Good Evening Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord.
I was so much enthused by the opening scriptural text of the program for this conference, from Ephesians 4: 12-16. Your vision of forming leaders with the heart of Jesus Christ based on the theology of the Holy Spirit and Charismatic spirituality who serve the church and the world with their gifts through active evangelization catches my attention. We really have an enormous task as a church ahead of us in our world today. There is some urgency for new evangelization. Let me briefly share some thoughts with you as you go through these three days of intense leadership conference.
There is some kind of urgency for us as a Church. The work of evangelization has become urgent for all of us, because of the great mandate of the Lord (cf. Matt. 28:19). The Lord said; “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” We must evangelize because the Lord Jesus commanded us to do so. He gave the Church the unending task of evangelizing as a restless power, to stir and to stimulate all its actions until all nations have heard his Good News and until every person has become his disciple. Ralph Martins in his book, “The Urgency of the New Evangelization: Answering the call” makes this point very clear;“
There has been a long tendency in Catholicism for the laity to take a relatively passive role and expect the leaders to serve them. Sometimes, leaders have fallen into the habit of relating as well. But scripture indicates, and common sense reveals, there is no way that the mission of the church can succeed without the baptized Catholic taking an active role”
The New Evangelization is urgent because, the collapse of Christian society is being experienced in the Catholic Church as a “wake-up call” to the need for a renewal of fervor, both for holiness and evangelization, rooted in the continuing reality of Pentecost. There is a collapse of Christian culture, as weak and ambiguous as it was in some ways, has profoundly affected the beliefs and actions of baptized Catholics.
In the United States, there are now 22 million ex-Catholics, big enough to be the largest religious denomination in the country. The church drops four members for every one member it gains, and if it were not for Hispanic immigrants it would have been declining for decades. Yet the Catholic Church in America also holds on to almost 70 percent of its members into adulthood, a higher retention rate than any other Christian denomination.
It is sobering to see the radical decline in the practice of the faith in traditionally strong Catholic areas of North America. Raph Martin gives some statistics showing decline in the Catholic faith. What these statistics indicate among other things are that there is something like an institutional collapse going on, evidenced by vast numbers of schools closing; parishes merging, clustering, and closing; and the multiple assignments that many young priests now are asked to manage. Besides the institutional collapse, there is evidence of a widespread repudiation of the teaching of Christ and the Church by vast numbers of Catholics. Even those who attend Mass regularly often embody a set of beliefs that are closer to secular elites than the teaching of Christ.
Another disturbing scenario is the accelerated falling away of our youth as they go to middle schools and colleges.
When the discussion turns on confirmation, majority of the confirmed youth are seldom seen in Church again. The sacrament that is supposed to express and effect deeper, conscious commitment to being witness to the faith seems in many cases to result in directly the opposite. For many Youth and their parents, confirmation seems to be a “ritual” that completes the list of what “good Catholics are supposed to do, and therefore no further religious education or even Church attendance seems necessary.
Pope Benedit XVI at the 2009 World Youth Day declared;
“The main task for us all is that of a new evangelization aimed at helping younger generation to rediscover the true face of God, who is Love.”
Another area of great concern is Western culture fueling the destruction of Christianity and inadvertently promoting Secularlism. For example in our American society, prayer is not said in public places, Religious symbols are banned from public place. Christians of today seem to be afraid and when it comes to issues of church and state, we turn to give in to the state or pay more allegiance to the state. These are just a few areas of concern.
We really have a task ahead of us. In Luke 24:44-49 Jesus gave a directive with two distinct elements:
The Command “to Wait” and
The command “to Go”
The Apostles’ mission doesn’t begin immediately. After assigning the Apostles the momentous task of being his witnesses “to all nations”, Jesus’ first instruction is to wait:
“Stay in the city until you are clothed with the power from on high”(Luke 24:49).
He charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the father,” namely, that they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit”(Acts 1:4-5)
Paradoxically the first imperative of the Christian mission is to wait for empowerment from on high.
The promise of the Divine empowerment is fulfilled at Pentecost when the disciples were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4).
The Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit is, as Luke presents it, the absolute prerequisite for carrying out the Church’s daunting mission.
Although, Pentecost is a unique, once and for all event, renewed outpourings of the Spirit occur on numerous occasions. Even the Jerusalem church needs a new filling with the spirit to face new challenges (Acts 4:31). What we are doing now is part of the waiting. To learn as leaders, equip ourselves, pray hard and find new strategies to meet the challenges of our world today
The second imperative of the new evangelization is to “go”.
Where are we to go? It is to the lost sheep. Jesus uses the word ‘Lost” (apololos, Literally “perished”, destroyed”) that is for those who have not yet repented Luke 19:10
We are now to go to the world, where there is a “presumption of Universal salvation” that is not grounded in scriptures, which has seeped into some theology and the mentality of some Catholics. It is all the way of the devil to snatch people away from God.
The problem we have with the task given to the Church is that after twenty centuries of Christianity, the culture and habits of the Church today are largely directed towards maintenance rather than mission, toward ministering to those inside the Church rather than seeking those outside it. Where is our mandate to be fishers of men? We seem to be always mending our nets instead of casting into the deep.
Pope John Paul II candidly observed;
“Many Catholics have been baptized and catechized without having ever been evangelized – that is, without having heard the gospel in a way that led them to personal encounter with Jesus Christ and joyful surrender of their lives to him”
Mathew’s gospel makes it very clear the goal of evangelization; “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that l have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Three elements may be distinguished here
First, it is not sufficient to make converts or church members, but disciples. According to Matthew, disciples are those whose identity is founded in their relationship with Jesus and who make him the absolute priority of their lives (Matthew 8:19-23, 10:37-39; 16:24-26). They share in the mission of Christ, his authority, his self-denial, his persecution, and his rewards (Matt 10; 19:29-30)
Second, is that we are baptized in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit – into a profound relationship with the persons of the Trinity.
Third, Jesus says that his disciples must be taught to observe all that he taught the Twelve. Catechesis about Christian living must follow conversion. There must be a radical new way of life that conforms to the teaching of Christ.
I believe that is what we are here to do. I pray that you will be filled with Holy Spirit and encounter the Spirit in a personal way as has never been before. Virginia is for lovers, so know that we love you all and support you in all you do. May these few days here be fruitful and bring glory to God. Feel welcomed and at home in Virginia.