Friday, April 27, 2007

MORE on Evangelization


I made a long comment on Amy Welborn's blog, Open Book, where another discussion rages about intentional discipleship, evangelization, and the personal relationship to Jesus. A lot of Catholics in the blogosphere are passionate about the Church, Jesus, the Sacraments, evangelization, RCIA, which is a hopeful sign. Too often, though, we end up sniping at one another in a most unchristian manner. Sometimes, it's because we can't agree on what to do first. I spent too much time on this to not post it here, too. I include a picture of St. Dominic Here goes...

I hope this comment allows all of us who are passionate about Christ and His Church to make some important distinctions which can be forgotten when we talk about evangelization, sacramental preparation, and discussions about the disposition of an individual with regard to the reception of sacraments.

There seems to be some disagreement about the nature and interrelationship between evangelization, proclamation and catechesis. Some argue the importance of catechetical content, others emphasize the importance of personal conversion to Christ, and so on.

All of these are important, but each has a particular role and place in the process of bringing someone into the fullness of relationship with Christ and His Church as it can be experienced in our earhtly life.

The National Directory for Catechesis recognizes that individuals fall into different categories with regard to what they need from the Christian community or the individual Catholic Christian.

Some people are in need of Pre-evangelization, i.e., preparation for the first proclamation of the Gospel. These include “non-believers, the indifferent.” The indifferent, I believe, can sometimes include people in our parishes. Pre-evangelization indicates that there are some obstacles that may need to be overcome before someone is capable of hearing and receiving the gospel. Sometimes that can be as simple as needing to trust a particular Catholic person who seems to genuinely care about me.

"Sharing the Light of Faith" (the old National Catechetical Directory) expresses this beautifully:

"Catechesis presupposes prior pre-evangelization and evangelization. These are likely to be most successful when they build on basic human needs - for security, affection, acceptance, growth, and intellectual development - showing how these include a need, a hunger, for God and His Word.

Often, however, catechesis is directed to individuals and communities who, in fact, have not experienced pre-evangelization and evangelization, and have not made acts of faith corresponding to those stages. Taking people as they are, catechesis attempts to dispose them to respond to the message of revelation in an authentic, personal way.

There is a great need in the United States today (1978!!) to prepare the ground for the gospel message. Many people have no religious affiliation. Many others have not committed their lives to Christ and His Church, even though they are church members. Radical questioning of values, rapid social change, pluralism, cultural influences, and population mobility - these and other factors underline the need for pre-evangelization." (Nat'l Catechetical Directory for the U.S., 1978, #34)

Once we have established some kind of relationship and have dealt with issues that might prevent the acceptance of the Gospel (which might be personal or philosophical), and individual is prepared for the initial announcement of the Gospel. This can include a wide variety of people: “Non-believers, those who have chosen not to believe, those who follow other religions, children of Christians, those who may have been baptized but have little or no awareness of their Baptism and . . . live on the margins of Christian life.” (Nat'l Directory for Catechesis, 2005, #49

Notice that proclamation is of the Gospel, which is about Christ! The intent is to foster the individual's relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior, which necessarily calls for personal conversion that is indicated by a change in one's life. This is the focus of the inquiry and precatechumenate stages of RCIA. If the RCIA process is to be a model for adult faith formation in this country, as the U.S. bishops suggested in Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, we cannot afford to ignore the question of whether or not an individual has committed their life to Christ. A judgment has to be made by each one of us whether or not this is true.

AFTER initial faith and conversion, one is ready for initiatory catechesis that introduces the life of faith, the Liturgy, and charity. According to the National Catechetical Directory, this is appropriate for “Catechumens, those who are coming to the Catholic faith from another Christian tradition, Catholics who need to complete their initiation, children and the young.” (49) But always, personal conversion is presumed in these individuals. If it has not happened, they are not ready to receive the fullness of the truth the Church has to offer because they have not received Him Who is the Truth.

The teaching of the Church regarding evangelization, catechesis and proclamation is beautiful, scriptural, practical, recognizes the essential role for grace - and remains to be put into effective practice in many of our parishes and in most of our lives. It requires patience, prayer, good people skills, grace, a lived relationship with Christ and His Church, time, attentiveness to others, selfless love. It wouldn't hurt if the fruits of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control (attributes that sometimes are lacking in Catholic blogs) were clearly to be found in us who would bring others to Christ and His Church.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

The Importance of Soil Type

I am on the road this weekend, and am typing this in the Phoenix airport prior to boarding for sunny St. Paul, MN. I may not be able to keep up with the posts and comments, but thought I'd leave a brief reflection on Wednesday's gospel, Mark 4:1-20 because I believe it connects with the important issue of disposition and grace.

Jesus is talking about various dispositions of people who encounter the Word that he sows. I propose that he may also be speaking of the various reactions that people have to him, as well, since he is the incarnate Word. Notice that there are a variety of responses. Some have the word snatched by Satan as soon as they hear it. It's taken before it can begin to take root at all. Some respond with joy, and the word begins to root in them, begins to change their life and their behavior, but then the trials that inevitably come with living as a disciple of Christ leads to their abandonment of following him. Still others hear the word, but the distractions and cares of life "and the craving for other things" squeezes out the transforming power of the Word.

Note the craving for other things probably means other goods, since we are created by God to pursue the good. It's just that they are lesser goods – including our families, our careers, our pursuit of justice and human rights and every other good thing that is not God. Now, please do not think that I'm suggesting we abandon our spouses and children, or quit our jobs and join religious life. Rather, I'm proposing that the following of Christ must come first, and in following Christ, all of our other relationships and pursuits will be transformed. We will love our families better, serve them more wholeheartedly, and promote their personal and spiritual growth more if we are in communion with Christ. We will approach the sacraments with greater "active, conscious participation" when our relationship with Christ is our first priority. As Pope Benedict XVI said at his inauguration Mass, "If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide."

These various responses to Christ and his word point to the importance of our disposition when we approach the sacraments, our prayer, our relationships with other people – every aspect of our life of faith. This is why we at Intentional Disciples are so focused on the need for intentionality in our life of faith. We can't just "go through the motions" and presume that grace will be imparted. Nor are we suggesting that our disposition is simply our own work. St. Thomas Aquinas observed that

"even the good movement of the free-will, whereby anyone is prepared for receiving the gift of grace is an act of the free-will moved by God. And thus man is said to prepare himself, according to Prov. 16:1: "It is the part of man to prepare the soul"; yet it is principally from God, Who moves the free-will. Hence it is said that man's will is prepared by God, and that man's steps are guided by God." (ST II, I, 112, art. 2)

Our disposition is critical in the fruitful reception of God's grace in the sacraments, but even that good disposition is a result of our cooperation with the grace of God, whether that be habitual or actual grace. Yet we have to cooperate! As St. Augustine said, "God will not save us without us."

They're calling my flight. Gotta run. I hope this helps you understand our focus on intentionality a bit better - think of it as a bit of fertilizer for your soil!

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