The Work of the New Evangelization: "So That the World May Know New Hope"
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It is a great honor to offer the address for The States Dinner of the 129th Supreme Convention of our Order. I thank our esteemed Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson for the invitation to speak at this important annual celebration of the mission of the Knights of Columbus.
Before entering into the heart of my address, I express my deepest esteem for the Order, of which I have been a member for some 36 years, and for all that you, my brother Knights, do to serve the Church, above all, in showing solidarity with your Bishops and their co-workers, your priests, as they act in the person of Christ, the Head and Shepherd of the Church in all of the many places in which you make your homes. Be assured that I pray daily, through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Servant of God, Father Michael J. McGivney, for God’s abundant blessing upon your homes and your work on behalf of the universal Church.
Since our last Supreme Convention, we have experienced immense joy at the Beatification of Blessed Pope John Paul II, just six years after his death. It seems fitting for us tonight to reflect upon the great gift of Blessed Pope John Paul II to the Church in our time and the significance of his heroic practice of the Christian virtues for us as Knights of Columbus.
My reflection takes inspiration from the theme of this 129th Supreme Convention, “So That the World May Know New Hope,” words taken from the prayer for the families of America, with which Blessed Pope John Paul II concluded his Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, the Church in America, written to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the First Evangelization of America and to prepare for the 2000th anniversary of the Incarnation of God the Son.1 It is also inspired by the apparitions and message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, under whose care and protection Blessed Pope John Paul II placed the “the work of the new evangelization” as the secure means of bringing “new hope” to our homes, our neighborhoods and our nations.2 Providentially, our Supreme Knight has also placed the work of our Order under Our Lady’s care and protection.
The Universal Call to Holiness and the New Evangelization
Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily for the Mass of the Beatification of Blessed Pope John Paul II, summarized the great gift of the saintly Pontiff, referring to these words from his Testament:
As a Bishop who took part in the [Second Vatican Ecumenical] Council from the first to the last day, I desire to entrust this great patrimony to all who are and will be called in the future to put it into practice. For my part, I thank the Eternal Shepherd, who has enabled me to serve this very great cause in the course of all the years of my Pontificate.3
Pope Benedict XVI then asked: “And what is this “cause”?
In responding to the question, our Holy Father summarized the great gift of the pontificate of Blessed Pope John Paul II for all of us. He declared:
It is the same [cause] that John Paul II presented during his first solemn Mass in Saint Peter’s Square in the unforgettable words: “Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ!” What the newly-elected Pope asked of everyone, he was himself the first to do: society, culture, political and economic systems he opened up to Christ, turning back with the strength of a titan – a strength which came to him from God – a tide which appeared irreversible. By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel. In a word, he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty. To put it even more succinctly: he gave us the strength to believe in Christ, because Christ is Redemptor hominis, the Redeemer of man. This was the theme of his first encyclical and the thread which runs through all the others.4
Blessed Pope John Paul II, practicing, as Pope Benedict XVI declared, “the beatitude of faith,” with the Mother of God as his example and intercessor, has taught us all to have faith in Christ, to believe that what the Lord has promised to us will be fulfilled, and thus to live courageously the truth which has its highest expression in pure and selfless love.
Blessed Pope John Paul II recognized the universal call to holiness, set forth in the last chapter of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council’s Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, “On the Church,” as the great cause to which the Council was calling all believers. Before the daunting challenge of living the Catholic faith in a totally secularized society, he called the whole Church to the work of the new evangelization, to the work of teaching, celebrating and living our Catholic faith with the engagement and energy of the first Christians and of the first missionaries to our nations. A particular way in which he emphasized the call was the proclamation of many blesseds and saints, “during the almost twenty-seven years of his pontificate,” showing us the extraordinary nature of our ordinary life, when we live in Christ, when we place our poor, doubting and often fearful hearts, one with the Immaculate Heart of Mary, into the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus, finding in the Heart of Jesus the forgiveness of our sins and the strength to bring his pure and selfless love to our world.
The New Evangelization in America
Writing to the Church in America, Blessed Pope John Paul urged the faithful to seek Christ anew in their lives, assuring them: “A fresh encounter with Jesus Christ will make all members of the Church in America aware that they are called to continue the Redeemer’s mission in their lands.”5 He went on to describe the transforming effect of the conversion to Christ on the par of Americans:
If it is genuine, the personal encounter with the Lord will also bring a renewal of the Church: as sisters and neighbors to each other, the particular Churches of the continent will strengthen the bonds of cooperation and solidarity in order that the saving work of Christ may continue in the history of America with ever greater effect. Open to the unity which comes from true communion with the Risen Lord, the particular Churches, and all who belong to them will discover through their own spiritual experience that “the encounter with the living Jesus Christ” is “the path to conversion, communion and solidarity”. To the extent that these goals are reached, there will emerge an ever increasing dedication to the new evangelization of America. He went on to describe the transforming effect of the conversion to Christ, on the part of Americans:6
Hearing again the words of Blessed Pope John Paul II, we are led to reflect on the power of the life of Christ within us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, for our personal conversion and for the transformation of our society from a culture of violence and death to a civilization of love and life.
