NEW EVANGELISATION IN A NEW IRELAND – CONTENT AND STYLE
Speaking notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Kilkenny, 13th September 2013
“Some years ago I headed off to my first ad limina visit to Pope Benedict XVI. I headed out to Rome well prepared with all the relative statistics regarding the situation of the Archdiocese of Dublin and also regarding the Church in Ireland.
The Pope sat me down and immediately asked me: “where are the points of contact between the Catholic Church in Ireland and those places where the future culture of Ireland is being formed?”
It was a question which I was not expecting and for which much of my preparation and my statistics were not particularly helpful. He asked me about universities, about the media, about literature and culture, about politics and economics. That question is perhaps today one of the most important questions that we should be asking about the Irish Church. Evangelization involves the evangelization of culture and evangelization takes place within a given culture which we have to understand.
When we talk about evangelisation we have to look at two different strands. The first is that of preaching the Good News, of ensuring that believers in Jesus Christ receive a formation in the faith, which is authentic and integral. At the same time we have to ensure that lay men and women are equipped to go out convinced of their faith to bring the Good News into the realities of the world; with a capacity to engage those of different backgrounds – even those who are clearly non-believers – in a constructive dialogue about a common search for values and truth. A Church which retreats from the world and from the culture that surrounds it will not be truly missionary.
This sense of dialogue with men and women of culture and of different understandings of life is something which marks both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. Pope Benedict, as a professor and as a bishop and as a Cardinal engaged in public exchanges of dialogue about faith and reason on innumerable occasions and he collaborated in the most important documents of Pope John Paul II on the theme of faith and reason. Pope Francis has taken this evangelisation through dialogue one step further.
Evangelisation and dialogue go together, but they are also different processes. In the first place, evangelisation requires an initial proclamation of the kerygma, a fundamental proclamation of the person and the saving mission of Jesus Christ, as was the case with early teaching of the Apostles. Without that proclamation then what we call evangelisation runs the risk of being simply a humanistic spirituality with a Christian veneer.
The centre of our evangelisation cannot be just a vague spirituality but must always be the person of Jesus Christ, the unique saviour, who died for us and rose from the dead to witness to us that God is love. One of the most quoted phrases of Pope Benedict is one from the first lines of his first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”. Pope Benedict stressed that the Christian expresses the fundamental conviction of his life in recognising that: “We have come to believe in God’s love”.
Recognising the centrality of God’s love revealed in the self giving and redeeming love of Jesus who gave himself up to death affects every aspect of the way in which we live our faith. The centrality of the redemption worked by Jesus affects our entire understanding of what the Church is.
In the first place it affects the style of evangelization. If the fundamental message of Jesus Christ is a message of love then the style in which that message is proclaimed and transmitted must be one which reflects that message of love. The first thing that must be stressed is that the message of Jesus will never be transmitted through any form of arrogance or hurtful polemic. The truth has I any case no need for polemics. The truth must always be proclaimed in charity. We need to be marked by and desire to foster a sense of Christian freedom and initiative.
Pope Francis has set out day after day his understanding of how we transmit that message. Just some days ago he wrote a remarkable open letter to the founder and former editor of the liberal Italian newspaper La Repubblica, an atheist whose newspaper is well known for many trenchant articles against the Church.
Pope Francis stressed the twofold nature of his mission. He stressed that his mission “is to not only confirm the faith in Jesus Christ, for those who already believe, but also to spark a sincere and rigorous dialogue with those who, like you, define themselves as ‘for many years being a non-believer who is interested and fascinated by the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth’”. That phrase “a non-believer who is interested and fascinated by the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth’” is a noteworthy one which applies today not just to what we might call the “traditional non-believer” but also to many who would today in Ireland register themselves at the census as Catholic. Our evangelization must open out to them and address the challenges they face in their search for truth and meaning.
Pope Francis urges us to reach out, rather than simply condemn, those whom we do not meet in Church. He does not want a judgemental inward-looking Church. Speaking to Bishops gathered in Rio da Janeiro for World Youth Day he stressed: “We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, in our parish or diocesan institutions, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel! We have to go out as ones sent. It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome because they come, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people! Let us think resolutely about pastoral needs, beginning on the outskirts, with those who are farthest away, with those who do not usually go to church”.
