This series of teaching editorials about the great synods of the last 40 years provides an opportunity to reflect upon the major themes that have guided the Church’s thinking since the Second Vatican Council. This editorial returns to the present as the Church prepares for the October synod on “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”
Four themes emerge from the Instrumentum Laboris, the preparatory document that outlines the discussion topics for the synod. They are:
1. Be ready when asked.
St. Peter wrote his letters after the Resurrection of Jesus, and his combination of boldness and humility comes through on every page. One of Pope Benedict’s favorites is found in the first letter of St. Peter, chapter 3, where, when asked to give an account, St. Peter writes about doing so “with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear….” Certainly the new evangelization first calls us to go beneath the surface to deepen our own faith and to proclaim this renewed faith with courage, compassion and civility.
2. Proclaim boldly.
The Greek word parresia appears in section 120. This word appears often in the writings of the New Testament to describe the attitude that Jesus’ disciples should have when proclaiming the good news. Parresia means “confidence,” “courage,” “boldness,” “fearless public speaking,” “free speaking,” “bold speaking,” and “assurance.” Parresia stems from a confidence and courage that reflect our awareness of God’s gifts to us and our hope in God’s presence with us. My Episcopal motto from Psalm 31 — “Be strong and take courage, all you who hope in the Lord” — speaks of this theological virtue of hope, which is granted by the grace of God and which sparks our assurance and boldness as we share the good news.
3. Be convinced that God is with you when you announce the good news well.
A 2008 Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) study showed that 77% of Catholics indicate that they are proud to be Catholic even though only about 24% attend Mass weekly. Clearly, a gap exists between Catholic pride and sacramental practice. And many of these Catholics are with us — we see them at back-to-school nights, baptism preparation programs, parish and school athletic events, fish fries and during hospital visits. Thus, we need to answer the call to evangelize more effectively, always recognizing that God’s grace is truly alive when we reach out to others.
The key is to cooperate with God’s presence in our midst by inviting and being truly present to people, especially at sacramental moments, such as marriages or baptisms, where there might be a greater receptivity to hearing the invitation, as well as at important times in family life cycles, such as wedding anniversaries, the announcement of a new pregnancy, graduations, illness and funerals.
4. The vocation of the parish to evangelize.
The Instrumentum talks about the “vocation of the parish,” which is evangelization. Evangelizing parishes are healthy, vibrant and focused on mission. They have a culture that is open, humble, welcoming and proud to announce the fullness of our Catholic faith. I suspect that much discussion at the synod will focus on how to more effectively encourage and bolster a culture of evangelization and outreach in our parishes, and I look forward to the inspiration and best practices that will emerge from the synod and benefit our own parishes as they seek to foster parish vitality.
As I prepare for this momentous event, I welcome your thoughts about evangelization. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your insights. What has worked — or not — in your own parish? What opportunities do you see for us to more effectively proclaim the Gospel?
Most of all, I ask for your prayers for me and for all who will be attending this synod on “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”
Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D.
Archbishop of Louisville