Remarks on the Lineamenta for the Synod on the New Evangelization
Fr. Bryan Kromholtz, OP
I found this document to be inspiring in many ways – although it is rather general. However, in the interest of time, what follows is a list of critiques, without being balanced by praise (which the document also deserves). I have five points to make.
1. In number 11 it is said that personal encounter with Jesus Christ is the goal of the new evangelization. Indeed it is, but it must be understood that this personal encounter is not only individual but also corporate, communal, Ecclesial. The Church is not merely a means by which we come to an individual encounter with Christ; the life of the Church (pilgrim, suffering, and heavenly) is part of life in Christ. We encounter Christ in the body of Christ, the Church. The Eucharist, celebrated in the Church, is, after all, the source and summit of Christian life. Indeed, the community life that one encounters in the church is an attractive feature of the faith, and so would seem to have an important place in the new evangelization for today, at least in this country. I do not believe that the community life experienced in the church is merely an attractive substitute for a secular communal life that should be richer anyway. Rather, the unity in diversity that is the body of Christ is a witness to the Holy Spirit's action in the church.
2. The entire document is perhaps what I would call Logo-centric: that is, it stresses God as true, rather than as good or beautiful. As a Dominican, committed to Veritas, I can hardly object! Besides, this is understandable, insofar as the document is largely about proclamation of the Word, the Logos. However, elements of Christian life primarily associated with goodness are also extremely important for evangelization: charity toward others, seeking out the poor, being willing to suffer with those who suffer, being committed to justice (these elements are touched upon, but could be better developed). These all give witness to the love of Christ and therefore to Christ himself. Then, also, parts of Christian life associated with beauty should be mentioned: the arts, where Christians attempt to give witness to God's Glory in human culture in all its forms; liturgy, where all the senses are involved in offering worship. These can become important in attracting people to the faith – not as artificial advertisement, but as invitation to share in a life of giving glory to God through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.
3. This document is about New Evangelization, so perhaps we should not look in it for every single thing that has ever been known as evangelical. But still, where are the evangelical counsels? As a Dominican and religious, I cannot help but ask: is it possible that material affluence, particularly in the West, makes the Gospel more difficult to hear in this culture? Should there be a new call to poverty as joyful dependence upon the Lord? (Some mention of this is made in nos. 9, 17, and 22.)
4. In chapter 1, there is a list of several challenges in the current complex of situations that the Church faces. I see only hints there of what I would call the challenge of a “culture of control”: the notion that man is master of his fate, by technological means, etc. This is an obstacle to evangelization today, for the life of faith involves a surrender of control. We, particularly in the West, have difficulty receiving from God, and perhaps from anyone. And yet there is an opening here, because there is no true joy without a kind of receiving. When this joy of receiving something is experienced, there is something of the divine there. And salvation in Jesus Christ is above all received, not fashioned by ourselves, not controlled – but received as gift.
5. The document does not seem to speak much about repentance (touched upon in no. 17, as the “fruit” of the transmission of faith). In the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, the first preaching we hear from Jesus, his original message, is about repentance: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15) Now for us to go forth and to preach repentance may not sound like a great strategy for bringing people to the faith. A great obstacle to evangelization of those far from faith may be the popular belief that God condemns them – or, more precisely, that the church condemns them, that Christians condemn them. If we are to evangelize in a way that bears fruit, a better context for it may be to make clear that we ourselves, the members of the church, have repented, have needed forgiveness from God, and have received it through his Son. Our Lord came to save not the righteous, but sinners. Those who have received the forgiveness of Jesus Christ are the ones who can speak of him and can invite others to share in his forgiveness and in friendship with him.