CONGREGATION FOR THE EVANGELISATION OF PEOPLES
ADDRESS OF HIS EMINENCE CARDINAL IVAN DIAS,
Tuesday, 22 July 2008
Evangelization challenge: be exemplary Christians
The theme of this talk - Mission, Social Justice and Evangelization - is very appropriate in this year which commemorates the two thousandth birth anniversary of the great evangelizer, converted from Saul, the persecutor of the Christians, to Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles....
The subject we are dealing with takes us back to the very dawn of the Christian era, when on the Mount of Olives Jesus Christ Our Lord, just before He ascended into heaven, gave a mandate to His disciples: "Go out into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16: 15). He was thus commissioning the Church to continue His salvific mission on earth: "As the Father has sent me, so do I send you" (Jn 20: 21)....
In the synagogue of Nazareth Jesus paraphrased His mission by quoting the prophet Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, and has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to bring deliverance to the captives, to give sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are bruised, to announce the acceptable year of the Lord" (Lk 4: 18-19).
We can see here a reference to the close relationship between the mission to preach the Good News and the necessity to be alert to the needs of our brethren relating to social and justice issues. It requires making one's faith to flow into action, to pour out one's love for God into works of love for one's neighbour, both friend and foe. This is, in fact, the gist of the New Commandment of Love given to us by Jesus and by which we shall be judged on the Last Day.
It is the basis of the "global solidarity" for which Pope Benedict XVI appealed a few weeks ago in his Message to the Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome, and to which is referred in the Holy See's recent correspondence with the British Prime Minister, Mr Gordon Brown....
The missionary mandate thus makes us enter into the very heart of God, who wills all men, women and children to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth....
Challenges to faith
The theme of evangelization must be considered in the wider context of the spiritual combat which began in the Garden of Eden with the fall of our first parents, in the wake of fierce hostilities between God and the rebel angels. If this context is ignored in favour of a myopic world-vision, Christ's salvation will be conveniently dismissed as irrelevant.
The spiritual combat, described in the Books of Genesis and Revelation, has continued unabated down the ages. St Paul described it in very vivid terms: "We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph 6: 12).
This combat rages fiercely even today, aided and abetted by well-known secret sects, Satanic groups and New Age movements, to mention but a few, and reveals many ugly heads of the hideous anti-God monster: among them are notoriously secularism, which seeks to build a Godless society; spiritual indifference, which is insensitive to transcendental values; and relativism, which is contrary to the permanent tenets of the Gospel.
All of these seek to efface any reference to God or to things supernatural, and to supplant it with mundane values and behaviour patterns which purposely ignore the transcendental and the divine. Far from satisfying the deep yearnings of the human heart, they foster a culture of death, be it physical or moral, spiritual or psychological.
Examples of this culture are abortions on demand (or the slaughter of innocent unborn children), divorces (which kill sacred marriage bonds blessed by God), materialism and moral aberrations (which suffocate the joy of living and lead often to profound psychic depression), economic, social and political injustices (which crush human rights), violence, suicides, murders, and the like, all of which abound today and militate against the mind of Christ, who came that "all may have life, and have it in abundance" (Jn 10: 10).
Two vital institutions of the human society are particularly vulnerable to such a culture of death: the family and the youth. These must, therefore, receive the special attention, guidance and support of those whom the Holy Spirit has placed as shepherds of the flock entrusted to their pastoral care....
Then there is the vast gamut of non-Christian religions and cultures, with their varied scriptures and sages, prayers and symbols, places of worship and ascetical practices, each exerting a deep influence on the thoughts and life-styles of its followers.
This mosaic of religious and cultural-"isms" is now complicated by a deep questioning about man's identity and purpose in life, rising from the human and social, as well as the physical sciences. While this soul-searching questioning about human life and purpose could be an appropriate context for the proclamation of the Gospel, many answers being proposed in our post-modern world have become disconnected from authoritative sources of moral reasoning, ignoring the transcendental dimension of life and seeking to make God irrelevant....
