Redemptoris Missio 36: A Lack Of Fervor And Other Problems

Pope John Paul II laments internal challenges within the Body. Some of these can be attributed to the reality we are flawed mortal beings. Everybody has a bad day eventually. People also make errors that dishearten and damage others.

Nor are difficulties lacking within the People of God; indeed these difficulties are the most painful of all. As the first of these difficulties Pope Paul VI pointed to “the lack of fervor [which] is all the more serious because it comes from within. It is manifested in fatigue, disenchantment, compromise, lack of interest and above all lack of joy and hope.”(Evangelii Nuntiandi 80)

Pope Paul VI mentioned obstacles, plural, in this 1974 document. But he intentionally limited himself to the one. In our examination of this nearly eight years ago, I also quoted a later citation:

We exhort all those who have the task of evangelizing, by whatever title and at whatever level, always to nourish spiritual fervor[Cf. Rom 12:11]

My own commentary followed:

And how do we nourish this fervor? One obvious key is respect for the various gifts and offices that have a role. In my experience, clergy are often weak in this. Many lay ecclesial ministers serve with a lack of respect and regard–and that doesn’t even begin to touch the ordinary parishioners who, after all, are in the front lines of evangelization in the world.

In the era where Paul VI grew up, was educated, ordained, and served, evangelization was not encouraged as an activity of the baptized, but promoted by special classes set apart. John Paul II shared this rearing. To an extent, Vatican II began to change–or more accurately, suggested a change in this. We have yet to achieve that.

Some of the commentary in this section is spot-on:

Other great obstacles to the Church’s missionary work include past and present divisions among Christians,(Cf. Ad Gentes 6) dechristianization within Christian countries, the decrease of vocations to the apostolate, and the counterwitness of believers and Christian communities failing to follow the model of Christ in their lives.

Clicking off this list:

  • Christian disunity, yes
  • Depending on how one defines dechristianization, possibly not. In many ways, working in a non-religious system gives certain advantages. I see campus ministry in Catholic schools–secondary and university–to be generally less effective than what I’ve seen in dedicated ministries at state or private universities.
  • We can debate “decrease in vocations” along the lines of that exalted class of discipleship. I’ve noticed we have significant numbers of young people willing to “taste” missionary service in short-term commitments. Such efforts were mostly non-existent before Vatican II. John Paul II is likely wrong on this point.
  • The “counterwitness” is by far the most damaging of all. And the pope wrote this before the cover-up scandals in the hierarchy were exposed. I’ve called it “antigospel” here. I’m not 0verstating the case. Bad examples literally chase people away from Jesus.

John Paul II awarded his gold medal of obstacles to “indifferentism.” Today, serious still, but no higher than a bronze:

But one of the most serious reasons for the lack of interest in the missionary task is a widespread indifferentism, which, sad to say, is found also among Christians. It is based on incorrect theological perspectives and is characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that “one religion is as good as another.” We can add, using the words of Pope Paul VI, that there are also certain “excuses which would impede evangelization. The most insidious of these excuses are certainly the ones which people claim to find support for in such and such a teaching of the Council.”(Evangelii Nuntiandi 80)

The First World excuse I see from the lay perspective is a certain self-centeredness on the institution. Most clergy do not promote vocations, and many that do, focus solely on their own calling. The material riches of the Church: property and investments rate somewhat more highly than they should. We shouldn’t be deceived: people notice this. Even non-Christians.

Would you interpret this paragraph as promoting institutional loyalty?

In this regard, I earnestly ask theologians and professional Christian journalists to intensify the service they render to the Church’s mission in order to discover the deep meaning of their work, along the sure path of “thinking with the Church” (sentire cum Ecclesia).

“Thinking with the Church” is a fine path. But it often devolves into “thinking with the institution,” which isn’t necessarily the same thing. Take note of how whistleblowers are treated: you’ll see quickly who supports the mission of Jesus and the Spirit and who supports the mission of buildings and bank accounts.

Back on track here, I think:

Internal and external difficulties must not make us pessimistic or inactive. What counts, here as in every area of Christian life, is the confidence that comes from faith, from the certainty that it is not we who are the principal agents of the Church’s mission, but Jesus Christ and his Spirit. We are only co-workers, and when we have done all that we can, we must say: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).

This document is available online here and is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Redemptoris Missio 36: A Lack Of Fervor And Other Problems

  1. Liam says:

    Well, this assume we have answers ready to the real questions; that linked piece had a very strong smack of consultant-ism (especially treating discipleship as a “thing”). Whereas my sense is that what is happening now is creating a space with an opportunity to engage the real questions – which may start with, in Ignatian fashion, e.g., what is it that we desire (which takes a lot of time to prune and distill in discernment away from our habitual civil categories – particularly if it means taking inventory of absences and negatives that we are ill-prepared to observe let alone describe) and what of that is coming from God, how would we know that, and what might it mean? Incompletion and all that, ya’know. Incompletion as a pilgrim path is antithetical to the habits our culture grooms us in.

    • Todd says:

      Quite right. Being incomplete discomfits many of us. Hence the anguish over the virus in the US. Not only are our livelihoods and avocations incomplete in various ways, but the virus has exposed how incomplete our systems of healthcare and governance are. We don’t like to look that way.

      As for evangelization, the 20th century, and flowing into this, is in large part about treating things as programs. And the prevalence of “stewardship” over evangelization and discipleship is also telling,

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