Summary of today’s show: The Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict XVI is rapidly approaching and Archbishop Rino Fisichella, head of the Vatican’s efforts centered on the New Evangelization, recently gave a landmark address on the topic to an Australian national conference on the topic. Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell are joined by Michael Lavigne to discuss the address and to talk about what the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith will mean for us in Boston.
Listen to the show:
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell
Today’s guest(s): Michael Lavigne of the Office of the Episcopal Vicar for the New Evangelization
Links from today’s show:
- Archbishop Fisichella’s address at the First National Conference on the New Evangelization in Australia
Today’s topics: Archbishop Rino Fisichella on the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization
1st segment: Scot Landry welcomed Fr. Mark O’Connell to the show. Fr. Mark said at the end of each summer, the SMA Fathers, an African missionary order based in Dedham, welcomes people from all over the archdiocese, including Cardinal Seán and many archdiocesan priests. There was a Mass celebrated by the cardinal and a dinner with traditional African foods.
Scot said today we will be discussing an address given by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization, to the the Church in Australia. He discussed the upcoming Year of Faith that has been proclaimed by Pope Benedict, including just what it is and what we’re expected to do.
2nd segment: Scot and Fr. Mark welcome Michael Lavigne from the Office of the Episcopal Vicar for the New Evangelization. Michael said plans for the upcoming Year of Faith are well underway and they hope to make announcements after Labor Day. Scot said Cardinal Seán has allocated a lot of resources in the archdiocese to the Year of Faith.
Michael explained what the New Evangelization is. He said it’s focus is on those who are already baptized, especially those who are Catholic, including those who have fallen away from the faith or even those who sit next to us in the pews who don’t know the faith or don’t know friendship with Christ. Scot said growing up here, after he went through CCD in eight grade, confirmation prep was not formal catechetical classes and then there was nothing after that. Beyond eighth grade, for most people it was a self-study. This New Evangelization is tied to adult faith formation.
Michael said he grew up very involved in his church, but realized at age 19 that he didn’t really know about about the faith. Now today we have the Internet and all kinds of resources and we need to do a better job at pointing people to those resources.
Scot asked Michael about the difference between knowing about Christ and knowing him in a personal way. Michael said the idea of truly embracing the faith and being called to holiness wasn’t present in his childhood. His knowledge of the faith was more about himself than about Christ and others.
Scot said for those listening who feel the same way Michael did, they shouldn’t feel like they have done something wrong. The Year of Faith is a recognition that many Catholics are in this same boat. Fr. Mark said it’s the responsibility of the community to be evangelizers to the community and not to be alone in their own faith.
Scot said Archbishop Fisichella, as the leader of the Vatican efforts in the Year of Faith, was invited to address an Australia-wide evangelization conference. It’s the first time he’s given such a significant address in English and it applies to the whole English-speaking world. The address is entitled “The timeliness of the proclamation” and begins:
In the very first line of his Motu Proprio, Ubicumque et Semper, which officially established the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI draws the attention of all to the person of Jesus Christ. “It is the duty of the Church to proclaim always and everywhere the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He, the first and supreme evangelizer, commanded the Apostles on the day of his Ascension to the Father: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’” (Mt 28:19). Such a beginning emphasizes both the necessity of placing Jesus Christ at the center of the new evangelization and the importance of recognizing that the faith received from the Apostles and that which is to be preached is namely the person of Jesus Christ.
Scot said when you think of all the Church teaching and all the books written about the faith, Archbishop Fisichella is saying that’s all great but let’s boil it down to the Good News of Jesus Christ and the person of Jesus. Fr. Mark said there is a unique approach here by the Pope and the archbishop: We need to have a personal relationship with Jesus, beyond being in church on Sundays. Michael said being Christian is first and foremost about Jesus Christ and the essential truths about Him. Scot said there’s so much we do as Catholics, like our social ministries, but even before we begin those good acts, we need to slow down and reflect on the revelation, love, and person of Jesus Christ, who took on flesh and taught us so much, and then offered himself as a sacrifice for us only to rise again. We have to take time to reflect on that, especially if we’re too busy doing all the other things we have to do as Christians. Michael said we should awake every morning and re-center ourselves in Christ, to reflect on this beautiful gift of life.
From both Scripture and Tradition, we can see that the path of the new evangelization has been marked out: we are called to renew the proclamation of Jesus Christ, of the mystery of his death and resurrection to stimulate people once more to have faith in him by means of conversion of life. If our eyes were still capable of seeing into the depths of the events which mark the lives of our contemporaries, it would be easy to show how much this message still holds a place of special importance. Therefore, we need to direct our reflection towards the meaning of life and death, and of life beyond death; to face such questions, those affecting people’s existence and determining their personal identity, Jesus Christ cannot be an outsider. If the proclamation of the new evangelization does not find its power in the element of mystery which surrounds life and which relates us to the infinite mystery of the God of Jesus Christ, it will not be capable of the effectiveness required to elicit the response of faith.