Blessed Pope John Paul II placed the new evangelization of America under the care of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mother of God, who appeared to Saint Juan Diego and to his dying uncle, Juan Bernardino, from December 9th to the 12th of 1531. He wrote:
It is my heartfelt hope that she, whose intercession was responsible for strengthening the faith of the first disciples (cf. Jn 2:11), will by her maternal intercession guide the Church in America, obtaining the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as she once did for the early Church (cf. Acts 1:14), so that the new evangelization may yield a splendid flowering of Christian life.7
Our Lady’s apparitions and message at Tepeyac Hill and at the home of Juan Bernardino in December of 1531 responded to a most dolorous manifestation of man’s sinfulness. Our Lady appeared on the continent of America at a time when many men were drifting from God and His life-giving Law and were, thereby, exposing themselves, in a most deadly manner, to the ever-present influence of Satan and his cohorts, the forces of evil. They had accordingly lost hope, the hope which loving obedience to the will of God alone gives.
On the one hand, under a long and macabre leadership, the religion of the Native Americans, the Aztecs, was increasingly marked by a diabolical worship which demanded constant and mass human sacrifice.8 On the other hand, the arrival and activity of European explorers in the same territory had developed into a conflict between the Spanish and Native Americans, which threatened an increasingly massive destruction of human life and goods. In the context of so much and so great suffering and death, the Mother of God was sent to draw men once again to the one and only source of hope and life in the love and mercy of God the Father, made present in our midst by His Incarnate Son. With her apparitions and her message, the work of the Franciscan Friars who had been laboring diligently to evangelize the Native Americans and to bring their fellow Spaniards to an ever greater conversion of heart, under the spiritual leadership of their confrere, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, First Bishop of Mexico, bore fruit which was truly miraculous. While it is estimated that until the time of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe some 200,000 Native Americans had received the gift of faith and Baptism, among them Saint Juan Diego and his wife and his uncle, from the time of her apparitions until the deaths of Bishop Juan de Zumárraga and Saint Juan Diego, within days of each other in the Spring of 1548, some 9 million Native Americans were baptized.9
With the miraculous gift of faith and Baptism, fostered and nurtured by the Mother of God, the Spanish and the Native Americans became one people, a new mestiza race whose distinctive features are seen most perfectly in the face of Our Lady of Guadalupe. To this day, the Mexican people have remained one under the common motherhood of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whom they affectionately call La Morenita. Our Lady of Guadalupe brought to the people of Mexico and America, as she brings to the world, our one and only hope, Jesus Christ alive for us in His holy Church.
We live in no less troubled times which severely test our hope. In his 2010 Christmas Address to the College of Cardinals, the Roman Curia and the Governorate of Vatican City State, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI described the perversion of ethos, of the moral norm, which has even entered into the thinking of some theologians in the Church and which has provided an ideological foundation for a culture which is predominantly marked by violence and death. Pope Benedict XVI described a moral relativism, called proportionalism or consequentialism in contemporary moral theology, which has generated profound confusion and deadly error regarding the most fundamental truths of the moral order.10 It has led to a situation in which morality itself, in the words of the Holy Father, “ceases to exist.”11 We think, for instance, of the justification of the murder of the unborn child in the womb as the exercise of the right of the mother to choose, weighing other goods, whether to bring to term the baby she has conceived; the justification of the abhorrent practices of the artificial generation of human life and its destruction, at the embryonic stage of development, as the means to obtain supposed cures for crippling or deadly diseases; the justification of the so-called “mercy killing” of those who have the first title to our care, our brothers and sisters who have grown weak through advanced years, grave illness or special needs, as respect for the quality of their lives; and the justification of the sexual union of two persons of the same sex as tolerance of so-called alternative forms of human sexuality, as if there were a true form of human sexuality other than the form written in the human body and soul by God.
We are witnesses of a society in which, in many respects, morality has ceased to exist. We are called ever more urgently to the new evangelization of our culture. Our Lady of Guadalupe gives us hope, gives us Jesus Christ Who alone brings us truth and freedom.
