The New Evangelization is taking place in the streets. It is the praxis of God as relations among persons. This is not the replacement of the Transcendent by the horizontal immanent, but, because the Word of God has become flesh, we live Transcendence by going out of self “horizontally” to the other in the most secular and mundane of ordinary life. It is the achievement of the goal of the Priest and the Levite in Christ’s response to the lawyer as to “who is my neighbor.” The ability to go out of self is the Work of grace (Love) in us whereby we become The Work of God. It is becoming “another Christ, Christ Himself” by accepting The Word of God in us by the lowering of self and evacuating the inner space. In a word, to serve.
From Hilarion: "In the countries of the former Soviet Union, in particular in Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia and Moldavia, an unprecedented religious revival is underway. In the Russian Orthodox Church over the past 25 years there have been built or restored from ruins more than 25,000 churches. This means that a thousand churches a year have been opened, i.e., three churches a day." —Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, October 30
“The battle between the religious and secular worldview is today raging not in academic auditoriums or on the pages of newspapers. And the subject of the conflict is far from being exhausted by the question of belief or lack of belief in God. Today this clash has entered a new dimension and touches upon the fundamental aspects of the everyday life of the human person.”
I interject: Ratzinger: “The New Evangelization,” To Catechists Rome 2000:
“Militant secularism is aimed not only at religious holy sites and symbols by demanding that they be removed from the public domain. One of the main directions of its activity today is the straightforward destruction of traditional notions of marriage and the family. This is witnessed by the new phenomenon of equating homosexual unions with marriage and allowing single-gender couples to adopt children. From the point of view of biblical teaching and traditional Christian moral values, this testifies to a profound spiritual crisis. The religious understanding of sin has been conclusively eroded in societies that until recently thought of themselves as Christian.”
That is, if the existential praxis of spousal union between a man and a woman is removed – the political imperative driving for “single sex” union, the primordial sacrament of the Trinity [and therefore, God] is removed. And this is why Francis is so explicit on emphasizing the faith as praxis. He does this in his homily on ideology, which is terribly important: When believers become ideological, they are dogmatists without light, and moralists without goodness: “When we go down the path and find in front of us a closed Church, we feel strange because a closed Church is not understood,” the Pope said. “The Lord who is inside cannot come out.” This image of the closed Church, he explained, is given by Jesus in today’s Gospel. The Holy Father also explained why many Christians fall into this “attitude of ‘key in pocket’ and closed door.”
“Faith passes, so to speak, through an alembic (distillery) and becomes an ideology. And ideology does not convene. In ideology there is no Jesus: his tenderness, love, meekness. And ideologies are always rigid,” the Pope said.
“In every sense: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of ideology, they have lost the faith: they are no more a disciple of Jesus, they are a disciple of this attitude of thought, of this…” And for this reason Jesus says to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge’. The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these closed the door with so many requirements.”
The Holy Father continued his homily saying that ideology within the Church only serves to alienate people. “These Christian ideologies are a grave sickness!” he exclaimed. However, he noted, this sickness is not something that is relatively new, but spoken of by the apostles, particularly St. John, during the time of the early Church.
“Christians who lose the faith and prefer ideology become rigid, moralists, ethicists, but without goodness. But this may be the question, no? Why does a Christian become that way? What happens in the heart of that Christian, that priest, of that bishop, of that Pope, that makes them that way. It is simply one thing: that Christian does not pray. And if there is no prayer, you will always close the door.”
For this reason, faith must be understood as experiential. It is NOT our looking for the Lord, but letting the Lord FIND us. When we see Him, it is because He has been standing there waiting for us, calling us, looking up at us as at Zacchaeus, and loving us.
Here is Francis’ deep understanding of faith as understood by Augustine and presented by Giacomo Tantardini, Il tempo della Chiesa secondo Agostino. Seguire e rimanere in attesa. La
felicità in speranza, Città Nuova, Rome 2009, 388 pp., 22 euros. Francis wrote this in 30 Days Magazine of Communione e Liberazione:
“In the pages of this book run the impassioned lectures on the
relevance of Saint Augustine given by Don Giacomo Tantardini at the
University of Padua, over the course of the three academic years from 2005
“It can be said in so many ways that the holy Bishop of Hippo is
relevant. One can venture reviews of his theology, rediscover the modernity
of his gaze at the motions of the human spirit, bring out the brilliance of his
judgments on the historical vicissitudes of his time, in some ways so similar
to those of the present day.
In his lectures on Augustine, with the texts read and commented on
directly, Don Giacomo has picked and followed another pattern. If Augustine
is relevant, if he is our contemporary – as this book documents – he is so
especially because he describes just how to become and remain Christian in
the time of the Church. That time which is His, as it is ours. “That short time
– Augustine repeats several times commenting on the words of Jesus in the
Gospel of John (John 16, 16-20) – which goes from the Lord’s ascension into
heaven in His true body to His glorious return” (p. 123).
