Fray Julius Tubid, OSA is a formand of the Augustinian Community San Agustin Center of Studies of the Cebu Province. Fray Lingo is a regular contributor of the community’s newsletter, The SACS Update, which is published thrice a year. As of May 2014, he is having his eight-month Pastoral Exposure in the new mission area of the Augustinian Province of Sto. Niño de Cebu - Philippines in Saguday, Quirino Province, Philippines.
Everyone in our Church today speaks of “new evangelization” as a current trend of addressing the pressing problems in relation to the modern world. Such expression has been popularized by Pope Paul VI in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi which provides a new perspective for the primary mission of the Church to evangelize. The emergence of the global civil society with a public sphere has undeniably brought about various crises to mankind. The exploitation of the natural resources, the increasing upheavals in our political system and the rapid innovations in modern technology are just but few of the problems that somehow contribute to the disruption of the moral values of every individual. These problems pose a wide variety of hindrances to our evangelization activities.
The challenges and problems are real. Such realization will give us great opportunities to be creative and imaginative in finding fitting means to address the crisis. If we keep on holding back and resisting from accepting the reality, we can never move forward. According to an article by Fr. Javier, “the Chinese character for crisis is a combination of the characters for danger and opportunity. Crisis is where these two forces met. For him, we should opt for the opportunity that the future brings. ”1 Indeed, there are always opportunities to transform our world into a pleasant place to live in, where everyone is in harmony and in communion with each other. Hence, this paper surveys Pope Francis’ recent documents Lumen Fidei and Evangelii Gaudium which seek to deepen our fervor towards a renewed commitment to proclaim God’s message in the context of new evangelization. Now it is good to ask: what light can these documents offer in our commitment to serve the Church?
The Empowering Love of God
Considering that history and all its events are dynamic, new evangelization applies new methods, new expressions and new fervor but the gospel it proclaims contains the same content and the same faith for Jesus Christ Himself remains the same yesterday, today and forever.2 The foundation, the center and the apex of evangelization are constant: Jesus Christ who is the salvation offered to every man and the gift of grace and mercy of God himself.3 However, there are evident circumstances that Christian believers are becoming cold from practicing their faith.
Pope Benedict XVI, in the celebration of the Year of Faith, recognized a crisis in faith not only in the Philippines but in the whole world as well. He calls for an urgent experience of conversion, revitalization, intensification and strengthening of our faith in God. This same mindset is still evident in his unfinished work that was continued by Pope Francis in the Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei. The document pronounces,
In faith, Christ is not simply the one in whom we believe, the supreme manifestation of God’s love; He is also the One with whom we are united precisely in order to believe. Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus Himself sees them, with His own eyes: it is a participation in His way of seeing.4
Thus, it is the love of God that urges us to know His will and to follow His path towards the Kingdom of God. Our faith in God helps us realize a greater value that in knowing Jesus Christ, we become instruments of His saving love for others. Faith is not merely believing but also doing.
Moreover, Augustine once stressed that faith both in the beginning and in its completeness is a gift of God.5 Today, the Church never takes faith for granted, but knows that this gift of God needs to be nourished and reinforced so that it can continue to guide her pilgrim way (LF, 6). Truly, faith transforms us through our personal encounter with Him, which is also the goal of the new evangelization. However, faith is not just a private matter, a personal relationship with God. Through the Church, we are called to unite with the mystical Body of Christ by proclaiming to others our personal encounter with Him. According to Pope Francis, “the unity of the Church in time and space is linked to the unity of faith: ‘there is one body and one Spirit, one faith (Eph. 4:4-5)’” (LF, 47). Faith does not only transform us personally but it also unites us in Christ, for Christ and with Christ.
These days we can imagine a group of people being united in a common cause, in mutual affection, in sharing the same destiny and a single purpose. It is perhaps noteworthy to remember the event which touched the hearts not only of our fellow Filipino citizens but of the whole world when typhoon Yolanda has caused a serious damage in the country. Many became homeless and many lost their lives, but many have also extended their help. Indeed, “faith also involves a painful testing, for it is in weakness and suffering that we discover God’s power which triumphs over our weakness and suffering” (LF, 56). Faith unites us and impels us to love and to see our neighbors like how Jesus Christ sees them. Our commitment does not only exclusively consist in promotion and assistance, but above all in an attentiveness which considers the other as one with ourselves.6 The victims of the typhoon never felt that they were alone in the great trials of their life. In the midst of their sufferings and struggles to rise again, various people became instruments of hope for them.
