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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Monday, 3 February 2014

LOOKING BACK ON THE EPIPHANY: ITS CONTINUING RELEVANCE FOR THE NEW EVANGELISATION.



We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life -  this life was revealed, and we have seen it We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us - we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 Jn, I...)

It looks as though the first generations of Christians had an advantage over us, because they were witnesses to the events that make up the Good News.

   Take as an example the Samaritan woman at the well.   She meets Christ; and, when he has impressed her with his knowledge and his wisdom, she tells her neighbours about him.   They go to hear him and invite him to stay with them.   Afterwards they say to her:
It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world. (Jn 4, 42)

Christ was actually around to be listened to: they could go to the very source of the Good News and be convinced by Christ himself. However, what was going to happen after the Ascension?   Are we fated to follow Christ with only second hand testimony? 

 To St Thomas, Jesus said, ''Blessed are those who believe without having seen.''   How are we blessed, and how can our proclamation of the Gospel be so fresh and convincing when we rely on the testimony of others?

The answer to these questions is the Holy Spirit who is present in all authentic evangelising and every true conversion. The Holy Spirit brings us into vital contact with Christ, and also with the events that provide the material for our evangelising.  In every act of  evangelising, its impact comes from the fact that the evangelist is a mere instrument.  Only to the extent that he allows himself to work in synergy (complete harmony) with the Holy Spirit, to that extent his proclamation has the freshness and the force of early Apostolic preaching.

The evangelist asks, "How can I be a witness to events that took place two thousand years before I was born?"   And the angel replies,'' The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and for this reason, those that are converted by your word shall be called sons and daughters of God.''   The evangelist replies, ''Let it be done to me according to your word.''

Pope Francis says:
“A Christian must proclaim Jesus Christ in such a way that He be accepted: received, not refused – and Paul knows that he has to sow the Gospel message. He knows that the proclamation of Jesus Christ is not easy, but that it does not depend on him. He must do everything possible, but the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the proclamation of the truth, depends on the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel: ‘When He shall come, the Spirit of truth, shall guide you into all the truth.’ Paul does not say to the Athenians: ‘This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth.’ No! The truth does not enter into an encyclopedia. The truth is an encounter – it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth.  We receive the truth when we meet [it].''

 Hence, neither the evangelist nor the person to be evangelised has Christ in his pocket, to be produced at will.  True evangelisation takes place only when the evangelist is working in synergy with the Holy Spirit, who is also working in the person being evangelised.   God is in charge of the whole operation.

Proselytism takes place when the Christian message is treated like an ideology to be spread by propaganda, or by using means other that the Holy Spirit to achieve conversion.   It results in a conversion that does not involve a meeting with Christ.

The evangelist´s message is that of a witness, "what we have seen and heard."  There is an immediacy about it, brought about by the Holy Spirit.


The Eucharist: Fount of Evangelisation.


The kind of witness of "what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life" has its source in the Mass, the central act of the Church´s encounter with Christ, and in the liturgy in general.  
He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, "the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross" [20], but especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptises it is really Christ Himself who baptises [21]. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20)
In the liturgy, we become witnesses to what we have seen and heard because 
  the sanctification of the man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs.

Christian revelation is not only a message to be heard, but a reality to be seen, touched, even tasted.   It needs to be experienced with our whole being, so that Christ and ourselves can one at every level.   We are not just invited to hear the Good News: we are invited to savour it, to celebrate it, to live it.   We are also asked to live it in such a way that salvation becomes visible to the world.  The Good News, or Salvation, is not only true: it is beautiful and it is good.   To be truly proclaimed to the world, it needs to be expressed in beauty and made visible in the lives of the saints.

Thus, Pope Benedict said,  “I did once say that to me art and the saints are the greatest apologetics for our faith.”
It was Pope Benedict’s love of baroque art and architecture that is such a revelation for English-speaking Catholics. He explains that
 “in line with the tradition of the West, the Council [of Trent] again emphasised the didactic and pedagogical character of art, but, as a fresh start toward interior renewal, it led once more to a new kind of seeing that comes from and returns within. The altarpiece is like a window through which the world of God comes out to us. The curtain of temperately is raised, and we are allowed a glimpse into the inner life of the world of God. This art is intended to insert us into the liturgy of heaven. Again and again, we experience a Baroque church as a unique kind of fortissimo of joy, an Alleluia in visual form.”


To those who see the promotion of traditional art, architecture, and music as merely an act of nostalgia it must be pointed out that the Pope saw the great masterpieces of Western art as living witnesses to the eternal faith.  The Sistine chapel, Gothic cathedrals, and baroque altarpieces continue to speak to those who have eyes to see.  The relation between tradition and innovation in Benedict’s thought grows out of Vatican II in which “any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.” So what about the place of creativity in new works? “An art that lost the root of transcendence would not be oriented to God; it would be a halved art, it would lose its living root; and a faith that had art only in the past would no longer be faith in the present; and today it must be expressed anew as truth that is always present.”
Pope Francis continues with the same teaching.   “Only the beauty of God can attract. God’s way is through enticement, allure,” Pope Francis said during a lengthy address to the bishops of Brazil July 27 at the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro’s John Paul II building.

The Pope said that Catholics need to learn how to be “a Church which makes room for God’s mystery, a Church which harbours that mystery in such a way that it can entice people, attract them,”

Very much in the spirit of Benedict XVI, he wrote in Evangelii Gaudium
“Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the “way of beauty” (via pulchritudinis). Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendour and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus.”

The Pope added that God “awakens in us a desire to keep him and his life in our homes, in our hearts. He reawakens in us a desire to call our neighbours in order to make known his beauty. Mission is born precisely from this divine allure, by this amazement born of encounter.”
In the celebration of the liturgy in general and the Mass in particular, revelation becomes more than a message.   Liturgical celebration, by its very nature, is where truth, goodness and beauty are simply three dimensions of the same Reality, the Christian Mystery that we celebrate.   The beauty of the celebration must be such that it makes evident to the participants the profound goodness of the truth that is proclaimed: an ugly celebration is an unliturgical celebration, and it may well limit the effectiveness of any evangelisation that may come from its celebration. 

False beauty immerses people in their own little worlds and confirms them in their false identity , which is why pop music is unsuitable for liturgy. True beauty transcends the pleasures of those taking part and invites them to share and enjoy Christ's perspective, who sees them as sons and daughters of God.   St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) wrote, " “To live the eucharistic life means to exit the narrowness of one’s own life in order to grow in to the infinity of Christ’s life.”

Bringing St Teresa Benedicta into the argument reminds us that beauty is not the only way to transcend the mundane and make contact with the actual reality of the Christian Mystery.   The other way is contact with real, authentic holiness.  All holiness is a sharing in the holiness of Christ himself; and we make Christ visible by becoming holy.   We will first look at the easier way to manifest Christ's presence, the way of Christian community.   Then we shall talk of personal holiness.

In chapter 17 of St John, Jesus instructs his disciples:
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.   As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, that the world may believe that you have sent me.

While the Good News remains a message, it is certainly capable of converting us to Christ if the Holy Spirit is at work; but the Gospel is not only proclaimed to be heard: it is also made to be lived,and seen and touched and tasted.   Only when Christians respond to the message by living it in community can the grace of Christ be experienced in its many dimensioned form, can its beauty, goodness and truth become evident to the world; and hence the text comes alive.

This reminds us of the essential part played by monasteries in the conversion of Europe.   Why should monasteries be so effective?   Even now, in the secular west, monastic guesthouses are full, and there is an interest in monasticism. 

 Father Timothy Radcliffe O.P. gave a talk to the Benedictine abbots meeting in congress in Rome in the year 2,000, when he was Master of the Dominican Order; and this talk has become classical.   The full talk be found here, but we shall give a small exerpt.
  Why are people so drawn to monasteries? Today I would like to share with you some thoughts as to why this is so. You may think that my thoughts are completely crazy, and proof that a Dominican can understand nothing of the Benedictine life. If so, then please forgive me. I wish to claim that your monasteries disclose God not because of what you do or say, but perhaps because the monastic life has at its centre a space, a void, in which God may show himself. I wish to suggest that the rule of St. Benedict offers a sort of hollow centre to your lives, in which God may live and be glimpsed. 

The glory of God always shows itself in an empty space. When the Israelites came out of the desert, God came with them seated in the space between the wings of the cherubim, above the seat of mercy. The throne of glory was this void.

I would like to suggest, then, that the invisible centre of your life is revealed in how you live. The glory of God is shown in a void, an empty space in your lives. I will suggest three aspects of the monastic life which open this void and make a space for God: First of all, your lives are for no particular purpose. Secondly in that they lead nowhere, and finally because they are lives of humility. Each of these aspects of the monastic life opens us a space for God. And I wish to suggest that in each case it is the celebration of the liturgy that makes sense of this void. It is the singing of the Office several times a day that shows that this void is filled with the glory of God.  

