The Church Is “Called to Something New” – The Synod’s Parting Word
Whispers in the Loggia – October 26, 2012
Much as the gathering formally closes with Mass on Sunday morning in St Peter’s, shortly after Roman Noon today, the closing message of the Synod of Bishops for the New Evangelization was released to the entire church.
Prepared by a a ten-member group of the gathering’s Fathers – chaired by Cardinal Giuseppe Betori of Florence, aided by a top-shelf committee including Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and the “Thrilla from Manila,” now Cardinal-designate Chito Tagle – the statement (directed, as always, to “The People of God”) stands separate from the Apostolic Exhortation which will serve as the Pope’s final word on the three-week event.
Likely to be released in a year to 18 months’ time – the venue for its signing yet unknown – B16′s concluding text is set to become the charter document of his pontificate’s key priority for the Western church….
In the meanwhile, here in full, the Synod’s last word.
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Brothers and sisters,
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7). Before returning to our particular Churches, we, Bishops of the whole world gathered by the invitation of the Bishop of Rome Pope Benedict XVI to reflect on “the new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith”, wish to address all of you spread throughout the world in order to sustain and direct the preaching and teaching of the Gospel in the diverse contexts in which the Church finds herself today to give witness.
- Like the Samaritan woman at the well
Let us draw light from a Gospel passage: Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman (cf. John 4:5-42). There is no man or woman who, in one’s life, would not find oneself like the woman of Samaria beside a well with an empty bucket, with the hope of finding the fulfillment of the heart’s most profound desire, that which alone could give full meaning to existence. Today, many wells offer themselves to quench humanity’s thirst, but we must discern in order to avoid polluted waters. We must orient the search well, so as not to fall prey to disappointment, which can be disastrous.
Like Jesus at the well of Sychar, the Church also feels obliged to sit beside today’s men and women. She wants to render the Lord present in their lives so that they could encounter him because he alone is the water that gives true and eternal life. Only Jesus can read the depths of our heart and reveal the truth about ourselves: “He told me everything I have done”, the woman confesses to her fellow citizens. This word of proclamation is united to the question that opens up to faith: “Could he possibly be the Messiah?” It shows that whoever receives new life from encountering Jesus cannot but proclaim truth and hope to others. The sinner who was converted becomes a messenger of salvation and leads the whole city to Jesus. The people pass from welcoming her testimony to personally experiencing the encounter: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world”.
- A new evangelization
Leading the men and women of our time to Jesus, to the encounter with him is a necessity that touches all the regions of the world, those of the old and those of the recent evangelization. Everywhere indeed we feel the need to revive a faith that risks eclipse in cultural contexts that hinders its taking root in persons and its presence in society, the clarity of its content and its coherent fruits.
It is not about starting again, but entering into the long path of proclaiming the Gospel with the apostolic courage of Paul who would go so far as to say “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Throughout history, from the first centuries of the Christian era to the present, the Gospel has edified communities of believers in all parts of the world. Whether small or great, these are the fruit of the dedication of generations of witnesses to Jesus – missionaries and martyrs – whom we remember with gratitude.
Changing societies and cultures call us to something new: to live our communitarian experience of faith in a renewed way and to proclaim it through an evangelization that is “new in its ardor, in its methods, in its expressions” (John Paul II, Discourse to the XIX Assembly of CELAM, Port-au-Prince, 9 March 1983, n. 3) as John Paul II said. Benedict XVI recalled that it is an evangelization that is directed “principally at those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life… to help these people encounter the Lord, who alone fills our existence with deep meaning and peace; and to favor the rediscovery of the faith, that source of grace which brings joy and hope to personal, family and social life”(Benedict XVI, Homily for the Eucharistic celebration for the solemn inauguration of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Rome, 7 October 2012).
- The personal encounter with Jesus Christ in the Church
Before saying anything about the forms that this new evangelization must assume, we feel the need to tell you with profound conviction that the faith determines everything in the relationship that we build with the person of Jesus who takes the initiative to encounter us. The work of the new evangelization consists in presenting once more the beauty and perennial newness of the encounter with Christ to the often distracted and confused heart and mind of the men and women of our time, above all to ourselves. We invite you all to contemplate the face of the Lord Jesus Christ, to enter the mystery of his existence given for us on the cross, reconfirmed in his resurrection from the dead as the Father’s gift and imparted to us through the Spirit. In the person of Jesus, the mystery of God the Father’s love for the entire human family is revealed. He did not want us to remain in a false autonomy. Rather he reconciled us to himself in a renewed pact of love.
The Church is the space offered by Christ in history where we can encounter him, because he entrusted to her his Word, the Baptism that makes us God’s children, his Body and his Blood, the grace of forgiveness of sins above all in the sacrament of Reconciliation, the experience of communion that reflects the very mystery of the Holy Trinity, the strength of the Spirit that generates charity towards all.
We must form welcoming communities in which all outcasts find a home, concrete experiences of communion which attract the disenchanted glance of contemporary humanity with the ardent force of love – “See how they love one another!” (Tertullian, Apology, 39, 7). The beauty of faith must particularly shine in the actions of the sacred Liturgy, above all in the Sunday Eucharist. It is precisely in liturgical celebrations that the Church reveals herself as God’s work and renders the meaning of the Gospel visible in word and gesture.
It is up to us today to render experiences of the Church concretely accessible, to multiply the wells where thirsting men and women are invited to encounter Jesus, to offer oases in the deserts of life. Christian communities and, in them, every disciple of the Lord are responsible for this: an irreplaceable testimony has been entrusted to each one, so that the Gospel can enter the lives of all. This requires of us holiness of life.