Transmitting the Christian Faith

Author: Archbishop Nikola Eterović*

Transmitting the Christian Faith

Nikola Eterović*

Summary of the 'Instrumentum Laboris' for the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops

The 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be held in the Vatican from 7 to 28 October [2012] on the theme "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith". This is one of the great challenges to the Church, which is examined in the context of the new evangelization. The two aspects of the Synod's theme are therefore closely connected and complete each other. The urgent task of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus to the new generations — without an interruption in the process of passing on the faith — is carried out in the context of the new evangelization.

The Synodal reflection will be enriched by the link with the Year of Faith, which — in accordance with the Pope's intention expressed in his Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Porta Fidei — will begin on 11 October, during the Synod, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and the loth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Instrumentum Laboris, the agenda of the Synod Meeting, is an important stage in the preparation of the work of the Synod. It is the result of the answers to the Lineamenta, the Document for reflection on the theme of the Assembly — published on 2 February 2011, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord — was sent to the 13 Synods of Bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, to the 114 Bishops' Conferences, to the 26 dicasteries of the Roman Curia and to the Union of Superiors General. All these bodies with which the Synod of Bishops maintains official relations, sent their contributions to the General Secretariat, which received others too from institutions and individual members of the faithful. The General Secretariat edited the Instrumentum Laboris with the help of the Ordinary Council and availing itself of the input of several experts. The contribution of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization should be men tioned in particular, whose President was an associate of the Ordinary Council which took part in drafting the document.

In addition to the Preface, the Instrumentum Laboris consists of four chapters, preceded by an Introduction and ending with a brief Conclusion. The Chapters are on the topics: Jesus Christ, the
Good News of God to humanity; Time for a new evangelization; Transmitting the faith; Revivifying
pastoral activity.

The Introduction presents the structure of the document and indicates the meaning of the Synod's theme, the reference and the expectation of the particular Churches, according to the answers to the Lineamenta. With the announcement of the Year of Faith, Benedict XVI emphasized the importance of the Second Vatican Council for the life of the Church and also for the work of the Synod. Highlighted in the Introduction for this very reason are the value of the conciliar documents and the action carried out by the Pontiffs to apply their instructions in the successive decades, until the compilation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in which these teachings converged. It is not by chance, in the Instrumentum Laboris that frequent mention is made of Paul VI's Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, as well as various texts by John Paul II, especially his Encyclical Redemptoris Missio and the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte. With regard to Benedict XVI, it is Porta Fidei which is cited the most often and insistence is placed on the hermeneutic of reform and on renewal in continuity, with which it is necessary to interpret and absorb the Second Vatican Council so that it can become "increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church" (n. 14).

With reference to the answers from the episcopates, they are expecting the Synod Assembly to imbue the Christian communities with fresh energy and to provide practical answers to questions on the evangelization of the contemporary world. The need for new methods and new forms of expression is felt, in order to make the Word of God comprehensible in the living contexts of people today. The Synod must be an opportunity for exchanges and sharing both of analyses and of examples of action to be shared for the purpose of giving the pastors and the particular Churches encouragement. It is hoped that the new evangelization "will lead to a rediscovery of the joy of believing and a rekindling of enthusiasm in communicating the faith" (n. 9).

Jesus Christ the Good News of God to humanity

In the first chapter of the Document the fundamental vocation of the Church is proposed anew: to proclaim to people the Good News she has received and lives out. The Christian faith is above all the encounter with the Person of Jesus Christ at an individual and a community level, the work of the Holy Spirit which transfigures the life of the faithful, making them share in the divine life. "For Jesus, the purpose of evangelization is drawing people into his intimate relationship with the Father and the Spirit" (n. 23).

Evangelization naturally leads man to an experience of conversion, an indispensable stage on the journey to holiness. "The Church, who proclaims and transmits the faith, imitates God himself who communicates with humanity by giving his Son, who, in turn, pours out the Holy Spirit so that people can be reborn as children of God" (n. 36).

Jesus Christ, "the Good News of God, was the very first and the greatest evangelizer" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 7).

His Gospel is the resumption and completion of the proclamation of the Old Testament writings. "Precisely because of this continuity, the newness of Jesus appears both clearly and understandably" (Instrumentum Laboris, n. 22). Faithful to the will of her Lord, "The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself" (n. 37), through a constant conversion and renewal in listening to the Word of God, in the celebration of the sacraments and in the work of charity. For the Church, therefore, evangelization is not a choice but a duty: she exists in order to evangelize.

Moreover, "every person has the right to hear the Gospel of God to humanity, which is Jesus Christ" (n. 33). Evangelization is the great gift of God to all men and women. The new evangelization is the expression of the internal dynamic of Christianity, which wants to make known to people of good will the "depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge" (Rom 11:33) of the mystery of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, and not so much a troubled response to the crisis of faith and the new challenges posed to the Church by the world today.

Time for a new evangelization

Today the proclamation of the Gospel, ever the same, is coming up against certain new social situations that call the Church into question and demand adequate responses if they are to account for the hope that
is in her (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). These are
the new challenges to evangelization in today's world, described in chapter two by various "sectors". The Church is called to use discernment so that they can be "turned into places for proclaiming the Gospel
and experiencing the Church" (n.