Ways of evangelization
In the first Christian era, the pagans were attracted to the Christian faith because of the way Christians behaved, and they remarked: "See how they love each other". This Christian witness is well described in the Letter to Diognetus, written by a Christian apologist in the second century. I deem it wise to quote some excerpts of this Letter, which would make many a Christian pastor to think, and some even to blush:
"The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind is not a matter of nationality, or language, or customs. Christians do not live apart in separate cities of their own, speak any special dialect, nor practice any eccentric way of life. The doctrine they profess is not the invention of busy human minds and brains, nor are they adherents of this or that school of human thought.
"They pass their lives in whatever township - Greek or foreign - each man's lot has determined, and conform to ordinary local usage in their clothing, diet, and other habits. Nevertheless, the organisation of their community does exhibit some features that are remarkable, and even surprising. For instance, though they are residents at home in their own countries, their behaviour there is more like that of transients; they take their full part as citizens, but they also submit to anything and everything as if they were aliens. For them, any foreign country is a motherland, and any motherland is a foreign country.
"Like other human beings, they marry and beget children, though they do not expose their infants. Any Christian is free to share his neighbour's table, but never his marriage-bed.
"Though destiny has placed them here in the flesh, they do not live after the flesh. Their days are passed on the earth, but their citizenship is up in the heavens. They obey the prescribed laws, but in their own private lives they transcend the laws....
"To put it briefly, the relation of Christians to the world is that of a soul to the body. As the soul is diffused through every part of the body, so are Christians through all the cities of the world.... Such is the high post of duty in which God has placed them, and it is their moral duty not to shrink from it"....
This is, in short, what Christian witness is all about, and what the world needs today..... The world today needs Christian apologists, not apologisers; it needs persons like John Henry Cardinal Newman, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Hilaire Belloc and others, who brilliantly expose the beauty of the Christian faith without blushing or compromise.
Besides the witness of an exemplary Christian living, there are two ways which could help further the cause of evangelization today: they are inculturation and interreligious dialogue.
Inculturation.... [implies] a twofold thrust: to evangelize the cultures and to inculturate the Gospel. Hearing the Gospel can lead to a purifying of cultures, while different cultural expressions can enrich the proclamation of the Gospel message. Evangelization and inculturation are closely related to each other. In fact, inculturation should be the cultural expression of one's faith and the faith expression of one's culture....
As for interreligious dialogue, we are all aware that the Holy Spirit works also outside the visible confines of the Churches, and that there exist in other religious and cultural traditions elements which are true, good and holy.
We should not reject them, but rather regard with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones we hold and set forth as Christians, nonetheless are seeds of the Word and often reflect a ray of the Truth which enlightens all human beings.
Of course, we must always be alert to proclaim Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn 14: 6), in whom everyone may find the fullness of religious life, and in whom God the Father has reconciled all things to Himself....
Interreligious dialogue can express itself in various ways: in a dialogue of life and action, of ideas and experience. A dialogue of life would see Christians exuding the sweet odour of Jesus Christ and Gospel values in their day-to-day contacts with persons of other faiths.
Dialogue of ideas would demand a frank exchange of notions on God and religion-related topics which should result in mutual respect and enrichment.
And, finally, a dialogue of experiences would lead both Christians and their non-Christian partners to learn about each other's spiritual practices and mystical encounters.
This presentation would be incomplete if we did not touch on the ecumenical dimension in the thrust for evangelization which animates both the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church. Someone has rightly said in a humorous vein: "If Christians do not hang together, they will hang separately".
It is obvious that a united effort would certainly strengthen the implementation of Christ's mandate to preach the Gospel to every creature.... The more Anglicans and Catholics are able to study issues together and to discern an appropriate Gospel response, the stronger will be the impact of their mission endeavours....
Among the many points of the Christian creed, which the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church share together, is their love and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.... Besides being a subject of religious piety, she can be called upon to teach Christians how to be truly Spirit-filled and Spirit-led by imitating her singular virtues of Fiat, Magnificat and Stabat....
These three virtues can be powerful incentives to genuine Christian living and strong antidotes against whatever opposes it. And since Mary, the most blessed of all women, is profoundly revered even by persons of other faiths, she must be considered an important point of reference for interreligious dialogue as well.