The Synod: The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, October 7 – 22, 2012.
The Synod: The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, October 7 – 22, 2012.
Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC
The Synod of Bishops: “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith,” which will meet from October 7-22, 2012 is an important moment for on-going reflection on the meaning of evangelization today.
The one great strength of the Instrumentum Laboris is that evangelization is centered on the person of Jesus. “The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.” (No.8)
Another strong point is that the Instrumentum Laboris refers to the documents of Vatican II 27 times. As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Council, it is important to reawaken in our Church an awareness of the evangelizing vision and spirit of Vatican II. Also, I am encouraged by references in the Instrumentum Laboris to the themes of the social doctrine of the Church, including No. 28, 29, 57, 72 and 157. No 130 is the strongest:
Testimony to Christ’s charity, through works of justice, peace and development, is part and parcel of evangelization, because Jesus Christ, who loves us, is concerned with the whole person. (No.130)
Justice and Inculturation
However, from my perspective as a missionary who has worked in the area of peace, justice and the integrity of creation, there are aspects of the Instrumentum Laboris that I believe need to be strengthened.
The 1971 Synod: “Justice in the World” taught that “action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appears to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel.” (Justice in the World, No 6). This affirmation of the connection between working for justice and witnessing to the Gospel of Jesus was very important for Catholics in the Philippines in the 1970s, because of the abuse of human rights perpetrated by the Marcos dictatorship. The same was true in much of Latin America. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (No. 66.) repeats this conviction clearly. The Church’s social doctrine is an integral part of her evangelizing ministry. (Paul VI Evangelii Nuntiandi).”
It seems to me that although there are references to the connection between evangelization and our Church’s social doctrine in the Instrumentum Laboris, the treatment of this essential dimension of our faith appears somewhat compartmentalized. The constitutive relationship between evangelization and our proclamation of the Reign of God as “a matter of justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17)” is not emphasized in an integrated manner throughout the document.
It is primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world.
The Instrumentum Laboris recognizes that the Church herself must be evangelized. This call is stated in sections including No.37, No. 128. and No.158 makes clear the need for this conversion.
If the Church is to be credible in these times, individual conversion is insufficient. Structures, systems and policies of the universal Church require transformation in the light of the Gospel. Forty years ago, the Synod on Justice in the World recognized this same reality: “While the Church is bound to give witness to justice, she recognizes that anyone who ventures to speak to people about justice must first be just in their eyes” (No. 40). In his latest book Option For The Poor and the Earth: Catholic Social Teaching, Donal Dorr recounts that many Vatican prelates were not happy about challenging the Church about its own record on respecting human rights and being just. At a preparatory meeting, Cardinal Pericle Felici who was secretary of the Council of the Secretariat of the Synod claimed that “the Church does not have any injustices.” Philip Land had the courage to challenge this assertion. He told the Cardinal that “if we cannot say that the Church has injustices, we should not have this document.” The document goes on to recognize everyone’s right to suitable freedom of expression and thought including the right to be heard in a spirit of dialogue which preserves a legitimate diversity with the Church.” (No 44). Furthermore, it insists that “the form of juridical procedure should give an accused the right to know his accusers and also the right to a proper defense.” According to Dorr, in putting forward these principles or guidelines, the Synod participants were issuing a strong challenge to the practice and views of the Vatican.” Unfortunately, these guidelines and commitments to follow fair procedures which are found in the legal systems of most democratic countries have not been taken on board by the Vatican, especially by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when its challenges the orthodoxy of theologians and pastors. Dorr rightly points out that this is a challenge to respect the human rights of everyone that is still very relevant today (in the Catholic Church).”
Although there is an essential relationship between charity and justice, they are not identical. The Instrumentum Laboris lauds “charitable works.” The word charity appears 11 times, whereas the word Justice only appears 5 times. However, working for justice involves changing systems, structures, institutions and public policies that are the root causes of social injustices. Other Vatican II documents such as Gaudium et Spes, understand evangelization as “dialogue with the world.” However, the Instrumentum Laboris emphasizes again and again “transmission of the Christian faith” to various groups and sectors. “Transmission” denotes “senders” and “receivers.” There is a clear contrast between “subjects” who act and “objects” who are acted upon. There seems to be little room for mutuality or inculturation of the Gospel in particular cultures. The documents of Vatican II and Evangelii Nuntiandi which emerged from the 1974 Synod emphasized the importance of evangelizing cultures. Pope Paul VI wrote:
It is necessary to evangelize, and to permeate with the Gospel, human culture and cultures. This has to be done, not superficially, as though one was adding a decoration or applying a coat of paint, but in depth – reaching into and out from the core and the roots of life …. The Gospel of evangelization can permeate all cultures, while being neither subordinate to any of them nor the monopoly of any. (No. 20).
