Friday, August 08, 2008

Witness of life

We must appreciate and embrace what the church offers
By Bishop Robert Vasa

BEND — Since returning from Australia I have continued to reflect upon the wonderful experience of World Youth Day and have realized anew how much work we must do for the sake of the faith of the youth of our Diocese. There is a great need for stronger catechetical content in all of our programs and there is need for more and better Catechist support. These are things which I have very specifically indicated to our Diocesan Directors of Youth Ministry and Catechetics. There is, however, another element which is not quite as tangible. The Church calls this the apostolate of evangelization and sanctification and it relates in a foundational way to catechesis.

The first movement of a soul toward God is always a response to grace, to some kind of invitation, either explicit or implicit. These invitations come to each of us rather routinely every single day. They are not difficult to recognize but a proper response to them may be difficult. Perhaps as a result of a word in a sermon or in a particular Scripture passage some additional light of grace shines on some dark spot of our heart and we realize anew a need for ongoing conversion. This recognition acknowledges the invitation, the grace. There then comes the decisive moment for the soul, the decision to give time and effort to this new insight or inspiration or the decision to retain the spiritual status quo.

The decree on the Apostolate of the Laity from Vatican Council II points out that this grace can likewise be brought to the world by the very witness of holiness of life. Laymen have countless opportunities for exercising the apostolate of evangelization and sanctification. The very witness of a Christian life, and good works done in a supernatural spirit, are effective in drawing men to the faith and to God; and that is what the Lord said: “Your light must shine so brightly before men that they can see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). The witness of life, however, is not the sole element in the apostolate; the true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers to draw them towards the faith, or to the faithful to instruct them, strengthen, incite them to a more fervent life; “for Christ’s love urges us on” (2 Corinthians 5:14), and in the heart of all should the apostle’s words find echo: “Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel” (I Corinthians 9:16).

Catechists and Youth Ministers, if they are to be truly effective in handing on the word of God, must themselves be evangelized and sanctified. Imagine the incongruity of an adult who has not been to confession in 10 years helping youngsters prepare for their first confession. If that instruction on confession is to bear fruit in the heart of the young there must first be a personal conviction of the beauty and value of the Sacrament. Then the instruction is more than simply the transmission of data, it is truly the continuation of the process of evangelization.

Thus, if we are committed to the work of giving our youth the very best of what the Church has to offer, it is essential that we ourselves first appreciate and embrace that which the Church offers. This means we must first be evangelized ourselves. If evangelizing sounds challenging, being evangelized ourselves is even more so. Yet it is essential if our youth work and catechesis is to be truly spiritually effective.
The points are most strongly and consistently made in Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical on Evangelization (Evangelii Nuntiandi): “Every evangelizer is expected to have a reverence for truth, especially since the truth that he studies and communicates is none other than revealed truth and hence, more than any other, a sharing in the first truth which is God Himself. The preacher of the Gospel will therefore be a person who even at the price of personal renunciation and suffering always seeks the truth that he must transmit to others. He never betrays or hides truth out of a desire to please men, in order to astonish or to shock, nor for the sake of originality or a desire to make an impression. He does not refuse truth. He does not obscure revealed truth by being too idle to search for it, or for the sake of his own comfort, or out of fear. He does not neglect to study it. He serves it generously, without making it serve him.” (EN, 78)

The Encyclical continues: “The work of evangelization presupposes in the evangelizer an ever increasing love for those whom he is evangelizing. That model evangelizer, the Apostle Paul, wrote these words to the Thessalonians, and they are a program for us all: ‘With such yearning love we chose to impart to you not only the gospel of God but our very selves, so dear had you become to us.’ (I Thessalonians 2:8) What is this love? It is much more than that of a teacher; it is the love of a father; and again, it is the love of a mother. It is this love that the Lord expects from every preacher of the Gospel, from every builder of the Church. A sign of love will be the concern to give the truth and to bring people into unity. Another sign of love will be a devotion to the proclamation of Jesus Christ, without reservation or turning back.” (EN, 79)

The Encyclical, though written in 1975, speaks to a wonderful truth about youth: “It is often said nowadays that the present century thirsts for authenticity. Especially in regard to young people it is said that they have a horror of the artificial or false and that they are searching above all for truth and honesty. These ‘signs of the times’ should find us vigilant. Either tacitly or aloud — but always forcefully — we are being asked: Do you really believe what you are proclaiming? Do you live what you believe? Do you really preach what you live? The witness of life has become more than ever an essential condition for real effectiveness in preaching. Precisely because of this we are, to a certain extent, responsible for the progress of the Gospel that we proclaim.” (EN, 76)

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