Evangelization Itself

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Apr 21, 2015

I have brought this ongoing discussion of the importance of meaning to evangelization nearly as far as we can take it without actually beginning to evangelize. If we look back at what we have learned so far, we can see ourselves drawing perilously close to the limits of philosophical speculation. Something more seems to be required.

At first glance, we would expect “meaning” or “purpose” to be addressed primarily in philosophical terms. Thus we have learned, as I said in the third installment (see What is ‘meaning’ and where does it come from?), that:

In the human person...purpose always has a profoundly moral dimension. It always involves striving for perfection according to the Good. This striving is self-evidently essential to human happiness, even if it is not always essential to human pleasure.

If this is true, then a certain kind of knowledge of human ends and the means to achieve those ends is indispensable to human fulfillment. But the human person is not pure intellect, and our response to lack of meaning in our lives expresses itself in a great many non-intellectual ways. The frustrations of meaninglessness reveal themselves psychologically, emotionally, and even physically; they lead to a wide range of negative behaviors that do more harm than good.

Fulfillment

Near the end of the installment cited above, I wrote:

[W]e intuit that the ultimate source of meaning can only be God…. This is why the human person thirsts for God, and why loss of meaning for any of us is profoundly self-alienating.

These words fairly capture the urgency of our situation. They also suggest the reason that philosophical reflection can take us only so far. It is because as persons—as relational beings—we require something both broader and deeper than abstract intellectual clarity to be satisfied.

I have hinted at what this something must look like by considering the Christian understanding of Providence in the sixth installment (see Christian Meaning and Divine Providence). The doctrine of Providence directly answers the sense each of us has in his conscience that right and wrong exist as absolutes and that we exist under a judgment. The corollaries are (a) there must be a Lawgiver/Judge; and (b) He cares how we live and act. The Christian description of Providence fleshes out these fundamental intuitions.

This idea of Providence depends on a particular explanation of the nature of God’s “caring about how we live”. It presupposes that everything I have said in this series is true, about the nature of meaning for human persons and its relationship to our own perfection in the Good. Thus God’s providential care occupies itself with whatever is necessary to draw us to the proper ends which give meaning to our lives. But to will another’s good is the very definition of love; therefore, any Being Who wills the good of others is animated by love.

Here we glimpse a mystery from the edge of a precipice. A seemingly impossible leap prevents us from grasping the reality of Divine love in a way that fulfills us as it should. Despite the degree of consolation provided by a proper philosophical grasp of these matters, we find all of our rational power insufficient to make that final leap to a truly personal awareness of what it means to be loved by God, and to be called to love Him in return.

It is just here that, instead of an argument, we need a narrative.

Historical Drama

What we need, in fact, is this narrative:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. [Jn 3:16-17]

Here, at last, we have a meaning that resolves itself in love or, perhaps better, a love that resolves itself in meaning. This is why the human thirst for meaning is such an important basis for evangelization—or again, perhaps better, why evangelization is such an apt response to the human thirst for meaning.

It is beyond my purpose to proceed to actual evangelization, but there is one more point to make before I close. By a Providential act in its own right, this point was made forcefully by Pope Francis just two days ago when he urged Christians to proclaim Christ as “the living and only Savior”. The Pope’s exhortation goes far toward disclosing this personally fulfilling power of Christianity, this narrative power which neither philosophical arguments nor moral directives can possess on their own:

The content of Christian testimony is not a theory, not an ideology or a complex system of precepts and prohibitions, or a moralism, but it is a message of salvation, a concrete event, or better yet a person: the risen Christ, the living and only Savior of all.

Francis went on to say that this personal experience of Christ is found in “prayer and in the Church.” It has “its foundation in Baptism, its nourishment in the Eucharist, its seal in Confirmation, its continuous conversion in Penance.” It is a journey “always guided by the Word of God.”

It is this alone which has the power to heal the human heart, drawing every human aspiration to its perfection. It is this alone that enables us to respond in joy to the great treasure we have so long sought. It is this alone that initiates us into the real and wonderful meaning of our lives.

At this point we really do need a narrative, and not an argument. We need the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Previous in series: Christian Meaning and Divine Providence

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Apr. 24, 2015 9:31 AM ET USA

    It seems to me that Pope Francis has taken the first steps in Evangelization. The next steps would be to have the Cardinals make profound public statements of belief in Jesus as the ONLY savior. Then the Bishops could make profound public statements about their belief in Jesus as the ONLY savior. Then the Priests could make profound public statements about their belief in Jesus as the ONLY savior. This will prepare the lay people to Evangelize as the hierarchical church has just done.

  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Apr. 21, 2015 6:11 PM ET USA

    One of the most effective ways of evangelizing, I think, is not only to tell the story but to believe in it. And people CAN tell whether you believe in the story or not. And many people told me the story, but I can count in my hands how many I sensed that really believe the Gospel.