Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Is Faith missing from Evangelisation?
We, a few clergy, had a discussion on evangelisation recently, we often do, and I always come away feeling uneasy, as if something is wrong, something is missing.
The thing is we were not talking about evangelisation but increasing or retaining Church membership, even for Catholics there is a difference. Yes, the Church is the Body of Christ, coming to Mass, receiving the Body of Christ, being the Body of Christ is important but all of that comes about because of faith, which is deep trust in the person of Jesus Christ.
"When the Son of Man comes will he find any faith on earth?" Jesus asks, and the disciples in turn ask Him to increase their faith. One gets the impression in St John's Gospel especially that Jesus works miracles so that the disciple might increase in faith. It is easier to talk about schools or programmes, social functions, deepening knowledge, participation, lay involvement, or even theology, devotions or prayer, anything but Jesus Christ himself.
Catholics are often a bit perplexed when Protestants talk about 'a personal relationship with Jesus Christ', some Catholics are much happier with a personal relationship with the Church and they can recite documents and Popes, Councils and Catechisms but seem to be dead as far as faith is concerned. I suspect this is why the current Sovereign Pontiff, as a Jesuit has a bit of a downer especially on young seminarians, younger priests and 'traddies' in general, as well as leprous courtiers, curial officials, old maids etc., the list is quite long.
St Ignatius of Loyola was very much into the spirituality of a personal encounter with the person of Jesus, not just in 'The Exercises', but in the entire formation of his novices, for example the pilgrimage to Manresa, were they were sent out like the first disciples and taught to rely on Providence. The early Jesuits were outstanding men of faith, no religious order seems to have had so many canonised saints at its foundation, nor such a variety of different kinds of men, from St. Francis Xavier to St. Peter Favre or St. Francis Borgia to St. Aloysius Gonzaga. What they all have in common is a personal 'humanistic faith', in that Renaissance sense of Catholic of spirituality, in the person of Jesus Christ.
I think this is what our beloved Holy Father is prodding and kicking us, at time even painfully beating us into accepting. I know many clergy find this a deeply painful time and unsettling, I admit I do myself, old certainties vanish like smoke, many of us feel a real impoverishment. It is like those nobly born Iberian novices sent out on the road with nothing, to rub shoulders with the not necessarily friendly poor and to learn to trust in the Providence of the Good God. Francis' oft repeated "poorer Church for the poor", is incomprehensible apart from what 'poverty' has always really meant in Catholic Tradition: possessing nothing but Christ.
Evangelisation is surely about teaching us to live by faith, to trust the promises of Christ to 'set out into the deep', as St John Paul used to teach, rather like St Francis Xavier going to the East or those evangelist of the New World going to lands and cultures they did not know where everything was unknown and uncertain, with Christ the only thing that was sure and certain. Pope Benedict gives the example of living by faith, as being cast adrift in a turbulent sea with nothing to cling to but the rough wood of the Cross.
The great problem is that of course in the cold wet misery of the turbulent sea it is easy to become so numb that one looses grip of the rough wood. Amongst the third or fourth generation of Jesuit novice masters, it was not unusual for their better formation and to teach deeper detachment, for them to persuade bands of peasants to rough up young novices just a little. In such situations either one looses what passed for faith or it grows, fortunately God holds onto us even if we feel we are loosing grip of Him.
Evangelisation is not about external structures but interior transformation, not trusting in princes, even of the Church, but in Jesus. For many Catholics the last fifty years have been about stripping faith away and replacing it with human reasoning. The movement towards October's Synod is prime example, it is in today's world very reasonable to admit the divorced and remarried or those in homosexual relationships to Holy Communion but faith, and maybe faith alone, compels us to hold fast to the words of Jesus Christ that divorce and remarriage are adultery and homosexual acts are gravely sinful. Faith, and perhaps faith alone, that demands us to warn those who approach Holy Communion in an objective state of sin that they in the words of St Paul are likely to die and 'eat and drink their condemnation'.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake