Christian unity and the new evangelization
Father Thomas Ryan, C.S.P.
In the mid-19th century, Paulist founder Father Isaac Hecker’s vision was to make America Catholic. But as Father Frank DeSiano, CSP, notes in his Perspectives for the Synod on the New Evangelization, “older patterns of conversion and identity have forever shifted during the twentieth century.”
And at the epicenter of that shift in Catholic perspectives was the Second Vatican Council, whose 50th anniversary we celebrate this October. The Council recognized the ecclesial reality of other communities of Christian faith. That is to say, recognized that Christ and the Holy Spirit are also present and active for the salvation of those baptized into these communities where the Gospel is preached and mission is undertaken.
The three primary reasons for which the Council was called were the reform and renewal of the Catholic Church and the promotion of Christian unity. And the best way the Catholic Church can make a contribution to the latter – Christian unity – said Pope John XXIII, was to do a good job on the former, reform of its own processes and renewal of its own membership.
In the “New Evangelization,” the Catholic Church is taking a fresh run at it. It’s aimed at Catholics – both practicing and non-practicing – albeit in different ways. It reminds the former that their parish is not a nesting place, but a resting place, and that they are sent out in mission. And it encourages the latter to attend to the call of God in their own hearts and draw strength from the community of the Church and its sacraments in doing so.
The linkage between the Council’s three goals was by no means accidental. The Church of Christ has a mission: to be a clear witness and sign in the world that we have been reconciled to God and to one another through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
But that’s a hard message to make believable when those who bring it remain divided amongst themselves. So the driving force behind unity among Christians is more effective mission. We have to live what we preach.
Thus, as Father DeSiano says in his synod preparation document, “renewed ecumenical efforts will not hurt the new evangelization; indeed, they are a basic condition of its success.”
For us Catholics as well as for all other denominations of Christian faith, one of the ways to renew our own communities is to find a place within them for aspects of Church life that shine and attract people in other communities – like effective preaching, music in worship, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, knowledge of the Scriptures, mission outreach and youth programs.
In this way the new evangelization can make a valuable contribution to Christian unity through the conversion of all Christians to the fullness of the apostolic faith. And the unity among us as followers of Jesus will make the gospel we bring more credible and compelling to those of no or other faiths.
Father Thomas Ryan, CSP, is director of the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations based in Washington, D.C., and a noted author.