Today we continue with Pope John Paul II’s opening theme, Jesus Christ, the Only Savior. In the third paragraph of section 4, he offers six questions. You may have your own answers, but I’ll offer mine as a discussion starter
I will comment off the top that questioning evangelization wasn’t a phenomenon that began with Vatican II. There has been a certain attitude of entitlement within Catholicism that is often voiced by the notion that people need to come to us. Not only the premise that non-Catholics need to put on their swimsuits and jump in the Tiber, but that all lands in the world have been evangelized already. Non-Christians need to make a choice.
Telling also I think is the boom in lay people entering the missionary apostolate since the 1950s. To me that suggests that the passion for mission accompanied the foment for reform and change in the Church.
Anyway, here are the questions:
Nevertheless, also as a result of the changes which have taken place in modern times and the spread of new theological ideas, some people wonder:
- Is missionary work among non-Christians still relevant?
- Has it not been replaced by inter-religious dialogue?
- Is not human development an adequate goal of the Church’s mission?
- Does not respect for conscience and for freedom exclude all efforts at conversion?
- Is it not possible to attain salvation in any religion?
- Why then should there be missionary activity?
- I would say certainly yes. It is important to present ourselves as credible witnesses to the Lord’s activity. This activity is revealed through the Word of God, but also in the lives of believers who are sensitive and aware of divine movements in our experiences. Perhaps just as importantly, this witness is important to other believers. Even in the post-Resurrection experience of the disciples, there was doubt. (Cf. Matthew 28:17) We cannot easily claim a faith more firm than the Twelve and others who were living witnesses to the Lord. Believers among us have doubts. Faith must be reinforced through a repeated affirmation to others. As for non-Christians, it is important for them to witness our own actions in the world, not just hear the words we utter.
- I would see the purpose of inter-religious dialogue as an effort to befriend and understand the other listeners. It seems difficult to be a witness when one doesn’t know the culture in another person’s court.
- On one level, human development is a means to an end. Christians embrace the presence of Christ in the needy (Cf. Matthew 25:31ff). It seems logical that we encounter the Lord who saves us in the people we might assist. We don’t engage in the work of charity and justice to be nice people. We do so because we imitate Christ. What his self-described mission at the onset (Cf. Luke 4:16ff) of his public ministry? ““The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19) Advocating for others is putting on the face and hands of Christ, and thinking with his mind.
- Respect for others excludes certain efforts at conversion, yes. Lies, manipulation, threats, exploitation, and others sins are excluded. It’s a basic tenet of the Judeo-Christian tradition that means do not justify the ends. It is also important to recognize, for the abasement of our own egos if nothing else, that God induces conversion in people. Not other human beings. Christians can identify conversion. They can celebrate and ratify it through human actions: rituals, prayers, music, and even a membership document. But they are not instigators of hearts that shift to Jesus Christ.
- Salvation outside of organized Christianity may be a topic better designated as a mystery. I bow to the wisdom of the Vatican II declaration Nostra Aetate as definitive teaching on the subject.
- The answer is simple: because Christ has mandated us to do it. How it works is best left to him.
Any commentary on this, or additions to these answers?
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