It is interesting to recall the comments Pope Francis made on the final day of the meeting of the Cardinals just before the Conclave and his election. His comments were not part of an elaborate essay, but a single handwritten page. The dominant word was la periferia: “the periphery”, “the outskirts”, “the frontiers”. He said simply that the Church is called boldly to break out of herself and go towards the outskirts, not only the outskirts of place but also to the outskirts and the frontiers of our existence; those of the mystery of sin, of suffering, of ignorance; the outskirts of indifference, the frontiers of human wretchedness. And he added when the Church does not break out of herself in that way she becomes self-referential and so shuts herself in. ‘The evils which as time passes afflict ecclesial institutions are rooted in self-reference, a sort of theological narcissism”.
The centrality of the redemption worked by Jesus, I have said, affects our entire understanding of what the Church is. So much of the discussion on renewal in the Church – at least in Ireland – can drift into being introverted and focused on inner-Church quarrels that it really does become narcissistic and narcissism is not the way to win – or perhaps even to want to win – minds and hearts for the message of Jesus. Theological and ecclesial narcissism will never heal wounds and will never offer the men and women of our time a sense of meaning and peace. This applies to positions on various sides of the spectrum – conservative and progressive alike.
Pope Francis noted that at times we feel that the failures in our evangelising efforts are due to the fact that so many in today’s world are closed to God; they do not hear the call of Jesus; that when Jesus knocks on our doors we do not let him in. The Pope however counters that by adding: “we also fail at times when Jesus knocks from within and we do not let him out. The self-referential Church keeps Jesus within her and does not let him out A self referential Church believes that she is her own light and stops being a witness to the [true light]”.
Let me come back to the recent letter of Pope Francis to the editor Scalfari. The letter speaks with surprising honesty and humility. Scalfari had written about those who say that no absolute exists and therefore there is no absolute truth”. Pope Francis replies: “To start, I would not speak about, not even for those who believe, an “absolute” truth, in the sense that absolute is something detached, something lacking any relationship. Now, the truth is a relationship! This is so true that each of us sees the truth and expresses it, starting from oneself: from one’s history and culture, from the situation in which one lives, etc. This does not mean that the truth is variable and subjective. It means that it is given to us only as a way and a life. Was it not Jesus himself who said: “I am the way, the truth, the life”? In other words, the truth is one with love, it requires humility and the willingness to be sought, listened to and expressed. Therefore we must understand the terms well and perhaps, in order to avoid the oversimplification of absolute contraposition, reformulate the question. I think that today this is absolutely necessary in order to have a serene and constructive dialogue which I hoped for from the beginning”.
Pope Francis vision of the Church challenges all of us but in a particular way it challenges those who are involved in the media and particular in what we call Catholic media. Pope Francis says bluntly that a Church, which is not marked by Christian charity, has ceased to be the Church. Christian charity is not about short-term emotion. It is about being close to people and carrying them in their woundedness. Pope Francis has an amazing ability to find simple words to pose fundamental questions about the life of the Christian and of the Church. He challenges us to become “the tender embrace of the Church” for all who are marginalised and on the fringes and on the frontiers of the society in which we live. He does not simply say, as a theological statement, that the Church is the tender embrace of Christ’s love. He challenges us to become that tender embrace.
We can repeat doctrine ad nauseam. We can enounce moral teaching with clinical clarity. But all of that will be worthless and the Church’s teaching will appear to others like any other ideology, if we do not reflect in our lives – personal and institutional – the loving embrace of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. We have to live the Good news of Jesus Christ; we have to be seen to witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ; we have to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
We do not need a conformist Church. We need a Church of mature and authentic common commitment and concern for the spreading of the Gospel. That Gospel is perennially new and must always be presented in ways that are new, but we are not called to reinvent the fundamentals of faith. The Gospel is Good News and must always be presented with the enthusiasm which is the inevitable characteristic of those who believe that they are the bearers of good news. The Gospel of Jesus is never alien to the world of any time. What is important is that we understand the real Gospel and never allow ourselves to impose on ourselves or others aspects and rules which really have nothing to do with the Gospel. The Gospel must free from that self-centredness which paradoxically impedes us from being fully ourselves.
