CDF’s Note On Evangelization

The Catholic blogs are atwitter about it. Or they’re atwitter about the summary they can easily cut and paste onto their web pages. The Bishops of England and Wales have the full document in pdf, if you care to read.

The catechists and apologists among us might consider the CDF’s definition of evangelization, Not “simply to teach a doctrine, but to proclaim Jesus Christ by one’s words and actions, that is, to make oneself an instrument of his presence and action in the world.”

Quoting Pope Benedict, “Social issues and the Gospel are inseparable. When we bring people only knowledge, ability, technical competence and tools, we bring them too little.”

Evangelization is a duty for believers, not an option. And that duty includes the witness of a holy and charitable life. “If the word is contradicted by behavior, its acceptance will be difficult.”

I think the note overplays the notion of relativism as a danger. Far more prevalent among Roman Catholics, especially in the hierarchy, is the easy compartmentalization of life. We see this in a president who “reasonably” breaks laws that are a part of the foundation of liberty and justice in our nation. We see this in those who have sinned gravely, but segregate the good work in the other parts of their lives. We see it in bishops who blunder as administrators (itself not a sin), yet suffer no consequences, sometimes passing blame to subordinates. Many bemoan a loss of a sense of sin, yet to all who view them the hypocrisy seeps at the cracks in the facade.

I’d say that relativism is a part of this moral segregation. One sees it in the most popular blogs. People who present themselves as loyal Catholics display a scandalous lack of charity and unwillingness to dialogue that shocks believer and unbeliever alike. The quote in section five is telling: “whoever trusts only in (their) own individual efforts and does not recognize the need for help from others, is deceiving (themselves).” Many believers are unwilling to receive help and esconce themselves in self-deception.

Dialogue seems to be no dirty word in the Vatican. Section 8 says it explicitly:

Evangelization also involves a sincere dialogue that seeks to understand the reasons and feelings of others. Indeed, the heart of another person can only be approached in freedom, in love, and in dialogue, in such a manner that the word which is spoken is not simply offered, but also truly witnessed in the hearts of those to whom it is addressed.

“True friendship” and “sharing” are not curse words, but “valuable” for the proclamation of Christ.

After criticizing arrogance and other sinful qualities, the note clarifies that “incorporation of new members into the Church is not the expansion of a power-group, but rather entrance into the network of friendship with Christ that connects heaven and earth, different continents and ages.”

Much is made of the supposed reticence of Catholics. Rather than shying away from the perception of intolerance, most parish Catholics I know demur from evangelization for any number of non-philosophical reasons:

  • People don’t grasp the importance of personal witness; they minimize it or they think others are more capable than they
  • There is a sense of clericalism: it’s the job of the priest, the staff, or someone other then themselves
  • There is a sense of inadequacy: people don’t think they know the faith well enough
  • The word and concept “evangelization” scares them, and some use it as an excuse for apathy
  • The faith itself is lukewarm within them, including many clergy

I’m a believer in evangelization. Count me a doubter of those who seem to relish the blame game: it’s the relativism of the culture. I think an open reading of this document will yield good fruit for those who bother to look at it.

For pastoral ministers, I think we need to closely examine our own lives and how we conduct ourselves with believers and unbelievers alike. We also need to encourage people who have a vibrant faith to be more self-confident in proclaiming Christ by word and action. Most of all, we need to form adults, youth, and children all to root their lives in faith so as to be a more holy, charitable, and convincing witness to others.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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