As the Catholic Church seeks to embrace the call to a new evangelization, we must ask ourselves whether it is possible to really evangelize the world by capitulating to, and thereby validating, the defective and perverted premises of secular society. In Ephesians 6:12, St. Paul points out the danger of worldly powers, which seek to turn the faithful from the authentic truth of the Gospel by offering false ideals, which would seduce them into accepting immoral practices for the sake of fulfilling the demands of what we would call today A New World Order.
Thus, no matter how sincere and well planned are the efforts we make to evangelize the world, if those efforts are based on defective or perverted premises proposed by “the worldly rulers of this present darkness,” this whole outreach ministry will bear little lasting fruit. Since its efficacy would be determined on the basis of its ability to engender the excitement of hubris, rather than the humble docility which are essential for authentic conversion, it may manipulate people to conform to an idealistic secular agenda, but will be unable to draw them into the transformative grace of God offered by humility and docility of true Christian discipleship. It is important, then, for us to critically examine some of the defective premises, which have been subtly insinuated into our thinking and which threaten to abort our efforts to evangelize our modern world.
The first defective premise is the one that views the Church as a symbiotic society, rather than as a covenantal community called into being and sustained by God’s Holy Word through His word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Covenantal theology accentuated the fact that God has created each person as both intrinsically sacred and graciously sanctifying. Human dignity is thus brought to fruition by developing and deepening relationships and ministries whereby we grow in a reverent solidarity with each other in all dimensions of our shared humanity. In sharp contrast to this appreciation of the intrinsic sanctifying dignity of humanity, secular thought tends to deny the legitimacy of any irrevocable and permanent covenantal relationship. This is vividly shown in the widespread acceptance of easy “no fault” divorce, which is based upon the premise that marriage is merely a tentative symbiotic relationship, to which a couple is committed only as long as they are able to use each other to fulfill their personal agendas. Once the relationship becomes a hindrance to such self-fulfillment or self-gratification for either party, that person can obtain a “no fault” divorce, and thus be free to seek fulfillment or gratification in some other relationship.
This premise is further attested to by the tendency to view pregnancy as either a disease or a punishment for unprotected sex – so much so that the Affordable Care Act gives high priority to ensuring free access to contraception and abortion. This perverted perspective is carried over into the Church, when evangelization is based upon appeasing people’s desires for fulfillment, rather than calling them to accountability to the whole truth of God through ongoing repentance and the obedience of faith. This is dramatically manifested in the way Church praxis over the past half century has given a free pass to those who routinely refuse to fulfill their baptismal commitment to participate each Sunday in the great mystery of covenantal love made efficaciously present at Mass.
After weeks of asserting by their absence that Christ’s agonizing act of covenantal love on the cross for their salvation was not all that important, they insist it is their right to receive Him in Holy Communion without any need to repent of their serious sin of omission in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Thus it is that these souls, by routinely refuse to allow themselves to be actually drawn into the dynamic and transformative reality of Christ’s Eucharistic sacrifice, assuage their consciences with the idea that it is adequate for them to merely accept its salvific significance. Likewise, as Church leaders seek to proclaim unconditionally, “All are welcome,” those who have embraced the practices of contraception, abortion, fornication, pornography, cheating, gossip, slander, domestic violence and a host of other serious sins have been, de facto, given a pastoral free pass to receive the Eucharistic Christ in a state of serious sin. In this context, it does seem rather discriminatory that the only souls that seem to be denied access to such a free pass and held to accountability are those who are divorced and remarried.
Thus it is that covenantal accountability to the whole truth of Christ has been supplanted by symbiotic quest for a sense of fulfillment. Jesus thus comes to be treated more as a mascot for our quest to fulfill our ever-evolving agendas, rather than Our Divine Master Who brings us, through the mystery and ministry of Hid cross, to authentic integrity of life and relationship.
A second defective premise perverting the New Evangelization is that of evolution. The widespread embrace of both the perspective and the language spawned by Darwin’s evolutionary theories has wrought spiritual havoc in the lives of billions over the past hundred and fifty years. Sadly, even some of our popes have given this perverted premise glowing endorsements. Nonetheless, it is intrinsically defective, if not outright evil. The Christian proclamation concerning the nature of the development of Creation and of humanity asserts that such development is guided by the loving call of God, or what we could call “evocation”. God is continually and lovingly calling humanity and all of Creation to a higher degree of perfection through His Word and His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ..
