Saturday, December 25, 2010

Evangelization and Paganism: The Old and the New III

Continuing with that which differentiates the New Evangelization from the Original (Old) Evangelization of the Apostles and the Church Fathers:

4. Bishop Vassa from Oregon was once asked on a Catholic radio program, “What is it that the early Christians did that today’s Christians are not doing?” His reply: “I believe we haven’t suffered enough.” This was the exact message of Our Lady of Fatima to the three seers. Perhaps this is why these seers, namely, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, took every opportunity to accept suffering and do penance in reparation for sinners.

With the preaching of the Gospel during the first centuries of Christianity, a revolution emerged; a Revolution of the Cross. The preaching of Christ-crucified provided a whole new understanding of suffering and death. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Our Lord’s death and resurrection transformed human suffering and death into instruments of grace and renewal. This explains why martyrdom was considered the highest expression of love for Christ by the early Christians. For them, laying down one’s life as a sacrifice was closely linked with the Holy Sacrifice of Eucharist at the altar. Indeed, Christ’s offering at every altar empowers us carry out St. Paul’s mandate “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” This does not only apply to death, but to corporeal works of mercy and spiritual reparation for poor sinners through means of fasting and self-denial.

Suffering, therefore, is not given the same emphasis today in the Church as it was in early Christianity. This, in part, was the reason why the Blessed Virgin asked the children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917 the following: “Do you want to offer yourselves to God to endure all the sufferings that he may choose to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended and as a supplication for the conversion of sinners?” Every evangelist of the Gospel- both clerical and laity -must also be a sin bearer. Indeed, Mother Theresa once said that for every sinner in moral darkness, a price needs to be paid. When we were baptized into Christ's death, using the words of St. Paul, we were anointed to participate in his suffering whereby our sacrifices, empowered by the Paschal Mysteries, become an instrument of salvation for others.

The spirit of sacrifice which permeated early Christianity also inspired a liberty and courage in preaching those doctrines which ancient civilization took offense. One of the motives behind the Roman Government's persecution of Christians was that this "new sect" proclaimed a message that was exclusive and superior in relation to the pagan religions. This was deemed as intolerant and arrogant by pagans. The Christian message was exclusive in the sense that only the Catholic Church was the oracle of God and only God was to be worshiped. And superior in that both God's revelation was true and reliable; the other pagan sects were not.

5. Among practicing and orthodox Catholics involved in the ministry evangelization, there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual apart from the corporeal; the soul apart from the body. It is often said by us that we are called to redress “spiritual poverty.” But as for material poverty, well, that is another ministry all together; a ministry for other people. Parsing these two ministries- ministering to the spirit separate from ministering to the body –was foreign to the early Christians. For them, the Christian witness was to appeal to the totality of man. As Dr. Thomas Woods, author of How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization said, “Even the Church fathers, who bequeathed to Western civilization an enormous corpus of literary and scholarly work, found time to devote themselves to the service of their fellow men. St. Augustine established a hospice for pilgrims, ransomed slaves, and gave away clothing to the poor. (He warned people not to give him expensive garment, since he would only sell them and the proceeds to the poor.) Saint John Chrysostom founded a series of hospitals in Constantinople. Saint Cyprian and Saint Ephrem organized relief efforts for the poor.”

It is important to note that in addition to what Dr. Thomas Woods said, the first converts to the Church in the first three centuries were women, children, prisoners, slaves and social outcasts. Just after Pope St. Sixtus II was martyred, his deacon, St. Lawrence, was told by a Roman procurator to gather all of "the Church's treasures" and turn them over to the Roman municipality. So St. Lawrence summoned lepers, the crippled, and the mentally infirmed and presented them to the Roman officials and said: "These are the treasures of the Church." Incensed by what they thought was a joke, the Roman officials burned the saintly deacon alive. St. Lawrence's last words were: "I'm done on this side; you can turn me over now."

I have met many Catholic evangelist’s and members of the Catholic media who have not seen the inside of a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, mental institution, nursing home or hospice in quite a while. To be sure, ministering to the materially poor or the physically or mentally impaired requires Catholics from the middle and upper classes to venture in to neighborhoods and places that may seem strange or threatening to them. As such, orthodox Catholics left charitable enterprises to nominal Christians; those who incorporate Secular-liberalism into their services. As a result, a void of Christ-centered Catholics was created and hence those charitable organizations bearing the Catholic name were hardly concerned with the salvation of souls. Indeed, what was a truly religious enterprise has, in many cases, become a mere philanthropy. Faithful Catholics are right to complain about this; but we are partly responsible for what these charities have become.

This split between Catholic evangelization and Catholic charity was noticeable enough for Pope Benedict XVI to address it in his first encyclical On Christian Love: “The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.” Blessed Mother Theresa was a living example of this truth. She was able to give a talk on chastity and the evils of abortion at Harvard University, of all places, and receive a standing ovation. Her corporeal works of mercy gave her words a credibility in a place that is normally hostile to such words. As Pope Benedict XVI alluded to, the early Christians took it for granted that evangelization and charity were indivisibly united.

Number 6 on the next blog-