Scot said he says we just need to tie this mystery of Jesus Christ to the biggest questions: What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of death? What happens after death? Michael said every human being is wired to ask those questions and we know the answer starts first and foremost with Jesus Christ. Fr. Mark said the key is to make it relevant to the people in the pew. They can’t just start from scratch: “You need to love Jesus more.” We need to show them why it’s important to give this priority. Scot said the archbishop is saying to compete with everything else in life first with the big questions. The ideologies that de-evangelize people don’t have answers to these questions.
Michael said when his brother’s firstborn was born, he told him about the excitement and how when he first held his daughter, it made him think about God and how God made him and why God made him. We need to engage people in the every day moments to evangelize them in that way.
Christ, who is the new Adam, revealing the mystery of the Father and of his love, reveals man fully to himself and manifests to him his most exalted vocation… Through the Incarnation, the Son of God united himself in a certain sense to every human being. He worked with human hands, thought with human intelligence, acted with a human will and loved with a human heart. Being born of the Virgin Mary, he made himself truly one of us, like us in all things but sin. The innocent lamb, freely shedding his blood, he earned for us eternal life; in him God has reconciled us to himself and with one another and he has torn us away from slavery to the devil and to sin, such that each one of us can say, along with the apostle: the Son of God ‘has loved me and sacrificed himself for me’ (Gal 2:20). By suffering for us, he has not only given us an example that we might follow in his steps, but he has also opened up for us the way we are to go; if we follow it, life and death will be sanctified and will be given new meaning” (Quoting from Gaudium et Spes, the 2nd Vatican Council document)
Fr. Mark said Jesus loves us as we are. We don’t have to get our lives in order first. Jesus walks with us and gives meaning to us in this life.
Yet, before proceeding to a further discussion on the Year of Faith, it is necessary to examine, from a unique perspective, the present crisis in which society finds itself; that with respect to its connection to the question of God. The new evangelization cannot think that this question lies beyond its field. In contrast to the past, today we do not encounter great systems of atheism, if they were ever great; hence, the question of God needs to be addressed in a different way. Today God is not denied, but is unknown. In some respects, it could be said that, paradoxically, interest in God and in religion has grown. Nevertheless, what I note is the strong emotive connotation and declining religion in the plural; there is no interest in a religion and much less for the theme of the ‘true religion’; what seems to count are, rather, religious experiences. People are looking for different modalities of religion, selected by everyone taking up that which they find pleasing in the sense of ensuring for them that religious experience which they find more satisfying on the basis of their interests or needs at the moment. To this must be added that, especially for the younger generations, their horizon of understanding is characterized by a mentality strongly influenced by scientific research and by technology. These achievements, unfortunately, already hold the upper hand, even with respect to the basic elements of grammar and to culture in general. Thus, the new evangelization requires the capacity to know how to give an explanation of our own faith, showing Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the sole savior of humanity. To the extent that we are capable of this, we will be able to offer our contemporaries the response they are awaiting.
Scot said the challenge if the New Evangelization today is not competing with atheism, but the bad practice of religion, a watered-down form of religious practice. People say they are spiritual, but not religious. Michael recalled how in his youth, the church youth group was not appreciably different from the Boy Scouts or other organizations and so people feel okay going anywhere. Scot said it’s a consumeristic view in seeking experiences that make me feel good, but not seeking the truth or anything that makes us uncomfortable in a good way.
Fr. Mark likes the line: “we will be able to offer our contemporaries the response they are awaiting.” The only way to do that is to be more involved in our own faith, to know our own faith, to be part of our parish in a meaningful way.
The new evangelization begins once more from this point, from the conviction that grace acts upon us and transforms us to the point of bringing about a conversion of heart, and of the credibility of our witness. … Hiding away in our churches might bring us some consolation, but it would render Pentecost vain. It is time to throw open wide the doors and to return to announcing the resurrection of Christ, whose witnesses we are. As the holy bishop Ignatius wrote, “It is not enough to be called Christians; we must be Christians in fact.” If someone today wants to recognize Christians, he must be able to do so not on the basis of their intentions, but on the basis of their commitment in the faith.
If we want to be effective in the New Evangelization, we need to first ask for a conversion in ourselves. And then through ourselves, witness through our actions. Fr. Mark related a story he heard from a comedian who gives himself credit for having charitable thoughts, but never follows through. Michael said we need to have an integrity.
Thus, the Year of Faith is a path, an opportunity, that the Christian community offers to the many people who possess a longing for God and a profound desire to meet him again in their lives. It is essential, therefore, that believers recognize the responsibility to provide an authentic companionship of faith, to become a neighbor to those who seek the reasons for and explanations of our Catholic beliefs. These opportunities, provided by the Year of Faith to form authentic friendships in faith, bring to the fore the very question of community.
Scot said Christianity is a team sport, meant to be experienced as a group where we all work together to help each other. Fr. Mark reflected on what makes a good neighbor, someone who’s willing to help out, who is concerned with your well-being.
