Friday, May 16, 2014

A New Evangelization Needs a New and Tender Humanity

St. John Resting on the Heart of Christ
I'm guessing that if you were to research the most frequently used words of Pope Francis, "tenderness" would rank pretty high up there.  Francis speaks a lot about tenderness.  Tenderness for the poor, the sick, the sinner, the wayward etc.  Francis likes tenderness.  It is, in part, his tenderness for others that has attracted people to Francis.

During the past year in my own archdiocese, there has been a considerable amount of discussion about evangelization.  All along, however, I've felt like something has been missing from the mix.  There's something not quite right, but I couldn't put my finger on it.  Some of the suggested ideas are just fine.  Some of the theories and trainings seem to be correct.  But, I've just had this nagging feeling that something at the heart of the whole thing is lacking.  And then, it dawned on me.

Humanity.  The New Evangelization requires a New Humanity.  It requires a deeper humanity.  It requires a more tender humanity.  This is, I think, what is missing.  We can never evangelize unless we are living this new humanity.  People are hungering for something better for their own humanity, something more.  Strategies, programs, and documents might all serve some evangelical purpose, but they have to flow from a more human way of living.  Without this new humanity, evangelization becomes a program made for paper.  It doesn't have the power to move anyone.  Only a new humanity can move people and attract them.  This new humanity is Christ and he is encountered through the communion of the Church.

One way in which we ought to judge our evangelization and planning efforts is to ask whether they are promoting a more tender humanity.  Do the programs and methods exhibit a tenderness towards parishioners, priests, and the lost or do they fail to take adequate account of the human realities?  Do these programs and methods draw people towards Christ and the Church by putting on display the New Adam in all of his attractiveness and beauty or do they rely too heavily upon mechanical efforts that are lacking in tenderness?  Do the programs and methods that we are adopting seem imposed and artificial or are they arising in an organic way from the experience of the communities?

At the heart of Christianity is a fact: Christ became man.  He took on our humanity and He elevates it.  This must always be the principle evangelical method.  In order for our parishes to be centers of the New Evangelization, the persons in those parishes must be moved by the New Humanity that Christ offers.  They must feel his tender gaze upon them; a gaze that draws them to the new life of grace. This gaze comes through the eyes of others.  We must experience the tenderness of Christ through the Church and then look at others with this same tenderness.  The New Evangelization cannot begin with planning.  It begins with tenderness.  It begins with an encounter with the tenderness of Christ as it is communicated through the life of the Church.  Without this tenderness, without this new humanity, evangelization becomes a sterile concept.

Tenderness is not something that can be mandated, coerced, planned, or implemented.  It is something that arises from an encounter with the gaze of tenderness.  What makes Catholic communities evangelical is the experience of the gaze of Christ.  When we experience a tender humanity, we are moved by it and attracted to it.  We are moved by it to look with the same gaze upon others.  

I do not contend that training, manuals, programs, and plans are inherently opposed to evangelization.  They serve their purpose and can be of great benefit.  There doesn't, however, seem to be a shortage of supporters for this aspect of evangelization.  But, I do propose that this model of evangelization needs a greater openness and appreciation for the more tender and organic form of evangelization that arises not from programmatic imposition but from the experience of an encounter.  This form of evangelization does not enjoy as much prominence right now.  But, for many of us, this is how we ourselves were evangelized.  It was through encountering the tender humanity of another and desiring to live and share this new humanity that evangelization happened and continues to happen organically.

What needs to shine forth from the manuals that we write, the programs that we invent, and the plans that we implement is the tenderness of our gaze upon humanity; a tenderness that arises from the experience of being gazed upon by Christ with love.  If our structural efforts at evangelization lack this tenderness, we will not attract others to Christ.  If this tenderness is at the heart of all that we do, then we have every reason to have high hopes for the New Evangelization.

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