Is New Evangelization New?

Is New Evangelization New?

POPE Francis has the highest esteem for the 1975 Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi. On one occasion he has written that its words “are as timely as if they had been written yesterday”. In another, he looks at it as “a very full text that has lost nothing of its timeliness” and, in a speech about evangelization, refers to it as “that basic point of reference which remains relevant.” Finally, in an address to participants in the Pilgrimage from the Diocese of Brescia on 22 June 2013, he says that it is “to my mind the greatest pastoral document that has ever been written to this day”.

It is a document worth reading repeatedly as we celebrate “The Year of the Clergy and Religious: Renewed Servant-Leaders for the New Evangelization”.

There is a curious line in section 20 of the said document that raises many questions: “The split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times”. The qualifier at the end, to my mind, seems to imply that evangelization always has the element of the “new” due to the ever-present split. How do we understand this split? What reality in our contemporary world makes this split even more apparent? And what challenges do these pose to the clergy and the religious as servant leaders of the New Evangelization?

Recently, I was uttering the words of consecration during Mass when the public address system of the public school fronting the parish church blared out the Philippine National Anthem. The intermingling of realities during the raising of the consecrated host gave me room for pause after the mass. I then recalled some insights from Fr. Bernard Lonergan on the “scale of values” found in his Method in Theology. He distinguishes vital, social, cultural, personal, and religious values, with vital occupying the lowest, the most basic, rung and religious as the highest value. This scale of values is supposed to work harmoniously and the result is development.

In reality, the scale is in disharmony. In Insight, Lonergan points out “essentially the problem lies in an incapacity for sustained development”. He adds: “The conflict issues into contrary view of the good, which in turn make good will appear misdirected, and misdirected will appear good…The problem is not met by setting up a benevolent despotism to enforce a correct philosophy, ethics, or human science. Not doubt, if there is to be the appeal to force, then it is better that the force be directed by wisdom than by folly…But the appeal to force is a counsel of despair…”

What can we do? “The solution has to be a still higher integration of human living. For the problem is radical and permanent; it is independent of the underlying physical, chemical, organic, and psychic manifolds; it is not met by revolutionary change, nor by human discovery…it is as large as human living and human history. Further, the solution has to take people just as they are. If it is to be a solution and not a mere suppression of the problem, it has to acknowledge and respect and work through man’s intelligence and reasonableness and freedom.”

Lonergan then connects the problem of non-sustainable development to the issue of the scale of values: “…only a higher integration leaves underlying manifolds with their autonomy yet succeeds in introducing a higher systematization…” This higher integration has practical consequences. Politics, for instance, is a higher value than economics as it is tasked with ensuring the common good amidst different and oftentimes competing interests. But when, as in many instances, economic interests control politics, the scale of values are in disarray. Religious values, for their part, should make room for the vital, technological, economic, political, social, cultural, and personal values as well as provide a higher viewpoint and integration for them. For us Christians, this integration begins with the proclamation of the gospel.

I find the insights of the German theologian, Roman Guardini, in his prophetic book, The End of the Modern World (1956), useful for understanding this disorder in the scale of values. He points out that modern man resents authority as “slavery” because his age has “made revolution a perpetual institution.” He continues: “The new danger arises from a factor intrinsic to the work of man, even to the work of his spirit. The new danger arises from the factor of power . . . Man today holds power over things, but we can assert confidently that he does not yet have power over his own power.” We only have to look around us to see vast powers unleashed by technology to realize that moral and spiritual education have not kept apace with technology. Guardini tells us we have only two choices: ” . . . To match the greatness of [man’s] power with the strength of his humanity, or to surrender his humanity to power and perish.”

But this disconnect in the scale of values offer opportunities for New Evangelization. Guardini observes: “…The new age will declare that secularized facets of Christianity are sentimentalities. This declaration will clear the air. The world to come will be filled with animosity and danger, but it will be a world open and clean…The coming era will bring a frightful yet salutary preciseness to these conditions . . . As the benefits of Revelation disappear even more from the coming world, man will truly learn what it means to be cut off from Revelation.”. This is an opportune time “as unbelievers deny Revelation more decisively, it will become more evident what it really means to be a Christian.”

Then the good priest writes a stark and haunting, yet spiritually powerful scenario that brings us back to the Gospel: “Loneliness in faith will be terrible. Love will disappear from the face of the public world (Matt. 23:12), but the more precious will that love be which flows from one lonely person to another, involving a courage of the heart born from the immediacy of the love of God as it was made known in Christ.”

Yes, New Evangelization.