The Essence of the New Evangelization
What is the essence of the new evangelization to which the Church in America and indeed the universal Church is called? An extraordinary synthesis of the teaching of Blessed Pope John Paul II on the new evangelization is found in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, “At the Close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.” In the face of the grave situation of the world today, we are, Blessed Pope John Paul II reminded us, like the first disciples who, after hearing Saint Peter’s Pentecost discourse, asked him: “What must we do?”12 Even as the first disciples faced a pagan world which had not even heard of our Lord Jesus Christ, so, we, too face a culture which is forgetful of God and hostile to His Law written upon every human heart.
Before the great challenge of our time, Blessed Pope John Paul cautioned us that we will not save ourselves and our world by discovering “some magic formula” or by “inventing a new programme.”13 In unmistakable terms, he declared:
No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you.14
He reminded us that the programme by which we are to address effectively the great spiritual challenges of our time is, in the end, Jesus Christ alive for us in the Church.15 In short, the program leading to freedom and happiness is, for each of us, the holiness of life in Christ, in accord with our state in life and with careful attention to our “time and culture.”
Blessed Pope John Paul II, in fact, cast the entire pastoral plan for the Church in terms of holiness of life. He explained himself thus:
In fact, to place pastoral planning under the heading of holiness is a choice filled with consequences. It implies the conviction that, since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethics and a shallow religiosity. To ask catechumens: “Do you wish to be receive Baptism?” means at the same time to ask them: “Do you wish to become holy?” It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).16
Blessed Pope John Paul II, making reference to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, reminded us that “this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few ‘uncommon heroes’ of holiness.”17
The saintly Pontiff taught us the extraordinary nature of our ordinary life, because it is lived in Christ and, therefore, produces in us the incomparable beauty of holiness of life. He declared:
The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled me to beatify and canonize a large number of Christians, and among them many lay people who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life. The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction.18
Seeing in us the daily conversion of life by which we strive to meet the high standard of holiness, the “high standard of ordinary Christian living,” our brothers and sisters will discover the great mystery of their own ordinary life in which God, in a truly extraordinary manner, daily showers upon them his immeasurable and ceaseless love, calling them to holiness of life in Christ, His only-begotten Son. They will find new hope.
The New Evangelization and Public Life
Before concluding, I wish to address briefly a particularly critical arena of the exercise of the new evangelization, which gives new hope to our world, namely, our participation in public life. Presenting the challenge of the new evangelization to the Church in America, Blessed Pope John Paul II reminded us that “[i]nvolvement in the political field is clearly part of the vocation and activity of the lay faithful.”19 He went on to make clear the distinct and irreplaceable service of the Church to the common good of society:
The Church which, in virtue of her office and competence, can in no way be confused with the political community nor be tied to any political system, is both a sign and safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person.20
An erroneous notion of the moral law and of conscience, however, has, in our time, led to an equally erroneous exclusion of the discussion of the moral law and of questions of conscience from public life. In many so-called advanced nations, we witness an increasing tendency to deny to citizens the most fundamental right, the right to observe the dictates of one’s conscience, formed through right reason and the teaching of the Church. We witness the phenomenon in the language of political leaders who profess to be Catholics and yet vote for legislation which violates the moral law, claiming to hold personally to what the moral law demands but, at the same time, to be obliged by their political office to follow a different law in making decisions for those whom they represent and govern.
