Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The greater 'We'

All Souls 2012

Many people suffer from an over exaggerated sense of self-importance, whether as individuals or collectively as a group. A dead give-away is when they begin almost every sentence with the royal ‘we’. Some feel that whenever they speak, they do so as a representative of the rest of the world or at least of its majority. They imagine themselves as the focal point of reference, the centre of the universe, the Solar system’s centrifugal axis where all other planets must find their orbit. Psychiatrists have a term for this – it’s called ‘Narcissistic Personality Disorder.’ The Church too has sometimes been subjected to this egocentric and megalomaniac worldview. Thus the declaration, “We are Church!”

When speaking of the Church, it has become quite fashionable to say – “We are Church.” The reason for its popularity and attraction is because it implies a kind of democratisation of the Church; an identification of the Church with its grassroots rather than with the hierarchical elite. For those who may not be aware, ‘We Are Church’ is also the name of an organisation of dissenters, a church “reform” group that was started in the German-speaking world some years ago and has now spread to other countries. You would find the usual trendy, politically correct dissenter on their menu: women priests (for), clerical celibacy (against), homosexual sex (for), contraceptives (against), abortion (for) etc.

What most Catholics are not aware of is that the above label or way of describing the Church is not just highly inadequate but also distorts the vastly complicated ecclesiology of the Church. The Church is not just the sum total of its living members but also encompasses the members who are separated by the boundaries of death. Death does not sever their membership in the Church of Christ. GK Chesterton, one of the most famous converts to Christianity at the turn of the 20th century argued that if one wishes to apply the principles of democracy to the Church, especially in the area of its teachings or Sacred Tradition, then one must speak of a democracy that extends through time, encompassing all Christians who have come before the present generation and all Christians who will follow hereafter. So, to those who flaunt the problematic ‘We are Church’ slogan whenever they wish to dictate or pontificate to others, this is going to be news for you – ‘You are in the minority!’

When Pope Benedict was in Germany last year, he gave a talk to a group of seminarians. First, he stressed to the seminarians that a proper Christian perspective “requires us always to look beyond the particular, limited “we” towards the great “we” that is the Church of all times and places: it requires that we do not make ourselves the sole criterion.” When the Pope pointed to the greater “we”, he was not just merely referring to the rest of the living Catholics of our day. The emphasis is on the second part – “the great ‘we’ that is the Church of all times and places.” In other words, we must look beyond ourselves and our own views and must embrace the fullness of Christian tradition. If the voice of the whole Christian tradition is allowed speak, you will find a clear rejection of many of the issues championed by these group of dissenters today.

The Pope then continues with the following lines of wisdom firmly rooted in the Church’s traditional self-understanding: “When we say: “We are Church” – well, it is true: that is what we are, we are not just anybody. But the “we” is more extensive than the group that asserts those words. The “we” is the whole community of believers, today and in all times and places.” Who is this ‘greater we’, which the Pope is speaking of? The answer lies in the liturgical celebrations of these recent two days. Today’s feast of All Souls and yesterday’s All Saints are clear reminders of the truth in the Pope’s assertions. When discussing this greater conception of the Church under the doctrine of the Communion of Saints, the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, has been traditionally described in a threefold manner as the Church Militant, the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant.

The saints and angels in heaven compose the Church triumphant, because they have gained the crown of victory. The souls in purgatory compose the Church suffering, because they still have to expiate for their sins before they can enter heaven. The faithful on earth compose the Church militant, because they have to struggle ceaselessly against the enemies of their souls, the world, the flesh and the devil. But there is only one Church, one Mystical Body of Christ, because its members are united by supernatural bonds, incapable of being severed even in death, with one another and with Christ, their Head, thus resembling the members and head of the living human body.

Today, on All Souls Day, the Church reminds us of our duty to pray for the dead. St. Augustine says: "Prayer is the key by which we open the gates of heaven to the suffering souls." The Church teaches us that just as we love and respect our living brethren, so do we love and respect those of them who have departed this life. We express our love for our departed friends and relatives through prayer. Death and burial cannot sever the Christian love which united the living with those once living and now deceased. We pray for the faithful dead not because we believe that God's mercy can only be triggered by our intercession, but because it is our life task to hold in our mind and heart those who are given to us through kindred and affinity, and as friends, colleagues and neighbours.  This task transcends the boundaries of life and death. 

