One of the basic problems of the New Evangelization is that many Church leaders have allowed it to be trapped in a quagmire of ever-evolving expectations generated by the fads, fashions and fetishes of secular society. In trying to meet people “where they are at”, such leaders have allowed the teaching of Christ to be relativized to suit the premises and prejudices of both individuals and societies. In the process, they have de facto denied the serious need for radical repentance in order to fully participate in the saving mysteries and ministries of God’s gracious love. Instead of initiating people and societies into a whole new spiritual way of being, thinking and acting, they have found ways to distort the meaning of acculturation so as to embrace pastoral practices that capitulate to degraded understandings of what is good, true and beautiful.
Such capitulation can be seen in how such Church leaders address one of the tragic realities of human civilization – the fact that, historically, the development of any civilization has been based on exploitation or destruction of certain groups in that civilization through slavery, discrimination or even extermination. For example, in the United States of America, Africans and African-Americans were enslaved and exploited, Native Americans expropriated and exiled to reservations, and new immigrant groups exploited and suppressed – all for the sake of “progress”.
The most recent group suffering such discrimination is our posterity, who are being legally consigned to either death by abortion or to the debt slavery, which will be required to pay off the huge and ever-increasing burden debt and entitlements incurred through the political cronyism of waste, fraud and abuse. Sadly, since the perpetuation of such evil is demanded by the progressive agendas of the political and economic elite, many Church leaders seem to be rather hesitant, “for pastoral reasons”, to even inform their own congregations that participation in either the destruction or the exploitation of our posterity is a serious sin. For example, they are hesitant to inform their congregations that many contraceptives are actually abortifacients.
And they hesitate to violate the tenet of secular progressives that the right to life is derived from the government, and not from God. As a result, instead of demanding the elimination of the HHS mandate requiring everyone to help pay for contraception and abortion, they are only seeking an exemption from that mandate. And to make matters worse, some of them insist that we must capitulate to those who want to abuse the Eucharistic Christ to support the contention of their sin-seared consciences that Jesus Himself wants to give a smiling “thumbs up” to their efforts to ensure that more pre-born children get decapitated and dismembered before they can see the light of day.
All the above indicates that the current understanding of evangelization is seriously compromised by capitulation to the secular demands for accommodation. It seems that, de facto, we are to ensure that people can be informed about the truths of our Faith, but without them developing convictions based on that same Faith. Thus it is that those who stress the fact that our Faith requires both convictions and accountability to those conviction are often marginalized, or even ostracized.
And when the Church leaders, for fear of being slandered as “intolerant” or “judgmental”, value popularity over fidelity, they put themselves and their flocks in grave danger. They forget the fact that the high priest, Aaron, was capitulating to the consensus of the People of God, when he both built the golden calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai and led the Israelites in their worship of that idol. Likewise the high priest, Caiaphas, pastorally discerned that expediency was indeed more important than integrity, when he proclaimed that it was better for one man to die than for all the people to perish.
Authentic evangelization requires the Church to proclaim the truth that all dimensions of our shared humanity, guided by the Holy Spirit in the light of God’s Holy Word, must be regularly immersed in the waters of sincere repentance. When we are baptized into the Church, we are infused with the Holy Spirit and made accountable to the ever-transformative but unchanging Word of God. Thus, only by humbly and dynamically repenting in a spirit of sincere contrition can the Church be truly an evangelizing Church. Without ongoing repentance, she can only proclaim a gospel that leads to a life of stagnant complacency.
An amusing pun may bring this fact to light more clearly. It points out that there is no such thing as a holy candle. No matter how much you bless it or dip it in holy water, it is still a little wicked. And it can only give light by burning off its wicked part. So also, the light of evangelization can only shine before the world to the degree that all the faithful humbly embrace an ongoing repentance, whereby we burn off the wickedness of sin by sincere contrition and thereby offer fitting hospitality to the God, Who is pure and perfect Mercy and through Whom alone we can discover the path to inner peace and true reconciliation with all our brothers and sisters.
Spero columnist Rev. Thomas Collins is a Catholic priest who serves the people of Virginia.