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‘We’re Starting to Get Our Act Together’
Ralph Martin discusses the next steps of the New Evangelization.
By EDWARD PENTIN
One major criticism of the post-conciliar Church is that there was too much confusion after the Second Vatican Council, born both from misinterpretation and willful abuse. In an attempt to provide clarity in the areas where many Catholics continue to suffer from confusion, a new book has just been published: Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization.
The author is Ralph Martin, president of Renewal Ministries, an organization devoted to Catholic renewal and evangelization. Martin is also an associate professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Detroit, a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, and an expert at the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization now under way in Rome. He spoke with Rome correspondent Edward Pentin Oct. 8 about what he sees as some key steps that need to be taken if the New Evangelization is to bear fruit abundantly.
What are your hopes for this synod?
I hope that we don’t just repeat what’s been done in the previous [post-conciliar] documents like Evangelii Nuntiandi, Redemptoris Missio or Dominus Iesus. All those things are part of a real magisterial tradition that started to develop on evangelization, just like the Church’s social teaching. They’re very significant, but I hope we can take some additional steps that would be helpful for the New Evangelization.
What sort of steps are you thinking of?
I feel like there is a doctrinal confusion that hasn’t been paid sufficient attention to, that really is holding back evangelization. I would describe it like this: Many of our fellow Catholics look at the world this way — that broad and wide is the road that leads to heaven, and almost everyone is going that way, but narrow is the way that leads to hell, and hardly anybody is going that way.
Of course, this is hugely problematic, as it’s the exact opposite of what Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
So I feel like there’s actually some significant teaching in Vatican II that hasn’t been paid attention to, that would really clarify this amazing doctrinal confusion.
This being the case, what particular aspects of the Second Vatican Council would you like to see clarified?
This is what I did my doctoral dissertation on last year here in Rome, and this is the subject of my book that’s just been published by Eerdmans. In short, it relates to Lumen Gentium, the Constitution of the Church, Section 16. This states it’s possible under certain circumstances for people to be saved without hearing the Gospel if they’re inculpably ignorant, seeking God seriously, trying to live their life according to their conscience, assisted by grace — which is a very important point.
But then almost everyone ignores the next three sentences, which say that even though it’s theoretically possible for people to be saved without hearing the Gospel, as a matter of fact, “often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.”
Therefore, for the sake of their salvation, it’s urgent that the Church carry out its work of evangelization. Even though it’s possible for people to be saved without hearing the Gospel, it’s not so easy, because we’re not talking about a neutral environment. We’re talking about where the world of flesh and the devil are doing their best to put people on the broad way or keep them there.
So lots of people aren’t seeking God and really do need to hear the Gospel and be called to repentance, faith, baptism and conversion in order to be saved. Christianity isn’t just about enriching somebody’s life. For many people, it’s a matter of heaven or hell. This truth needs to be brought forward at this time because all our exhortations to be more enthusiastic about evangelization, more zealous, are going to fall on semi-deaf ears unless people really believe it will make a significant difference to people’s lives. Not just for this life, but for eternity.
Would you favor a radical change of emphasis?
What Vatican II tried to do was reset our relationship with the modern world and more positively commend what we could in modern culture, basically trying to get a hearing for the Gospel. So, in the course of the post-conciliar time, there had been a tendency to try to present how beautiful Christ is, how much he enriches our life, how he is the answer to every person’s existence. And some people say: “That’s all well and good, ho-hum; I’m not attracted to that, and it doesn’t make any difference to me.”
We need to restore the other aspect of things: that not to believe in the Gospel, not to accept the mercy of God, not to live according to the dictates of our conscience, really puts in jeopardy our salvation. We’re not just talking about enriching people’s lives who are already going to be saved no matter or almost no matter what they do. We’re really talking about people on their way to destruction, both in this life and the life to come, unless we kind of get them off the broad way and get them on the narrow way, which is Christ and the Church.
Do you have any other concerns and hopes for this synod?
I would hope we could clarify the mission of lay Catholics, because, after all, the people who are really called to do the New Evangelization are lay Catholics, and I think there’s fuzziness about what it means to be a lay Catholic.
Sometimes we talk about transforming the culture, being salt and light, but that’s too vague for many laypeople. What does that mean? How do I transform the culture? How do I be salt and light?
And so, the decree on the apostolate of laypeople of the Second Vatican Council spells out four specific ways in which Catholic laypeople should carry out their mission: the witness of our lives; the works of mercy and charity; renewing the temporal order; and, most importantly, that you don’t really have a lay mission unless people help people, unless they come to faith who don’t have faith or help people who have faith grow in faith.
We need to talk about Jesus with words as well as by the example of our life. Those are important specifications about the mission of laypeople which I hope can be clarified.
