CFC FFL attended the launch of the National Laity Week in Cebu last weekend. Here are pictures from the event and the keynote speech of Bishop Jesse Mercado as well:
Building up the Body of Christ and Strengthening our Faith
through the New Evangelization
Very Reverend Monsignori and Fathers,
Reverend Brothers and Sisters in the Consecrated Life
My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
1. The world in which Christ’s disciples are called to witness to the Gospel of life today is marked by rapid change. Some changes are ephemeral, others endure for generations. Yet what makes these changes today special is the spirit of post-modernism that pervades not only the young but even some of their elders. This post-modern spirit is discernible not only in the eclectic and contextualized renderings of classical traditional music – for example, by Grace Nono who hails from Agusan. It is also felt in the ways we deal with the information overload that is the boon of globalization, public education, mass communication, social networking and Wikipedia.
Professor Randy David spoke to us bishops of three ways of thinking: traditional, modern and postmodern. The Philippines is considered a traditionally Christian country in which our origins, culture, nation and destiny are interpreted and projected in fairly stable Christian terms. Modernity distinguishes the spheres of the spirit and of nature, recognizes the separation of Church and State based on a proper understanding of their respective competences. Postmodernity questions all this and takes for granted the fragmentation of reality, the illusion of authority and the primacy of authentic experience. Some see postmodernity in the loss of a sense of the sacred, the breakdown of the family and the negative prejudice against authority.
Do we see all this as a threat against Christian faith? Or as an opportunity for Christian mission? I submit that we must get our act together and focus on the mission entrusted to us by Jesus: we must keep ourselves updated (aggiornamento) so that we can engage our fellowmen and women and build the Catholic communio that Christ sends into missio.
2012 is a Year of Grace.
2. We mark on 11 October 2012 – first – the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and – second – the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the opus magnum of Blessed Pope John Paul II. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has thus called for a Year of Faith “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the world”.
Twenty years after the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, we still remember those fiery catch phrases: “community of disciples”, “Church of the poor”, “renewed integral evangelization” and “lay empowerment”. We recall them and we discern that they are ever more relevant, especially today, exactly four weeks away from the canonization of the first Visayan martyr, Blessed Pedro Calungsod. A young man – a teenager! – whom we will finally number among St. Stephen, the first martyr; Sts. Charles Borromeo and Robert Bellarmine, the patron saints of catechists; Sts. Francis Xavier and Thérèse of the Child Jesus, the patron saints of missionaries… How cool is that?!
Questions for a new evangelization
3. The Year of Faith will begin with the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which will discuss “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith” in order to “usher the whole Church into a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith”.
Evangelization is the ordinary task of the community of Jesus’ disciples: proclaiming and bearing witness to the Christian life through liturgy, catechesis and works of charity: faith is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed.
New evangelization, as Blessed Pope John Paul II explained, is not merely re-evangelization. It is “new in its ardor, methods and expression”. Together with the coming Synod of Bishops, let us ask the following questions:
- How do we proclaim Jesus and His message of the Father’s Reign in language understandable to the people of our times?
- One hears of the increasing number of attendees in many renewal movements and even of born again Christian groups. What are they doing that we are not doing?
- High School and College students find our messages and preaching boring and un-appealing. What do we do to make our preaching come alive?
- A company spends millions of dollars to sell its new product. How do we “sell” the Gospel today that will evoke a positive response for the people?
- How do we build “communion” in the church, especially in matters of morality? How can we promote a Catholic consensus regarding the RH bill?
- How do we connect more positively with Christians of other denominations without engaging into debates and even apologetics?
- How can the Church in the Philippines be a more missionary Church, sending missionaries to countries all over the world?
Strengthening the Christian faith
The new evangelization has one goal: to draw every Christian to a more intimate relationship with Jesus. The heart of the Christian message is not a set of doctrines and moral codes or liturgical rituals. The heart is the God-man, Jesus Christ.
We must rediscover the heart of evangelization: the experience of Christian faith – the encounter with Jesus Christ, God the Father’s Gospel to humanity, which transforms us, gathers us together and introduces us, through the gift of the Spirit, to a new life, already experienced by us in the present, precisely in our being gathered as the Church.
