The theme of the thirteenth Synod of Bishops is “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” This theme corresponds with the “Year of Faith” that began on October 11, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
Benedict XVI opened the Synod on October 7, 2012. This Synod, as its title makes plain, is dedicated to the new evangelization. It is thereby also dedicated to promoting initial encounters with Jesus among those who do not know him and to renewing the faith among those who have fallen away.
Citing the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, Benedict XVI evoked the universal call to holiness. All Christians are called to sainthood, not only those who choose a particular vocation as a priest or vowed religious. As the Council proclaimed, “The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth” (Lumen Gentium, #41). Every Christian, whatever her station, is called to holiness and, as an expression of that call, to witness to the Gospel through the example of her life.
During the Synod, on October 13, 2012, Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of the Philippines addressed his fellow bishops in a succinct and incisive talk entitled, “Humility, Holiness and Charity in the New Evangelization.” Each of the three points deserves special attention but, taken together, they are clearly linked to Catholic social teaching, in particular the principle of solidarity.
According to Villegas, humility, holiness and charity are essential elements of the New Evangelization. Humility is the opposite of arrogance, which, according to Villegas, obstructs evangelization. Arrogance discredits the Gospel message and creates a gulf between those who preach and those who would be open to hearing it. He urged his fellow bishops to “shun arrogance, hypocrisy and bigotry” and goes further, saying, “We must punish the errant among us instead of covering up our own mistakes.” Justice within the Church is an important foundation for the New Evangelization.
Role models are needed! Villegas, no stranger to poverty, was clear that being a role model means being poor. He proclaimed, “Contrary to the popular dictum that we cannot preach to empty stomachs, our experience in the Third World tells me that the gospel can be preached to empty stomachs but only if the stomach of the preacher is as empty as his parishoners.” Again, Villegas challenged his fellow bishops to take seriously the need to walk in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth who himself was poor and whose ministry unfolded among the poor.
Finally, Villegas called for a balance between action for justice and a deep spirituality. “The proclaiming lips,” he said, “must be accompanied by its twin messenger of charity.” Making reference to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and St. Vincent de Paul, he linked service to spirituality: “We must stay focused that, as we give bread and build houses, as we bring healing for the sick and liberation for the afflicted, all these we do in the light of the Kingdom of God.” Indeed, making the Kingdom of God manifest on earth requires both action for justice and an abiding prayer life. All Christians are called to holiness through prayer and action; and no Christian is exempt from the call to live in solidarity whatever his role in the Church.
See the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium; Benedict XVI’s homily for the Mass opening the Synod of Bishops; and Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas’s “Humility, Holiness and Charity in the New Evangelization.”
Submitted by: N. Rademacher, Ph.d., Assistant Professor, Religious Studies