Today’s feast teaches us an important truth about the Church - there is interdependence among the members of the Church – no one lives for himself alone, but for the entire body. Every good a member does perfects the whole Body, of which he is a part. We need to be always in the sync with the rest of the Body, especially with its Head, and not constantly plot to overthrow it with our own plans of Church-domination. This supernatural fellowship where all three Churches commune together, praying for one another is known as the doctrine of the Communion of Saints. The Church Triumphant prays for the Church Militant, who in turn prays for the Church Suffering.  We, the faithful who comprise the Church Militant, pray to the Church Triumphant, for their intercession and they, in turn, plead with the Lord on our behalf.  The Church Suffering cannot pray for themselves; therefore they cannot hope for the intercession of the Saints in Heaven without the Church Militant, praying in their behalf. This interplay has been described by some authors as a great philharmonic orchestra with God as its supreme maestro. It is really awesome when you think of the integral part each of us play in God’s Symphony for Salvation. 

Thus the doctrine of the communion of saints, though one of the least understood or known, is one of the most consoling dogmas of the Church. The doctrine injects the necessary antidote for humility to our hubris-filled notion of Church. ‘We’ are not Church, only a part of the Mystical Body of Christ, a small minority in fact. Thus, we must defer to the wisdom of the majority, those who have reached the perfection of heaven, the Church Triumphant.  

In celebrating both the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls we are reminded that sanctity is the universal vocation of all men. We are destined for heaven. Even for those who are suffering in purgatory, our faith fills us with hope, because we are assured that their salvation is guaranteed. Purgatory is never a final state. The souls in Purgatory have died in a state of sanctifying grace. They will enter Heaven!

Beauty and Holiness

All Saints

Today’s Solemn Feast draws us to contemplate, admire, and emulate the beauty of the Church in her Saints. Now this may seem strange to speak of the saints as being beautiful. The term ‘beautiful’ would commonly be associated with art. When we use the word "art," thoughts of paintings and statues in museums or galleries generally come to mind. When we refer to “the arts," music, poetry, dance, theater, etc. are added to the list. Not too long ago, the interior of our churches were beautifully and magnificently adorned with masterpieces of art depicting Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, in the form of statues, stain glass, murals, paintings, icons and frescos. But in the iconoclastic upheaval since (and not because of) Vatican II, many of our churches were literally whitewashed. (It is interesting to note that those who often style themselves as enemies of beauty or anything aesthetically pleasing often find themselves trivialising holiness) The Church’s artistic patrimony was replaced with functional technology and grotesque minimalistic representations of the sacred. Banal pop tunes and folksy ditties became staple repertoire of our choirs and Protestant inspired buntings were passed off as art.

So, how are the saints beautiful? Am I just referring to the statues of the saints which we have summarily exiled to the narthex (what you would commonly call the front porch of the Church)? Before we consider the relationship of beauty to that of holiness of the saints, let us first consider the concept of beauty. Beauty is more than just subjective aesthetic sensibility. Great thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas teach us that beauty is a quality, either natural or man-made, that delights the senses, the mind, or the soul. Beauty reveals or is a reflection of goodness, perfection, clarity, and simplicity. It is objectively attractive by its very nature. Beauty draws us out of ourselves toward something other. Most importantly, beauty is not something we consume, but it is something that must be contemplated in order to be enjoyed. In other words, we must receive it and allow it to shape us. Beauty is something to ponder or to meditate upon. It opens us to the infinite!

