Sunday, September 18, 2011

How Can We Share the Beauty and Joy of Catholic Faith?

Today, Pope Benedict renewed his call for all Catholics to participate in the new evangelization of the world.  In the face of an increasingly secularized world, he defined "new evangelization" as the great need for "regions of ancient Christian tradition" to "rediscover the beauty of faith." That's important. "Beauty" implies an appreciation, not simply a knowledge of doctrinal correctness of faith. What Benedict is asking is that we share what it is to live as a Catholic in the fullest sense.

Miriam Webster online dictionary defines beauty as "the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit: loveliness."

Certainly, an understanding of how Catholic teaching supports this beauty is important... but it is not the first thing we should present. Rather, we need to win people's hearts by sharing the joy of being Catholic. Only then can we help them understand how Catholic teaching supports and strengthens the lifestyle of faith.

In the section of the General Directory for Catechesis that defines catechesis as an "essential moment in evangelization" (61-63) it also states that "The fact that catechesis, at least initially, assumes a missionary objective, does not dispense a particular Church from promoting an institutionalized programme of primary proclamation to execute more directly Jesus's missionary command. Catechetical renewal should be based thus on prior missionary evangelization." (62)

So, how do we go about "primary proclamation" in a way that expresses the beauty of the faith? About a week ago, I heard Fr. Robert Barron do a live 30-minute webcast, during which he defined his goal in producing the Catholicism video series and the accompanying book as to present the beauty of the faith. He also  said that we Catholics need always to "evangelize with joy".  At the time he said it, I was struck by his conviction that joy is key to our mission to share the faith.  

We must be about expressing the beauty of faith with joy - not with somber finger-pointing at the evils of the secular world.  Not by judging people who do not live the way of our faith, but by inviting them to "come and see" that Catholic faith, lived fully, in conformity with Church teaching, is a key to a joy-filled life - even during times of suffering and disappointment.  We need to invite people to a lifestyle which leads to eternal life - rather than simply presenting it as a moralistic lifestyle that seems all too often to be one of abstinence from what people naturally want. 

I'm going to come right out and say it: I am convinced that too often outsiders (including inactive Catholics) see us Catholics as people who say NO, not as people who say YES.  They see us as moralistic finger-waggers - and they probably think all we do is talk about sex, while being unable to clean up our own act.  As a result, the American public is not exposed to the fullness and beauty of what the Church does teach about sex - and everything else, because the NO about the Church is often drowning out the YES.  (That, by the way, is pretty much one of the reasons Father Barron gave for why he chose to spend several years of his life and risk thousands of dollars to create the Catholicism videos... because he wanted to present the fullness of the beauty of the Catholic Church - to counteract the bad press the Church has gotten recently because of the sex-abuse crisis.)

Where do we find the beauty of our faith? We must invite others to consider and desire the good, the true and the beautiful by exposing them to the Catholic Church as a community of living examples of full and joyous faith - and showing them that the true underpinning for this kind of life is a balanced formation based on the Six Tasks of Catechesis: 
  • Promoting knowledge of the faith
  • Liturgical education
  • Moral formation
  • Teaching to pray
  • Education for community life
  • Missionary initiation
Primary proclamation of the Gospel and concentration on all six of these tasks are needed for the fullness of "new evangelization."  If we present the whole faith as what the General Directory  calls the "symphony of faith" (136) without any one component loudly drowning out the others, we show to the world the full beauty of that "symphony."

Lastly, where do we find the joy that makes expression of this beauty fully possible?  It should shine forth hrough our liturgies, certainly, drawing people into a coherent sense that what we pray is what we believe with deep conviction.  This joy should be an evident part of our lives in the public sphere - people should look at Catholics in good times and bad and see an inward serenity in the midst of a troubled world that does not come from mere temporal happiness, and want to know why we have it, and how they can get what we have.   So, if you are Catholic and enjoying it, please tell your face!  Then, go find something you find beautiful about the faith - and share it.

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