The new evangelisation: 'missionary spirit' needed

The new evangelisation: 'missionary spirit' needed

Fr Dennis W. Byrnes

In addressing the directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Rome on 14 May 2011, Pope Benedict XVI said: "Catholic activity at every level needs to be infused with missionary spirit. We are living in a world marked by new forms of slavery and injustice and the Church must evangelise constantly and fearlessly. This evangelisation must begin with a firm faith and an enthusiastic desire to share it with others. New problems and new forms of slavery, in fact, are emerging in our time."

Again Benedict asks us to confront through new evangelisation the "Culture of Death" so evident in our world.

So how do we empower the new evangelisation of which the Holy Father speaks? How do we challenge the so-called First World, which is well off and rich but uncertain about its future, and the developing countries where, partly because of a globalisation that is so often overly profit-driven, there's an increase in the masses of the poor, of emigrants and of the oppressed, among whom the light of hope grows weak?

Evangelisation requires a living faith which plants within a person the desire to share that faith with others. This sharing of faith leads people to a sense of the sacred which allows them to be open to the Holy Spirit and leads to a desire to "transform the world according to God's plan".

The fruit of evangelisation is to lead men and women away from all the modern forms of secularism and into the real freedom which comes through Jesus Christ and membership of His Church.

In his 1990 encyclical on Mission Pope John Paul II spoke of the three faces of mission: the peoples, the new evangelisation and pastoral activity. Later, in 2000, he returned to a meaning of new evangelisation as mission within a new stage of human history, society and cultures. In his words, "New evangelisation is synonymous with mission."

The predominant call is for a missionary effort by the Church worldwide to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus with new vigour. Some may interpret this as a one directional task to a world that has lost its way whereas the new evangelisation may most fruitfully be seen as a call to dialogue with the world and the plurality of its cultures to the benefit of both the Church and the world.

The 2012 Synod on New Evangelisation offers a real opportunity for local churches to positively re-establish their mission within their own situations and cultures.

It will be through the promptings of the Holy Spirit that this mission will be achieved. Since Vatican II we have seen traces of the Spirit's breathing new life, enthusiasm, wisdom and joy into our midst. Witness for example, the growth of Charismatic movements and encounter groups. Witness, too, the sudden surge of zeal that followed the election of Pope John Paul II, when suddenly scores of confused or hiding Catholics came forth, acknowledged their identity and responded positively to his many world pilgrimages. To the youth he presented a light in this dark world with his World Youth Days. The presence of the Holy Spirit is detectable in our times.

The same Holy Spirit comes to us today, especially in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, to call us to mission in Christ's Church. It can even be said that the Sacrament of Confirmation exists to extend to the Church of every age and every place the Spirit given on the first Pentecost. By this sacrament we are conformed to Christ and in a special way we are in fact sealed with a permanent character as we become "temples of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 6:19).

By virtue of this sacrament, we are both deputed and strengthened to be witnesses to Christ. "Deputed", because we are configured to Christ, and more fully "strengthened", because through Confirmation we receive special gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. The fruits or rewards for using these gifts, as we know from Scripture (Galatians 5:22-23), are charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness modesty, contingency, and chastity.

Throughout his lengthy pontificate, John Paul II emphasised the importance of a new evangelisation, one that is "new in ardour, methods and expression". We need to find a new courage and creativity in order to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus more effectively in our time. If our efforts in this regard are to resonate with what matters most to people in Australia, we need to imagine and create new ways to evangelise. For example, Benedict XVI suggests that "to evangelise means to show this path - to teach the art of living."

At the beginning of his public ministry Jesus said: "I have come to bring the good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18); or, in other words, to evangelise.

Writing in 2000, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) explained Jesus' words as follows: "I have the response to your questions; I will show you the path of life, the path towards happiness. Indeed, I am the path" ( The New Evangelization: Building the Civilization of Love).

When Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit he did so in the context of St John's Gospel (20:19-23) which focuses on the forgiveness of sins. Hence the Spirit can only be possessed by those welcoming him in repentance, faith and love.

Fr Dennis W. Byrnes is a priest of the Lismore Diocese, NSW.

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