Porta Fidei and Evangelisation
Keith Riler FAITH MAGAZINE July-August 2013
Keith Riler is the pen name of a financial analyst who has written for this magazine, First Things, the daily internet publication The American Thinker, LifeNews and Texas Right to Life. In this thought-provoking article he stresses the personal nature of evangelisation in our relativistic culture.
In paragraph two of the Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict writes that there is “a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people”.
What has this to do with Me?
Just because my neighbour doesn’t grasp truth, love and the beauty of being a joyful son of God, what’s it to me? A libertarian would reply: “Relax, these are victimless crimes and it’s none of your business.” On the other hand, if your children were in spiritual crisis, you undoubtedly would do everything possible to return them to virtue, faith and happiness. So, what’s the right answer?
A modern saint advises: “The holiness to which we must aspire consists in identifying our will with Christ’s. ‘He who does the will of my father … he shall enter.’” And we know that the will of the Father is our loving communion with Him.
Last November Pope Benedict explained why we should bother with our neighbours: “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” Bothering with our neighbour is the charitable thing to do because it brings him that for which he searches.
The Pope also looked at it from our perspective. In “placing myself at the other’s service, even to the point of self-denial,” is “a dynamism that refers beyond the self; it is the experience of a good that leads to being drawn out and finding oneself before the mystery that encompasses the whole of existence.” We know Jesus/God is the “mystery that encompasses the whole of existence” and if we are to have him, we must place ourselves at the service of the other.
Most importantly, the Word of God guides us. From Matthew 28: “Jesus came and said to them: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you….”
With “all nations” Jesus is very clear. There’s no exempting the West. Nor is “later” a viable response. Jesus used the present-tense action words “Go” and “Make.” These are imperatives.
So the simple answer to “What has this to do with me?” is “everything” because Jesus said so; because there is no Christianity without the cross; and, because, from Luke 14, “whoever does not take up his cross… cannot be my disciple.”
The Catechism (point 851) states simply: “God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth.” And again Pope Benedict: “On this pilgrimage, let us feel like brothers and sisters of all men, travelling companions even of those who do not believe, of those who are seeking, of those who are sincerely wondering about the dynamism of their own aspiration for the true and the good.” This brings me to cafeteria Catholics.
The clarity of Jesus’ “Go and Make” command and an awareness of my own weak apostolate conspire to suggest that I am a cafeteria Catholic, picking and choosing what suits me by neither “going” nor “making” disciples consistently. But today I can begin again with a renewed charitable responsibility for others. And where better to start than with my neighbours in the pew. You may be surprised how much fruit that pew can yield.
Consider two examples: Catholic belief about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and, in an American context, Catholic views about the Obama Adminstration’s Health and Human Services edict, which demands that sterilisation, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all health plans, even those provided by Catholic employers.
A National Catholic Reporter survey found that 37 per cent of American Catholics don’t believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
And about the HHS contraception edict, Public Discourse recently commented:
“If the mandate remains in effect, it could cause a schism or a break in the American Catholic Church. It does not take too much imagination to see how this could happen. It is not a secret that many American Catholics disagree with the Church’s teaching on the immorality of contraception… it is hard not to suspect that a few Catholic institutions, perhaps administered by Catholics who privately reject the Church’s teaching on contraception, would simply choose to abide by the mandate … would put themselves in open rebellion…”
This comment suggests that many Catholics, both church-going and not, do not fully understand that marriage is both unitive and procreative; that marriage is a calling, chastity a virtue and its opposite a sin.
If The National Catholic Reporter and Public Discourse are correct, our neighbours in faith are shortchanging themselves, distanced from the Body of Christ and perilously endangering their eternal outcomes.
The Autonomy Project
This à la carte rejection of core tenets is just a failure to see one’s self as a true son or daughter of God. It is the widespread and growing choice by many of the wayward path of the prodigal son (the swine husks part, not the returning part). By it we try to make ourselves gods, choosing the apple and rejecting God in what Cardinal Pell calls the modern autonomy project.
As Rodney Kissinger SJ points out in his meditation on the Trinity, there is no rugged individualism in the Trinity: three persons, one divine nature. If God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit aren’t autonomous, where do we get the idea we should be?
Servais Pincknaers explained it well in his book The Sources of Christian Ethics. He distinguished disordered freedom, or freedom of indifference, from ordered freedom, or freedom for excellence. Freedom of indifference is a freedom identified with the will, with the power of self-determination – there’s no longer an attraction toward the good, exercised in love and desire. On the other hand, Pincknaers described freedom for excellence as a rediscovery of real freedom, one within the pre-existing moral order. Consider this example from the book:
“Think about the study of music. We know how music is taught – piano, for instance. For a child with a musical predisposition, there will be lessons, a teacher who will explain the rules of the art and develop talent by dint of regular exercises. In the beginning, the child, despite a desire to learn, will often feel that the lessons and musical exercises are a constraint imposed on the freedom and attractions of the moment."
“With effort and perseverance, the child soon makes notable progress and will come to play with accuracy and good rhythm, and with a certain ease – even the more difficult pieces. The child may become an artist, capable of executing with mastery whatever may be suggested, playing with precision and originality, delighting all who hear. Further, this artist will compose new works, whose quality will manifest the full flowering of talent and musical personality.
