September 22, 2012

Disciples Called to Witness: Our Culture

The USCCB's Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis has recently released a statement on the "new evangelization": Disciples Called to Witness.

It opens with Acts 1:8-11:
“‘But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?’”
The angels seem to say "what are you waiting around for? There's work to do!" Our Holy Fathers and the US bishops have the same message for us: there is work to do!  "The New Evangelization calls all Catholics first to be evangelized and then in turn to evangelize." In the USA, we have lost some of the knowledge and energy that pervaded Catholic life.  We've lost some of the integration of those two words: "Catholic" and (daily) "life".  (Cardinal Dolan recently blogged on the concept of American cities as Mission Territories.)

In "Part One: Current Cultural Context", the bishops point out that we have become a mission territory again.  We're not an unevangelized country, technically; rather, we've become post-Christian. We know of Christ, but not enough and not in a way that affects our lives. We seem to have moved beyond Him (though that isn't truly possible).

It's important to recognize that those around us who don't live a Christian life aren't strangers. They aren't distant people that have never heard the Gospel. "Those 77 percent absent from the eucharistic feast each week are not strangers: they are our parents, siblings, spouses, children, and friends."

The bishops name three symptoms of this drifting away from Christ: secularization, materialism, and individualism.

Secularization is the removal of religion from public life. It is the claim that "religion is merely a private matter." Archbishop Chaput addressed this in "Some Thoughts of Catholic Faith and Public Life" (PDF) and more broadly in his address on the same day, "We Have no King but Caesar" (PDF).

Materialism in one sense in an unhealthy attraction to material goods: food, technology, cars, living space, clothes, and so on. More broadly, it is a philosophy that focuses entirely on the physical world - on what the physical sciences can measure. It is blind to any study beyond that, calling nothing but physical science "science". Statistician William Briggs covers this well in his article "The Dire And Depressing Implications Of Science As Scientism: Two Introductions"

Individualism leads us to believe that we can do it all ourselves, that we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. There is a difference between confidence, which says "I can do it", and pride, which says "I don't need anyone". Christ founded a Church, rather than set each person on their own path. He called the lost sheep - and sheep are gathered together, not tended separately.

The New Evangelization is a response to these trends. It is "a call to each person to deepen his or her own faith, have confidence in the Gospel, and possess a willingness to share the Gospel."  In the remaining four parts of the document, the bishops teach about the New Evanglization and advise us how to evangelize individually and through church programs.

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