In my last post, I discussed that evangelization goes to the essence of who the Church is as Church. The missionary mandate that Christ gives is not something added to the nature of the Church; the Church is missionary in its very nature. It is intrinsic to who we are and thus evangelization has an ontological focus. It is, in the words of Ad Gentes, a “universal sacrament of salvation.” And, as a Church we need to constantly be of renewal and a visible witness to the salvific love of Christ. We also need to proclaim the “good news” of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.
I wanted to emphasis our need to “share” our faith because I do believe that for many within the Catholic Church, this is a foreign concept. We have come to view evangelization as simply doing good and being good. The sense that we need to articulate and express our faith is a stretch for many within the Church. There are many reasons for this due to confusions regarding questions of salvation, Rahner’s “anonymous Christian,” grace versus nature, the necessity of the Church for salvation, and what about those people who never hear or come to know Jesus. These questions are just a sampling of some of the underpinnings that need to be explained for the Catholic faithful to again capture the evangelization fervor of Pentecost.
And in my view, I want to help move the body of Christ to understand that our universal call to holiness also includes a universal call to mission. I believe that we are doing a good job within our parishes to get people to understand their need for and their call to holiness (although we could still do a better job with discussions related to sin and confession), but I think that their is no real sense of people’s call to mission outside of service.
But, before these theological questions and misunderstandings get addressed, I would again like to focus on what evangelization is and (after reviewing the comments of my last post) to discuss a foundational element of evangelization — ecumenism.
I like to use the title “ecumenical evangelization” because I believe that unity is a means to evangelize the world. We normally think of ecumenism as separate and in some circles antithetical to evangelization. In truth, ecumenism is a necessary means to evangelize the world! Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Redempotoris Missio says,”The missionary thrust therefore belongs to the very nature of the Christian life, and is also the inspiration behind ecumenism: ’that they may all be one…so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ (Jn. 17:21)” Ecumenism is necessary to build unity, and unity is important as a witness to the world. A wounded unity is an obstacle to evangelization. The Church’s Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio (Restoration of Unity), says that the visible division of Christian communion, “openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.”
For the Church, ecumenism is a dialogue with those communities of the baptized who profess a belief in the Triune God such as the Eastern Orthodox and those Christian ecclesial communities who have their roots in the Protestant Reformation. The Second Vatican Council acknowledges that it has a communion, albeit imperfect, with these communities. It also believes that the Catholic Church has the primary responsibility to reach out to these communities. To dialogue with these communities the Catholic Church humbles herself through repentance and by accepting some responsibility for the division of the Church. In doing so, it invites a true dialogue to take place.
The foundation for this unity is found in the Trinity. The triune God is both the one and the many. God the Father is both unified in substance and different in relation with the Son. The Father gives Himself totally to the Son, and the Son gives Himself in return to the Father. Within this relationship we see the basis for ecumenical evangelization, that is, self-giving love for the other. In addition, the Son was sent to divinize humanity. Taking on human form, the Son is able to unite all of humanity to himself. This unity of humanity and divinity is manifested after his ascension into heaven. The Church, the body of Christ, is united to the Head, and continues Christ’s mission in this world of unitinig humanity to himself.
Looking towards this Tri-Personal God, we understand that unity is important for our evanglization of the world. How then do we achieve unity? How is ecumenism to be practiced? Well, while there are definitely official channels of dialogue and discussion among Church officials on theological questions, and these discussions seem to be bearing some fruit in some circles, it struck me recently that the challenge is also there for us, the lay faithful, to practice ecumenism and cannot be merely relugated to priests, bishops, and popes. We too need to work to encourage unity, to dialogue with people outside our walls on issues of disagreement, and to find common areas of agreement that we can work on together (i.e. life issues). We cannot and should not seek out some sort of false unity. While both Catholic and Protestant beliefs share in this spiritual mission and are unified in an evangelizing purpose, this unity is perfected in its visible expression to the world. We must work for a visible, unified, Church that holds firm in its beliefs, but perhaps whose expressions may differ. We cannot forsake or wash over our differences, but should mutually seek out truth. And, we cannot seek only truth and remove any sense of charity. Love and truth (Caritas et Veritas) are essential for ecumenism to work, they are essential in building unity, and as such are crucial in our efforts to evangelize the world.
For every posting on this blog, we try to incorporate a picture with it that expresses the concept in visual form. For ecumenism, I am not sure what that picture looks like. It is for us to figure out and to do so together, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, but in doing so we need to make it a discussion of truth in love. We must hold both together for ecumenism to bear fruit and ultimately to bring the world to Christ.