Even here, when speaking of beauty in the secular sense, one can already appreciate the inherently transcendental quality of the concept. We could easily substitute the word ‘beauty’ with ‘God’ or ‘holiness.’ According to St Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle’s thought, beauty is counted as one of the transcendentals, the others being ‘one’, ‘good’ and ‘true’. The transcendentals are the properties of being that transcend the limitations of space and time.  Man ultimately strives for the perfect attainment of the transcendentals. In other words, man desires Perfect Union, Unsullied Goodness, Absolute Truth and Supreme Beauty. It is a search that can and may lead him to God. The Catholic Church teaches that God is Himself One, True, Good, and Beautiful. These are not merely attributes or qualities of God. There is a metaphysical reality to the transcendental that bespeaks of God himself. One need only to look at the way St Augustine used the word “beauty” in his most famous quote, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!” For St. Augustine, “beauty” is another word for God Himself. God is not simply beautiful; He is Beauty.

Since man’s contemplation of the beautiful is ultimately a contemplation of God, then his desire for beauty is ultimately a hunger for holiness, a life in union with God. Beauty has an ability to pierce our hearts, to break them wide open so they can be filled with God’s presence. We sense God’s awesomeness, we sense His truth, and we sense His utter goodness, because none of these can be separated from His beauty. Last week, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, after attending a documentary entitled ‘Art and Faith’ spoke of the language of art as being a 'parabolic' language, “with a special openness to the universal: the 'Way of Beauty' is a way capable of leading the mind and heart to the Lord, to elevate them to the heights of God.” Beauty is always a reflection of holiness, for holiness is, at its core, a full harmony with the Divine; letting the Radiance of the inner life of the Trinity shine through the holy one. St. Augustine was correct when he wrote that “beauty is the splendour of truth”. Holiness is lovely in the sight of God. At the opposite extreme from the beauty of holiness is the hideousness of sin.  Sin is a deformity, a monstrosity. Sin defiles and distorts beauty, the good and truth. Sin is ultimately repulsive and repellent to God.

The power of beauty can work in reverse. We see this in sin. Just as we grow in holiness when we contemplate beauty, whenever we cast beauty from our lives, misuse beauty, or corrupt that which is beautiful, we develop vices. Pornography is a mockery of beauty. Whether we realise it or not, our environment has a great power to shape us. If we expose ourselves to truly beautiful places, truly beautiful objects, truly beautiful liturgy, and truly beautiful people, we desire to become beautiful ourselves because beauty awakens our desires for the higher and nobler things of life. But if we expose ourselves to places, things, or people that are devoid of beauty, our taste for the higher and nobler things of life is dulled and corrupted, and we begin to accept a life without beauty. In fact, over time we can lose our ability to recognise beauty when we see it—especially the beauty of moral goodness in the saints. And it is then that we lose hope.

If you remember the old penny Catechism, which seems to offer profoundly complicated tenets of our belief in digestible sound bites, you would know that whole purpose of this life is to become holy so that we can live with God forever in heaven. Our goal is to become like God Himself, in whose image we have been created. If God is Beauty Itself, as St. Augustine suggests in the quote above, then perhaps we can refer to this process as beautification! Interestingly, the word used to describe the process where the Church comes to recognise that someone is a saint is called ‘beatification’ (the third of the four steps in the process of canonisation). Therefore, being a Catholic and called to live a life of holiness is really a process of becoming more beautiful. To be transformed by His Power to be Holy is true Beauty. To be holy is to be like God, and thus to become Beauty itself. Therefore it is no wonder that the Church speaks of heaven as Beatific Vision. St Paul tells us that in heaven, we will see God “face to face.” We will behold the splendour, the majesty, the glory and the beauty of God in all its radiance and be consumed by it.  

But perhaps, all of this seems too lofty. We may be accused of a form of idealism or escapism. Contemplation of holiness and beauty may seem fine up in the clouds, but brings us no closer to its realisation in the here and now. It is here that the Church presents the beauty of the saints for our contemplation. The saints show us that the concrete realisation of beauty to which we are called as Christians is possible. They are epiphanies of beauty that reveal through their all too human life experiences and struggles, that holiness can be incarnated. In fact they offer a kaleidoscopic view of the Icon of Beauty, Jesus Christ - God became man in order for men to become gods. The Saints provides us a visual representation of heaven, together they depict the Church at its apex, its glorious perfection, the beautiful Bride, the New Jerusalem with Christ as its bright shining sun.

A Russian author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky once made this audacious claim that “Beauty will save the world.” It seems hard to imagine how this is possible until we recognise that the Beauty which he speaks of is God himself. The saints are living testimony to this claim. It is no wonder that our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, believes that beauty is a path to God who is the source of all beauty. He is convinced that the most persuasive proof of the truth of Christianity, offsetting everything that may appear negative, are the saints, on the one hand, and the beauty that the faith has generated, on the other. He believes that for faith to grow today, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to come into contact with the beautiful. He has, therefore, proposed during this Year of Faith that the Church should enter into a deeper reflection on the lives of the saints, a catechesis not based on theory alone but articulated through the living testimonies of these men and women. Given the deep suffering in our world, a world whose beauty has been marred by evil and man has sunk into the mire of sin, a superficial beauty cannot satisfy the human heart. But, as the Pope once wrote that the paradoxical beauty of Jesus Christ — of that love that goes "to the very end" on the cross — can and does answer our deepest human need. In the person of Jesus, we see that real beauty does not deceive. It is one that saves!


A man, in fact a Pope, who truly believed in the power of the heroic witness of faith and sanctity found in the saints, was Blessed John Paul II. During his 26 year pontificate, Blessed John Paul II named more saints and blessed than all his predecessors combined. He celebrated 147 beatification ceremonies, during which he proclaimed 1,338 blesseds and performed 51 canonisations for a total of 482 saints. It was no wonder that the secular press often accused him of operating a “factory of saints.” He constantly refuted the claim that we have “too many” saint. According to Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, there were three principal reasons for the saintly Pope’s enthusiasm in seeing the beatification of saints or the beautification of the Church.

The first reason the Pope gave was that he, by beatifying so many Servants of God, did no more than implement the Second Vatican Council, which vigorously reaffirmed that holiness is the essential mark of the Church; that the Church is holy: one, holy, catholic, apostolic. Blessed John Paul II said that if the Church of Christ is not holy, it isn't the Church of Christ, the true Church of Christ, the one he desired and founded to continue his mission throughout the centuries. Therefore, he added, holiness is what is most important in the Church. What better way to demonstrate this by highlighting and presenting to all Catholics many models of holiness in the form of saints?

The second reason is the extraordinary ecumenical importance of holiness. In "Novo Millennio Ineunte" (the Blessed Pope’s Agenda for the Third Millennium), the Pope said that the holiness of the saints, blessed and martyrs is perhaps the most convincing form of ecumenism, because holiness has its ultimate foundation in Christ, in whom the Church is not divided. Therefore, the ecumenism we all want calls for many saints, so that the convincing ecumenism of holiness is placed in the candelabrum of the holiness of the Church.

The Pope's third reason was that "the saints and blessed manifest the charity of a local Church." Blessed John Paul II correctly noted that local Churches are far more numerous than in the last 10 centuries. Therefore, we shouldn't be surprised that there are also more saints, more blessed who express and manifest the holiness of these increased local Churches.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Essential Things are Invisible to the Eye

Thirtieth Ordinary Sunday Year B

One of my favourite story books, which I only came to appreciate as an adult, was the novella entitled ‘The Little Prince’ (Le Petit Prince) by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry. It is a story of how reality collides with fantasy – a tale of how an aviator, who crash landed in the Saharan desert, meets a little boy who introduces himself as a space traveler, not of the E.T. kind of alien but a self-styled little humanoid prince of his own tiny planet or asteroid. The story, as the title suggests, is actually the aviator’s narration of the little boy’s adventures and travels through the universe searching for friendship.

