If you missed the first two and the introduction, see Part I.
Magisterial-Goodnewsical Moment #3:
In Evangelization, Personal Witness Precedes Doctrine
What Benedict taught eloquently in encyclicals and exhortations, Francis lives dramatically, making the content of our faith come alive.
For me, faith is born from the encounter with Jesus. A personal encounter, which has touched my heart and given direction and new meaning to my existence. Letter to La Repubblica
The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you….Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. (America interview)
OK, Benedict XVI said it more eloquently: “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” (Deus Caritas Est, 1). But Francis’ simple statement about his life, how his relationship with Jesus touched his heart and shaped everything for him makes us wonder, inspires questions, even moves us if we’re open to the Holy Spirit, because he is sharing his very life (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
All Catholics need to learn how to talk about their experience of Jesus within trusting relationships in this simple, unthreatening, non-pedantic, intrusive or preachy way. Then evangelization becomes simple honesty, exposing the deepest places of our hearts.
The culture, perhaps especially on campus, is often unreceptive to anything but academic discussion of religion, and even that is suspect in some circles. Faith is designated “a personal matter” or by some more aggressively prohibited: “keep your religion to yourself.”
But it’s culturally acceptable to talk about your feelings and life experience: people do it ad nauseum about utter rubbish on facebook, blogs and twitter.
With superficial communication every day more the norm, how much more important it is, even essential, to teach people how to have meaningful conversations about things that really matter. When we do this outside our Christian bubble, we share Jesus.
Julie, my niece, and the most effective evangelist I know (see the first installment of Pope Francis is an Evangelical EC blogpost) has a dramatic faith story: terminal cancer diagnosis as a young mother; miraculous recovery; return of cancer five-years later; bone-marrow transplant; another recovery.
But her friends aren’t convinced by the miraculous recovery. That can be explained medically. They’re interested in her, a warm and loving person who is a follower of Jesus. And they’re intrigued by the peace she felt through the cancer battles: “I know it’s going to be OK no matter what,” she said at the time. “I might make it. That would be great. I might die. Now I know that would be OK, too.”
Friends, that is miraculous!
Whether our faith story is dramatic like Julie’s, or more similar to Pope Francis’ beautiful upbringing in the Church that helped him know Jesus’ love, it’s something every one of us is capable of sharing. We first need to learn to put it into words and become comfortable sharing that story with other believers. Then we can tell our stories in relationships with those who don’t know Christ, or who haven’t fully appropriated the Gospel. When we do, we become goodnewsical, too!
This IS missionary proclamation. Jesus attracts, not arguments about him. Francis isn’t saying anything new here about missionary proclamation. His words are straight out of the directives in the General and National Directory of Catechesis. But Francis is making that teaching accessible and comprehensible as the GDC and NDC cannot.
Magisterial-Goodnewsical Moment #3:1 (Closely Connected to 3)
First the Kerygma (the GOOD news); Everything Else Comes Later
We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. (America interview, emphasis mine)
Francis evangelizes effectively and teaches us how to do it because he understands what the church teaches: there is a correct order and content for missionary proclamation, initiatory catechesis and permanent catechesis.
I think Benedict will be remembered as the master catechist; Francis as the master evangelistic.
When I brought EC small groups to Harvard undergraduates, I chose student facilitators who had different spiritual perspectives. Each of the groups had strengths and posed specific challenges. A few of the student facilitators were difficult to fully evangelize because they were less willing to commit to spiritual disciplines: daily prayer, scripture prayer, daily lectio, and frequent participation in the sacraments. Other students wanted to go after the hot button topics in small groups. Rather than facilitating encounters with Christ, this just facilitates arguments, or gathers only a small group who agree with the facilitator’s perspective.
I remember saying to one student after an explanation of small group purpose and method: “Humanae vitae is not the starting place.” He is from a big family, went to traditional primary and high schools. He has personal experience of the beauty of Church teachings on sex, marriage, and the value of human life. These are extremely important to him. He was a small group leader because he genuinely cared for others and had a passion to share Jesus and the Church.
After a moment or two of thought, he slowly nodded in agreement.
This young man wanted above all else to help Jesus set the captives free. He wanted to do what it takes for that to happen. He recognized moral issues rarely sound goodnewsical to the uninitiated. They become good news after someone hears the sweet song of true freedom in Christ.
I remember talking to a friend influential in my “reversion” to Catholicism about women’s ordination when I was in that process. She said something to this effect:
I know lots of people are concerned about women’s ordination. I always want to say: ‘Do you know what people are doing down there at that church? They really think that thing that doesn’t even look like bread is GOD! Isn’t that what one should ask about first?”
The answer is, of course: “yes.” This is a woman who knows how to be goodnewsical in a Socratic thought-provoking way.
Read the ending in Part 3!