Friday, January 7, 2011

"The Great Commission" and the New Evangelization

"It is the duty of the Church to proclaim always and everywhere the Gospel of Jesus Christ." 
--Pope Benedict VXI, "Ubicumque et Semper"
"Christ's Appearance on the Mountain in Galilee"                    
Duccio di Buoningsegna 1308-11
On September 21, 2010, the Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, Pope Benedict XVI issued motu proprio the document "Ubicumque et Semper"  ("Everywhere and Always"), formally decreeing the creation of a Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, while also setting forth the Church's need for such a new council, and outlining its critical mission and tasks. 

As a careful and prayerful reading shows, this decree is not something akin to a presidential executive order, but rather represents the culmination and realization of what the professor and theologian Joseph Ratzinger has been teaching us for years on the nature and purpose of a new evangelization, both as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1981-2005) and, since April 24, 2005, as Pope Benedict XVI.
The document has as its foundation and center Christ's "Great Commission," given to the Apostles on the day of His Ascension to the Father, when He commanded them to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). The Holy Father makes it clear that the "New Evangelization" is not in any way a new mission for the Church, but is in fact a call, a reminder from the Holy Spirit in our time, of the primary mission and purpose for which the Church was first founded by Christ, "the first and supreme evangelizer."  As the Pope explains, the mission of evangelization is clearly "a continuation of the work desired by the Lord Jesus," and is therefore "necessary for the Church: it cannot be overlooked; it is an expression of her very nature.”

When we study the text of the "Great Commission," as recorded in Matthew's Gospel account, what we see there is a carefully-constructed multi-part directive.  Perhaps not coincidentally, as the life of the Church is Trinitarian, the "Great Commission" itself may be distilled into three distinct but wholly-interdependent exhortations:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...
Convert all hearts to Christ. 

...baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...
 Gather the converted into Communion. (Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1271.)

...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
Ensure Catechesis.  

In then placing the three exhortations side-by-side with Benedict's teachings on the new evangelization, both in previous writings and in the recent decree, we cannot help but see that Christ's commands are truly the heart and foundation of the Pope's teachings. 

On Conversion:
As the Pope explains in "Ubicumque et Semper," “As I stated in my first encyclical 'Deus Caritas Est': "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (No. 1). In a similar way, at the root of all evangelization there is not a human plan of expansion, but the desire to share the inestimable gift that God has willed to give us, making us sharers in his own life.” 

On Communion:
As Cardinal in 2000 ("Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers"), he offered that, “In proclaiming conversion we must also offer a community of life, a common space for the new style of life. We cannot evangelize with words alone; the Gospel creates life, creates communities of progress."   In "Ubicumque et Semper," Benedict XVI emphasizes the absolute necessity of re-establishing community in communion before we can begin to realize a New Evangelization: “Without doubt a mending of the Christian fabric of society is urgently needed in all parts of the world. But for this to come about what is needed is to first remake the Christian fabric of the ecclesial community itself present in these countries and nations.”

On Catechesis:
Among the five specific tasks of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization as decreed by the Pope is “to promote the use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as an essential and complete formulation of the content of the faith for the men of our time.”

As the Holy Father teaches us, the "Great Commission" of Christ to His Church stands as the foundation and model of everything the New Evangelization ought to and needs to be-- everywhere and always.

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