Monday, 17 June 2013

The New Evangelization and Religious Freedom

In October  2011, Pope Benedict XVI called for a Year of Faith which included a vision or blueprint for a new evangelization program. Now officially recognized as ‘The New Evangelization’ it calls each of us to deepen our faith, believe in the Gospel message and go forth to proclaim the Gospel. The focus of the New Evangelization calls all Catholics to be evangelized and then go forth to evangelize. Benedict stressed that, in a special way The New Evangelization must be focused on 're-proposing' the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith. It is interesting to note that the definition of participants provided by the U.S. bishops limits the calling to Catholics while Canadian bishops chose the more inclusive pro-noun Christian instead.

The actual implementation of a formal program or particular focus The New Evangelization  appears to be varied or different for each diocese and country. Some members of the Catholic clergy, such as Canadian Cardinal Collins want to link The New Evangelization to church teachings on  abortion and euthanasia, in vitro fertilization and fetal stem cell research, same-sex marriage and premarital sex.  Others, such as Canadian Fr. Raymond de Souza, (as consultant to the American bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty) sees The New Evangelization as an opportunity to speak about the threat to religious liberty as it applies to the religiously sensitive question of providing contraception coverage as a part of the Affordable Care Act  as   proposed by the U.S.  Health and Human Services (HHS).  According to a recent article in the Canadian based de Souza claims that religious liberty and the New Evangelization are profoundly linked.  How and what this has to do with Canadian and other  countries outside of the U.S.A  is not clear.  In any event de Souza claims “if the [U.S.] bishops give in to the very intense pressure upon them, our Catholic young people and families and priests will be devastated, and the credibility of the bishops as evangelists will be severely compromised.”  It is notable that Fr. Raymond would prefer that evangelization is left to the clerics.  While I hesitantly agree with de Souza  that the New Evangelization must offer a clear Catholic identity in the manner that shuns mediocrity and offers greatness, I don’t think presenting the issue of Religious Freedom into the political arena is something Jesus would necessarily agree with.  Accordingly I posted my concerns with the earlier Canadian news source as follows:       

"When ill health or an accident strikes do we first demand that the attending doctor, surgeon or nurse must be Roman Catholic? When we exit our driveway and enter the sidewalk, road or highway must it have been constructed by Roman Catholic engineers and builders? When we fuel up with gas, flick a switch to turn on our electricity, do we insist that the service providers must be operated by Roman Catholics? When we purchase appliances, food, or the clothes we wear do we insist that these items must be grown, sown and sold only by Roman Catholics? When we are asked to help our neighbor, teachers/instructors, fellow employees/employers should we insist that they be Roman Catholic? Do we simply avoid anyone who does not support our particular belief system?

When a Muslim doctor is prepared to save our child, a Jewish dentists offers to fix our broken teeth, or a gay gas station mechanic stands ready to repair our broken car, a atheist policeman/fireman stands prepared to risk his/her life to help us in our distress should we simply say no thank you, I think I will wait until a Roman Catholic expert comes along?

Today we live in a global village made up of many nationalities, cultures, customs, backgrounds, religions and faiths. And, unless we are prepared to grow and accept each other in peace and harmony we will continue to bring much self unnecessary pain and suffering upon our neighbors. Roman Catholics and others looking for solutions to this problem we need look no further than Jesus. He lived in a country that was taxed and ruled by cruel Roman soldiers yet, he never once suggested that his Jewish community remain closed or separate from any outside influence. Instead, Jesus healed pagans as well as Romans, ate and dined with the marginal of society and did not insist that they must join his religion. Jesus' thereby displayed the true meaning of religious freedom. It had nothing to do with membership to their local synagogue or observing Jewish customs - on the contrary it had everything to do with loving your neighbor, yourself and our heavenly Creator. The New Evangelization must follow this example and offer a clear 'catholic identity in a manner that shuns mediocrity and offers greatness. Note that the word catholic is used here with a small 'c' denoting its universal intent instead exclusivity. Perhaps the U.S. bishops could begin by recognizing the ‘greater good’ by supporting the medical needs Health and Human Services plan among the country’s estimated 40 million poor and disadvantaged. At the same time those who do not wish to entertain birth control, abortion inducing drugs, or any other demands contrary to their religious practice will remain free to exercise their own personal religious liberty. How many other countries provide this kind of religious assurance or protection?"

At the same time I want to take this opportunity to highlite one of Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily meditations on the subject of Religious Freedom as was posted on June 23 last year.  

“The Catholic Bishops of America have initiated a two week campaign to fight for religious freedom in America. It is called a “Fortnight for Freedom”. It strikes a large part of the population as crying wolf when there is no wolf. Probably no population in human history has had more religious freedom and more religious support than the present population of the USA. (I myself, as a Franciscan vowed to common purse, pay no taxes. Nor do our local parishes or institutions.) It feels like entitled people wanting more entitlement.
How different from the early Christian martyrs, whom we piously venerate, who became holy and courageous through the limitations imposed on them by empires and emperors. Too bad Sts. Perpetua and Felicity could not sponsor a fortnight for freedom from their prison cells. Now we suffer no limitations or constraints, refuse to dialogue fairly or up front, and just complain that “our freedoms are being taken away”. The final irony is this was initiated by an issue that 98% of Catholic women do not even believe in–contraception. It really feels like bishops are shooting themselves in the foot by trying to divert attention away from our own problems and sins. Christian spirituality has always first sought spiritual freedom, inner freedom, freedom from self, freedom for love, and never did we expect governments to supply our “freedom” by any political mandate whatsoever. Our dear bishops are beginning to look like “the Republican party at prayer” more than men of the Gospel of Jesus.”

Finally,  evangelizing should be understood as meeting people where they are – not where we would have them be. The most effective means of evangelizing is to lead by example. Evangelization has absolutely nothing to do with the view of converting anyone to a particular faith or church membership. Recall Matthew 8:5-13, Jesus did not demand that the Roman Centurion or his servant embrace his Jewish tradition. The Gospels remind us that Jesus evangelized by addressing the direct needs of the individual especially by means of healing and comforting etc. St. Francis of Assisi said “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”.

1 comment:

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