By William Edmund Fahey
MERRIMACK, New Hampshire, OCT. 17, 2010 (Zenit.org).- On Oct. 12, the feast of St. Wilfrid — a saint associated with the re-introduction of the faith into the British Isle — Pope Benedict XVI signed a “motu proprio” that officially promulgated the mission of a pontifical council dedicated to preaching the Gospel anew and restoring the Catholic way of life to societies which have turned against their sacred heritage.
Through this document — “Ubicumque et semper” — the Holy Father is declaring a spiritual campaign to restore the heart of Christendom. Unlike the other wings of the Holy See, which are dedicated to missionary work in the developing nations or to evangelization in a general sense, the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization will focus largely on Europe and the United States. For the first time in many years, the ills poisoning the faithful have been named by their traditional designation — indifferentism, secularism, and atheism. The document is not yet available in English translation. The following summary is taken from the official Latin.
“Ubicumque et semper” begins with a reminder that the Church has a sacred gift and right for preaching the Gospel (nuntiandi munus) which throughout time the Church has guarded. This munus — gift and right, together — was given by Jesus in his mandate to make disciples in all nations and to baptize in the name of the Holy Trinity (Matthew 28:19-20).
The language of the Latin clearly demonstrates to the world and the leadership of the Church that we have no option regarding renewed evangelization. We are not made for comfort or an easy-going life in a pluralistic society. The “task of evangelization is continual and it is commanded by our Lord Jesus” (evangelizationis missio, quae continuatio est operae, quam voluit Dominus Jesus). It is “necessary for the Church” and “it is impossible that this duty be overlooked, for it is clearly of her very nature” to evangelize always and everywhere (est Ecclesiae necessaria, quar praetermitti non potest atque ipsius naturae est manifestatio).
The Holy Father notes that the methods and strategies of evangelization necessarily are adopted over time. In our time, Pope Benedict states, we are dealing with a particularly unique challenge: “The alienation of the faith, which has steadily manifest itself among those societies and cultures that had been for century after century imbued with the Gospel (Nostra aetate singulare id est quod cum fidei desertione contenditur, quae procedente tempore apud societates et culturas sese manifestavit, quae Evangelio e saeculis imbutae videbantur). As the Holy Father’s writings and trips have made clear, he is thinking of the cultural and spiritual rot that besets Europe and the Americas.
Pope Benedict recognizes that the desertion of the faith can be traced back to causes centuries old, but, he contends, the issue cannot be treated with mere academic calculation. Likewise, while our love of progress in technology and economics still holds some promise for solidarity and the elevation of human distress, nevertheless, the religion of progress and the social and spiritual impact of modernity have deeply wounded mankind: “traumatic damage has been done to the sense of the sacred, which has challenged the very foundation of that which seemed unshakeable — namely, faith in God as our creator and provider, the revelation of Jesus Christ as our only savior, and a common understanding about the fundamental experiences of humanity with respect to birth, dying, life in the family, and a reliance on natural law” (turbans quaedam evenit sacri sensus amissio, cum de fundamentis illis controversia esset, quae firma videbantur, quae sunt fides in Deum creatorem et providentem, Iesu Christi unici salvatoris revelatio et communis intellectio praecipuarum experientiarum hominis, id est ortus, obitus, in familia vita, ad legem moralem naturalem relatio).
The Holy Father laments that the corrosion of modernity has been accepted as “liberation” by some, but “lately what has become crystal clear is the interior loneliness into which man is now born; wanting to be the sole designer of his nature and destiny, he finds himself robbed of the very foundation of reality” (Si haec omnia a nonnullis liberatio quaedam sunt habita, mature interior solitudo est perspecta, quae oritur ubi homo, prae se ferens suae naturae suaeque sortis se esse unum artificem, eo destituitur quod est omnium rerum fundamentum).
Benedict builds upon previous papal admonitions about the manner and speed with the baptized themselves have given up on Christian living. He sees hope in the desire of ordinary people to return to an authentic Christian existence. He recognizes the legitimate searching of scholars and intellectuals who seek a path that will lead more deeply into a relationship with Christ than the one offered to them in their youth. The need for renewal and re-evangelization, in some respects, is not surprising.
Nevertheless, the Holy Father sounds to alarm, repeating words from “Christifideles laici”:
“Entire regions and nations in which formerly religion and the Christian way of life flourished and brought forth communities of lively and active faith are now being crushed under adverse circumstances and it is not uncommon to find their societies radically transformed by the continual spread of indifferentism, secularism, and atheism. This is particularly true in the, so-called, First World, where the common experience is affluence and consumerism — although mixed with terrible examples of poverty and misery. These societies encourage and enable an way of living that is as if God did not exist” (Integrae regiones nec non nationes in quibus anteacto tempore religio et vita christiana florebant, quae vivacis ac operosae fidei communitates excitabant, nunc rebus adversis premuntur ac non raro radicitus sunt transformatae, gliscentibus indifferentismo, saecularismo et atheismo. Agitur praesertim de regionibus et nationibus Primi Mundi qui dicitur, in quibus oeconomica prosperitas et consumendarum rerum cupiditas, quamquam etiam terribilibus paupertatis et miseriae adiunctis commixtae, inhiant ac proclamant ita esse vivendum etsi Deus non daretur).
It is in the First World that Rome finds traditions, rituals, and the common spirituality of the faithful being ripped apart and removed from visible society and even personal practice.
Hence, Pope Benedict has called for a pontifical council dedicated to re-evangelization. This is a separate mode or strategy from the first mission of evangelization. It is one of a new set of pulses or modes of the evangelization (evangelizationis motus). Aimed chiefly at the Churches founded in earlier centuries, the new council is emboldened by the truth that the Holy Spirit does not cease to inspire the faithful and work with a remnant for the restoration of Christ’s Kingdom.
The Holy Father calls for the faithful to support this new work, not only on the natural level, but the spiritual. Indeed, while not discounting the admirable science involved in this new undertaking, Benedict is adamant that the order of grace is the level upon which the faith will rise and fall. Ultimately the re-evangelization will require that the faithful embrace “the desire to participate in or share the precious gift which God has entrusted to us, in so doing he is communicating to us his own life” (studium inaestimabile donum participandi, quod Deus nobis concredidit, suam ipsius nobiscum communicans vitam).
At the end of the “motu proprio,” a series of articles set out the essential constitution of this new council. Its chief objective will be “promoting reflection on the themes of a new evangelization and identifying the means to achieve it” (Consilium sua proposita persequitur, tum meditationem de novae evangelizationis argumentis concitans, tum eligens et promovens formas instrumentaque ad
eandem efficiendam apta). This mission is simply put, but the Holy See has no illusions of the fortitude and grace that will be required to achieve it.
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William Edmund Fahey, Ph.D., is the president of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire.