The Year of Faith in Rome began with a Synod or meeting of bishops, representative of the Church from all over the world. On October 24th the Synod Bishops issued a preliminary summary of their discussions on the work of the New Evangelization, approved by Pope Benedict XVI, and entitled, “A Message to the People of God.”
There will still be further considerations of the proposals of the Synod and probably a lengthier Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, but I found this Message inspiring and helpful to us as we begin our own diocesan observance of the Year of Faith.
Early in the document which is about 13-14 pages long, the bishops of the Synod, quoting from Pope Benedict’s opening homily, define for us what we mean by the New Evangelization. “It is an evangelization that is directed ‘principally at those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life… to help these people encounter the Lord, who alone fills our existence with deep meaning and peace; and to favor the rediscovery of the faith, that source of grace which brings joy and hope to personal, family and social life.’”
So the question for us is how do we renew the experience of Jesus in our lives and in other baptized people’s lives?
Right away, I want to skip to a section about one-third of the way into the Message, where the bishops remind us that “we don’t have to invent new strategies as if the Gospel was a product that had to be marketed.” Rather we have to ask, “How did Jesus reach people; how did He approach them and call them?” The first image that we are given is from John’s Gospel (chapter 4) where Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well. He meets her where she is and has a simple but profound conversation with her. After that meeting the woman then goes out and tells her friends and neighbors about Christ.
The Message emphasizes that the New Evangelization is first and foremost about meeting Jesus. Jesus Christ, in fact, reaches out to us. On our part we must respond, and the first element of our response has to be “conversion.” We must allow ourselves to be changed. We have to let go of the unworthy things that too often dominate our life. We have to give ourselves over to the power of Christ “who alone can make all things new.” This takes a great act of faith – we might say a leap of faith.
The Message also affirms that the place Jesus gave us to encounter Him most readily everyday is the Church. Here we have His Word in the Scriptures; we have the sacraments; we have the apostolic teaching; we have the community of believers who share with us their own encounter with Christ.
The Message continues, discussing other specific settings in which faith is learned and nurtured. The first and often the most important is the family. Here we ought to experience love under the stability of marriage and the love of mother and father. The family often brings us to Baptism and helps us internalize the core beliefs that shape us.
Another place where family leads us to the faith is in the parish. Here the life of faith and the experience of the community of believers is made concrete. The Message quotes Pope John XXIII and his reference to the parish as “the village fountain, from which all can drink, finding in it the freshness of the Gospel.” Of course the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman happened also at the fountain or well. Everyone needs this water to live, and we likewise need the spiritual water of faith in God. We thirst for this whether we realize it or not; so also each person.
The Synod Fathers go on to acknowledge the work of evangelization among the youth, calling attention to them as “a significant part of humanity’s and the Church’s present and future.”
In order to find Christ and to spread the experience of Jesus Christ in the work of evangelization, the Message calls us to dialogue: with other religions, with other Christian denominations, with science, and by using the new communications.
After calling attention to these special groups that have such an important role in today’s work of the New Evangelization, the Message affirms just two of the many important tasks that we must undertake in order to find Christ: contemplation and solidarity with the poor.
In order to live this Year of Faith fully, we must spend time with Jesus, contemplating and praying over the great mystery of faith; finding through the light of the Holy Spirit where faith may lead us. And we must be aware of the poor, because here, in a special way, is where we find Jesus.
Toward the end of the Message the World Synod of Bishops highlight some of the particular gifts and challenges that the Church in different parts of the world has to offer. In speaking of the Church in North America, the Message speaks of our generosity, joy, and hope that has been so much an integral part of our experience. In a very clear way, the bishops from all over the world ask us to welcome people from all parts of the world generously – as we have in our past – and open the doors of our home to new populations of immigrants and refugees.
The Message to the People of God can be found on the web, and I encourage us all to read it as part of our reflection in this Year of Faith. As the Bishops’ letter places everything finally under the mantle of Mary’s protection, so also do I commend each of you, your families, your parishes to Mary, Star of the New Evangelization. In her maternal care I know she will direct us always on a safe path to her Son.
Let me also, on this All Souls day, (November 2), join with you in commending to God’s mercy the Souls of all the faithful departed. May they rest in peace.