“Here we see a new kind of freedom. Anyone is free to bang out notes haphazardly on the piano, as the fancy strikes him. But this is a rudimentary, savage sort of freedom, with an incapacity to play even the simplest pieces. The person who possesses the art of playing the piano has acquired a new freedom based on natural dispositions and a talent developed by regular, progressive exercises. This new kind of freedom is subject to the constraint of rules, of course, but is far more real and is supported by the rules as it develops. We call this freedom for excellence.”
According to Pincknaers, whereas freedom of indifference opposes virtues and natural inclinations, freedom for excellence presupposes them, takes root in and draws strength from them through a sense of the true and good, uprightness and love, a desire for knowledge and happiness. The more we develop our virtues, the freer we become. It is neither indifference nor autonomy. It is filialism, being a good son or daughter by free choice, and by which in Pincknaer’s words we will “delight all who hear.”
Sodom, Gomorrah and the Apostolic Buffet
CS Lewis cautioned that everyday we walk on the “razor edge between these two incredible possibilities: To appear at last before the face of God and hear the appalling words: ‘I never knew you. Depart from me.’ To be left absolutely outside – repelled, exiled, estranged and unspeakably ignored; or, we can be called in, welcomed, received and acknowledged with ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”
Through the seductive but incredibly empty choice of autonomy, many are choosing to be left absolutely outside, to eventually hear: “I never knew you. Depart from me.” We are in peril.
In secularism these many find the key to their desire for radical autonomy. This immodest desire was reawakened when the Enlightenment took an arrogant wrong turn, when we moderns began to confuse the knowledge of how things work with from whom they came, when we began to mistake discovery for creation and when we began to reject all but what we could measure and thus pretend to own. We are fallen and pride has led us to take credit for things we didn’t do. When that happens, gratitude disappears. And this is old stuff. Recall the serpent’s promise: “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So we must turn, a person at a time, from “the worship of our own creation, where we see the work of our human hands as projections of our own ultimate greatness, and return to worship the God who has made us.”3
Pope Benedict’s recent resignation is so instructive here. We become attached and put ourselves at the centre of things. We derive personalities and meaning from our roles as banker, lawyer, engineer, executive, or whatever. I for one would suffer some crisis of worth without my profession and this is a sure sign of my failure of detachment and trust. The Pope’s decision on the other hand, to shed his role as the Vicar of Christ because of concern over his ability to execute the mission, is stunning and awe-inspiring in its other-oriented, humble, self-denying, trust in God’s will, in his being sent and in the mission being bigger than the emissary.
Contrary to Pope Benedict’s witness, secularism disdains limits and aggressively attacks virtue, truth, humility and anything other than self as centre. The fuel for this attack is provided by relativism, the weak foundation on which secularism is built. Relativism replaces a loving dialogue with the transcendent other with a self-obsessed monologue.
Again, this is nothing new. Pilate cynically asked: “What is truth?” In Jean Jacques Rousseau’s own words, secularists seek to “force us to be free” – free in particular from truth. Secularists aim to convert the city of man from a virtue-based community to a wilderness of wildly autonomous selves, and any soul can be confused by and get swept up in its false promises. |
This is a very aggressive and proactive effort. Consider the gay marriage movement. In 2008, California already had a civil union law in place that granted full rights to gay couples, including hospital visitations, health care coverage, rights to make medical decisions, rights to inherit without a will, rights to use state step-parent adoption procedures, rights to use sick leave
to care for a domestic partner and rights to be appointed as administrator of an estate. Nonetheless, activists pushed for a redefinition of marriage.
The autonomy project is engaged in forceful thought-policing in its war on objective truth and on the religion that most defends that truth. As Archbishop Fisichella says in his book The New Evangelisation:
“[T]he process of secularism has engendered an explosion of claims of individual liberty … in which the human being has come to occupy the central ground. … God becomes a useless hypothesis and a competitor not only to be avoided, but to be eliminated. This radical change has taken place in a relatively easy fashion, the accomplices being often a weak theology and an approach to religion founded mostly upon sentiment….” 
And I propose that these accomplices do not just reside in atheism or “I’m spiritual but not religious” palaver, but in a weak, sentimental theology held by many of those who regularly attend Sunday Mass and with whom you may be friends. As a result of this process and its easy accomplices, many goods are under attack and we should defend them. Consider the following goals of the modern autonomy project:
Embryonic stem cell research
Happiness, children, disease prventionn and societal continuity
Temperance and intelligence
Funding for effective methods, life, charity, justice and love
|Euthanasia||Gradma and Grandpa, love and the value of suffering shared|
|Gay Marriage||Children, marriage and adoptions|
|"Partner"||"Husband" and "Wife"|
|No-fault Divorce||Happiness, marriage, commitment and persistence|
|No public religious displays||Puralism|
|Holiday Trees||Christmas Trees|
|Pornography||Chastity and marriage|
|Non-traditional Families||Children and productive adults|
|Recreational Sex||Procreative sex, chastity and societal continuity|
|Legalised Prostition||Freedom, chastity, dignity and fidelity|
Secularists, both dabblers and those fully practising, are sadly deluded and have had their reason darkened by the aphrodisiac of radical autonomy. The goals above directly contradict the decisions of a happy life. Many of us have chosen marriage; their “freedom” suggests promiscuity. We have chosen sobriety; their “freedom” suggests substance abuse. We have chosen children; their “freedom” suggests we eliminate them when inconvenient
We are called to highlight the joy that comes from the good choices and the misery that comes from the bad ones. And it is relatively easy to point out that the rights of children trump the rights to children; that fidelity, stability and happiness are highly correlated; or that the life of a porn addict is miserable.