We thus come to authentic fulfillment by an ongoing humble and docile obedience to that Word, through Whom we are drawn into that divine intimacy whereby we realize more perfectly our dignity as both persons and as the human community. The covenantal community into which we are called was initiated in time through the covenantal communion of Jesus with Mary, the mother, model and mentor of all His beloved disciples. Thus, as indicated above, authentically human fulfillment must be intrinsically covenantal, not alienating and individualistic.
In opposition to this, evolutional theory requires the rejection of objective moral laws for the sake of promoting subjective self-fulfillment, the social engineering of eugenics, and power politics that promote expediency rather than integrity, societal values rather than objective virtues and relevance rather than reverence. Evolution also spawns the heresy that what is more recent is necessarily more evolved, and therefore more authentic. This denies the absolute Lordship of Christ and the centrality of His Paschal Sacrifice, since they occurred nearly two thousand years ago. It also leads people to obsess about ensuring that they are “on the right side of history” (e.g., those who in 1941 collaborated with the victorious Nazis) and that they are the first conform to the latest fads, fashions and fetishes of society. The authentic development of humanity, as the development of the Church, must be organic, not evolutionary. And it must be guided by objective truth, not by the vicissitudes of human emotions and passions seeking vindication in novel theories and in new excuses for old sins.
The New Evangelization is also endangered by the tendency to treat persons as objects. St. John Paul II accentuated the seriousness of this danger, when he pointed out that it is wrong to use people. Whereas God wills us to love people and use things, modern society often urges us to love things and to use people to get those things. As the melancholy song, Sweet Dreams, asserts, “Some people want to use you, some people want to be used by you. Some people want to abuse you, some people want to be abused by you.” This idea that people are to be used as objects even invades the spiritual lives of many. Though sincere, they are subtly blasphemous as they assert that they want to be “used” by God. God reverences each person too deeply to want to “use” them. Rather, He wants to reverently embrace them into His own loving ministry of reaching out and caring for those in need. We are not tools in some kind of a divine tool chest, we are His beloved children. He thus wants us to see the world as He sees it, to reach out to others as He reaches out to them and to reverence them as He reverences them.
Likewise, the prohibition against treating persons as objects applies to our worship. The idea that God is to be the object of our worship is rooted in a perverted pagan perspective. God is perfect love. The most profound and perfect form of love is intimacy. And authentic intimacy requires humility on the part of both persons in the relationship. Thus it is that, even though God is majestic and beautiful beyond comprehension, He is devoid of all arrogance. To put it another way, if God was arrogant, arrogance would be a virtue. And so it is that, for example, in Eucharistic adoration, Christ is not demanding to be appeased by more worship.
Rather, He is, as a living personal dynamic of reverent gracious generosity, inviting us to enter more reverently into the sanctifying mystery and ministries of His divine graciousness by being drawn more deeply into the purifying grace of sincere repentance, into the sacred intimacy of contemplation, and into the compassionate fervor of intercessory prayer and sacrifice. Thus it is that He embraces us into His transformative and sanctifying life and ministry. He does not use us to manipulate people into salvation. The more we are embraced into this mystery, the more we are delivered from the perverse tendency to view and treat others as objects And the more we reject the temptation to make God the object of our worship, the more we can be delivered from the spirit of idolatry and be reverently engaged in the sacred dynamic of authentic worship, which is brought to fruition in the mystery of divine intimacy.
Another perverted premise that degrades the New Evangelization into a new capitulation is the secular concept of social justice. Although those embracing the idea of social justice are quite sincere, their sincerity does not necessarily validate their premises or their agendas. Sadly, the social justice agenda is strongly tainted with Marxist ideas about class warfare and the belief that economic inequities are necessarily the result of oppression and injustice. Some even use this idea as an excuse to portray a child in the womb as an unwanted invader of its mother’s body and as an oppressor, who is threatening to keep its mother from fulfilling her life’s ambitions. The problem with this is that it denies the sacred mystery of human solidarity, manifested most efficaciously as the Mystical Body of Christ.
Any inequities in society can only be addressed in a superficial manner by the use of laws and regulations to force people to give up the fruit of their labor to support groups of people specified as being needy by those wielding political and police powers over them. As a result, while there is a redistribution of wealth, there is no promotion of authentic human solidarity. As one man pointed out, wealth cannot make one happy, it can only make one’s misery more tolerable. The forced redistribution of wealth, tainted as it often is by political cronyism, is not just.. But even if it were, it would not adequately reflect the reality of the Good News proclaimed by Christ. As a matter of fact, the Gospel of Christ is rooted in the worst injustice in human history. Since justice requires that each person gets what he rightfully deserves, the cross of Christ proclaims the victory of injustice.
