Only a Poor, Humble Church Can Radiate God's Goodness

Reflections on Evangelization Shared With Ratzinger Students

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 31, 2011 ( One of the two scholars chosen to address the Ratzinger Schulerkreis was Otto Neubauer, director of the Academy for Evangelization of the Emmanuel Community in Vienna.

Neubauer spoke last Saturday to the group of about 40 former students of Joseph Ratzinger, who were at their annual meeting, lately being held at Castel Gandolfo.

The theme of this year’s summer school was the new evangelization, which will also be the subject of October’s synod of bishops.

In his intervention, Neubauer described the rapid progress of secularization under way in Europe as an opportunity to spread the Gospel freely and to understand again the “kenosis” (abasement) of the Lord toward the poor and the abandoned.

The director of Vienna’s Academy for Evangelization explained that poverty could become the necessary link between non-believers and Christians. On one hand, in fact, the denial of God can bring to light the immense hunger for God. Because “the real and greatest poverty in Europe is the tragic impossibility of being accepted and loved — the lack of experience of the goodness of God.”

Today people are dying of hunger for the personal witness of God by Christians. They seek in a seemingly poor, but honest and passionate way, their path to encounter Jesus Christ. For this type of preaching in the “spirit of adoption,” the “most adult, mature and old Church” must free herself from her own limitations.

Moreover, Christians in particular and the Church are affected by the tendency of having a condescending look of “condemnation of the world,” from which a false confidence in themselves derives and a lack of understanding of their own poverty before God. This look is an obstacle deep in the Church’s proclamation, and it reveals a different type of poverty, that is, a lack of understanding of dependence on divine mercy. That is why a profound conversion and evangelization of Christians themselves is indispensable, so they are capable of giving a humble and passionate witness of Christ as Savior.

Neubauer then described the process of learning in the Emmanuel Community in its attempt to carry forward the parish mission in new ways in German-speaking areas. In a first phase, the community had to learn that “the Lord’s hospitality transforms everything.” One must go to the parish to prepare the way for the mission. The members of the community who left their environment to go “to the streets, the squares, homes and cafes” were able to experience — with a healthy shock — their poverty and dependence on the Spirit of God. At the same time, they were able to see how their “stammering” witness was readily received by people.

The evangelizers went out to discover the wounds and aspirations of ordinary people, and they had to learn to listen “to proclaim through listening.” Coming into contact with the needs and hidden desire of men for God, they changed from hosts to guests who looked at themselves no longer as “possessors” but rather as recipients of “a gift” in an unmerited way, the “truth of the return home.” In this way, their testimony became more humble and passionate.  

In fact, the least loved and despised people received them with the greater kindness. Jesus Christ himself spoke with the poor and with those in greatest need of evangelizers. Neubauer summarized the first “step of learning” thus: “The new evangelization needs above all a genuine contact and, through this contact, the experience and witness of the unconditional yes of God to men. And this is Christ!”

The second step of learning for a missionary community is to “adore Christ in the people we meet in the mission.” The invitation to Eucharistic adoration — an integral part of the life of the Emmanuel Community — has led to new ways of worship, geared particularly to young people.

Evangelizers should learn “to intercede for persons in adoration and praise before the Lord, so that they can dwell increasingly in our heart.” In this way, through “being inhabited,” they will learn how from this adoring mission and this lived compassion “men will in some way be able to hold on to God, without knowing him,” he said, citing Benedict XVI’s address to the members of the Roman Curia on Dec. 21, 2009.

Neubauer mentioned by way of example the importance of the witness given by circles of friends and relatives to non-believing persons, who in their heart have often felt a certain secret “nostalgia” for God. Dialogue and compassion are indispensable to suffer with them the negative consequences of the denial of God and, hence, to prepare them for catechesis.

As a third phase, Neubauer spoke of the experience according to which only a community that lives in a fraternal manner and cultivates human and spiritual friendships is able to undertake missionary work. Great events, such as World Youth Day, can bear fruit only if they are lived “in small groups of friends.” Because “we all need this simple food of love, namely, concrete fraternity, friendship among ourselves and with the Lord. We need these small cells, these small Christian communities in which the Word of God is prayed, shared and translated into the concrete world. There are praying communities and narrating communities, which are not places to withdraw to be pampered, but cells planted in the midst of the world.”

The director of the Academy for Evangelization deplored the fact that in some dioceses the desire to create straitjackets in overly rigid structures has left many young missionaries behind, while the movements have come out enveloped by a “wave of clericalism” in the new evangelization. Laity and clergy must collaborate in the Church in a climate of reciprocal esteem and humble fraternity. Neubauer alluded to the decision of the Archdiocese of Vienna to establish “schools of discipleship” of various types, which can also be managed by the laity and thus develop new missionary forces.

The fourth and last step, according to Neubauer, is to learn that “humiliations and wounds must be the matter of the new evangelization.” The Church must admit her faults and failures with humility, without trying to defend herself in a precipitous way. At the same time, the Church in Europe must accept the humiliating fact that she herself is becoming smaller and, increasingly, “growing old.”

God, he continued, “chose the so-called pagans to make his word arise again. That is why I pray to the Lord that we will be able to accept the humiliations of our time in order to be doors of entrance of his presence. I virtually have the impression that this society can know the light of his goodness only in a small, humbled and pitiful group.”

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