Saturday, December 25, 2010

Evangelization and Paganism: The New and Old (IV)

Here is the sixth characteristic which distinguishes the Original Evangelization of the Apostles and the Church Fathers from the New Evangelization of twenty-first century Catholics:

6. Taking it to the streets. Christ commissioned his Apostles to “make disciples of all the nations.” In order to fulfill this mandate, his Apostles had to go to the nations. In the first millennium, the Catholic Church was quite conscious of the fact that if she wanted to broaden the frontiers of Christianity, then the heralds of the Gospel had to go into foreign lands and into places hostile to the Christian message. As a matter of fact, the first converts to Christianity were in urban districts of the Roman Empire. The Apostles and the Church Fathers went from city to city. Those who held out and hung on to paganism were from rural areas.

Today, the demographics seem to suggest the opposite. The metropolitan areas in America have a high concentration of people who are not religious. The diffusion of Christian principles in US cities have weakened considerably in recent decades. Conversely, people who live in rural areas tend be more traditional and Christian in their beliefs. Elections which favor progressive politicians- those unsympathetic to Christianity -certainly benefit from these demographics. And this might be indicative of a kind of retreat on the part of Christians; that is, a retreat in order to escape worldly influences and enticements.

Christians have not just retreated into the suburbs and rural America; we have retreated into our church buildings and conference tents. Although we have been taking it to the streets in venues such as Catholic radio and television, we still, by and large, expect the unbaptized and the unchurched to come to us. So we have conferences, bible studies and prayer groups in the safe confines of the church building (which is good but not enough). But as Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “Christ did not die in between two candles in a cathedral. He did out there in the jungle and that is where we need to take our message.” Catholics entrusted with evangelization need to find ways to go into those venues where the unreligious and sub-religious can be found. To do this, Catholics would have to be willing to endure confrontation and even hostility. If we have an aversion to opposition and disrespect, we will be unwilling to venture beyond the walls of our local parish basement.

One additional note worth mentioning: In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, parish priests were trained and expected to be active in their local community. His presence was known not just to Catholics, but to the non-Catholics of his city or town as well. Priests had a say- whether it was welcomed or not –in the proceedings of the municipality. Gospel principles were publicized, not just from the pulpit or on the parish bulletin, but in the newspaper and on street corners. Decades ago, the parish priest took to the streets as well.

In the twenty-first century, on the other hand, priests have become cloistered. There is but little interaction between the man of the cloth and the man on the street. This too was foreign to Bishops and priests of the early centuries. The words of our Lord were very much impressed upon their minds: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:14-16)The man of the cloth was a man of the streets. And this, leads us to the last consideration.

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