The Cardinal’s Column
Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.
October 7 - 20, 2012
The October 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization
Cardinal George approved the following clergy appointment August 29:
Rev. Theodore Ploplis to rector of the National Shrine of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini effective Sept. 1, while retaining his duties as coordinator of spiritual services at St. Joseph Hospital.
Every three or four years, bishops from around the world gather with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, to deliberate about a subject of importance to the universal church. The last ordinary Roman Synod of Bishops considered the Word of God in the life and mission of the church. I was a member of that synod, and we began several initiatives to renew and deepen our understanding of Holy Scripture in the archdiocese based on the synod’s deliberations. In the nature of things, these initiatives gather steam slowly, but some elements of the strategic pastoral plan relate to the concerns of the 2008 synod.
At that synod I was one of 10 bishops from around the world elected to serve on the council of the synod, responsible for follow up to the 2008 synod and for preparing this October’s meeting. I was grateful to be elected a member of the 2012 synod, and I deeply regret not being able to attend, because I cannot interrupt the chemotherapy treatments begun last month. The other delegates from the U.S. bishops’ conference have promised to keep me posted, and I have promised to keep them in my prayers. I urge everyone here to pray for the synod, and I express again my gratitude for the many prayers being offered for the restoration of my health. They are life giving.
The synod will discuss the new evangelization. (Read an interview with Sister Sara Butler who will attend the synod as an expert, Page 12.) Why that topic and what does it mean? The mission of the church, her purpose, is to introduce the world to its savior in every generation until he returns to judge the living and the dead. Introducing people to Christ is called, in biblical terms, evangelizing. Preaching the Gospel means telling people who Christ is, because he is personally God’s message, God’s Word for the world’s salvation. It is, first of all, the activity of the Holy Spirit and not just a human endeavor. Nevertheless, people of faith are called to be instruments of the Holy Spirit’s action in converting the world to Christ.
When the Second Vatican Council was called 50 years ago to rework the relationship between the church and the world redeemed by Christ, the great challenge to conversion of life was the disunity of the human family. The world was at war with itself and almost came to the brink of nuclear destruction over the Cuban missile crisis. Pope John XXIII called the council so that the church could act, through her internal unity, as a source of solidarity for the entire human family. The means to achieve this greater unity was, and remains, dialogue: proposing the faith in a mutually respectful conversation, without imposing.
Fifty years later, the world is more united, as the current worldwide economic crisis bears witness. We have developed an ecological consciousness and are used to global cultural phenomena and communications that transcend national barriers. The challenge to the church’s mission today is that this more united world will turn in on itself, claiming a false autonomy from God, confusing freedom with control. Dialogue is possible, until people are invited to dialogue with God. Then the conversation shuts down.
Refusal to permit public dialogue with God marks a secularized society. God is banned from public life, along with the church that Christ founded. Entire societies once formed in conversation with the faith are now organized in such a way that God is deliberately forgotten or simply overlooked in arranging the course of human events.
The new evangelization is a response to this challenge of secularization. How does the church introduce the world to its savior when much of the world would prefer to forget him and is resentful of any attempt on the part of the church to remind them that they are creatures of God and not self-made men and women? That is, in a general way, the topic of this October’s meeting in Rome. There is good reason, as you can well understand, to pray that the meeting will make a difference in our lives as believers today.
Any response to the challenge of the new evangelization will have to be double faceted. Evangelization happens when people talk, especially about what is most important in their lives. One challenge is to find a way of talking and a way of listening that will open up conversations to the meaning of life and to the action of God in our lives. These conversations take place in homes, in schools and colleges, around water coolers, at birthday parties, in buses and taxi cabs, in the media, on Facebook and other means of social communications. Catholics have to be present to these conversations and prepared to “give reasons for the faith that is in us,” as St. Peter admonishes in his first epistle.
But the Gospel is lived even before it is spoken or proclaimed. The church, the community of faith that speaks in Christ’s name, is part of the Gospel itself. The second challenge is to create, with God’s grace, communities of love and joy that speak to the world of Gospel transformation. In the church, people can experience the joy of being definitively loved and the call to be definitively loving. They can discover the beauty of the world itself in the light of faith. This joy comes from God and is the only joy that can satisfy the hunger of the human heart.
This second challenge is more difficult today because of internal strife in the church and because many conversations, on late night talk shows, in newspaper columns, in governmental actions, teach contempt for the Catholic Church. This is a phenomenon not present here 50 years ago at the time of the Second Vatican Council. Hence, the need for a synod today on the new evangelization and its challenges. Keep it in your prayers. You are in mine.