Witness to the New Evangelization
Steubenville Conference—Apologetics & New Evangelization (July 27, 2012)
When we find a good restaurant we want to share it with our friends, and we do. When we hear a good song we want to share it with our friends, and we do. When we see a good movie or read a good book or find a good recipe we want to share it with our friends, and we do. The fact that you can now do it on Facebook is just a new twist on an old theological principle: The good is self-diffusive. The good wants to be shared, and anyone who resists doing so is rightly called selfish.
It’s a curious fact about many Catholics, however, that there is one good thing that we’re reluctant to share: the good news of our faith in Jesus Christ. For one reason or another, our culture tells us that it’s selfish to keep good things to ourselves, but rude to share the good news of Jesus Christ. And, for one reason and another, we’ve grown comfortable with that double standard.
Well, the time has come to challenge our culture, and ourselves. The time has come to stop following our culture, which tells us to keep God out of the public square and inside the walls of worship, and start following the Lord, who tells us that we will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). It’s time for us to stop conforming to the world and accommodating the culture, and time for us to start transforming them.
How can we do that? Let me offer a few ideas.
II. Three Benchmarks
I want to propose three bench marks for an Apologetics that can contribute to the New Evangelization today.
First: orthodoxy. Orthodoxy of teaching is essential to an apologetics that can contribute to the new evangelization. This is especially urgent in an age of relativism. If our speaking and teaching are not within the channel marked out by Church teaching, then we are not bearing witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ – which is preserved in the teachings of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – we’re only bearing witness to our own preferences. But our own preferences are not the sure standard that our culture needs. As Fr. Bob Barron has said, if you knock down the banks of a river, you end up with a big, fat, lazy lake. The teachings of Jesus Christ are the sure standard that our culture needs. Even if those teachings sound like “hard sayings” to today’s ears, they are the solid banks that keep the river of our thoughts, feelings, desires and actions flowing steadily toward heaven. Unless our apologetics is orthodox, we’re not contributing to the new evangelization, we’re contributing to the dying of the light.
Catholic theologians and teachers who refuse to give the assent of faith to the dogmas of the Church, or who refuse to give firm assent to the definitive teachings of the Church, or who refuse docility of will and intellect to the other teachings of the Church1 are certainly free to do so – but they should have the integrity to admit that they are not doing Catholic theology or teaching the Catholic faith. And truth in advertising suggests that parents who send their children to Catholic schools have a right to know whether the teachers intend to instruct the students in the Catholic faith.
Second: contemplation. As I said, orthodoxy is essential for an apologetics that can contribute to the new evangelization. But now I have to add thatorthodoxy alone is not enough. As Blessed John PaulII said in Novo Millennio Ineunte:
the men and women of our own day …ask believers not only to “speak” of Christ but in a certain sense to “show” him to them…Our witness… would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated his face.2
If the words and arguments of our apologetics are not rooted in contemplation—a contemplation in which we encounter the Lord—then our apologetics won’t bear witness to the Gospel but only to our own cleverness. Our own cleverness is a rock to those who are asking for bread. Orthodoxy that’s not rooted in contemplation won’t offer people a living encounter with the Lord. It may win some arguments, but it won’t convince hearts. We need an apologetics ofcor ad cor loquitur—an apologetics in which the heart of Jesus speaks to the heart of people through our words. But that can only happen if we ourselves have known Him.
Third: deepening receptivity to the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy without living witness to the love of God is Saint Paul’s noisy gong and clanging cymbal. The Spirit is the source of the Church’s mission and witness. The only way our witness can bear fruit is if we follow the Spirit’s lead – and that means paying close attention to the gifts and the fruits that the Spirit gives. In those gifts and fruits, the Spirit is showing us the way that leads to life.
