An excerpt from an address by the Rev. Thomas Rosica, CSB, at the Theological Symposium of the 2016 International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines in January.
Why is Evangelization so challenging today? Why do we often encounter such massive ignorance of or indifference to the message of Jesus Christ? We may wonder at times why people aren’t turned on by our stories. Did we ever stop to think that maybe part of the reason is that we aren’t telling our story in the right way, or maybe not at all? What are some of the obstacles to our becoming an evangelizing Church?
First, in an attempt to be “polite”, and motivated by a false sense of ecumenism or interreligious dialogue, people do not want to impose upon others or imply that they are superior to them in some way.
Second, many Catholics fear the very word “evangelizing” because they are afraid of being asked questions they cannot answer. Overcoming this obstacle means that we must learn more about Christ, the Bible and the Church’s teachings and our rich tradition.
The third obstacle is the crisis of biblical literacy. How can we possibly announce this Good News when the target audience does not know the vocabulary, language and imagery of this Good News?
I also think that we lack a sense of urgency of our mission and frequently give in to nostalgia. I will explain those points later in this presentation.
Jesus was a master teacher and a perfect communicator and he is the model for all who seek to communicate the Good News and evangelize our culture today. Through parables, he attempted to convey the true nature of a loving and benevolent God. The indirectness of parables makes the wisdom of Jesus inaccessible to hostile literalists. There is a striking line in Matthew’s parable of the sower (Matthew 13). Puzzled by Jesus’ story, the disciples ask him to explain it, and he begins, “the field is the world and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom” (v.38). God works in the world, not simply in the church. The field is the world, and this strange array of peoples on the peripheries and outside the perimeter of biblical Israel breaks into the Gospel arena and becomes a vital part of Jesus’ mission.
Pope Francis is inviting us to become witnesses, missionaries and disciples in the world. That is our evangelizing mission today. He has brought new urgency, new passion and new authenticity and transparency to this mission. For Francis, authentic power is service. The more we can urgently show genuine concern and effective action for alleviating social ills and liberating the poor, the more believable will the gospel be.
Pope Francis refers often to the post-resurrection narrative of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). Members of Luke’s community in 80 AD might have been saying to themselves that 50-60 years ago: “People were so fortunate to have seen the Risen Lord with their very eyes.” Nostalgia would cause people to say that having been there, back then, might make a difference in the way that they think and believe today! But a past generation is not more fortunate or blessed to have encountered the risen Jesus than is a generation that hasn’t seen him! When have we given in to nostalgia, in our personal and ecclesial lives of faith?
Pope Francis wants The Jubilee Year of Mercy to be a far-reaching Christian witness of mercy to the world. Mercy is a theme very dear to Pope Francis, as is expressed in the episcopal motto he had chosen: “miserando atque eligendo”, literally, “Chosen Through the Eyes of Mercy.” Francis’ recently published “The Name of God is Mercy,” tell us that mercy is essential to all of us because we are all sinners, in need of God’s forgiveness and grace, and it’s especially necessary today, at a time when “humanity is wounded,” suffering from “the many slaveries of the third millennium” — not just war and poverty and social exclusion, but also fatalism, hardheartedness and self-righteousness.
In the Acts of the Apostles 4:31, we meet one of the first crises of Evangelization faced by the early Church. Peter and John were arrested and brought before the officials and were interrogated, threatened and ordered to speak no longer in the name of Jesus the Lord. Upon their release from captivity, they joined the community in prayer. When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word with boldness. The gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed with boldness and courage. Speaking the Word boldly is a prerequisite for the work of Evangelization.
For Francis, Evangelization must be an invitation to respond to God’s love and to seek the good in others. “If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk.”
Laudato Sì is a privileged instrument of Evangelization of our contemporary world because it strives to answer the deeper questions about ecology and the environment within God’s revelation as found in his creation and the teachings of the Catholic Church. At this critical moment in history, what is at stake is not just our respect for biodiversity, but our very survival.
The late Father Walter Burghardt, another great Jesuit from the Americas, once preached a homily at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., for the First Sunday in Lent in which he quoted Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous remark that “These Christians don’t look redeemed.” Father Burghardt concluded: “For your penance, look redeemed.”
Pope Francis looks and acts redeemed. He is imitating Jesus, the great teacher and communicator who has redeemed humanity. Is it any wonder that so many people are looking to Francis, listening to him and learning from his example of evangelical joy and simplicity? He is simply offering the world an opportunity to consider Jesus Christ, Christianity and Catholicism as a way of life.
The full text of the Rev. Thomas Rosica’s address is available on the Salt+Light website.
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Ordained a priest in the Congregation of St. Basil in 1986, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a native of Rochester, New York, holds advanced degrees in theology and sacred scripture from Regis College in the University of Toronto, the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, and the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. Rosica has lectured in sacred scripture at Canadian Universities in Toronto, Windsor, and London and served as executive director of the Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto from 1994-2000.
In June 1999, he was appointed by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as the chief executive officer and national director of the World Youth Day and the papal visit of Pope John Paul II in Toronto in July, 2002. On July 1, 2003, Rosica became the founding chief executive officer of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, Canada’s first national Catholic Television Network.
Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009, Rosica also served as media attaché at four Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2015. Since the papal transition in 2013, he has been English-language assistant to Holy See Press Office. Rosica is a member of the Standing Committee on Communications for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of several boards of governors of institutions of higher learning, including the board of the Gregorian University Foundation in Rome.