They were already mentioned in the Lineamenta but the answers of the episcopates have contributed to their further elaboration. There are five sectors — cultural (marked by secularization) migratory, economic, political, of scientific research and technological — next to which, because of their effect in the life of the particular Churches the communications and religious sectors have been developed in addition. Many of the responses highlighted the importance of the means of communication for the dissemination of the Good News, and in particular of the media and digital cultures.

With regard to the religious sector, ecumenical and interreligious dialogue are becoming distinctly deeper, emphasizing the important progress in relations between the Catholic Church and other Churches and ecclesial communities, but not disregarding the obstacles, even recent ones, in this journey marked out by Jesus in his grayer that "they may all be one' On 16:21), The timeliness of the dialogue with Islam and with the other great religions of the world is noted in particular: the positive aspects are pointed out and the difficulties, especially in those countries where Christians are a minority, are not forgotten.

Although the Instrumentum Laboris mentions John Paul II's well known words on the new evangelization, "new in its ardour, methods and expression" (Address at the CELA M Meeting, Port au Prince, Haiti, 9 March 1983), it does not provide its own definition but reports various interpretations. For example, it points out that the new evangelization "was primarily viewed as a necessity, then as a work of discernment and finally as an impetus for the Church in our times" (n. 44).

In addition, it shows that the new evangelization is the name given to the spiritual revival, the "spiritual reawakening and reanimation of a process of conversion which the Church asks of herself, all her communities and all the baptized" in order to be "the place where God can be experienced even now, and where, under the guidance of the Spirit of the Risen Christ, we allow ourselves to be transformed by the gift of faith" (n. 88).

Yet an attempt had already been made in Redemptoris Missio to identify the specificity of the new evangelization. In this regard, a distinction is made in the Encyclical between evangelization in general, an ongoing task of the Church, which in our day too must be renewed and made more dynamic; then an emphasis is placed on the importance of missionary activity (ad gentes), on the duty of proclaiming the Gospel to those who do not yet know it; and lastly a reflection is made on the new evangelization addressed above all to those who have been baptized but are not sufficiently evangelized and to those who have drifted away from the Church and from religious practice. This structuring was taken up and applied in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus, and was also marked in the Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (3 December 2007). The Instrumentum Laboris also records this vision of a triple stratification of the single process of evangelization: three aspects that are interwoven and complete each other (cf. Preface, nn. 85-89).

In the work of new evangelization a renewal of ordinary pastoral care in the particular Churches is hoped for and, at the same time, a new sensitivity that requires creativity and evangelical daring for people who have drifted away from the Church. Parishes are entitled to a special place in this process. They are seen "as an entryway, open to everyone in every place on the globe, to the Christian faith and an experience of the Church" (n. 81).

The parish must become a centre of missionary outreach and of the witness of the Christian experience, which can accommodate people with spiritual and material needs. All the members of the People of God —and priests in particular — are responsible for achieving this. Almost all the answers concerning this referred to the lack of vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life, which, among other things, stands in need of a strong vocations ministry.

Transmitting the faith

Faith, a gift of the Father which inspires the abandonment of oneself to the Son Jesus, ushers the faithful into the life of communion with God and makes possible their entry into the Church. With the proclamation of the Year of Faith, Chapter three of the Document recalls, Benedict xvi reaffirmed the primacy of faith in the sense that "the essential elements of the faith, professed by all believers over the centuries, are re-stated and examined, always in a new manner, so as to bear witness to the faith in a coherent way in an entirely different historical situation from the past" (n. 94).

Obstacles to the faith can be within the Church (a faith lived passively and privately, a person's not feeling need to be instructed in the faith, a dichotomy between faith and life) or from outside the Christian life (secularization, nihilism, consumerism, hedonism). Moreover signs that awareness is being raised as well as the witness to formation in the particular Churches, in the consecrated life and in ecclesial communities give grounds for hope in a better future, in a rebirth of the faith.

The Church transmits the faith that she herself lives, especially in the liturgy which must be at the same time divine worship, a proclamation of the Gospel and love in action. In this process "an intrinsic relationship exists between faith and the liturgy: lex orandi, lex credendi" (n. 97).

On the basis of the Scriptures the Tradition of the Church has created a pedagogy of the transmission of the faith professed (Creed), celebrated (sacraments), lived (Decalogue) and prayed ("Our Father"). This is also the structure of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which will not fail to provide the Synod Fathers with tools for making a discernment of the efforts made in recent decades in the area of the renewal of Catechesis.

The subject of the transmission of faith is the Church as a whole, which is expressed in the particular Churches, governed by a bishop. Around him are involved priests, deacons, consecrated persons, parents, catechists, men and women. A special place is given to the parish, "community of communities" (n. 107), as well as to the family, a "model-place for witnessing to faith" (n. 110).