Orthodoxy, contemplation, and deepening receptivity to the Holy Spirit. To be a good Apologist—one who can contribute to the New Evangelization—we have to combine these three things. I think this is consistent with what Blessed John Paul II said in Pastores Dabo Vobis. He was talking specifically about priestly studies, but the point applies to everyone. He said:
“To be pastorally effective, intellectual formation is to be integrated with a spirituality marked by a personal experience of God. In this way a purely abstract approach to knowledge is overcome in favor of that intelligence of heart which knows how ‘to look beyond,’ and then is in a position to communicate the mystery of God to the people.”3
That’s a lofty calling. But remember, Christ called us to be leaven, not flour. It takes a lot of flour to make bread. But it only takes a little leaven to make a lot of flour rise. Let’s talk a little bit more about how we can fulfill that calling.
III. Orthodoxy and Contemplation
The philosopher Josef Pieper once wrote that “All reasonable, sensible, sound, clear and heart-stirring talk stems from listening silence. Thus all discourse requires a foundation in the motherly depth of silence. Without it speech is sourceless: it turns into chatter, noise and deception.”4
Chatter, noise and deception—that sounds like an apt description of our texting, tweeting, facebooking world. If our speaking is not rooted in contemplative silence then we risk running up the quotient of chatter and noise in the world – even if the words we speak are true.
If we want our words not only to be true but also to be heart-stirring, then Pieper shows us the way: let your words be rooted in the motherly depth of silence. As the Holy Father said earlier this year, in his Message for World Communications Day: “Silence is an integral element to communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist.”5
It makes me think of the example of Jesus, who often went off by himself to pray, and whose words were certainly “rich in content”!
The Holy Father expands on the point in Verbum Domini when he says “Ours is not an age which fosters recollection [that certainly rings true!]; at times one has the impression that people are afraid of detaching themselves, even for a moment, from the mass media. [We’ve all seen this in our younger people! And how many of us, as soon as we get out of here, will check our cell phones for messages?] For this reason, it is necessary nowadays that the People of God be educated in the value of silence [There’s the antidote! The Holy Father and Josef Pieper are working from the same playbook] … Only in silence can the Word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence.”6
Well, there it is—and no surprise: the Blessed Mother is the antidote to the world of chatter, noise and deception! In silence Mary received the Holy Spirit, and the Word came to dwell in her. In silence Mary nurtured the Word in her body and in her soul. And then, when the time came, she brought forth that single Word, received and nurtured in silence, for the salvation of the world.
If our apologetics follows the example of Mary, then our words can bear the same fruit as hers. Our words will not be mere words; we will not merely speak of Christ. Instead, through our words—nurtured in silence—people will be brought to an encounter with Jesus Christ, the Word himself. In that sense, each of us will become the “mother of Christ.” Does that sound strange – becoming “the mother of Christ”? It’s not just my idea. St. Gregory the Great put it this way:
“He is above all the mother ofChrist who preaches the truth; for he gives birth to our Lord who brings Him into the hearts of his hearers; and he is the mother of Christ who through his words inspires a love of our Lord in the spirit of his neighbor.”7
Even if the words and arguments of our Apologetics are true, if they’re not rooted in a contemplative silence in which we ourselves encounter the Lord, they will simply ring hollow. Our words will reach ears but never touch hearts. And if that happens our voices will make no effective contribution to the new evangelization, because we will never bring Christ to birth in the hearts of others. Only an apologetics rooted in Marian silence and receptivity to the Word will bear fruit in the heart-stirring words that bring people to encounter the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.
Listen to the words of the ancient Mozarabic liturgy, and let’s make them our own prayer:
“What was once bestowed upon the flesh of Mary, may this now be bestowed upon the spirit of the Church; that her unswerving faith may conceive Thee, O Christ, in the womb; that her spirit, freed from all stain of sin, may bring Thee to birth; that our own souls, overshadowed by the power of the Most High, may give Thee a mother’s care. Depart not from us, but rather go forth from within us!8
IV. Orthodoxy and the Holy Spirit
How else can we move forward in our task? I’d like to turn now to Saint Thomas Aquinas for some guidance.