At the beginning of the book, the reader is introduced to the narrator, who is that young aviator. A would-be artist at six years of age, the pilot had that career thwarted by the lack of imagination of grown-ups who could not understand, without explanation, his drawing of a boa constrictor eating an elephant, making him conclude that they are incapable of recognising importance in anything except what lies on the surface. Later in life, the narrator, now a pilot stranded in the middle of the Sahara, meets a soul mate in the person of the little prince. The story of the little prince is also a tale of disappointment. He’s a lonely child in need of a friend. This longing for friendship sets him off on his inter-galatic adventures which leaves a trail of disappointment. There's the rose whom he loves, the absolute monarch, the conceited individual, the drunkard, and the businessman. They are all too wrapped up in their own affairs to consider being the little prince's friend.  Though clearly a children's book, The Little Prince makes several profound observations about life and human nature. Through the medium of fantasy, reality is exposed. In this first instance, we learn that reality is the name we give to our disappointments.

Today, we encounter the blind man Bartimaeus in the gospel. Looking at Bartimaeus, we see a man who’s at the end of his rope. He experiences a flicker of hope when he hears that Jesus, the miracle-worker, is in town. He dreams of the possibility of being able to see; an irrepressible desire for healing. But his quest would not be an easy one. He would have to contend with a gauntlet of sceptics, detractors, pessimists and self-styled realists who try to shut him up. It’s not enough that he’s blind; they wish to render him mute too. These people are not entirely bad or evil. Perhaps, some would like to shield the Master from having to suffer the inconvenience of dealing with every trivial or petty request. Some others may have actually thought that they were being kind to Bartimaeus, to spare him the additional pain that comes from disappointment and false expectations. Our natural tendency when see someone else suffer is to try to make them feel better, correct their idealism by injecting a healthy dose of reality, and help them lower their expectations to reasonable and plausible levels.

This story may resonate with many of us, especially those who wish to find solace, consolation, encouragement and healing from the community of the Church. But instead of encouragement, we encounter only discouragement. The Church is often idealised as a community of saints, but what we often experience is mismatched group of sinners. Our desire to come closer to the throne of grace seems thwarted at every turn. What proves most painful of all is to see people, whom we have come to believe as brothers and sisters in Christ, forming an impenetrable barrier that keeps us from our goal.  Feeling demoralised, unloved and unwanted, many are led to only one conclusion – to give up or quit all together. Very often, we allow disappointment and discouragement that emanates from persons and situations to eclipse our view of Jesus. We mistake human failure for divine apathy.

But Bartimaeus serves as a model for all of us. Where others have turned back, this blind man presses on. He is able to see something where others have failed. He sees a Jesus who will make time for him, a Jesus who will not turn him away, a Jesus who brings healing. He refuses to allow the brokenness of the community, their discouraging words and scepticism to hinder him from his goal. It is ironic that this man does not need eyes to see Jesus. The little prince poignantly makes this observation at the end of the novella - 'But the eyes are blind. One must look with the heart.' What quality did Bartimaeus possess that allowed him to see beyond physical sight? Or rather what possessed him to rise above the discouragement posed by his peers? The answer lies in the virtue of hope.  The icon of the American Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King once wrote: “We must accept finite disappointments, but never lose infinite hope.”

The story of Bartimaeus is a critical reminder that life may be full of setbacks and disappointments, the Christian community and the visible Church may fall short of our expectations, that individual Christians may often appear to be more of the Pharisaic mould rather than the Good Samaritan type, but hope helps us to cast our vision beyond the temporal to have a glimpse of the eternal, to see the pristinely divine in the midst of human inadequacies. Hope is never losing sight of the eternal and never allowing it or us to sink beneath the mire of our present woes. While we sometimes get stuck focusing on the here and now, our present situation isn't the end of the story. St Paul knew how disappointing life could seem—we only have to read his letters to know that. Yet he never quit encouraging his fellow believers to see the big picture in the midst of their trials and hold on to their supreme hope in God. St Paul wrote this to the Church in Corinth:  "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" ( 2 Cor 4:17-18). God's plans are nearly always bigger than we think. The Church is much bigger than the earthly pilgrim church which plods along on its journey to its heavenly perfection. The sting of our relatively short-term disappointments in no way compares to the ultimate hope we have in Him.

Hope is never a form of idealistic escapism or something which dulls our sense of responsibility in the here and now. In short, our hope, given to us by God, is the key to Christian living. In his homily delivered this year on the Feast Day of the Assumption, the Pope reminds us that Christian hope “is not just nostalgia for Heaven,” but a “living and active desire for God here in the world.” Hope enables us to look to the next life, but it also inspires and purifies our actions in this life. In other words, hope allows us to use heavenly things as a constant benchmark for earthly living.

Hope ultimately fixes our vision on our goal, heaven. It teaches us, as does the little prince, that “what is essential is invisible to the eye.” It requires a vision that sees through the lenses of faith and hope. As our Holy Father says in his opening paragraph of his second encyclical, Spes Salvi, dedicated to the virtue of hope, “The present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.” Christian hope, according to him, is transformative because it offers assurance that "life will not end in emptiness." Hope provides us the strength and courage to endure the disappointments of this life, the tears and sorrows that mark our all too human existence, the weariness that comes with age and finally the dark clouds that dampen our journey, in order that we may live for the eternal tomorrow, to live for the day, so beautifully described in this hymn, where:

There’s no disappointment in Heaven,
No weariness, sorrow or pain;
No hearts that are bleeding and broken,
No song with a minor refrain.
The clouds of our earthly horizon
Will never appear in the sky,
For all will be sunshine and gladness,
With never a sob or a sigh.
Frederick Lehman (1914)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Called to be Evangelistic Catholics

Twenty Ninth Ordinary Sunday Year B

The great American Catholic TV evangelist, who achieved fame on the tele-screen long before Billy Graham made it big, the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, once commented, “The first word of Jesus in the Gospel was ‘come’; the last word of Jesus was ‘go,’ and that pretty much sums up the primary occupation of the Church and every Christian. We are called to be disciples in order that we may become missionaries. In that magna carta setting out the evangelising mission of the Church in the modern world, ‘Evangelii Nuntiandi’, the Servant of God Paul VI wrote that “… the task of evangelising all people constitute the essential mission of the Church… Evangelising is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelise, that is to say in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass…” (EN # 14)

Now, this may seem absolutely strange and foreign to you, given the fact that the idea of proclaiming the gospel of Christ and sharing your faith with a non-Catholic seem to make us Catholics feel most uncomfortable. If you are a Catholic – even if you are a “good” one – the sort who would unequivocally exclaim – “I was born a Catholic (if that is even possible) and I will die a Catholic!” – the chances are quite high that you have NEVER attempted the conversion of another, except maybe your non-Catholic spouse. Catholics are known for many things, such as novenas, devotions to saints, love for the Blessed Mother, going for confession and abstaining from meat on Fridays.  One thing that generally doesn’t come to mind when we hear the word “Catholic” is evangelisation. 

There are a number of reasons why Catholics shy away from evangelisation. The first reason is that Catholics have grown familiar with the bureaucratic subdivisions in Church which, unintentionally, results in the perceived professionalisation or specialisation of ministries. The work of evangelisation is often seen as the primary task of ‘professional’ missionaries, such as the priests and the religious, although this is a common misconception. Laity often believe that the extent of their contribution to missionary activities is confined to monetary and financial support. This is certainly one of those most unfortunate misconceptions in the Church today.  In fact, evangelisation is not only the responsibility of the religious and clergy; it is a requirement for the laity as well.  Every member of the Catholic Church is personally responsible for sharing the gospel message with others.  The Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, which is the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church teaches that all baptised Christians “must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church and participate in the apostolic and missionary activity of the People of God”. 

The second reason for a lack of evangelistic spirit among Catholics is that they generally have an extremely positive view of other religions and non-Catholic Christians. Because Catholics see goodness in others and sincerely believe that God would not begrudge or withhold salvation from anyone, they often feel that it would not be proper or even the loving thing to impose their beliefs and thoughts on them. The vast majority of Catholics, therefore, view evangelisation as a negative thing.  There is a belief among many Catholics that our relationship with God is a highly personal matter and that “we shouldn’t impose our religious beliefs on others”. Political correctness is often mistaken as charity, whereas evangelisation is seen as triumphalism, a vestige of colonialisation, and outright condescension.  But it can never be repeated enough that Charity must always be in service to the Truth. Great wisdom can be derived in this area from another of Vatican II’s 16 documents, Nostra Aetate, the Declaration of the relation of Church to non-Christian religions. The document states that “the Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.” In other words, evangelisation should never be interpreted as a gesture of hatred, disrespect or even condescension on the part of the Church. It is an act of charity, demanded by a God of love who wishes all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth.