All Christians are called to the task of evangelization. They must reawaken their own baptismal identity, in particular, the members of consecrated and contemplative life and of groups and movements. They must all be prepared to account for the reason of their faith to anyone who asks them. The rich contribution of the "new evangelizers" to spreading the Good News demands a further deepening of the relationship between charismatic gifts and hierarchical gifts for the good of the particular Churches and of the universal Church.

The Year of Faith is a pressing appeal to conversion so that every Christian and every community, transformed by grace, may bear abundant fruits. Mentioned among the fruits of the faith are ecumenical endeavours, the search for truth, interreligious dialogue and the courage to report infidelities and scandals in the Christian community. There is an intrinsic relationship between faith and love: faith is expressed in love and love without faith would be philanthropy. "In the new evangelization, the love shown to those in spiritual and material need, which is expressed in works of fellowship, solidarity and assistance, speaks louder than words" (n. 124).

Revivifying pastoral activity

In putting into practice the Lord's commandment to make disciples of all nations, the Church has developed pastoral practices for proclaiming the Gospel to human beings rooted in the different cultures. In the face of the considerable changes in today's society, people of the Church have rethought and revised the ways of introducing people to the faith, of instructing them in it and of proclaiming the Christian message. In this regard, Chapter four of the Document underlines, some certainties continue to be widely shared: the Baptism of children, and likewise that requested by adults and adolescents. It is agreed that the structure of the catechumenate should be applied to the process of initiation to the faith for children endowing it with a character which better displays its witness and ecclesial aspects. While substantial agreement endures on the administration of Baptism and First Communion, there are differences regarding the time in life of the celebration of Confirmation. In any case, it would be necessary "from a theological point of view, we must better understand the sequence of the Sacraments of Christian Initiation, which culminates in the Eucharist, and reflect on models to be translated into deeply meaningful pastoral practices" (n. 137).

The Synodal Assembly is expected to help Christian communities —starting with parishes — to adopt a more missionary style in their pastoral activity. In this regard initial proclamation to those who do not yet know Jesus is very important. Whereas in the universal Church or in the national Churches there is no lack of other, general forms of initial proclamation — the World Youth Days, the Pope's Apostolic Journeys, beatifications and canonizations — it would be necessary to strengthen them in daily life at a local and parish level, especially by focusing on certain elements: homilies, popular missions, the sacraments of reconciliation and of marriage, popular piety, the devotion to Mary and to the saints, especially in shrines, and attention at the moments of suffering and sickness.

Evangelization demands a link between the initiation into the faith and human education. The Church "possesses a tradition of educational resources, studies, research, institutions and people — consecrated and non-consecrated persons, belonging to religious orders, congregations and institutes — who provide a significant presence in schools and education" (n. 147).

In the world today the educational process is becoming so much more difficult that it induced Benedict XVI to speak of an "educational emergency". In this context the Church's commitment acquires special importance, above all "as a way of providing an anthropological and metaphysical basis to today's challenges to education (n. 151), countering an anthropology marked by individualism and relativism.

A connection exists between faith and knowledge, expressed through the concept of the "ecology of the human person", understood as "a way to understand the world and the development of science that takes into account all the needs of a person, including openness to the truth and the original relationship with God" (n. 153).

It is the task of Christian scientists above all, and especially with their lives, to demonstrate the enriching harmony between faith and reason for the good of humanity.

In order to evangelize, the Church does not so much need to renew her strategies as rather to improve the quality of the witness borne by Church people. "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 41).

Here too the Synodal Assembly is expected to emphasize the centrality of the vocations question for the Church. God personally calls each one, thus revealing that life itself is a vocation in relation to God. The weakening of Christian experience leads to a vocational weakening, which is not only reflected in the dwindling number of vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life, but also in the weakening of fidelity in living out the important decisions of life, such as for example, the indissolubility of marriage.

God calls people to holiness through the definitive choices of life in which they take on ministries and tasks in the Church and in society. The secret of the new evangelization, as well as the sign of its effectiveness, is every Christian's response to the call to holiness and hence the "rediscovery of life itself as a vocation and an increase in the personal call to a radical following of Jesus Christ" (n. 160.

In the Conclusion the Document reasserts the importance of the Holy Spirit for the new evangelization. The first evangelization began on the day of Pentecost. The Apostles received the Spirit while they were gathered in prayer in the Upper Room with the Mother of Jesus Christ. Since that time Mary, "full of grace" (Lk 1:28), has been found on all the paths of evangelization, including the current one on which the Church is invoking a new Pentecost. She is therefore, and rightly so, invoked as the "Star of the New Evangelization".

In short, the new evangelization does not mean a new Gospel, because "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever" (Heb 13:8). According to John Paul II's words this means that "we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardour of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost" (Nuovo Millennio Ineunte, n. 40). New evangelization therefore means: "giving the reason for our faith, communicating the Logos of hope to a world which seeks salvation" (n. 167). On this journey it is necessary to start afresh from Christ: it is he in fact, who offers hope and gives joy to evangelizers, so that undaunted and with new enthusiasm they may proclaim to the whole world "Jesus Christ, the Gospel of God, so that everyone [may] have faith" (n. 169).

*General Secretary
Synod of Bishops

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
27 June 2012, page 8

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