As we hear the call for Catholics to zealously take part in the New Evangelization, it is interesting to note that there are several important aspects of such an outreach, which need to be clarified in order to make such a ministry fruitful.
The first is the need to clarify the meaning of the term, "the Kingdom of God." Sadly, in the face of a rampant relativism that has even polluted the sanctuaries of many parishes, the mystery of the Kingdom of God has been degraded to the point of becoming merely a spiritual form of the Rorschach test, which each person is free to
interpret according to his own personal agenda and world view. Thus we cannot assume that when speaking of The Kingdom, we are all referring to the same reality.
We need a clear enunciation by the Magisterium of exactly what is meant by the term. Otherwise, the New Evangelization will quickly degenerate into a New Capitulation to the "feel good" demands of secular society for tolerance, for moral laxity and a co-dependence camouflaged as "compassion."
In regard to this, it is interesting that Blessed John Paul II, when instituting the new Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, declared the Third Mystery to be "The Proclamation of the Kingdom with Its Call to Repentance." Without repentance, no one can enter into the Kingdom. Even Jesus repented His own preferences when He prayed, "Father, not My will, but Yours be done."
And repentance does not only deal with sin. As one grows in the spiritual life, he must be willing allow the Holy Spirit to probe his soul and convict him of his need to also repent of those perspectives, premises, priorities and attitudes that are perverted by the influence of sin in the depth of his soul.
This leads to another important issue, the core dynamic of evangelization is one of transformation, not one of manipulation. Multi-million dollar Madison Avenue ad agencies tell us that to manipulate people into buying a product, there is a need to appeal to the seductive allure of pride, power, prestige, pleasure and/or possessions.
Contrary to this, the Christ, through His Church, proclaims the true way to life is discovered in a love, which joyfully embraces the poverty, chastity, obedience, humility, graciousness and mortification required for the authentic intimacy of covenantal love. If we allow ourselves to be seduced into pouring the new wine of the Kingdom into the old wineskins provided by secular humanism, our ministry will soon come to naught, as people discover new teachers who are better able to tickle their fancy by offering new excuses for old sins.
In direct opposition to this, the True Evangelization is so permeated with the truth and love of Christ that it does not capitulate to the desires of so many, whereby their current horizons to become the boundaries of their growth. The urgent need for this is especially apparent in the lives of so many who are so trapped in various forms of lust that they are more prone to identify themselves in terms of their sexual delectations, rather than in terms of their dignity as God's children. Human dignity cannot be realized by having people programmed like Pavlov's dogs. Rather, it can only be brought to fruition by a reverent hospitality to the mystery of that gracious love, whereby we are formed anew in Christ as God's children.
All this points out the fact that the purpose of the New Evangelization is to draw all more deeply into the sanctifying dynamic of divine intimacy offered to the world in Christ through the gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit. As Pope Francis is trying to point out to all of us, The Kingdom is not found in a form of sanctified stagnation, hermetically sealed to preserve the appearance of purity. Rather, it is realized on the frontiers of humanity, where God's gracious love encounters and overcomes sin and its consequences in our world. In this regard, I find it interesting that the new U.S. dollar coin has "In God We Trust" and "E Pluribus Unum" not on the face of the coin, but rather on its edge.
I wonder whether this may be a subtle sign to all of us to break away from a cushiony faith into both a more courageous examination of our own need for repentance and a more compassionate outreach to people who are so addicted to sin and its consequences that they have blinded themselves to the possibility of any fulfillment beyond the passing thrills offered by this world. Though such thrills may momentarily help them to forget the deepest longings of their hearts, their seductive and addictive powers must not be allowed to go unchallenged.
A final point that needs to be raised it the fact that the New Evangelization is based upon faith in the fidelity of God to His Word and to His Word made flesh. In view of this, it is necessary to rediscover the many dimensions of God's Word. Specifically, we need to note that God's Word in the Ten Commandments and in the New Commandments given by Christ are not merely mandatory, but also creative.
When a soul is docile to hearing these commands in faith, the Holy Spirit infuses in that soul both the desire and the strength to sincerely repent of sin and to live in full harmony with the integrity and holiness of life proclaimed by those precepts. For, at its core, the proclamation of the Kingdom is the gracious invitation to that saving intimacy with God and others whereby we are formed by the Holy Spirit as a new creation in Christ. Love is our origin, love is our life and love is our destiny. And the deepest and most generative love is that which can be realized only by a reverent participation in the sanctifying mystery and ministries of divine intimacy shared with us in Christ Jesus.
Spero columnist Rev. Thomas Collins is a Catholic priest in the service of the people of Virginia.