This kind of human strife and sufferings are not only witnessed from the victims of natural calamities. They are constantly evident in the lives of the poor and the most vulnerable people. For this reason, the Pope hopes to bring particular attention too in the Evangelii Gaudium the Church’s preferential option for the poor as a way to see Jesus more clearly.
Service for the Poor and the Needy
The Pope emphasizes that “our missionary heart should be centered to the needs of everyone which is touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love, mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failing” (EG, 45). It is no doubt that the Pope would always give attention to various works of charity in order to follow God’s way of showing mercy to the needy. In new evangelization, the poor can also contribute in bringing the message of God’s saving power working in them. They are insignificant in society, but not before God. The life of the poor is not simply deprivations because they also have a great richness to contribute.7
During the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, the Filipino hierarchy proclaimed the Church in the Philippines as the Church of the Poor. This ecclesial identity serves as a response to the call of Vatican II to an integral renewal within the Church. However, after a decade, our Filipino bishops observed that we have not fully lived out our identity as the Church of the Poor. It seems that the failure in renewal is identified due to our hardness of heart and resistance to conversion. The new attitudes, options and lifestyles demanded by PCP II have all too often been honored in words but rejected in life.8 Nevertheless, the recent Apostolic Exhortation of the Pope is not hopeless to see a poor Church for the poor. The present Pontiff optimistically urges all the members of the Catholic Church to be open and ready to seek creative ways in order to provide spiritual care for the poor because “the lack of it is the worst discrimination which the poor suffers” (EG, 200).
Therefore, pastors should not fail to offer them any means in order for them to be touched by the loving presence of God. In the celebration of the sacraments, in sharing God’s friendship with the poor, and in journeying towards Christian maturity, the poor should not feel discriminated. Homilies must also consider their intellectual capacities for them to be nourished by the Word of God. In their own way, they could feel all the instances of joy which flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ (EG, 7).
But to grow in our mission and not to get mired in lethargy, we should also care for the weak and the vulnerable. They must not be disregarded as part of God’s community of disciples for they too bear the message of the suffering Christ. The elderly, homeless, addicted, refugees, indigenous people, victims of crimes, the unborn children and the groaning creation: these are some of the vulnerable entities that need a spirituality of accompaniment and preferential religious care. What is our response to these challenges in our own religious communities?
Indeed, faith is not only informative and transformative but also performative. Pope Francis’ ideas on the joyful proclamation of God’s message lies on our capacity to look at things as a reflection of our personal relationship with God. As baptized individuals, the mission entrusted to us by the Church which is to spread the Words of God in words and in deeds is innate in our life. As faith transforms a person to be open to love, it is only proper to possess a missionary heart which touches the life of others by the love of God amidst their sufferings and pain or even in their joys and comforts. Through this love, we can see and ponder on the realities around us and the challenges facing our midst with new eyes and new fervor. It is not yet time to take a rest, to feel bored and to become complacent in our missionary endeavors. The love of God and His light of faith are continuously energizing us to face the challenges with a passionate heart and new spirit.
In his message to all the consecrated men and women, Pope Francis said and affirmed that evangelization is done on one’s knees because without constant relationship with God through prayers, the mission becomes a job.9 Thus, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may the new challenges truly serve as opportunities for us to serve our brothers and sisters in the light of Christ’s gospel with joy.
1 Edgar G. Javier, SVD, “The Missionary amidst Different Cultures and Religious Traditions: Re-imaging the Missionary Identity in Contemporary Times,” in Religious Life in Asia (July-September 2011), class notes: 46-47.
2 Heb 13:8
3 Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, December 1975, no. 27. Also in Fr. Emmanuel I. Cruz, S. Th. D., Ten Theses on New Evangelization, class notes, 18.
4 Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei, December 2013, no. 18. Henceforth, LF.
5 St. Augustine, “De Praedestinatione Sanctorum,” in The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J., ed. John E. Rotelle, OSA, vol.1/26 (New York: New City Press): 8.16.
6 Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, November 2013, no. 199. Henceforth, EG.
7  Gustavo Gutierrez, “The Preferential Option for the Poor and the New Evangelization,” in The Augustinian Family Prepares for the Third Millennium (Rome: Pubblicazione Agostiniane, 1999), 219.
8 “Message of the National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal,” in Boletin Eclesiastico de Filipinas, vol. LXXVII, no. 823 (March-April 2001): 168.
9 Pope Francis, Homily at Mass with Seminarians, Novices and those discerning their Vocations, Saint Peter’s Basilica, 7 July 2013, Vatican Radio website, Available at: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/07/07/pope_francis:_mass_with_seminarians_and_novices_(full_text)/en1-708280. Accessed February 19, 2014.