Toward the end of his treatment of the Trinity in the Summa Theologiae, Thomas says something very interesting, and it’s important for our topic. It comes in Part I, question 43, article 5, reply to objection 3. Thomas is speaking about the mission of the Son and the mission of the Spirit. He says:
if we speak of mission according to origin, in this sense the Son’s mission is distinguished from the mission of the Holy Spirit, as generation is distinguished from procession. If we consider mission as regards the effect of grace, in this sense the two missions are united in the root which is grace, but are distinguished in the effects of grace, which consist in the illumination of the intellect and the kindling of the affection. Thus it is manifest that one mission cannot be without the other, because neither takes place without sanctifying grace, nor is one person separated from the other.
Now, if this is the first time you’re hearing that, you may be saying to yourself “I’m sure that’s brilliant. But I have no idea what he just said, or why it matters for apologetics and the new evangelization.” So let me repeat what he said—with a brief commentary on each section—to help us digest what the Angelic Doctor means and why it’s important for us.
First: If we speak of mission according to origin, in this sense the Son’s mission is distinguished from the mission of the Holy Spirit, as generation is distinguished from procession. Here we see that Thomas’ treatment of the missions is deeply rooted in his overall Trinitarian theology. The Son proceeds from the Father alone, and that’s called generation; the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and that’s called procession. If the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit are distinct, then the mission of the Son and the mission of the Spirit will be distinct. No problem there!
Now, since he’s speaking of the Trinity, Thomas is going to speak about unity as well as distinction. Regarding unity, Thomas says: If we consider mission as regards the effect of grace, in this sense the two missions are united in the root which is grace. No problem there. Thomas is saying that the mission of the Son and the mission of the Spirit are both are a matter of grace for us.
But I want to draw your attention to what Thomas says next about the distinction between the missions. He says they are distinguished in the effects of grace, which consist in the illumination of the intellect and the kindling of the affection. Now that’s interesting! Thomas is saying that the mission of the Son has a special relation to the illumination of the intellect, while the mission of the Spirit has a special relation to the kindling of the affection.9 We’re going to have to unpack that!
Before we do so, let’s note that Thomas concludes—as we might expect—by drawing things back to unity. After the note about the illumination of the intellect and the kindling of the affection, he says: Thus it is manifest that one mission cannot be without the other, because neither takes place without sanctifying grace, nor is one person separated from the other.” In other words: you can’t have the mission of the Son without the mission of the Spirit, or the mission of the Spirit without the mission of the Son. Simple. Brilliant!
So, what does it all mean? Briefly, Thomas has highlighted an essential truth that has two consequences for us as we think about Apologetics and the New Evangelization.
First: an apologetics that attempts to illuminate the intellect without kindling the affections is bound to fail. And it will fail for a very precise Trinitarian reason: because it attempts to engage the mission of the Son and ignore the mission of the Spirit. You can’t have one without the other!
Second: an apologetics that attempts to kindle the affections without illuminating the intellect is bound to fail. And it will also fail for a very precise Trinitarian reason: because it attempts to engage the mission of the Spirit and ignore the mission of the Son. Again, you can’t have one without the other!
By the way, this isn’t simply a dry piece of scholastic speculation—it’s part of the prayer of the Church! The closing prayer for Evening Prayer II on the Feast of the Holy Trinity reads :
You sent your Word to bring us truth
And your Spirit to make us holy.”
Here’s what it means for us: for our apologetics to contribute to the new evangelization, we have to engage the mission of the Spirit as well as the mission of the Son. It won’t be enough for us to know the truth and speak the truth and illuminate the mind. We also have to know the landscape of the human heart, and speak the truth in such a way that we kindle the affections.
When we speak the truth and illuminate the mind in such a way that we fail to kindle the affections of the heart, the Holy Spirit is telling us “There’s no fruit here. Go back to the drawing board!” When we speak the truth and illuminate the mind in such a way that we also kindle the affections of the heart, the Holy Spirit is telling us “This is the path that will bear fruit thirty- and sixty- and a hundred-fold.”
We need to have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying. And for that to happen, the charismatic movement needs to become quietly normative for all Catholics. That doesn’t mean everyone will be raising their hands in prayer, or speaking in tongues. It doesn’t need to. But the simple fact is that the Spirit is the source of the Church’s mission and fruitfulness, and the charismatic movement’s gift to the whole Church is to teach us how to receive the Spirit ever more deeply. The bottom line is this: If we aren’t growing in receptivity to the Holy Spirit, our efforts at evangelization are rooted only in ourselves. And if our efforts are evangelization are rooted only in ourselves, they won’t bear fruit.
