Monday, May 14, 2012

Evangelization: Differences between the new and the old

This three-part series on the New and the Old Evangelization- taken from previous Sky View postings -have been revised and will appear respectively in the Catholic News Agency column section on May 18th, May 25th and June 1st. Below is part two.

Just as the Old Paganism differs from the New Paganism; so too the New Evangelization, as it exists today, reveals certain differences from the Original Evangelization of the Apostles and early Christians.

As for those characteristics which distinguish the Original (or the Old) from the New Evangelization, I have observed a few:

First, eternity was daily impressed upon the consciousness of the early Christians. Their preaching, teaching, worship, social discourse, good works and meditations were ordained principally towards that end. Among Catholics today, eternity is rarely a theme for sermons, teachings, books or otherwise. This is primarily due to death as being a taboo topic of discussion.

Just as eternity was in the forefront of the early Christian's mind, so too was repentance for sins. For the early Christians, repentance was an absolute condition upon which people entered into communion or remained in communion with the Mystical Body of Christ. Up until the 1960's, a candidate wanting to join the Church had to believe all of Christ's teachings and had to be willing to live the life of Christ. Among Catholics today, however, repentance is rarely insisted upon for the mistaken notion that a more lenient pastoral approach attracts more souls to the Church or that such insistence would scare prospective converts away from Church.

Another distinction to be made between the New Evangelization and the old, is that the early Christians did not expect the unbeliever or the sinner to come to them. Instead, they went out to the public forum to meet sinners. Among Catholics today, we expect them to come to us; to our bible studies, prayer groups and conferences; most of which are on church property. I believe we cannot just limit the communication of the Gospel to religious venues anymore. We have to be more willing to go on "their turf," the turf of the sub-religious and the unbeliever. Upon arrival, we would do well to speak their language. The Gospel message, as Vatican II taught, should answer "their" questions and address "their" concerns; not just ours. After joining their conversation, we can then introduce them to Christ.

When the ancient pagans were introduced to Christ, they were introduced by Christians who cared for both the salvation of the soul and the welfare of the body. Indeed, charity and evangelization belonged together for the early Christians. Bearing witness to Christ’s love was not simply a matter of relieving “spiritual poverty,” as it is today among orthodox Catholics, but rather by appealing to the totality of man- body and soul. The same spiritual giants that were responsible for preaching memorable sermons and writing seminal books for the ages- such as St. Augustine and St. Basil –also founded hospices and orphanages for the needy.

Currently, we have those who work for the Church by evangelizing and teaching; their main concern is the salvation of the soul. On the other hand, we have another group of people who, working for the same Church, serve the poor and disabled with hardly a thought about fulfilling their spiritual needs. For too many of these humanitarian Catholics, the body takes precedence over the soul. However, in the early Church as well as in later centuries, charity, coupled with evangelization, was a powerful means of winning souls to Christ.

In any case, it is a problem that in today's Catholic Church one group of people administers to the soul (orthodox Catholics) and an entirely different group administers to the body (employees of Catholic agencies); the former being spiritual, the latter being secular. Too often, the mission of the Church as it pertains to evangelization and charity is partitioned into two entirely different categories. Again, evangelization and charity belong together. Our Lord bound together the care for the soul and the body when "he summoned the Twelve and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick."

Next: Evangelization and the Revolution of the Cross (part III)