For at Calvary, Jesus received what He did not deserve, unjust condemnation and an agonizing death. At the same time, sinful humanity received what we did not deserve, mercy and the grace of eternal salvation. Thus the guiding principle for the renewal of humanity is not justice, but rather divine righteousness, whereby God is graciously and faithfully committed to heal the damage done by sin to our shared humanity, and thus restore us together in His image and likeness. Humanity cannot be renewed by arousing and appeasing alienating resentments. Rather, human dignity is realized by being drawn together into the gracious love and compassion of God and into the wisdom that reverences that mutuality of ministry, whereby the unique sacredness of each person is both respected and enhanced.
Another defective premise we need to address is the seriously counterproductive secular idea of love. The conventional idea of love is based on beneficence and munificence. But, as indicated above, the most perfect dimension of love is intimacy. And intimacy is impossible without gratitude. This is reflected in the fact that the central mystery of our Faith is the Eucharistic Christ; i.e., the grateful Christ. The Eucharistic Christ is thus established the source, sustenance and summit of the life of the Church. The gratitude of Christ is beyond causality and manipulation.
And, while it transcends all causality, it is enhanced through our self-investment into its transformative graciousness and by our participation in the ministries it generates in the Church. Thus, the Eucharist is not a static reality that is merely observed and venerated, but rather a dynamic redemptive mystery, into which each person must be willing to be embraced and transformed. And what is even more amazing is the fact that the greatest thing any of us can do is to allow Christ to reverence and appreciate us!
This truth is merely an affirmation of the basic reality of the fact that it is by God’s gracious initiative that all dimensions of the spiritual life are brought about and sustained. Thus the fact that Eucharistic (grateful) Christ is the most perfect mode of God’s presence in the universe points to the centrality of divine gracious gratitude in the mystery of authentic redemption and its ministry to sinful humanity.
The core of the Gospel is the proclamation, then, is that each of us is so sacred that the only gratitude adequate to our dignity as God’s children is the gratitude of God Himself, ministered to us so faithfully, reverently, compassionately and efficaciously by the Eucharistic Christ. Our Blessed Mother Mary recognized this during the Annunciation. When she declared, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to Your word,” she was saying, “As You gaze into the depths of my soul with Your perfect and pure gaze of reverence, love and gratitude, I know that, whatever happens, I will become even more fruitful as the uniquely beautiful gift You have created me to be. So be it done to me according to Your Word.”
This awesome reality and dynamic is essential for any authentic evangelization outreach. So many, especially those who have been sexually exploited, have despaired of discovering their true dignity because of manipulative or abusive things done to them in the name of love. Thus the realization of the fact that God appreciates them is indeed, Good News that is beyond comprehension, even as that gratitude comprehends and transforms all dimensions of their lives and relationships. It also helps them to realize how Jesus, looking down on them from the cross, does not say, “Look what your sins have done to Me.” Rather, in the midst of His agonizing spasms of pain, He humbly asks, “Would you please finally open your mind and heart to realize how deeply I love and appreciate you?”. This mystery and ministry of the Eucharistic Christ also enhances all we do throughout our lives. An ancient spiritual adage points out that graciousness can only bear fruit when it is watered by gratitude. We do so many things to show God’s love and fidelity to others in our daily lives.
But we are fortunate to hear a sincere “Thank you” just once or twice each day. Jesus never wants anything we do to help Him to show His love and fidelity to others to be denied His special Eucharistic gratitude. He is continuing to humbly yet decisively assert that He is personally grateful for each of these deeds of kindness. And so, watered by His divine gratitude, each of these acts of ministry will bear fruit both here and hereafter. Through a reverent and repentant receptivity to His Eucharistic gratitude, even our apparent failures will bear fruit unto eternal life for us and for all those whom He entrusts to our care. It is no wonder that St. Paul could so joyfully proclaim that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him.
Through the gracious fidelity of the Holy Spirit, the New Evangelization is full of promise for those who are willing to decisively reject the false and perverted premises foisted upon so many souls by the tyrannical Culture of Desecration and Death and its false gospels of fulfillment through gratification, resentment and excuses. But we must be willing to be immersed into a mystery so profoundly beautiful that it will eternally draw us into humble prayers of joyful gratitude. We must reject the temptation to be in control in order to be purified and drawn into an intimacy that will be eternally regenerative for us and for all whom God entrusts to our care. Thus we can join with St. Paul in his beautiful hymn –
Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are His judgements and how unsearchable His ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?
Or who has given Him anything that he may be repaid?
For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things.
To Him be glory forever! Amen! (Rom 11:33-36)
Spero News columnist Rev. Thomas Collins is Catholic priest in the service of the people of Virginia.