Bearing that in mind, let’s listen to these words of the Holy Father on the mission of the Son and the mission of the Spirit in the life of the Church:
“Let us be silent in order to hear the Lord’s word and meditate upon it, so that by the working of the Holy Spirit it may remain in our hearts and speak to us all the days of our lives. In this way the Church will always be renewed and rejuvenated.”10
(Here, it might be good to observe a moment of silence.)
V. The Present Context
Let’s look at the present context a little bit, and the demands it makes on us as we think about apologetics and evangelization.
Many people today challenge the Gospel and the teachings of the Church because they’ve been raised on a steady diet of relativism. In that context it’s crucial to understand that relativism is not only a philosophical error but also, in many respects, a Christological heresy. As such, it deserves to be treated with the same seriousness that was given to the great Christological heresies of history.
Why is relativism not only a philosophical error but also a Christological heresy? Because when all is said and done the truth is a Person. To deny the existence of truth is to deny the existence of Jesus Christ. You can’t worship Jesus Christ on Sunday and deny that there is any such thing as truth on Monday, any more than the Arians could worship Jesus Christ and deny his full divinity. The Fathers of the Church were tireless in defending the truth about Christ against the heresies of their time. We’re going to have to be just as tireless, persuasive and holy as we face the issues of our time. This is our moment. Let’s step to the plate!
Many people today challenge the Gospel and the teachings of the Church because they think that we should just love people instead of drawing moral lines—in short, that we should be “tolerant.” In that context we can ask a simple question: Was Jesus tolerant?
The Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery is a stunning example of how Jesus wasn’t “tolerant” as people today understand that term. To be sure, Jesus protected the woman caught in adultery—he did not advocate or allow any kind of violence against her. And, to be sure, Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery—he is love incarnate, and we have to imagine that he looked on her with a love that pierced her to the heart. But he did not condone her sin; he did not “tolerate” her behavior in non-judgmental silence; he did not leave it to her to define her “own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Instead, he told her “Go, and sin no more.” Because he loved her, he gave her the dignity of naming her sin for what it was. He treated her as someone who could rise above sin; he treated her as someone who wanted to rise above sin; he treated her as someone for whom he wanted more. Yes, Jesus loved people. And because he loved people, he drew moral lines. And because he drew moral line he incurred the wrath of the powerful. Jesus was willing to suffer the consequences of love – are we?
Some people don’t challenge the Gospel and the teachings of the Church they’re just indifferent, because they think that religions are “different paths to the same goal.” In that context, we can ask a simple but profound question: the last time you came to a fork in the road, did you think they were ‘different paths to the same goal’?
What a different world it would be if Robert Frost had written “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I, being a clever post-modern person, figured that they were different paths to the same goal, and it made little difference which one I took.” The world’s different physical roads lead to different geographical destinations. The mind’s different mental roads lead to different logical destinations. Why should different religious roads lead to the same spiritual destination? This kind of indifferentism defies common sense, and we shouldn’t be afraid to point that out.
We also have to admit, in all candor, that many people find the Gospel and the teachings of the Church hard to believe because of the sins of their messengers. In particular, the sex abuse scandal still looms large in many people’s imaginations. In that context, we can do three things.
First: we cannot fault people for their disappointment. There are sins to be acknowledged. Unacknowledged disappointment and sadness often turns into anger. Acknowledged disappointment and anger usually burns clean.
Second: we must repent. Even when the sins were not yours or mine, we are still members of a body. As Saint Paul reminds us, when one member suffers, all suffer. We must repent together, as one body.
