Friday, February 22, 2013

The New Evangelization and the Cross

Yesterday, one of my parishioners asked me, "Father, is there something specific you'd like me to pray for?" The question struck me as very beautiful, but at the moment, I was unable to articulate a specific intention.  But during the night, the words from St. Paul to Timothy came to my heart:

St. Timothy
"For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.  So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner, for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God" (2 Timothy 1:6-8)

Wherever the New Evangelization is present, amazing things occur.  Vocations spring up, young families return to the practice of the Faith, confessions increase, and conversions happen.  Once it starts, it takes on a life of its own. but it cannot be boxed, packaged, and sold in bulk.  The New Evangelization is about an obedience to the Faith and developing a personal friendship with the Lord Jesus and living that friendship among a communion of disciples. 

Like the Hebrew people who complained that they wanted a king so that they could be like all of the other nations, we can sometimes want the New Evangelization to be like every other program. Put it on paper and market it.  While it is certainly possible to put into place structures that might assist in implementing the New Evangelization, the key is not the structure.  The key is an obedience to the Faith, a willingness to preach the full Gospel in all of its magnificence and its beauty.  It is to preach something radical and not milquetoast.  It is to preach about Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead.  The New Evangelization happens in the pulpit and in the confessional first.  It overflows to other aspects of a parish's life, but it begins in the pulpit and the confessional.  We would like to write the paradigm ourselves, but the paradigm is already written in the scriptures.  The paradigm of the New Evangelization is Abraham acting in obedience.  The paradigm is Moses acting in obedience.  The paradigm is Jesus acting in obedience.  The paradigm is Peter and Paul preaching from their prison cells in obedience.

I've often measured the success of the New Evangelization in my parish by counting the fruits; people praying in adoration, vocations, confessions, conversions, young people . . . things like that.  And, all of those can be helpful measures.  But, more recently I've been thinking of another measure that each Christian--and particularly, each priest--must consider.  It is the measure of the Cross.  The New Evangelization--if it is truly preached and lived--will eventually require that we endure our share of hardship for the Gospel and endure the dishonor of the Cross. 

The obedience of Faith leads to the Cross and the Cross is the paradigm of the New Evangelization.  At times, it can seem as though the Cross were the sign of defeat, but for the Apostles, it was a cause to rejoice.  St. Peter, who was no stranger to suffering for the sake of the Gospel, wrote, "But rejoice inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad with exceeding joy" (1 Peter4:13).  So, I think a good prayer for all of us who are committed to the New Evangelization is that we simply engage the battle as St. Paul advised Timothy and not to become disheartened or discouraged when we encounter what appears to be failure.  Although it is Lent (and thus, the Alleluia is not sung), one of my favorite hymns conveys (especially in its fifth verse) the apostolic fortitude that is necessary for the New Evangelization.

"For All the Saints Who from Their Labors Rest"by William W. How, 1823-1897
1. For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
2. Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
3. Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
4. O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
5. And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
6. But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
7. From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
8. The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon, to faithful warriors cometh rest.
Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

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