Not only will Pope Benedict XVI not be publishing his third encyclical on the theological virtues, the one on faith, but he leaves before issuing the postsynodal exhortation on the new evangelization.
In his homily for the concluding Mass of the synod of bishops held last October on the new evangelization, Benedict XVI spoke of “the urgent need to proclaim Christ anew in places where the light of faith has been weakened, in places where the fire of God is more like smouldering cinders, crying out to be stirred up, so that they can become a living flame that gives light and heat to the whole house.” (Oct. 28, 2012)
One of those participating in the forthcoming conclave is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C. He was the general relator at the synod last October and has just published a 90-page tract, titled “New Evangelization: Passing on the Catholic Faith Today,” (Our Sunday Visitor).
Describing the synod held a few months ago, Cardinal Wuerl chose three words: positive, unity and pastoral.
The past few decades were a period of great upheaval he acknowledged: “But we are in a new moment in the life of the Church and are moving in the right direction,” he continued.
He commented that a characteristic of the synod was the unity among the bishops and that it was clear all of the bishops present shared a profound unity of faith and a common conviction of the need for the new evangelization.
This task, Cardinal Wuerl went on to explain, involves not only proclaiming the gospel message to those who do not know Jesus Christ, but also helping those already evangelized to rediscover their faith and to return to religious practice.
This new evangelization starts with the experience of Jesus Christ. Then, this love for Jesus and the Gospel is something to be shared with others. “The Church’s primary mission is evangelization,” explained Cardinal Wuerl.
It is important to realize, he went on to explain, that this duty to proclaim the saving truth we find in Christ is not just the responsibility of clergy and religious. Citing Vatican II he insisted on the vital role the laity have in giving testimony to their faith and of announcing to others the message of Christ.
Even though Paul VI had also identified the need for a new period of evangelization it was John Paul II, said Cardinal Wuerl, who can be called the father of the new evangelization. In his numerous trips to all parts of the world and in all the different languages he spoke he carried out a worldwide ministry to the ends of the earth.
There is a real and urgent need for the new evangelization today, one of the chapters explained. We live our faith in the midst of a culture that is highly secular. This limited secular view of life has dramatically changed the context in which we live and transmit our faith, Cardinal Wuerl affirmed.
We are now in a situation where there are two generations of Catholics who lack knowledge of prayer, who do not perceive the importance of the Mass and the Sacrament of Penance, and who have often lost a sense of the transcendent, he explained.
Citing John Paul II’s encyclical on the Gospel of Life he said that there is in many countries an “eclipse of the sense of God.” (Par. 21)
The new evangelization starts through the Church, which is the instrument of Christ in the world of today, Cardinal Wuerl commented. It is through the sacraments of the Church that Christ’s redemptive work continues.
“We believe that the sacraments are, as it were, arms of the Savior himself by which he extends his action throughout place and time to give life, to bless, to renew, to heal, and to multiply the bread of life.”
Following reflections on each one of the sacraments, Cardinal Wuerl went on to insist on the importance of parishes in the work of the new evangelization, along with the contribution of new ecclesial movements and communities.
A further chapter addressed the theological tasks of the new evangelization. He identified what he called a number of “theological foundation stones.”
+ The anthropological foundation that identifies the origin of our human dignity.
+ The Christological foundation that explains who Christ is, his divinity and humanity and the reality of his death and resurrection.
+ The ecclesiological foundation which recognizes that Christ continues his redeeming work through the Church.
+ The soteriological foundation that enables us to see that Jesus’ kingdom is already here and to see our lives as part of the work of that construction of the kingdom of God.
As we wait to see who will be elected in the upcoming conclave it is certainly clear that for the next pope, just as for John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the new evangelization will continue to be a priority.