Taking On a Secular Society

John Paul II Urging the Faithful to Evangelize

ROME, JUNE 26, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Evangelization has always been a top priority for John Paul II and he is not letting his physical difficulties impede this effort. In recent weeks he has been increasingly outspoken on the need for a Christian presence in society.

During a meeting June 5 with Catholic youth in Bern, Switzerland, the Pope invited them not to be afraid to meet and listen to Jesus. “Do not be content with discussion; do not wait for opportunities that may never come, to do good,” John Paul II urged them. “The time for action is now!”

The Pope added: “At the beginning of this third millennium, you too, young people, are called to proclaim the message of the Gospel with the testimony of your lives. The Church needs your energies, your enthusiasm, your youthful ideals to ensure that the Gospel permeates the fabric of society and inspires a civilization of authentic justice and love without discrimination.”

In his homily at Mass the next day the Holy Father proclaimed: “The time has come for preparing young generations of apostles who are not afraid to proclaim the Gospel. It is essential for every baptized person to pass from a faith of habit to a mature faith that is expressed in clear, convinced and courageous personal choices.”

This faith, he explained, will enable Christ’s followers to build a missionary Church, “free from false fears because she is certain of the Father’s love.” John Paul II also reminded those present that the foundation of human dignity, and the source of “the greatness of man,” comes from the image of God that “is mirrored in every human being.”

Spreading the Gospel

A key theme in recent papal addresses centers on the dangers of a secular society that is increasingly hostile to Christian principles. This presents a double challenge: the need to defend the Church and the faithful against an undermining of Christianity; and the need to convince Christians to proclaim Christianity and convert society.

In his May 20 speech to participants in an assembly of Italian bishops, the Pope warned of “the penetrating influence that the media exercise today on mind-sets and behavior, personal and collective, proposing a vision of life that unfortunately often tends to corrode basic ethical values, especially those that concern the family.”

At the same time he pointed out to the bishops: “The media, however, also lend themselves to being used for and with very different purposes and results, making an important contribution to the affirmation of positive models of life and also to the spread of the Gospel.”

The need for the new constitution of the European Union to contain a reference to the Christian heritage of the continent has been frequently mentioned by the Pope. In a May 6 letter written on the occasion of an ecumenical meeting in Germany, John Paul II also declared: “The Christian faith, however, also represents the present and future of Europe.”

“Europe needs the commitment and enthusiasm of Christians, especially the youngest, if it is to receive the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the Pope declared. At the beginning of this new millennium, he continued, believers must renew their efforts “to respond to the challenge of the new evangelization.”

A witness to the truth

John Paul II explained in more detail what this new evangelization means, during his May 28 address to a group of U.S. bishops, present in Rome for their five-yearly visit.

Every Christian, he said, has a “responsibility for the truth” which has been handed down in the Tradition of the Church, and which in turn must be handed on faithfully. Proclaiming the message of the Gospel in contemporary society is not easy, noted the Pope, and requires a direct confrontation with “the widespread spirit of agnosticism and relativism which has cast doubt on reason’s ability to know the truth which alone satisfies the human heart’s restless quest for meaning.”

The Pope also called for “a profound renewal of the missionary and prophetic sense of the whole People of God, and the conscious mobilization of the Church’s resources in the work of an evangelization.”

In part, noted John Paul II, this evangelization must be carried out through the network of educational and charitable institutions developed by the Church in the United States. But he also emphasized the role of the laity. “Now is above all the hour of the lay faithful, who, by their specific vocation to shape the secular world in accordance with the Gospel, are called to carry forward the Church’s prophetic mission by evangelizing the various spheres of family, social, professional and cultural life.”

Echoing his apostolic exhortation “Christifideles Laici,” the Pope explained to the bishops that the Gospel’s message is “the only fully valid response to the problems and hopes that life poses to every person and society.”

Encounter with Jesus

In a June 4 speech to another group of U.S. bishops, the Pope explained in more detail what it means to proclaim the Gospel today. The underlying dynamic of Church’s prophetic mission is to enable people “to be transformed by the power of the Gospel which permeates their way of thinking, standards of judgment, and norms of behavior.”

To achieve this transformation the Pope urged the bishops that the center of their preaching of the Gospel be based on an encounter with Christ. “In fact, it is only by knowing, loving and imitating Christ that, with him, we can transform history by bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture.”

In a speech Thursday, to yet another group of visiting U.S. bishops, the Pope dealt with another aspect of evangelization. “Today creativity is especially needed in better shaping ecclesial institutions to fulfill their prophetic mission,” he said.

He asked that they “embody a clear corporate testimony” to the saving truth of the Gospel. This means that they must be, “constantly re-examining their priorities in the light of their mission and offering a convincing witness, within a pluralistic society, to the Church’s teaching.”

The third millennium

The need for evangelization was a key theme in the Pope’s apostolic letter “Novo Millennio Ineunte,” issued in early 2001 at the close of the Jubilee year. John Paul II explained that from the celebration of the Jubilee “we must gain new impetus in Christian living, making it the force which inspires our journey of faith.” In this journey we do not have to invent a new program. “The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever” (No. 29).

He called upon the local churches to formulate pastoral plans that “will enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mold communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture.”

In his conclusion the Pope exclaimed: “Let us go forward in hope! A new millennium is opening before the Church like a vast ocean upon which we shall venture, relying on the help of Christ.” This task, he is insisting, is an urgent responsibility for all members of the Church.

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