“The most striking image for me of how one becomes a Christian, as it
emerges in this book, is the way in which Augustine recounts and comments
on Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus (pp. 279-281). Zacchaeus is small, and
wants to see the Lord pass, and so he climbs a sycamore. Augustine says: “Et
vidit Dominus ipsum Zacchaeum. Visus est, et vidit / And the Lord looked at
Zacchaeus himself. Zacchaeus was seen, and therefore saw”. What strikes
one are those three seeings: that of Zacchaeus, that of Jesus and then that of
Zacchaeus again, after being seen by the Lord. “He would have seen Him
pass even if Jesus had not raised his eyes”, comments Don Giacomo, “but it
would not have been a meeting. He would perhaps have satisfied that
minimum of good curiosity out of which he had climbed the tree, but it
would not have been a meeting” (p. 281).
There is the point: some believe that faith and salvation come with our
effort to look for, to seek the Lord. Whereas it’s the opposite: you are saved
when the Lord looks for you, when He looks at you and you let yourself be
looked at and sought for. The Lord will look for you first. And when you find
Him, you understand that He was waiting there looking at you, He was
expecting you from beforehand.
That is salvation: He loves you beforehand. And you let yourself be
loved. Salvation is precisely this meeting where He works first. If this
meeting does not take place, we are not saved. We can talk about salvation. Invent reassuring theological systems that turn God into a notary and His gratuitous love into a due deed to which He is supposed to be forced by His nature. But we never enter into the People of God. Whereas, when you look at the Lord and you realize with gratitude that you are looking at Him because He is looking at you, all intellectual prejudices go away, that elitism of the spirit that is characteristic of intellectuals without talent and is ethicism without goodness.
If the beginning of faith is the work of the Lord, Saint Augustine also describes how you remain in this beginning. Here the keywords are those contained in the subtitle: following and awaiting. And the figure that represents them is John, the beloved disciple. John represents those awaiting to be loved, and remains by grace and not effort in this expectation. In him it is obvious that “if one is not loved first (cf. 1 Jn 4, 19) one can neither love nor follow” (p. 171). The awaiting of the acts of the Lord is renewed in him in every instant, the expectation of those new beginnings in which freedom adheres to grace “through the pleasure by which it is drawn” (p. 372).
According to Augustine, there are distinctive features – Don Giacomo
points out – indications of when one is seen and embraced by the Lord.
The first sign is gratitude, the spontaneous motion of the heart that
gives thanks. Augustine shows that even the clear understanding of what it
takes to obtain salvation can become a source of pride, of the sort that he
registered among the Platonic philosophers of his time, who “have seen
where one must reach to be happy, but decided to attribute to themselves
what they saw, and become proud, have lost what they saw” (p. 27). One can
arrive at discovering that only in God is there happiness, but this knowledge
does not by itself move the heart. The heart remains sad and full of itself. It
does not dissolve in tears of gratitude (pp. 19-25). Instead, when one is
picked up in His arms by the Lord and “humbly embraces my humble God
Jesus” (p. 40), without even thinking about it, he becomes full of gratitude
and gives thanks. And in this gratitude also becomes good. Don Giacomo
writes that “one is good not because one knows what goodness is, one is glad not because one knows what happiness is. One is good and is happy because one is embraced by goodness and by happiness” (p. 330).
The other distinguishing feature is precisely the surfacing in the heart
of that happiness in hope that the subtitle of the book also mentions. For
Augustine, the joy promised by the Lord to his followers is given and lives in
spe, in hope. What does that mean? The expression in spe in the writings of
Augustine indicates that this happiness is always a grace. In our earthly
condition, this is immediately obvious to everybody: happiness on earth,
promised as pledge of heavenly happiness, does not come from us, we
cannot build it nor maintain and master it. It is not in our hands, and hence
is precarious, according to the schemes of those who believe they can build
their life as their own project. It is the happiness of the poor, who enjoy it as
a gratuitous gift. The happiness of those who live forever suspended in the
hope of the Lord, and for that very reason are untroubled. Because it is a
beautiful thing to live confident that the Lord loves us beforehand, seeks us
beforehand. The Lord of patience that comes to us hoping that we, like
Zacchaeus, climb the tree of humilitas. Saint Augustine addressed to Him
the beautiful prayer also recently revivified by Pope Benedict XVI, which can
also summarize this book: “Grant what You command, and command what
You will”. Grant us the gift of becoming as children, and then ask to be as
children, to enter the kingdom of heaven.
These are some of the many tones and ideas in this book that can be
an invaluable comfort to many, well beyond the circle of experts and
For this I wish it luck, while all the friends of Augustine are preparing
to remember that 1600 years have passed since the holy Bishop of Hippo,
faced with the sack of Rome, was inspired to write the City of God.