Page last updated at 07:39 Asia/Manila, Tuesday, 09 May 2017 PH
By being reminded of the centrality of Jesus Christ in the task of evangelization, we Christians are strengthened in the face of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to bring the message of Christ of love, joy and peace to the entire world. There are the pessimists who lament the many evils they see around them: violence, corruption, greed, dehumanizing poverty, sexual promiscuity, widespread pornography especially in the internet, brutal attempts against the sacredness of human life, lies, human trafficking, etc. They say that the present world is beyond redemption. They forget, that as St. Josemaria used to say about the obligation of the ordinary Christian to sanctify this world, the early Christians faced a similar immoral environment, i.e. sexual promiscuity, human sacrifices, disrespect for human rights, idolatry, corruption, etc. It was precisely the example of their personal lives as they lived in the midst of the perversities of the world around them that attracted their relatives and their friends to Jesus Christ and his doctrine. The early Christians were ordinary citizens of their respective communities, who did not leave the world to live in monasteries, who radiated Christ everywhere they went.
Pope Francis expressed the same idea in “The Joy of the Gospel.” In paragraph 263, he wrote: “We do well to keep in mind the early Christians and our many brothers and sisters throughout history who were filled with joy, unflagging courage and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel. Some people nowadays console themselves by saying that things are not as easy as they used to be, yet we know that the Roman empire was not conducive to the Gospel message, the struggle for justice, or the defense of human dignity. Every period of history is marked by the presence of human weakness, self-absorption, complacency and selfishness, to say nothing of the concupiscence which preys upon us all. These things are ever present under one guise or another: they are due to our human limits rather than particular situations. Let us not say, then, that things are harder today; they are simply different. But let us learn also from the saints who have gone before us, who confronted the difficulties of their own day…”
Our weapons are fundamentally supernatural in nature, what Jesus Christ through his life, death and resurrection taught us: prayer (bolstered by frequent resort to the Sacraments especially Confession and the Holy Eucharist), sacrifice and in the third place, very much in the third place (words of St. Josemaria) action. We have to be on guard against the hubris that we can make this world holy through our human efforts alone (called voluntarism) in the same way that an athlete can reach the highest level of excellence in his sport by the pure act of his will to follow a strict regime of exercise, diet, and constant practice or an executive who pursues excellence as a leader by following the advice of the latest management guru. Although we have to strive to cultivate all the virtues that every human being by his nature can acquire, we need the grace of God to Christianize the world.
There is also the other danger of sentimentalism which relies on good feelings as the main motor for changing the world for the better. A common example of this is the attempt of some well-intentioned reformers to convert the Church into another nongovernmental organization (NGO) committed to, say eradicating dehumanizing poverty. In their otherwise laudable sympathy for the plight of the needy and victims of social injustice, they completely ignore the supernatural means provided by the Church and focus only on the exclusively human solutions to overcoming the evils in society. They give short shrift to prayer and sacrifice. They ignore that Pope Francis, the most avid worker for eradicating poverty today, places the highest priority to first following the example of Jesus Christ: “Jesus’ whole life, his way of dealing with the poor, his actions, his integrity, his simple daily acts of generosity, and finally his complete self-giving, is precious and reveals the mystery of his divine life. Whenever we encounter this anew, we become convinced that it is exactly what others need, even though they may not recognize it. ‘What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you’ (Acts 17:23). Sometimes we lose our enthusiasm for mission because we forget that the Gospel responds to our deepest friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters. If we succeed in expressing adequately and with beauty the essential content of the Gospel, surely this message will speak to the deepest yearnings of people’s hearts: ‘The missionary is convinced that, through the working of the Spirit, there already exists in individuals and peoples the truth about God, about man, and about how we are to be set free from sin and death. The missionary’s enthusiasm in proclaiming Christ comes from the conviction that he is responding to that expectation’ (from St. John Paul II Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio). Enthusiasm for evangelization is based on this conviction.”
As one last point to consider during our meditations for the Holy Week, let us give heed to what the Prelate of Opus Dei wrote concerning the need to express the ideal of Christian life “without confusing it with perfectionism, and teaching people how to live with and accept their own weakness and that of others.” No one of us can reach perfection in this life. We will always have to struggle against the three-fold concupiscence, i.e. the concupiscence of the flesh (sensuality), the concupiscence of the eyes (greed) and the pride of life. Applied to ourselves, this means that we have to wage a supernatural battle until our last breath, especially against pride that someone has said will only disappear one hour after our death. This battle can only be won with the help of the supernatural means mentioned above. As regards the weaknesses of others, we have to be extremely patient and understanding. As illustrated in the life of Christ Himself, there are some devils that can be driven from the souls of those whom we are trying to help to be closer to God only by much prayer and fasting. As long as we can sincerely say that we are applying all the human and supernatural means available to us, we can be at peace that God will do the rest. This attitude is based on the very foundation of the spirituality of Opus Dei: divine filiation, i.e. that we are children of God and that our Father God will always do what is best for each one of us. The greatest lesson that I personally learned from the Founder of Opus Dei is found in the Latin phrase taken from St. Paul: “Omnia in bonum” which means everything works unto good to those who love God. May this sense of divine filiation be our constant source of optimism in the arduous work of putting Christi at the top of all sectors of human society. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.