I would like to suggest, then, that the invisible centre of your life is revealed in how you live. The glory of God is shown in a void, an empty space in your lives. I will suggest three aspects of the monastic life which open this void and make a space for God: First of all, your lives are for no particular purpose. Secondly in that they lead nowhere, and finally because they are lives of humility. Each of these aspects of the monastic life opens us a space for God. And I wish to suggest that in each case it is the celebration of the liturgy that makes sense of this void. It is the singing of the Office several times a day that shows that this void is filled with the glory of God.

Christ is present where two or more people are united in his name.   Father Timothy is saying that Grace takes a human form in a community that has no other reason for existing than that presence.   People are attracted by it, even non-believers: it often catches them by surprise, and they don't know what has hit them; and they are eager for more.   Several times I have heard people say, after our conventual Mass, that they hadn't known whether they were in heaven or on earth; and I am sure that they have never heard of what happened in Ukraine when it was said for the first time!   I have also heard people exclaim how holy the place is, and how there is a strong sense of peace; and I am sure it isn't us!!  The fact is that a monastery is territory re-claimed from this fallen world for God; and people feel it in their bones. An outstanding example of the attraction of monasteries is the community of Taize. 






Monastic communities give people to touch and taste and see the Gospel as well as hear it; and they are excellent instruments of the New Evangelisation.



Another important dimension of the Christian life is solitude.   No community life can escape superficiality if there is not a one-to-one relationship between each member and God.   There is no conflict between community and solitude in Christianity because both are communion with Christ; and, in Christ, we find the whole Church, and even the whole human race; and this is true, whether we are acting in community or alone, whether we are celebrating a communal Mass or a so-called "private" Mass, whether we are a cenobite or a hermit.   St Peter Damian wrote to some hermits:

 Indeed, the Church of Christ is united in all her parts by such a bond of love that her several members form a single body and in each one the whole Church is mystically present; so that the whole Church universal may rightly be called the one bride of Christ, and on the other hand every single soul can, because of the mystical effect of the sacrament, be regarded as the whole Church.
 Christianity is full of paradox: the more a Christian is united to Christ in heaven, the more he or she becomes a means through which Christ manifests his presence on earth.   The individual who is full of God becomes the means by which we can not only hear the Good News, but see, touch and taste it as well.  We think of St John Mary Vianney, the Cure of Ars, how he set France on fire in the 19th century.  We remember St Seraphim of Sarov, the Russian Orthodox saint who said that, when a Christian receives the gift of peace, thousands around him will be saved.

  We remember Padre Pio and Mother Teresa of Calcutta in the 20th. A mere photo of Mother Teresa praying is worth a thousand words.   We cannot compare with these giants; but we must remember that an essential aspect of evangelisation is to let people see that the Gospel is alive by living it.   As Charles de Foucauld said, "We must proclaim the Gospel with our lives." 

St John the Baptist said that he had to shrivel so that Christ could grow.   In a saying attributed to St John Chrysostom, it says of the priestly celebrant at Mass, "For Christ to appear, the priest must disappear!"   One of the characteristics of the New Evangelisation is that those who are doing the evangelising are conscious that they are only messenger  boys and girls, that their task is nothing more than humble obedience. "We must learn to be a cchurch that makes room for God´s mystery," says the present pope. Their task is nothing more than to convey the message of God's saving love in Christ.  Thus, in Paris, there was a campaign in which Catholic and Orthodox young people stopped people in the street with this simple message.   They were not to engage in argument, nor impress people by their drama or ability with words.   The force of the message was left to the Holy Spirit.  In this way, a message was turned into an epiphany.

This is clear also in the NightFever apostolate.   People are invited from the street; but there is no pressure.   Those taking part are not the centre of attention. People are each offered a night light in the street and asked to place it in front of the altar in the church nearby.   Once they do this, it is up to them what they do  There is Mass and, then, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for the rest of the night.  There is singing, but nobody need sing; prayers, but no one need join in.  Silence, meditation, candles, prayer, but no uniformity, no correct way to behave, but plenty of opportunity to come in contact with the Christian Mystery.   The New Evangelism concentrates on essentials.

Finally, here are two videos about conversions.   Ask yourselves what made the Gospel come alive for these two people.   The answers may help you in the New Evangelisation.



   
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