The Synod Begins
Rocco Palmo has posted the full text of Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s opening address to the Synod on the New Evangelization. Like much of what Cardinal Wuerl writes, it is thoughtful, well-organized. and covers the terrain well. Any summary is unlikely to do it justice. But let me just highlight a few points.
I was particularly interested in Wuerl’s discussion of the theological foundations of the New Evangelization, where he highlights four important elements. The first is the need for a reassertion of a Christian anthropology, an understanding that human beings are oriented to the transcendent and it is in Jesus Christ that this orientation is fulfilled. The second is a stronger insistence that the Jesus the Church proclaims is the Jesus rooted in the tradition of the Church, not in sociological or historical reconstruction. The third is the need for a reassertion of the necessity of the Church for salvation. Wuerl understands the difficulty of this in light of recent developments in doctrine and argues that “the New Evangelization must speak about God’s universal salvific will and at the same time recognize that Jesus has provided a clear and unique path to redemption and salvation.” Finally, the fourth element Wuerl highlights is Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
A second–and related–theme in Wuerl’s address is the qualities of the “new evangelists.” He identifies four: “boldness” in their proclamation of the Gospel; connectedness to the Church; a sense of urgency, and joy. “Whatever our circumstances,” Wuerl writes, our witness should radiate the fruits of the Holy Spirit including love, peace and joy.”
If I had to summarize this in a sentence, I would say that Wuerl is calling for both clarity and boldness in our preaching of the Gospel. Be clear about what we believe let that clarity be reflected in both our confidence and our joy.
There is much in Wuerl’s address that I agree with. There are a couple of things, however, that I wish he had addressed in a deeper way. I found his discussion of the reasons for the decline in religious practice superficial. Wuerl repeats a widely held view among the bishops that the catechetical crisis of the 60s and 70s played a major role here. I would argue that the decline has much deeper roots in the increasing affluence and mobility of individuals in the West and the decline in the kind of stable, inter-generational communities that played a critical role in passing on the faith.
While I agree that a baseline degree of confidence in Church teaching is a prerequisite to effective evangelization, I think we have to be careful that confidence does not slide over into arrogance. Many of the people that the New Evangelization targets tend to be skeptical of institutions. Particularly in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal, the credibility of the bishops and the institutional structures they command is arguably at its lowest level since the 16th century. While the bishops remain the successors to the Apostles, their ability to be effective evangelizers has been seriously compromised for the foreseeable future.
If clarity and boldness are part of the answer, they need to be expressed first and foremost in the lives of ordinary Catholics. If I were a bishop, I would do everything possible to get myself off the front pages of both my local and diocesan papers and instead hold up the examples of the everyday saints whose lives are the best argument for the truths of our faith.
Tags: Cardinal Donald Wuerl