Michael said the Archdiocese’s efforts will be focusing on the creed and the Catechism and the meaning of the Second Vatican Council. The second part will be to focus on prayer and all the different ways we all pray as Catholics. The third part will be becoming active witnesses to those around us, discerning the ways the Holy Spirit is giving us the opportunity to act and to share our faith with others. Scot said there will be a lot of opportunities to come together in person, including for those who haven’t been to church in a long time. Michael said this will be at both the parish level and archdiocesan level. Fr. Mark said some people are afraid of studying, that there is a fear that the faith is out of touch. He said the Church is pointing out in particular the documents of the Vatican II and they are rich and have the answers and are relevant. Scot said the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a tremendous document, but it may be difficult to read for beginners, so he recommends the YouCat, which is very accessible given in question and answer format.
Scot wanted to end with two quotes from Archbishop Fisichella. The first was from Cardinal Ratzinger made about a week before he was made Pope:
“What we need at this time of history are people, who, through a faith which is enlightened and lived out in practice, make God credible in this world … We need people who keep their gaze fixed upon God, learning from there what true humanity is. We need people whose intellect is enlightened by the light of God and whose hearts God may open up in such a way that their intellect may speak to the intellect of others and that their hearts may open the hearts of others. Only through people who are touched by God can God return to humanity.” Hence, the new evangelization starts from here: from the credibility of our living as believers and from the conviction that grace acts and transforms to the point of converting the heart. It is a journey which still finds Christians committed to it after two thousand years of history.
Scot’s favorite part is that we need people who keep their gaze fixed on God, learning from there was true humanity is. Michael said the key to what we do is that it’s all about Who, Jesus Christ. God uses as instruments of grace for those around us. It’s about God first and foremost so I let go of me and let God work through me. Fr. Mark said we often hear people say they wish they listened years ago, but the Year of Faith is an opportunity for us to jump in now.
Archbishop Fishichella concluded with this story from the Middle Ages:
A poet passed by some work being conducted and saw three workers busy at their work; they were stone cutters. He turned to the first and said: ‘What are you doing, my friend?’ This man, quite indifferently, replied: ‘I am cutting a stone’. He went a little further, saw the second and posed to him the same question, and this man replied, surprised: ‘I am involved in the building of a column’. A bit further ahead, the pilgrim saw the third and to this man also he put the same question; the response, full of enthusiasm, was: ‘I am building a cathedral’. The old meaning is not changed by the new work we are called to construct. There are various workers called into the vineyard of the Lord to bring about the new evangelization; all of them will have some reason to offer to explain their commitment. What I wish for and what I would like to hear is that, in response to the question: ‘What are you doing, my friend?’, each one would be able to reply: ‘I am building a cathedral’. Every believer who, faithful to his baptism, commits himself or herself with effort and with enthusiasm every day to give witness to their own faith offers their original and unique contribution to the construction of their great cathedral in the world of today. It is the Church of our Lord, Jesus, his body and his spouse, the people constantly on the way without ever becoming weary, which proclaims to all that Jesus is risen, has come back to life, and that all who believe in him will share in his own mystery of love, the dawn of a day which is always new and which will never fade.
Fr. Mark said he knows that God has created each one of us for a reason and while we could spend our lives running away from that meaning, we should spend our lives understanding and fulfilling what God has called us to do.
3rd segment: Now as we do every week at this time, we will consider the Mass readings for this Sunday, specifically the Gospel reading.
Jesus said to the crowds:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.”
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
Scot said the readings hits both the original hearers of the time and us today. He said we are called to “gnaw” on the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood, as it literally says in the original Greek. For Jews to even touch blood was to become unclean, so this was incredibly shocking. To follow him as a disciple we need to understand the great gift of the Eucharist for us.
Michael said this is the source and summit of the Christian life and who we are as Catholics. One of those things he wrestled with as a 19-year-old was this mystery and so he took Christ at his word and believed without having understanding. It’s critical to those of us called to witness to receive the Eucharist regularly because it will empower us in all we will face.
Scot said the kernel of the Good News is right here. Fr. Mark said the Old Testament fed people with literal food for the journey and Jesus gives us his body and blood as true food for the journey, whatever journey we take. If we live the Christian life the right way, we will be uncomfortable at times, but Jesus gives us what we need to accept whatever challenge we receive.
Scot said this reading tells us not to take the Eucharist for granted. This food nourishes us for eternity. Michael said St. Thomas Aquinas points out that Christians live life abundantly, but that with the Eucharist we live out life super-abundantly, ultimately with God in heaven. It gives us a taste of heaven.
Scot said we can take the greatest things in our life for granted, even our spouses and children. We have to approach the Eucharist without taking it for granted. Fr. Mark said if we truly understood and didn’t take it for granted truly, we would approach the altar on our knees and in awe.
Michael said the Eucharist is the source of the Christian life because all grace that enables us comes from us. It’s the summit because it’s the place where we gather as a community, as brothers and sisters in faith.