Oct. 11 is a day worth noting on your calendar. Not only is it the first day of the “Year of Faith” announced exactly one year prior to that date by Pope Benedict XVI; it also marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Consequently, the Holy Father has invited all Catholics to study and reflect on the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism during this Year of Faith.
The Gospel is, at heart, a graced call to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. While the seed of this saving grace is planted at baptism, it will not grow to its potential without the sustained nourishment of prayer, Scripture and the sacramental life. Many Catholics, though fully initiated in the strict sense — that is, baptized, confirmed and having received their First Communion — have never fully savored the fruit of the banquet table of grace to which the Lord has invited them. The seed lies dormant in the soil, waiting to be re-awakened.
Symptoms of this spiritual atrophy abound in Western societies which, though once Christianized, have become detached from their roots through secular and materialistic ideologies or, in some circumstances, outright hedonism. Christ is the bridge that ensures that the human and the divine can live at one together. Deny, ignore or attempt to suppress the reality and integrity of either, and a society will invariably disintegrate into chaos.
It is the vision of Blessed John Paul II, in his repeated calls for the New Evangelization, continued by his successor Pope Benedict, which calls us to take an active part in re-evangelizing our own culture which so sorely needs the saving message of the Gospel. One of the stumbling blocks in all this talk about “evangelization” is that, unfortunately, many Catholics tend to associate it with the more obnoxious kinds of proselytism with which we are all familiar from some so-called televangelists or self-styled street-corner “prophets.” Evangelization, as both popes have re-iterated, has nothing to do with force or intimidation. It is the most essential, constitutive dynamic of the mission of the Catholic Church. And it isn’t just for missions or missionaries!
Recently, Pope Benedict has reminded us that it is the responsibility of every Catholic — layperson and clergy, single or not — to proclaim and live the Gospel boldly, which is to say, to know, love and serve Jesus as the very center of our life and to do so quite publicly. It all begins and ends in Christ. The particular urgency at this time stems from an awareness that we have lost ground — our Christian roots — in Europe and in the U.S.
Pastors, directors of Religious Education, liturgical and catechetical ministers and many other faithful members of our parishes are all too well aware of the influences and pressures that distract Catholics from their Sunday observance and the practice of prayer and Bible study, as well as seduce them from a moral life consistent with the Gospel.
At the same time, the Lord continues to send us seekers who readily join our RCIA sessions and Bible groups. Maybe it is also time to invite more systematically some of our “initiated” but inadequately “churched” or catechized Catholics into such processes.
Re-evangelization means not so much a conversion to good will — which is certainly present in many of our nominal but unengaged Catholics — but a head-on and, may we suggest, bold bid to taste and see what their souls are starving for: the love and forgiveness of a God who dies for us so that we might actually have a life. God’s people are hungry. They need to be fed.