When it comes to speaking of the Catholic Faith and expressing it publicly, many Catholics often find themselves walking on eggshells. Where could we start? Perhaps, our first reaction would sound something like this, “I evangelise by example not with words.” We may even quote St Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the gospel of Christ always, used words if necessary.” Or maybe, it would be, “I would like to, but I’m not trained or knowledgeable enough to do it.”  Or finally, “I could never be like the Protestants.”

Before proceeding to suggest a simple action plan for mission, a clarification is called for in order to make a distinction between Protestant evangelism and Catholic evangelisation. Protestant evangelism is an ‘event’ where the preaching of the gospel leads to the moment where the unbeliever professes with his lips (the sinner’s prayer seems to be the most convenient formula) and believes in his heart that Christ has saved him, and so the same is realised. Voila! He’s a Christian! He’s saved. Catholics, on the other hand, are process people. That’s why we take so long to prepare someone for baptism, namely the RCIA journey. We speak of a growth in sanctification through a life dedicated to prayer, the sacraments, and good works. Catholics are also ‘big picture’ people. Evangelisation, the primary mission of the Church, is not just confined to a verbal proclamation of Jesus’ salvific identity and mission. It consists of many different but complimentary components.

First, one of the most widely used means is just the simple presence and living witness of Christian life. Christian witness lays the foundation for Catholic evangelisation.  Avoiding foul language, making the sign of the cross and saying grace before meals, having a positive disposition, and avoiding gossip, practicing ethical values in your workplace, school or neighbourhood.  People who see the ‘difference’ will begin to ask questions.
Second, Catholics are also called to the service of humankind and all forms of activity for social promotion and for the struggle against poverty and injustice. But simple life witness and service of humankind are not sufficient. We need to match words to deeds too.  The Servant of God Paul VI went on to explain in Evangelii Nuntiandi that “the Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelisation if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.”
Following this, the third means of evangelisation is that of respectful dialogue. Sharing one’s religious faith in the context of mutual and respectful dialogue means being open to listen to the other’s story too. One does not seek to win arguments for argument sake, but rather, dialogue is an expression of deep respect and love for the other.
Fourthly, all the above ultimately leads us to the opportunity to proclaim Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. Catholics can rest assured that they don’t have to bang a Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the head of the other person. There are many painless (but effective) ways to verbally share our faith. For example, we can offer to say a prayer for a coworker who is sick or in a painful situation.  We can explain how our faith comforts or sustains us in time of need.  We can casually relate a message heard in a homily at Sunday Mass. We may then invite them to attend Mass with us. Liturgy is a powerful means of evangelisation because it is ultimately the Work of God, not the works of men. Ultimately, we are reminded that prayer is an essential component of evangelisation because conversion is never something humanly manufactured or manipulated, it is the gift of faith from God.

Evangelisation is not an optional add-on. It is at the very heart of what it means to be a Catholic. Evangelisation is never a form of self-aggrandisement. But true evangelisation — whatever form it takes — is born from a love for people and a desire that everyone on earth come to know the love of Christ and the blessings of living in his kingdom. As St.Paul once told the Corinthians: “The love of Christ impels us” to proclaim Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14). According to the post-Vatican II document, Evangelii Nuntiandi, “the presentation of the Gospel message is not an optional contribution for the Church. It is the duty incumbent on her by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved. This message is indeed necessary. It is unique. It cannot be replaced. It does not permit either indifference, syncretism or accommodation. It is a question of people’s salvation.”  In this Year of Faith, we are given an opportunity to be re-evangelised in order that we may evangelise. We must heed the summons of the Holy Father to deepen our faith and enter into an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the World so that we may once again with joy and enthusiasm communicate the faith of our fathers, the same faith we profess, celebrate and live today!