings, "Now let us create a Church", and like a constituent assembly, proceed to elaborate a constitution. No, they prayed, and in prayer, they waited, because they knew that only God himself could create his Church, that God is the first agent of such action. If God does not act, what we do is just our own, and insufficient. Only God can testify that it is he who speaks and has spoken.

Pentecost was the condition for the birth of the Church. It was only because God acted first that the Apostles could act with him and with his presence, and thus render to others what God does. . . . And just as in that time, the Church can only be born with the initiative of God, for the Gospel can be made known today, it is the same - only God can begin something, we can only cooperate with him, but the start has to come from God. . . .

God is always the beginning, only he can make a Pentecost, can create the Church, can show the reality of his presence to us. On the other hand, this God, who is always the beginning, also wants our involvement, he wants to engage our activity, such that our activity is "theandric," so to speak, made by God, but with our active involvement, the involvement of our whole being, of all our actions. And so, when we carry out the New Evangelization, it is always a cooperation with God, it lies in our being with God, founded on prayer and his real presence.

We find a description of what our actions must be, following God's initiative, in the second verse of the hymn: "Os, lingua, mens, sensus, vigor, confessionem personent, flammescat igne caritas, accendat ardor proximos." [Let bones, tongue, mind, sense and power resound in confession, and ignite the Flame of love for our neighbors."]

In these two lines, we find two determinative nouns: confessio in the first line, communio in the second. Confession (avowal) and caritas (love) as the two ways through which God involves us, acts with us, we act in him and for mankind, for each of his creatures. To which the appropiate verbs are joined - "resound" with the first; and with love, the verb which means "inflame," "enkindle," "light up," "burn". . . .

God shows himself to us as a whole Person: Jesus as the Word, with a very concrete content expressed in the word confessio. So the first step is that we must enter into this "confession" of faith, make it penetrate us, such that it "resounds" in us, as the hymn says, and through us.

One must also make a small philologic observation here: "confessio" in pre-Christian Latin took the form "professio" (to profess) - which means, presenting a reality positively. Instead, "confessio" refers to a trial process, in which one opens one's mind and confesses. So 'confession' which has replaced the pre-Christian term "profession" carries a martyrologic element - that of testifying to the faith in the presence of enemies, and to bear such witness even under suffering or danger of death.

The readiness to suffer is an essential element of Christian confession - I think this is very important. Our "confession" of faith expressed in the Credo implies this readiness to suffer, and even, to give one's life. This guarantees our credibility. . . . And so, for Christians confession is not just a word - it means more than pain, more than death. For our confession of faith, it is worth suffering, it is worth suffering even unto death. Whoever makes this confession shows that what he confesses is more than life - it is eternal life, the treasure, the precious and infinite pearl. . . .

We see from the hymn what this "confession" must penetrate - bones, tongue, mind, sense and strength. From Chapter 10 of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, we know that "confession" is in the heart and on the mouth - it must lie in the depth of us, but it must also be made public. We must announce the faith we carry in our heart. It is never just a reality for ourselves, but it needs to be communicated, it must truly be confessed before the eyes of the world. . . .

Mens, the mind: Confession is not just a thing of the heart and the mouth, but also of our intelligence - it must be thought over, and therefore intelligently conceived, so it can touch others. It always presupposes that our thought is truly anchored in our confession.

Sensus, sense: It is not a purely abstract and intellectual thing - confession must also penetrate our vital senses. St. Bernard of Clairvaux says that in the story of salvation, God has given our senses the possibility to see, to touch and to taste his Revelation. God is not only a spiritual thing: he has entered the world of the senses, and our senses must be filled with him, with the beauty of the Word of God, which is the ultimate reality.

Vigor - it is the vital strength of our being, as well as the juridical vigor of reality. With all our vitality and strength, we must be penetrated by the confessio that must truly resound in us - our being in all its totality must intone the melody of God.

"Confessio" is the first pillar, so to speak, of evangelization, and "caritas" is the second. Confessio is not an abstraction, and caritas is love. Thus, a reflection of divine reality, which, as truth, is also inseparably, love.

The hymn describes this love in strong words: it is ardency, it is a flame that lights others. It is a passion that must grow with our faith, which must transform itself into the fire of love. Jesus has said: "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" (Lk 12:49).

Origen has passed on to us a word from the Lord: "Whoever is near me is near fire". A Christian must not be lukewarm. The Apocalypse tells us that this is the greatest danger for a Christian: that he does not say No, but that his Yes is lukewarm. Such tepidity discredits Christianity. Faith must become in us a flame of love, a flame that truly lights up my whole being, it becomes the great passion of my being, and is thus capable of enkindling others. And this is how evangelization must take place: "Accéndat ardor proximos," to enkindle ardor in others, so that truth becomes love in me, and love may light others with its flame. Only by lighting up others through the flame of our love can evangelization truly prosper, the Gospel as a presence that is not just words but lived reality.

St. Luke tells us that at Pentecost, at that founding of the Church of God, the Holy Spirit was a fire that transformed the world, but fire in the form of tongues of flame, therefore, a flame which was also reasonable, which is spiritual, which is understanding - a fire united to thought, to mens. It is precisely this intelligent fire, this "sober inebriation," which is characteristic of Christianity.

We know that fire was at the origin of human culture - fire is light, it is warmth, it is the power of transformation. Human culture began from the time man had the power to make a fire. With fire, he could destroy but he could also transform and renew things. The fire of God is a transforming fire, a fire of passion, certainly, that also destroys so much in us, but above all, a fire that transforms, renews and creates a newness in man, who becomes the light of God. So, ultimately we can only pray to the Lord that our confessio is profoundly rooted and that it becomes the fire that enkindles others, so that the fire of his presence, the novelty of his being with us, may become truly visible and a force for the present and the future.
(go to the Benedetto XVI Forum for the entire address)
(see the Zenit News Service for another translation of the address)

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