Summary: The pope encourages us to understand that non-Western cultures are suspicious of Christian evangelization because they confuse it with the spread of secularism and the culture of death.

Thursday of the 4th Week in Course 2015

Light of the Gospel

St. Mark’s Gospel is rarely verbose. He always tells the story of Jesus using an economy of words, perhaps because the Church of Rome was too poor to supply him much in the way of writing supplies, or because it was often persecuted. Whatever the cause, his charge to evangelists is brief: act with the authority of Jesus, travel light, depending on the hospitality of those you visit, and, when rejected, have nothing more to do with those who refuse to repent and believe. And the disciples, so commissioned, were effective in promoting good and battling the evil spirits.

The letter to the Hebrews identifies why we can be effective in evangelism. In the days of Moses, the one who, Torah tells us, saw God face to face, God appeared as a terrifying presence, causing even Moses to tremble with fear. But Jesus is the face of God because when we see Jesus, we see the Father. When we turn to Him, we see an assembly of redeemed men and women surrounding His throne, uncountable angels and saints worshiping the Blessed Trinity. We can do so confidently because His blood has been poured out and we share His precious Body and Blood each time we come to the Eucharist. We can then be the face of Jesus to a world in desperate need of hope, faith and love.

The Holy Father picks up this theme as he teaches us about evangelization and the barriers the world, the culture, has set up against Christ: ‘In the prevailing culture, priority is given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional. What is real gives way to appearances. In many countries globalization has meant a hastened deterioration of their own cultural roots and the invasion of ways of thinking and acting proper to other cultures which are economically advanced but ethically debilitated.’ He is talking about Western culture–economically advanced but ethically debilitated–a culture that thinks you can solve problems like unplanned pregnancy by means of murder. This horror has spread from America and Europe toward other areas of the world, and Islam, for example, is energized by opposing it. They mash together in their minds the fact that the West used to be Christian and is now secularized, and figure that if our culture spreads to their people, they will first become Christian and then turn into secularized murderers like many in the West have done. It’s crummy logic but that’s what they believe about us.

As an example, he says that African bishops ‘pointed out years ago that there have been frequent attempts to make the African countries “parts of a machine, cogs on a gigantic wheel. This is often true also in the field of social communications which, being run by centers mostly in the northern hemisphere, do not always give due consideration to the priorities and problems of such countries or respect their cultural make-up.” By the same token, the bishops of Asia “underlined the external influences being brought to bear on Asian cultures. New patterns of behavior are emerging as a result of over-exposure to the mass media… As a result, the negative aspects of the media and entertainment industries are threatening traditional values, and in particular the sacredness of marriage and the stability of the family”.’ Can we doubt the validity of these statements. The worst part of Western culture is part of our gross exports–pun intended.

Moreover, ‘the Catholic faith of many peoples is nowadays being challenged by the proliferation of new religious movements, some of which tend to fundamentalism while others seem to propose a spirituality without God. This is, on the one hand, a human reaction to a materialistic, consumerist and individualistic society, but it is also a means of exploiting the weaknesses of people living in poverty and on the fringes of society, people who make ends meet amid great human suffering and are looking for immediate solutions to their needs. These religious movements, not without a certain shrewdness, come to fill, within a predominantly individualistic culture, a vacuum left by secularist rationalism. We must recognize that if part of our baptized people lack a sense of belonging to the Church, this is also due to certain structures and the occasionally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems, be they simple or complex, in the lives of our people. In many places an administrative approach prevails over a pastoral approach, as does a concentration on administering the sacraments apart from other forms of evangelization.’

This is why the remaking of our parish, and diocese, is so urgent. We must be welcoming and pastoral, and sensitive to how we reach out to those who are not in communion with us.