“Catholic journalism” – and we could argue for many an hour about what that term might fully mean – is not conformism but it must also be able to capture in its writing and in its style the real identity of the Church. Speaking to journalists in the days after his election Pope Francis noted: “Ecclesial events are certainly no more intricate than political or economic events! But they do have one particular underlying feature: they follow a pattern which does not readily correspond to the “worldly” categories which we are accustomed to use, and so it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wider and more varied public. The Church is certainly a human and historical institution with all that that entails, yet her nature is not essentially political but spiritual: the Church is the People of God, the Holy People of God making its way to encounter Jesus Christ. Only from this perspective can a satisfactory account be given of the Church’s life and activity”.
The Catholic journalist and the Catholic press as a body must therefore establish for itself a specific deontology of expression which respects independence, but also fosters an authentic expression of what the Church is. This requires a genuine ecclesial sense. Pope Benedict summed this up in a speech of 2010 when he appealed to the Catholic press to “Continue to be papers for the people that seek to encourage authentic dialogue between the various members of society, training-grounds for comparison and loyal discussion between different opinions. By so doing, while they carry out their important duty of informing, Catholic newspapers carry out at the same time an indispensable formative role, promoting a gospel understanding of the complex reality as well as educating critical and Christian consciences.”
The same theme was taken up by Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, speaking to the celebrations of the outstanding United States Catholic Newspaper Our Sunday Visitor: “The Church has many unloving critics; critics who seem at times keen to reveal the negative aspects of the Church in order to wound it. The Church is not well served either by those who might be described as uncritical lovers; people who, often out of a misplaced sense of loyalty, try to deny the existence of tensions and problems in a manner that ultimately may damage the credibility of the Church. The Church needs a media that is not afraid to expose mistakes and failures, but whose motive is to challenge the community of believers to continue on the path of conversion, so that the Church will be more fully what it is called by Christ to be – a community that witnesses credibly in word and deed to the love of God for all humanity. The Catholic media will not be credible if it does not confront sins, abuse, weaknesses and failings within our community but it would be less than objective and fair if it did not also point to events and happenings that point to the abiding presence of the Spirit.”
The Catholic journalist and the Catholic newspaper must be professional and live up to the highest professional standards of the broader profession to which they belong. This requires balance in reporting and the normal professional standards about verifying sources. Accuracy is more important than the exclusive ‘scoop’ which may often be unfounded. There is a growing tendency to “tabloidism” in sectors of the Catholic press and there is a growing and worrying phenomenon of blogs, which are not just partial and sectarian but at times very far away from the charity with which the truth should be expressed.
The highest professional standard applies also to management and involves, I believe, accurate publication of information about ownership and funding. We have seen worldwide how freedom of the press can only be guaranteed when there is transparency of ownership and financial and ideological interest. In Ireland, such openness and transparency will be more clearly required, on the part of the Church institutions and of any grouping which is considered a charity, under the new charity legislation. The Archdiocese of Dublin and other Church institutions are working to ensure full compliance with the new norms. The Catholic press must do likewise.
Pope John Paul had stressed that: The Church tries and will try more and more to be a ‘glasshouse’ where all may see what is happening, and how she accomplishes her mission in fidelity to Christ and the evangelical message. But the church expects that a similar effort of authenticity will be performed by those who are put in the position of observers and have to report the Church’s life and doings to others”.
The challenge of building that bridge between the Church and those places where the future of Irish culture are being formed is an urgent one and one that becomes more urgent day by day.
For Newman when he began the establishment of his Catholic University in Dublin, his University Church was an integral part of his plans. The Church was not just to be the place where his students could attend Mass. It was to be a place of dialogue between the intellectual life of the University and the life of faith of professors and students alike. I have plans to attempt to bring that beautiful Church back more closely to its original calling and make it a place of dialogue and formation for Catholic men and women, young and old. Ireland needs a new culture of dialogue about faith like the dialogue we saw between Pope Francis and the editor of what some would have written off as a hostile newspaper.
The Catholic media in Ireland has to be part of this challenging task for the future. But this is a difficult task and cannot be addressed in a superficial way. Faith is not simplistic. There is a temptation for us to think that we are using modern media and social communication and not notice that have failed to understand what is involved. It is not just a question of having a website and posting You-tube presentations. All you have to do is look at the number of hits some of these presentations have to see that they are actually not fostering dialogue. For many who are seeking deep answers, there are times when all we offer is a trivial and bickering inward looking Church which do not really reach out to the needs and challenges of living the faith in our society. ENDS