The organisers of the twice-yearly 40 Days for Life prayer vigils, which have now spread from the US to the UK, send a daily update during their campaigns. From a recent email:
(Fort Collins, Colorado): “What do you get out of this?” The question, from a young man smoking a cigarette outside the Planned Parenthood building, was directed at the volunteers who offered him an information card.
“We do not get anything,” replied Scott, one of the volunteers.“We are here to help you.”
So the man told his story. He has a two-year old daughter … but his wife was inside for an abortion. “Everyone should have a choice,” the man insisted – throughout all nine months of pregnancy.
This father’s reason has been darkened by “pro-choice”, an unthinking cliché for freedom. His wife is with child yet he says with a straight face, “Everyone should have a choice,” omitting the one most affected. We live in a culture where the loving and responsible thing no longer even occurs to some people – that being: “You exercise the freedom to have sex; responsibly embrace the result.” Pregnancy is not a surprise result of sexual intercourse. Loving responsibility is the difference between freedom for excellence and freedom of indifference. The obvious must again be said, and we need to say it.
Again from his book, Archbishop Fisichella says:
“Secularism has put forward the thesis of living in the world … as if God did not exist. Nevertheless, having removed God, our contemporaries have lost themselves. … If God is relegated to a corner, the darkest and the furthest away from life, the human being becomes lost because there is no longer any meaning in relationship with oneself, much less with others. Therefore, it is necessary to bring God back to human beings of our time.”
In the chart above there is murder, substance abuse, sloth, infidelity, exploitation, addiction, disease and loneliness. These are the fruits of the modern autonomy project. Disobedience has created isolation and misery, again.
On the bright side, the victory is already won and we are pilgrims en route to the banquet. We are in this world but not of this world, and if we stay on the pilgrim path and do God’s will, we will see God.
But apostolate is God’s will and modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah is a target-rich environment. Attune your eye to the modern autonomy project and its wayward participants, and you will find yourself at a veritable apostolic buffet, with ample opportunity for deposits in the Vatican soul bank. This brings
me to correction, something we must do.
From Matthew 18:14-17:
“So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
And from James 5:19-20:
“My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
The Word Among Us recently offered practical guidance:
“Do you have a plan for how you are going to share the gospel? Do you have some idea of the people you are going to share it with? Try this approach. Choose five people, and pray for them. … Ask the Lord to open their hearts and give you opportunities to share your faith with them."
“Ask him, also, to lead you in what to say. You may end up telling one person how you met the Lord. You may invite another to Mass or adoration. Or you may ask another why he or she doesn’t believe, and just plant a seed. Don’t worry about the outcome. Just trust that the Lord will lead the right people to whatever ‘net’ you are casting.”
Eternity is a great reward and that reward, being in the presence of God, is the consummation of uniting ourselves to God’s will, of a lifelong way of the cross, of having the humility and courage to do what’s right, and of activity. We must strive to be perfect, as good sons and daughters of God, and this includes bringing others to the same eternal reward. As the old saying goes: “You may be the only Bible some people ever read.”
So we must embrace responsible freedom, a responsibility to God our father and to all of our brothers and sisters. In this is love. As the Catechism says, “Charity … is always … the soul of the whole apostolate” (point 864). And (point 776): “God desires ‘that the whole human race may become one people of God, form one Body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit.”
And from Romans:
“But they will not ask his help unless they believe in him, and they will not believe in him unless they have heard of him, and they will not hear of him unless they get a preacher, and they will not have a preacher unless one is sent. …”
And we are sent.
But this is also a war: a war of self-defence that we wage internally through our development of an interior life, and a war of charity that we wage externally through the apostolate and the Holy Spirit-guided return of our prodigal brothers and sisters. Said differently, it’s a war we wage by being both Martha and Mary, prayerfully introspective and active.
The Second letter to the Corinthians says:
“Though we live in the world, we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God.”
Finally, from Pope Pius XI: “Let us thank God that he makes us live among the present problems. It is no longer permitted to anyone to be mediocre.” Therefore, we follow our thorn-crowned Captain into the world in which we live and we “go and make disciples of all nations.”
St Josemaria Escriva, The Way, point 754.
CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory.
Emmanuel magazine, November/December 2012, Editorial by Paul Bernier.
Rino Fisichella, The New Evangelisation, p. 29.
40 Days for Life, Day 9 email, February 20, 2013.
Rino Fisichella, The New Evangelisation, p. 31.