Would you like to see greater support from the institutional Church for this?
Yes, well, I give you the example around seminaries. For a good while, we were focusing on making sure our seminarians had a good idea of priestly identity, but we weren’t doing enough on making sure they had a really good sense of who they’re serving and what laypeople are called to in their baptism. They’re called to holiness and mission.
Now we’re trying to make sure the priests who are leaving seminary find out the other side of the story — that they’re supposed to be equipping the saints with the work of ministry. As it says in Ephesians 4, the risen Christ gave leaders to the Church, apostles, prophets, teachers and pastors and evangelists, to equip the saints, to equip the baptized for the work of ministry.
So the main role of leadership is to awaken lay Catholics so they can embrace their call to holiness and their call to mission. And yes, lay Catholics need support, encouragement, instruction — to be taught what it means to be a baptized Catholic.
Regarding the New Evangelization, some have argued that this is what we’re supposed to be doing anyway, and so, what's really "new" about the New Evangelization? What do you say to this?
You can really get this from Redemptoris Missio, No. 33, where John Paul II makes an important distinction: He says there’s primary evangelization addressed to peoples who have never been evangelized before — traditional missionary work. Then he says there’s pastoral care addressed to people already living as Catholics, helping them grow.
Then there’s something he calls "New Evangelization." He uses the sense of re-evangelization, directed to people who once had faith and aren’t living as disciples of Christ. We haven’t been used to thinking that our fellow Catholics need evangelizing.
Was he referring primarily to lapsed Catholics?
Yes, or even Catholics who are still going to church. But many people going to church are doing so with the mind of the world and the spirit of the age rather than the mind of Christ and the spirit of God.
So there needs to be a re-evangelization of many Catholics, drawing them into a clear commitment to the person of Christ and acceptance of his teachings in the Church.
One of the things new about the New Evangelization is who it’s directed to — our fellow Catholics.
The second thing about the New Evangelization is: Who does it? It isn’t just the priests and nuns — it’s us, and that’s new. The ordinary Catholic isn’t used to thinking about him or herself as being called to be an evangelists and to be a witness to Christ.
The other thing is John Paul’s methods: to be new in ardor and new in fervor. Basically, we need to rekindle the fire of the early Church, and this is what Pope Benedict talked about at the opening of the synod. We really need to recapture the grace of Pentecost, re-experience the power of the Holy Spirit that will give us new zeal for evangelization.
Regarding secularism entering the Church, what can be done to prevent this?
All the events happening this month are linked together. Before people are able to accept the teaching of the Church, they first have to be able to understand who Christ is, who founded the Church and whose Church it is. So the national and general directory of catechesis says that all catechesis now has to have a framework of evangelization.
We need to recognize that unconverted people are going to say: “Why should I do this? Why should a bunch of old men in Rome be making up rules for us?” But if they encounter the person of Christ and realize who he is and that he’s founded a Church and given it teaching authority, then the teachings take on a whole different meaning. They’re receiving the teachings because they have a whole divine authority behind them. I think evangelization needs to come first, then catechesis.
Here we have the Year of Faith — if people don’t have faith in who Jesus is and don’t have faith in the Church, then nothing else will happen. We have the Synod on the New Evangelization, and we have the Year of Faith. And then we have the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. All of these things are related and form part of a whole renewal going on in the Church. The core renewal of the Second Vatican Council was also a renewal in holiness and a renewal in evangelization.
What do you say to the vocal critics of the Council?
I really feel like they’re mixing up the actual teachings of the Council and what some people did with them and what happened afterwards. For example, the decree on non-Christian religions: It’s actually very sound. It says there are seeds of the Gospel there; there are aspects of truth, but in no way did it say we shouldn’t be evangelizing non-Christian religions, even though afterwards people said that.
The Council doesn’t say that, and what you had afterwards was people not properly understanding the Council; they see the dialogue with non-Christian religions; they see ecumenism and get confused. They didn’t have a clear catechesis on the Council. There wasn’t a clear explanation.
And then you had theologians running around, like Hans Kung and Karl Rahner, saying, "This was a good start, but it’s just a start, and we need to keep evolving." So people didn’t even bother taking it seriously, because they’d say, "We’re starting this new era." That "we’re going to make up our new Church and new religion kind of thing."
And then you had the perfect storm of the '60s. You had the spirit of incredible cultural revolution and rebellion coming in, and that openness to the world came at a non-propitious time, or maybe it was propitious. But then the devil really took advantage of it and brought a cultural revolution that the Church wasn’t well equipped to resist and discern properly and defend.
So we’re digging out of that, but I’m really encouraged that we’re starting to get our act together. It’s late, but it’s better late than never.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent. He blogs at NCRegister.com.
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