Saturday, November 3, 2007

Rendering service "to the Christian community and also to the whole of humanity"

All things Latin American seem to coalescing since my Ché post. I know that post was probably too long and tortured for anyone to read, judging from the total lack of interest the post generated. Long-time readers know, however, that I have a peculiar fondness for my misbegotten children. So, it remains of interest to me for several reasons. In addition to our dear Cathedral being visited by Guatemalan First Lady Wendy Widmann de Berger yesterday, John Allen wrote once again about the region for his All Things Catholic weekly Friday article: Signs of Life in Latin America.

This article highlights well the current situation in Latin America today vis-à-vis Church and State. Of course the large, looming figure of Hugo Chávez is noted, along with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, but there are other significant voices that Allen strives to hear, such as Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, Bolivian President Evo Morales, who, like Chávez, Correa, Lula da Silva, and Fernando Lugo, a bishop who vacated his See to run for the presidency of Paraguay, is Catholic and who said back in July that "the Catholic bishops had 'historically damaged the country' by functioning as 'an instrument of the oligarchs'".

Towards the end of his article Allen summarizes a book written by Fr. Edward Cleary, OP entitled Conversion of a Continent. According to Allen, "Cleary argues, recent Latin American experience confirms what believers in the United States have long understood -- an open religious marketplace, unfettered by an established church, is healthy for churches all the way around". While I am inclined to agree with this statement (i.e., that the increasing religious diversity in the region is actually good for the Catholic Church, which has often been moribund), I really loathe talking about faith and religion using marketplace terms. The reason I dislike it is that it reduces people to religious consumers. The problem with this, at least from a Christian standpoint, is nothing less than a complete evisceration of the Gospel. If we are nothing more than religious consumers, then our basic approach to joining a community is rooted in what we personally get out of it. Nothing could be more unChristian or anti-Christian. Now, that is not to say that most of us are looking for something. This something often remains quite nebulous, even unidentifiable until we encounter it. In the encounter we discover that this something is a someOne. Facilitating such an encounter is what evangelism is all about, which is why I will plug, yet again, Papa Montini's Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, in which we read, quoting from a speech given to the Sacred College that "it is only in the Christian message that modern man can find the answer to his questions and the energy for his commitment of human solidarity" (par. 3). It follows that "it is absolutely necessary for us to take into account a heritage of faith that the Church has the duty of preserving in its untouchable purity, and of presenting it to the people of our time, in a way that is as understandable and persuasive as possible" (par. 3).

Such an endeavor, Pope Paul continues, requires a two-fold fidelity "to a message whose servants we are and to the people to whom we must transmit it living and intact". In order to be faithful we must answer "three burning questions":

- In our day, what has happened to that hidden energy of the Good News, which is able to have a powerful effect on man's conscience?

- To what extent and in what way is that evangelical force capable of really transforming the people of this century?

- What methods should be followed in order that the power of the Gospel may have its effect?"
(par. 4)

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