Editorial : THE FUTURE: Evangelising
FAITH magazine is glad to add its voice to the
welcome given to Bishop Robert Barron,
from the USA, to Britain for the 2018 Eucharistic
Congress. Bishop Barron has a strong and welldeserved
reputation as an evangelist – he has taken
seriously the challenge of teaching the Catholic
Faith in new ways across the New Media – DVDs,
twitter, blogs, and websites with glorious images
and music - and in talks and lectures to groups
large and larger. He has opened up for millions of people the insights of walking in the Holy Land where Christ himself walked, and of visiting some of the great shrines and churches and
cathedrals of the world. He has shown the huge beauty of centuries of Christian art and
architecture and the messages and meanings they convey. And he has patiently and with
a pleasant, informative way of communicating, he has opened up the Scripture readings
of the Church’s year Sunday by Sunday, feeding people’s souls and helping many priests
through many Sunday homilies to do the same.
It was a wise choice as a keynote speaker for what we all hope will be a memorable,
indeed landmark event for the Church in Britain.
We need a boost to evangelisation. For too long, it was assumed that people in this
country had some basic notion of Christianity, and that Catholics, in particular, had a
sort of tribal association with the Faith and a loyalty to the idea of Sunday Mass. People
used to say “the Faith is caught, not taught” and there was an emphasis in Catholic
schools on organising fund-raising events for charity or encouraging forms of service to
the local community, rather than on teaching doctrine or on answering the deep and
often challenging questions raised by the young in a secular society. Even the Eucharist
was often presented as a sort of community meal, with a good neighbourly feeling being
nourished by gathering together.
Things have changed in recent – very recent – years. Today’s young priests – and
we don’t have enough of them, as the poor religious formation noted above failed to excite interest in the idea of answering God’s call to service in His vineyard - are fully
aware of the bleak spiritual state of our country. They do not see the Mass as a cheerful
opportunity for neighbourly togetherness, but as the sacrifice of Calvary binding us to
eternity. Eucharistic devotion has been revived. Young people gather for Night Fever
with adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in a city church and teams of missionaries
walking the streets with lanterns welcoming people in to light a candle and offer a prayer.
Summer gatherings at Walsingham and elsewhere focus on Eucharistic adoration too,
with teams of priests hearing confessions.
The treasures of the Faith
Good preaching, opening up the treasures of the Faith,
is central to the Church’s future. We need well-formed,
well-instructed priests and teachers. We need to
recognise that people do actually want to know about
the Church’s teaching: they are often genuinely baffled
about it. And this recognition also needs to include the frightening reality of the wounds
that many people in Western society carry which are in certain specific ways different
from the wounds of the past. Where once poverty and hunger stalked the cities of Britain,
now it is violent crime and a drug-infested culture, broken families, children introduced to
pornography and sexual perversions via the internet. Where people were once physically
hungry, we now have a national problem of obesity. Where once people struggled to
obtain a few simple toys for their children today there are households awash with plastic
and electronic gifts but where the children are lonely and screen-addicted.
Saint John Paul called the Church to a New Evangelisation, and showed the way with
powerful missionary journeys and pioneering new events such as World Youth Day.
The odd thing is that WYD was essentially an old-fashioned idea: a big rally with preaching.
It’s almost 19th century – an emphasis on a great morale-boosting gathering with a strong
Christian uplifting message and large-scale
communal worship. But it began at the end of the
20th century when most commentators tended
to the view that such events belonged to the past,
with Billy Graham’s rallies the last of such things.
Then WYD - against expectations – proved hugely
popular, a gigantic and magnificent event that grew from year to year, and St John Paul
the Great had opened the way for something important and new.
How to go ahead
People like to gather for big events – the 2010 Papal Visit also proved this – and they
need a sense of connection with each other, with the past, and with God. So all plans for
the future for parishes serious about evangelisation might include, wherever possible,
summer street processions with the Blessed Sacrament, candlelit processions to a
graveyard or cemetery for All Souls’ Day, Christmas carols at railway stations and from
house-to-house, and similar activities.
There is no slick way to re-convert Britain.
This isn’t a matter of trying to impose
Christianity by government diktat. The light
of Christ must permeate the culture, winning
hearts and opening up closed minds.
There is no quick-fix. People cannot be nagged or bullied into turning to Christ: they
must be helped to find him. The Church has the truth: offering it will mean that many will
not be able to stomach it at first. We will need, as always, to find people’s real spiritual
needs and to offer real assistance.
We aren’t alone: we have all of Heaven with us. Saints –those who taught the Faith in
this land before us, and above all those who died as martyrs for doing so – will respond
when we invoke their prayers.
Determination and hope
The Eucharistic Congress should be a sign of determination and of hope. Those attending
should return home with a real desire to communicate the glory of Christ. That will not
happen without humility, an understanding of our own inadequacy and a frank admission
that we have not been doing very well in
recent decades. We are entitled also to a
recognition of the hugeness of the task:
we face an unfriendly culture which in
so many ways presents great challenges.
But we have great and glorious truths to
impart and once we have fully absorbed
that fact, we can set about working on ways of fulfilling the task.
Beautiful and dignified liturgy: no gimmicks, no silly attempts to intersperse chatty
remarks or crass jokes. A new approach to music – it really is time to call a halt to earpounding
from electric guitars in church. Lots of Eucharistic adoration, opportunities for
confession, and sound teaching on both these subjects from the Sunday pulpit. Good
teaching for children when they are brought together in First Communion groups.
Outdoor processions, especially with the Blessed
Sacrament. Celebration of feasts and festivals: the
drama of Holy Week and Easter, the joy of feast-days
that transform an ordinary weekday into something
marvellous. Popular devotions with Marian devotions
in May and the Rosary in October, and graves blessed
in November. All this, plus outreach with comeand-
discover meetings, and street carol-singing at
Christmas and lantern-led walks to shrines. All of that
is basic stuff for parish life, and doesn’t involve much more than dedication, love and a
real desire to live the Faith to the full.