Thursday, January 24, 2008

"By the power of God alone"

[:: Update :: Sherry W at Intentional Disciples has linked this post, and shares some good insights into the "Stealth Catholic Charism" of evangelism.]

Sandro Magister republishes extracts from an article written by the new General of the Jesuits, Fr. Nicolás in Concilium in 2005. He also provides some helpful introductory commentary (historical -- about the roots of Asian Christianity, which predate the evangelization of Europe -- as well as theological).

In many ways, this seems (at least at first read) to be similar to the perspective of many Asian (and non-Asian) Catholic theologians: the primary witness of the Church is of self-emptying service. This is the only appropriate mode of evangelization. This is, of course, very true (if only partially so). It is part of that reality, that oh-so-human reality: the Church acts and behaves just like any other institution, just like any other human reality: worrying about her own power and influence, just as she is wracked by the sin of her members, and leaders. In that sense, all of this hampers and clouds her essential mission, evangelization. The Master's warning hangs over her head: "If salt should lose its taste, it will be trampled underfoot."

However, closely tied to this perspective are a lot of other things, spoken obliquely, or left unsaid, or, sometimes, voiced aloud: that this is the only method of evangelization. Proclamation boils down just to this. Inviting people into relationship -- explicit relationship -- with Christ and His Church is probably not necessary, and, perhaps even a form of arrogance. That the Church bears a message -- and witnesses to a Person who challenges not just the Church to be faithful to Him and his new way of being human, the real, authentic way of being human, free from all the distortions and weight of sin -- but, a witness that challenges every other way of being human, of human relationships, of human power structures, of human religious perspectives. That the Gospel has something to say to everyone, and offers something -- something new and different and life altering -- to everyone is only arrogance, or disrespect for ancient and beautiful religions. For those religions are sufficient; they are divinely ordained means of salvation.

What the Spirit is telling the Church is this: stop trying to make new Christians. Just be faithful as you are. Be humble, serve the poor, advocate for their rights, identify with them. Think beyond doctrine and power, who makes it to heaven and who doesn't. Love everyone.

Conversion (as in coming into the visible communion of Christ's Church), in this perspective, tends to be seen only as an imposition on human freedom, and, therefore not just unnecessary, but also unjust. Dialogue replaces proclamation.

In trying to move away from the exaggerations and abuses of past perspectives (say, this idea that unless every individual explicitly confessed Christ and was baptized, they had no hope of salvation; or an exclusively negative and uncharitable understanding of other religions and their followers; or too close an identification with European colonial powers and European culture), there seems to be a complete evisceration of the substance of evangelization: the taking of Christ - who is the Good News - to every corner of the world. Not imposed in opposition to human freedom. Not with condemnation of that which is good in the world's religions. In respect, yet also in joy, and confidence and yes, self-emptying love.

Evangelization is by the power of God alone. However, God tends to use human instruments. Even -- especially -- this very imperfect and very human Church.


pritcher said...

One of the favorite quotes that got passed around when I was in the JVC was the one attributed to St. Francis (not the one we memorialize today): "Preach the Gospel always; even use words, if necessary."

Looking back now, I'm not sure how that quote came to be understood by many (myself included) as meaning, "Preach the Gospel always; do whatever you can to avoid using words."

Perhaps, for me at least, it came from embarrassment. I thought that if I talked about Jesus then I'd be seen as just another Bible-thumping hate monger.

Not, I realize, my most stellar example of courage, faith, or clear thinking. But I suspect something similar may be behind our culture's general hesitance to evangelize.

Gashwin said...

And, I think, it's not just our culture (as in the secular/secularizing West). In India (and I suspect in Asia), I get a sense that this attitude is solidly entrenched in theologians and even bishops.

As to that St. Francis quote, here's an interesting piece at Intentional Disciples from back in October.

Suzywoozy said...

Pope JP II in Redemptoris Missio:

Peoples everywhere, open the doors to Christ! His Gospel in no way detracts from man's freedom, from the respect that is owed to every culture and to whatever is good in each religion. By accepting Christ, you open yourselves to the definitive Word of God, to the One in whom God has made himself fully known and has shown us the path to himself.