Third: we must be growing in holiness, each one of us. Of course some people will say, with resignation, “But the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” You know what? That’s a false dichotomy! Of course the Church is a hospital for sinners. And that reminds us to be humble. But that’s only half the truth – and a half truth, by itself, is a lie. The Church is also a launching pad for saints – a place where people are trained for holiness and launched into the world as Olympic athletes of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. (Gal.5:22)
There they are again—those fruits that we have to pay attention to. St. Paul has given us some crucial criteria for judging our words and our lives. Study the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:19-23. How does your Apologetics measure up? Is it characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and so on? If so, you’re on the right track—a good tree, known by its good fruits. But if your apologetics is characterized by outbursts of fury, rivalry, jealousy, dissensions, factions, and soon then—even if your words are true—you’re on the wrong track—a bad tree, known by its bad fruits. We’re not trying to score points on a talk show; we’re trying to give witness to the Gospel.
VI. Conclusion: Bearing Witness Today
So the tone of our Apologetics is important. And tone is deeply influenced by knowing the end-game. Are there elements of our culture that oppose the Gospel? Sure. Is the Church being persecuted in important ways? You bet. Where will this all end up? If we hold the faith, and if we study the history of the faith, we know how this game ends. In the words of the hymn:
(Christ conquers, Christ reigns,Christ rules!)
Remember that earthly victory is not the key for us. Fidelity to Jesus Christ is the key. He has already won the victory. Our job is to fight on his side, in his way. What comes of that … we leave in his hands. He will give us the victory in his own time and in his own way—either through the conversion of those who oppose the Gospel, or through the Cross for us. Either way, we need not be anxious about the outcome. Don’t let anxiety or hysteria infect your words. Just bear witness to Him.
Because, if you think about it,we’ve been here before.
Our situation is remarkably—and perhaps increasingly—like that of the early Christians in the Roman Empire. For the first three centuries of Christianity, Roman culture and law provided a climate that was not particularly friendly to the Church, and was openly hostile to it at certain points. How did the early Church survive and thrive in that hostile environment? How did it come to pass that the Roman Empire is only a subject for history books, while the Church is still a living reality?
It was the witness of believers. It was their faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Their witness to the faith won the day then. Our witness to the faith can win the day again.
The Greek word for witness, by the way, is martyr. And that’s exactly what we need.
In the early centuries, under Roman rule, the ordinary, everyday faithfulness of the white martyrs, combined with the heroic sacrifice of the red martyrs, gave the Church the strength she needed to survive and flourish under hostile conditions, to convert and transform a culture, and ultimately to outlive an empire.
That’s our roadmap.
We need people who are ready for martyrdom-people who are willing to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, people who are willing to make sacrifices so that the truth of the Gospel can be heard, our culture challenged, and our world transformed. The sacrifice required of most of us will probably be the white martyrdom of a life that is faithful to the Gospel rather than faithful to the culture. But the heat is being turned up, and we have to be prepared for extraordinary sacrifices as well.
Do you think we should be able to stand up for the faith and not suffer for it? That’s not what Jesus told us to expect. The world has always demanded sacrifice from those who wish to follow the Lord. And that’s precisely what Jesus himself promised us and told us to expect: a share in his cross.
If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Lk 9: 23-24)
I’m convinced that taking up the Cross is the way to life. I’m convinced that Jesus won victory on the Cross, and that he will win victory in us if we take up our cross and follow him.
Brothers and sisters: we have to be prepared to suffer for our convictions.
But our faith tells us—and history shows us—that suffering will make our witness grow stronger. With that conviction, let’s recall the words of St.Peter:
Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you… whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name. (1 Peter 4:12-16)
God bless you. May Jesus Christ be praised.
1 On these categories,see the Profession of Faith and The Oath of Fidelity, and the Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio Fide from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
2Novo Millennio Ineunte, #16.
3Pastores Dabo Vobis, #51.
4A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, p. 13.
5 Message for the 46th World Communications Day (May 20, 2012)
6Verbum Domini, #66.
7Homily 3 on the Gospels, quoted in Hugo Rahner, Our Lady and the Church, p. 84.
8 Quoted in Hugo Rahner, Our Lady and the Church, p. 84.
9 Thomas also addresses the point in Summa Theologiae II-II, 177.1. Nicholas Lombardo, O.P., develops the point with respect to preaching in his work The Logic of Desire: Aquinas on Emotion, pp. 254-259.
10Verbum Domini, #24.