While the Church teaches the natural moral law, the observance of the moral law is not a confessional practice. It is rather a response to what is inscribed in the depths of every human heart. Religious faith plainly articulates the natural moral law, enabling men of faith to recognize more readily what their own human nature and the nature of things demand of them, and to conform their lives to the truth which they recognize. For that reason, religious faith and practice is important for the life of every nation, specifically for the right formation of the conscience of her citizens. All nations should guarantee the free exercise of religion, which aims to protect the teaching and practice of religious faith for the sake of the common good. When reason is not purified by faith in the political realm, the powerful and influential of the time exercise a tyranny which violates the fundamental rights of the very people whom political leaders are called to serve.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his encounter with the world of culture in Westminster Hall, during his Pastoral Visit to Great Britain in September of 2010, reflected “on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.”21 Taking inspiration from the example of Saint Thomas More, he addressed directly “the ethical foundations of civil discourse.”22 Presenting religious faith as a service to culture, in general, he set forth the Catholic understanding of the matter with these words :
The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.23
Pope Benedict XVI noted that the role of religion in public discourse “is not always welcomed,” for various reasons which also include “distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism.”24
He observed, however, that such distortions do not justify the exclusion of religion from public discourse, for “reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take account of the dignity of the human person.”25 What remains needed and true is the right relationship of faith and reason. The Holy Father concluded:
This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.26
Religion, he continued, “is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contribution to the national conversation.”27 In the light of the irreplaceable role of religion in public life, the Holy Father expressed his “concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance.”28
Yes, we face a struggle with those who would falsely exclude the purifying and illuminating service of faith to reason, those who would insist that, when it comes to civic life, we must bracket our religious faith, even to the point of violating our own conscience. But we know the truth about the critical service which our faith brings to political reasoning, and, therefore, we must remain steadfast in giving witness to it, even in the face of indifference and hostility.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2010 Christmas Address to the College of Cardinals, the Roman Curia and the Governorate of Vatican City State, reminded us of the need to form our consciences, in accord with the moral teaching of the Church, our Holy Father also reminded us of “our responsibility to make these criteria [these moral foundations] audible and intelligible once more for people today as paths of true humanity, in the context of our paramount concern for mankind.”29 The teaching of the truth about conscience must be, today, one’s of the Church’s most important contributions to the life of society, in general. In a culture bombarded with the noises and false images of secularization, the Church, out of love of all our brothers and sisters, that is, for the sake of the common good, must make the voice of conscience “audible and intelligible once more for people.” In the voice of conscience, our brothers and sisters, lost in the unreal and destructive world of moral relativism and, therefore, tempted to despair, will discover the hope for which they are looking.
It is my hope that these few reflections have both been a fitting tribute to the Beatification of Blessed Pope John Paul II and, at the same time, a worthy expression of the profound significance of his holiness of life for us as Knights of Columbus, especially in carrying out the new evangelization of America. In particular, it has been my desire to confirm the new hope in all of you, who are dedicated in various ways, according to your vocation in life and distinct personal gifts, to the work of the new evangelization.
If we are, from time to time, discouraged in our struggle to meet the high standard of ordinary Christian living in our time, let us turn to Our Lady of Guadalupe, begging her intercession and imitating her total trust that God’s promises of salvation to us will be fulfilled. She looks upon us with motherly love and, when we would abandon, in discouragement, our obedient response to what the moral law demands of us, she speaks to us, as she spoke to Saint Juan Diego, showing to us the great mystery of the all-merciful love of God in our daily lives. Let us confide our doubts and fears to the prayers of Mary Immaculate, and let us draw from her the example to remain faithful and courageous.
I close with words of Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily for the Mass of Beatification of Blessed Pope John Paul II:
Throughout the long journey of preparation for the great Jubilee [Blessed Pope John Paul II] directed Christianity once again to the future, the future of God, which transcends history while nonetheless directly affecting it. He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, to be lived in history in an “Advent” spirit, in a personal and communitarian existence directed to Christ, the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace.
1 Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Adhortatio Post-synodalis Ecclesia in America, “On the Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: The Way to Conversion, Communion, and Solidarity in America,” 22 January 1999, no. 1 [EIA].
2 EIA, no. 76.
3 Benedictus PP. XVI, Homily: Papal Mass on the Occasion of the Beatification of the Servant of God John Paul II, 1 May 2011, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2011, p.3 [Homily].
4 Homily, p. 3.
5 EIA, no. 7.
6 EIA, no. 7.
7 EIA, no. 11.
8 Cf. Warren H. Carroll, Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness, Front Royal, Virginia: Christendom Press, 1983, pp. 12-14 [Carroll].
9 Cf. Carroll, pp. 64-86.
10 Cf. Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Litterae Encyclicae Veritatis Splendor, “On the Fundamentals of the Church’s Moral Teaching,” 6 Augusti 1993, Acta Apostolicae Sedis
11 Pope Benedict XVI, “Benedict XVI’s Christmas greeting to the College of Cardinals, the Roman Curia and the Governorate: Resolved in faith and in doing good,” L’Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English, 22-29 December 2010, p. 13 [Christmas Greeting].
12 Acts 2:37.
13 Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, “At the Close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000,” 6 January 2001, Vatican City State: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001, no. 29.
14 Ibid., no. 29.
15 Ibid., no. 29.
16 Ibid., no. 31.
17 Ibid., no. 31.
18 Ibid., no. 31.
19 EIA, no. 27.
20 EIA, no. 27.
21 Pope Benedict XVI, Heart Speaks unto Heart: Pope Benedict XVI in the UK, The Complete Addresses and Homilies, London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2010, p. 49.
22 Ibid., p. 13.
23 Ibid., pp. 51-52.
24 Ibid., p. 52.
25 Ibid., p. 52.
26 Ibid., p. 52
27 Ibid., p. 52.
29 Ibid., pp. 52-53.
29 Christmas Greeting, p. 13.
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