Vol. XVIII, No. 7
Synod of Bishops: A New Evangelization for Today’s World
by Helen Hull Hitchcock
The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith is the theme of the 13th general assembly of the Synod of Bishops, meeting at the Vatican October 7-28. The assembly coincides with the opening of the Year of Faith, October 11, 2011, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, as well as the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The synod’s theme of the “new evangelization” alludes to Pope Benedict’s creation of the Pontifical Council of the New Evangelization, in 2010.
There has been considerable preparation for this synod. The Lineamenta, or outline for study, released March 14, summa- rized the necessity for the Church’s action on this topic at this time:
We are living in a particularly significant, historic moment of change, of tension and of a loss of equilibrium and points of reference. These times are increasingly forcing us to live immersed in the present and in passing things which make it increasingly difficult for us to listen, to transmit an appreciation for the past and to share values on which to build the future for new generations. In this context, the Christian presence and the work of the Church’s institutions are not easily perceived and, at times, are even looked upon with great reservation. In the last decades, repeated criticism has been leveled at the Church, Christians and the God we proclaim. Consequently, evangelization is facing new challenges that are putting accepted practices in question and are weakening customary, well-established ways of doing things. In a word, the situation is requiring the Church to consider, in an entirely new way, how she proclaims and transmits the faith. [Introduction §3]
In June, the Instrumentum Laboris, or “working document,” was introduced to the bishops of the world, and made available on the Vatican web site. Its introduction provided the frame of reference for the synod in light of the anniversaries and the Year of Faith:
The Synod will therefore provide a good opportunity to focus on the subject of conversion and the necessity of holiness, emphasized by all these anniversaries. The Synod will also be the place to grasp and re-propose to people the invitation to rediscover the faith. This invitation was initially made at the Second Vatican Council and restated in The Year of the Faith proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, and again addressed to us in our time by Pope Benedict XVI. All this will serve as the framework for the synod’s work of treating the topic of the new evangelization. [§2]
Pope Benedict XVI has pointed out that the world today is “facing social and cultural changes that are profoundly affecting a person’s perception of self and the world, and consequently, a person’s way of believing in God,” and this synod “is part of a determined effort to give new fervor to the faith and to the testimony of Christians and their communities” [§6, 9].
Church Evangelizes, and Needs Evangelization
The four chapters of the synod’s Instrumentum Laboris provide the focus for the bishops’ deliberations: 1) Jesus Christ, The Good News of God to Humanity; 2) Time for a New Evangelization; 3) Transmitting the Faith; and 4) Revivifying Pastoral Activity.
“The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself,” the document says [§39], and this is the responsibility of the entire Church, and of every believer. In light of the “weakening fervor” of many Catholics today, the Church must question the effectiveness of the transmission of the faith that are evident, and seek causes and solutions:
At this special moment in history, the Church needs to see how to muster greater energy in rendering an account for the hope we share (cf. I Pet 3:15). The term ‘new evangelization’ calls for a new manner of proclaiming the Gospel, especially for those who live in the present-day situation which is affected by the growing trend of secularization, taking place to a great extent in countries with a Christian tradition. [§44]
Key Components: Liturgy, Family
The liturgy is an essential component of the transmission of the faith, the document says: “The best place to transmit the faith is a community nourished and transformed by the liturgical life and prayer. An intrinsic relationship exists between faith and the liturgy: lex orandi, lex credendi.” And it quotes Pope Benedict’s Porta Fidei, announcing the Year of Faith: “Without the liturgy and the sacraments, the profession of faith would lack efficacy, because it would lack the grace which supports Christian witness”; and the Second Vatican Council: “The liturgy, ‘through which the work of our redemption is accomplished’, most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.” It continues:
The liturgy and a life of prayer transform a Christian community from a simple gathering of people into a community which celebrates and transmits the Trinitarian faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. [§97]
The role of the family in the transmission of the faith is stressed. “The Christian message on marriage and family is considered a great gift which makes the family the model-place for witnessing to faith, because of its prophetic capacity in living the core values of the Christian experience,” the document says; and “the Church acknowledges the family’s responsibility in the formation and transmission of the Christian faith from the very beginning of human life” [§111].
Christian Initiation, Education
The final chapter, Revivifying Pastoral Activity, speaks of Christian initiation (baptism, confirmation) as basic to the evangelizing process, and stresses the urgency of adequate education. It says, in part:
Today, the work of education is taking place in a cultural context where every kind of educational activity is becoming more difficult and critical to the point that the Pope Benedict XVI has spoken of an ‘educational emergency.’ With this expression, the Holy Father intends to allude to the special urgency to pass on to future generations the basic values of life and moral conduct. Consequently, many places are increasingly demanding a genuine form of education as well as truly qualified teachers. Such requests are commonly raised by parents who are concerned about the future of their children, by teachers who are sadly experiencing the deteriorating situation in schools and by society itself, which sees the very foundations of harmonious living threatened. [§149]
The document ends on a note of encouragement, and speaks of the “joy of evangelizing”:
The new evangelization means giving the reason for our faith, communicating the Logos of hope to a world which seeks salvation. People need hope so they can really live the present moment. For this reason, the Church is essentially missionary, and offers a Revelation of the face of God in Jesus Christ, who assumed a human face and loved us to the end. The words of eternal life, which have been given to us in our encountering Jesus Christ, are destined for everyone and each individual. Every person in our time, whether he is aware of it or not, needs to hear this proclamation.…
The new evangelization is proposed … as a remedy to bring joy and courage to life and become an imperative invigorating our faith… [§167]
This should be a cause of our enthusiasm for evangelization, because it can bring joy and hope to a troubled world. “May the world, which seeks answers to the great questions of the meaning of life and truth, experience, with renewed unexpectedness, the joy of meeting witnesses of the Gospel who, through the simple and credible character of their lives, demonstrate the transforming power of the Christian faith,” the document concludes.
‘Do not be afraid!’: these words of the Lord (cf. Mt 14:27) and the Angel (cf. Mt 28:5) sustain the faith of those who proclaim the faith and are their source of strength and enthusiasm. May their words also sustain and nurture everyone on their journey towards an encounter with God. May the words, ‘Do not be afraid!’, be the words of the new evangelization, by which the Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, proclaims ‘to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8) Jesus Christ, the Gospel of God, so that everyone might have faith. [§169]
An Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Benedict XVI following the synod will likely appear during the Year of Faith, which will conclude November 24, 2013, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King.