Pope Paul VI was aware that unless the Gospel touches the culture, symbols and institutions of various societies it will not put down deep roots in that place. It will lead to the ‘split level’ Christianity which Filipino Jesuit Jamie Bulataw wrote about in the late 1960s and early 1970s. People might rattle off Christian formulae from the catechism or creedal statements but unless the Gospel is presented in the cultural idiom of that people, it will not capture the imagination or heart of individual Christians or the wider society. In my own life I was aware that if my presentation of the Gospel in my home town, Nenagh, was similar to my presentation of the challenge of the gospel to the T’boli people in the mountains of South Cotabato in the Philippines, then there would be something very defective in my missionary work among the T’boli. Christian preaching and witness must address the historical and cultural context of the people to whom the message is addressed in every situation. In fact, of course, the drive to inculturate the Gospel in different societies did not begin with Vatican II. We find it in the pages of the Gospels. Each of the four Gospels, especially John’s gospel presents the life and teaching of Jesus in different ways, depending on the audience to whom the gospel message was addressed. The Instrumentum Laboris adopts an eternal verities approach to sharing the Gospel rather than the inculturation approach. This is particularly worrying at the moment since most of the vitality of the Catholic Church right now is to be found among people in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Are they going to be able to articulate and celebrate the faith in their own terms or will they be forced to adopt western ways of expressing and celebrating the faith. The lack of any real consultation before the recent grossly incompetent translation of the Latin missal into English was forced on local churches does not give grounds for optimism.
Good evangelization must always respond to the “signs of the times.” One of the most important “sign of the times” came in September this year with the announcement that, at the ending of its summer melt, Arctic Sea Ice was at its lowest ever since the end of the last ice age 11,000 years ago. The consequences for human beings and the wider earth-community of not addressing climate change was spelt out graphically in a document from the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences entitled “Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene in April 2011.” The document concludes by stating that ‘warming and associated effects on the Earth System caused by the cumulative CO2 emissions that remain in the atmosphere for millennia may soon become unmanageable.’ With such dire consequences for humanity and the whole of creation, surely Pope John Paul II’s call to “ecological conversion” ought to be at the heart of the New Evangelization.
I would argue that in the light of the massive assault on the life-support systems of Planet Earth through the widespread extinction of species, the destruction of the oceans and marine ecosystems there is not sufficient focus on the integrity of creation in the Synod document. The Catholic Church’s teaching in this area is in its infancy. For example, we are now in the middle of the 6th greatest extinction spasm since life began 3.8 billion years ago. Human beings are on course to cause the extinction of between 30 percent and 50 percent of the species of planet earth by the end of this century. This is a catastrophe for life on earth, nevertheless, there is one paragraph on the destruction of biodiversity in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. (No.466). At the Plenary Assembly of the European Episcopal Conference in St. Gallen Switzerland, the bishops discussed “several topics that are currently affecting the continent. Among the areas of discussion were the economy, the European Union’s difficult progress with respect to freedom of religion and respect for life.” The rampant destruction of God’s creation did not appear to be on the agenda. The Catholic Church’s pro-life teaching would be much more powerful if it was seen in the larger context of all life on earth, which is now threatened by human activity.
Here again, Rome should be listening to the voices of the poor, especially from the global South. In the last chapter of my recently published book Fukushima: The Death Knell for Nuclear Energy, I point out that, that the Bishops Conferences in the Philippines, Korea and Japan were opposed to civilian nuclear power because of the host of dangers associated with nuclear reactors and storing highly radioactive nuclear waste. Rome, on the other hand was constantly promoting nuclear energy, even in countries where technological expertise was low. At meetings of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna each year the Vatican representative supported the transfer of nuclear technology to developing countries where population levels were increasing dramatically. The argument was that nuclear power would provide the necessary energy for these countries. In the eyes of Rome, people like myself who oppose nuclear power were considered ‘naïve idealists.’ It would appear that after the Fukushima disaster Rome has changed its position and has now joined the ranks of ‘naïve idealists!