Tuesday, May 12, 2015

To rejoice is to evangelize

No sooner did I post on the New Evangelization and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (i.e., “The Joy of the Gospel”) than I encountered a talk given by Fr Raniero Cantalamessa earlier this month to a Leadership Conference of the Alpha Course held in London. For those who do not know, Fr Cantalamessa serves as Preacher of the Papal Household. He is an internationally recognized New Testament and Early Church scholar. Without a doubt, he is the most prominent charismatic Catholic in the world. The subject of his talk, entitled "Proclaiming Together the Joy of the Gospel to a Troubled World," was that the essence of evangelization is joy.

It is a teaching of the Second Vatican Council that all validly baptized Christians, those baptized not only in the name of the Holy Trinity, but with faith in the God who is and can only be Tri-une, already belong to Christ and, so, to each other (Unitatis Redintegratio par 3). This is the basis of ecumenism, which remains distinct from inter-religious dialogue, or relations with semi-Christian sectarian groups, with which the U.S, religious landscape is littered. Our unity arises from baptism only insofar as the baptism received has its basis in, flows from, the Most Holy Trinity- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Unitatis Redintegratio par 22). 

Citing the opening lines of Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel, Cantalamessa seizes on Pope Francis’ call, given to “the Christian faithful,” “to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy’ (par 1). What “this joy”? It is nothing other than the joy of knowing Jesus. Cantalamessa continued- “If we do not want the words to remain only words, we must ask ourselves a question: why do we say that the Gospel is a source of joy? Is the expression only a comfortable slogan or does it correspond to truth?”

The only truth to which joy can correspond that matters to evangelization is the existential fact of how we live our lives as those who have encountered the risen Lord and received an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Cantalamessa noted the source of true joy, the truth of which is expressed by joyful living: “Christianity does not begin by telling people what they must do to be saved, it begins by telling people what God has done to save them!” Anything and everything else flows from this. The love of God for us in Christ is primary.

Cantalamessa went on to explore in historical detail the reasons that Christians have lost their joy, concluding- “Where then is the particular lacuna in our western soteriology which obscures the joyful character of the Gospel? It lies in the fact that grace, inasmuch as it is exalted, has ended up in practice being reduced only to its negative dimension as a remedy for sin, at the expense of transforming grace, consisting in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the whole Trinity in us.” Joy, the joy of knowing Jesus, the joy that flows from living the truth out of love, not out of fear, the joy that only God can give and that we usually designate as “grace,” is the New Evangelization, which, again, why we cannot take a programmatic approach. This does not mean we do nothing. Among the things we need to do are refocus and re-shape our faith formation along the lines set out by people like Dallas Willard, who, in his book Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ, provided a sound basis for "making disciples of all nations" (Matt 28:19).

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