Saturday, December 25, 2010

Evangelization and Paganism: The Old and the New (V)

The seventh characteristic, which distinguishes the Original Evangelization of the Apostles from the New Evangelization, is of the highest importance. The Church cannot be without its head in the mission field and on the streets of America. Without the Bishops being accounted for in the New Evangelization as its leader, the Church will continue to have minimal influence on society. Below is one very important difference that exists between what the early Christians practiced and what we as twenty-first century Christians practice:

7. Through the preaching of the Gospel, Catholic Bishops laid the foundations of Christian civilization. They were the principal missionaries- along with religious monks and sisters –in the expansion of Christianity. The following bishops established churches from which cultures and nations developed: St. Peter in Italy, St. Paul in Greece and the Middle East, St. Ireneaus in France, St. Patrick in Ireland, St. Augustine of Canterbury in England, St. Boniface in Germany, and St. Cyril and St. Methodius in the Slavic nations. They, as with every Bishop, were anointed with the fullness of the priesthood. As such, their proclamation of the Word was empowered beyond that of a lay person or even a priest. This is why Bishops spearheaded missionary endeavors in the first millennium; and they did so with great success. Today, this sacred responsibility is largely delegated to Catholics of lower rank (and less sacramental power and charism).

The Second Vatican Councils confirmed that “among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ…” (Lumen Gentium art. 25) Indeed, the highest priority for St. Paul as a bishop was to preach the Gospel- even above that of celebrating the Sacraments -so that the true God could be worshiped at more altars. “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel…” (I Corinthians 1:17)

In the post-Vatican II era, the elevated status of the laity and the emphasis given to their contribution in “sanctifying the temporal order” has led to some confusion. Without saying as much, some Catholics- both clergy and lay -have floated the idea that the preaching of the Gospel in world is the exclusive duty of the laity. According to this logic, Bishops are left to preach within the interior of cathedrals and basilicas; the result being that they have little contact with the world. Now, this idea that the laity is primarily responsible for winning the world to Christ while the clergy tend to the Church is a new one. It is an idea which has gained currency only in the last fifty years. Nevertheless, no justification for this idea can be found in Scripture, in the writings of the Church Fathers or in the decrees of the General Councils; not even in the writings of the Second Vatican Council. As stated above, the Second Vatican Council expressly states that "among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place."

This begs the question: If “among the principal duties of a bishop is to preach the Gospel,” then who are they commissioned to preach to? To Catholics alone? God forbid! Christ commissioned the first Bishops, namely, the twelve Apostles, to make disciples of "all nations." And making disciples of all the nations presupposed that this be done among unbelievers and pagans. To be sure, this mandate was given no expiration date. It is therefore incumbent on the Bishops to preach the Gospel to non-Catholics every bit as much as they would to Catholics. This divine mandate is as old as the Catholic Church herself. This being the case, how are today’s Bishops reaching those souls outside of the fold?

I would venture to guess that most Americans can name one or two bishops, if that. One bishop personally told me that he feared that most people viewed the episcopate as a conglomeration of administrators. The point is that if Bishops were the principal founders of Christian civilization, then they- and their preaching –will be paramount among the instruments God will use to restore the same civilization. Therefore, increasing the visibility of Bishops in the media and in the public square is, it would seem, of the highest importance for the mission of the Church.