This new life is the cause of our joy which compels us, as witnesses and joyful heralds of the gift received, to travel the streets of the world, awaiting the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.
Thus, opportunities of encountering Jesus must be provided by the Church. Or rather we, including Priests and Bishops, must learn to recognize the Spirit who is providing us these opportunities through renewal movements, mandated organizations, BECs, youth ministries, etc. A Spirit-led and Spirit-filled dialogue is key: dialogue with the young, dialogue with the family, dialogue with the poor.
Building up the Body of Christ
How do we “package” the Gospel today? What methods must the Church use in order to appeal to the masses of the people?
First, renewal of the clergy is paramount in the agenda of the new evangelization. In every historical event of great Church renewal, the renewal of the clergy takes front seat. This includes deepen priestly spirituality and equipping clergy with communication skills and management competence.
Second, the new evangelization builds on the laity’s greater commitment and willingness to be the vanguard of the Church. Integral faith formation is therefore essential to all members of the Church: lay, religious and clergy.
Third, missio ad gentes: the health of the local Church is visible and felt in its willingness to send missionaries abroad.
Fourth, the future of the Church rests on the young people of our times. Just like Blessed Pedro Calungsod, the young, especially teenagers, are challenged to take responsibility for their own formation in faith and for the evangelization of their peers. Together with their parents, teachers and elders, young people can evangelize the future Church today!
The Primacy of Grace in the Church
Let us step back and take a deep breath. Let us go back to catechesis and prayer and the challenge to form men and women of the Spirit.
I have noticed that the following draw people to the Gospel, help them listen to the Word and confirm them in the faith:
- the witness of joy in the life of Catholics, even in the midst of persecution;
- the authenticity and credibility of the life of clerics; and
- the experience of God in prayer (yes, even in the liturgy and especially in the liturgy).
All this naturally inspires people to engage in charity in the family, among friends and colleagues, in civil society, etc. Charity does begin at home, but there is also social and political charity that “‘makes us love the common good’, it makes us effectively seek the good of all people, considered not only as individuals or private persons but also in the social dimension that unites them”. It is this charity that urges us to respect the dignity of human persons, defend the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, promote the natural family as God willed it, and work for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. After the family and the parish, the privileged locus of this joyful charity is the BEC, the “new way of being Church”.
The new evangelization and catechesis
How do we equip ourselves for true Charity in the new evangelization? Integral evangelization calls for integral faith formation, integral catechesis! Forming in Catholics a conscience that is capable of “sentire cum Ecclesia” – (“thinking with the Church” means listening to the Word of the Father, feeling with the heart of Christ, committing ourselves with the force of the Spirit) – Integral faith formation equips laypersons and clerics to discern the truth from the latest mere theological speculation or the latest masks of anti-Christian ideologies.
Catechesis has to be integral because many forms of biblical catechesis reduce Revelation to what the most recent biblical expert can draw from the Bible through the historico-critical method only. This is hardly enough and the people feel it. For Pope Benedict XVI , we must balance the historico-critical method with an exegesis that respects the unity and divine inspiration of Sacred Scripture. The Fathers of the Church, the witness and writings of martyrs and saints, the liturgies and theologies of all the Churches (Latin and Eastern)… we have to be brave enough to draw from the whole of Sacred Tradition. Otherwise, Christian living risks breathing only with one lung instead of two.
Without reference to the “cloud of witnesses”, Christianity is reduced to an idea and preaching to the latest fad in psychology that does not really widen our horizons nor open our hearts for deeper friendship with Jesus. Many people experience that when Christianity becomes an idea, it simply competes in the marketplace of ideas; but when martyrs and saints show us that Christianity is a relationship (prayer), it turns the marketplace into a pulpit whether for the silent majority or the little flock.
The new evangelization and prayer
The Church has always lived in the world. Despite not being of the world, the Church has taken in what is good in the world. But the world has always been materialistic and “secularising”. We don’t expect it to be otherwise. The major religions, in various ways, have borne witness to the spiritual ground of human existence and have served as the memory of God in humanity.
The new areopagi (areas of new evangelization, e.g., Internet, social justice) pose new challenges, but would they really change the dynamic of Revelation and faith? The 24-hour news cycle, the apparent immediacy of social networking, the ascendancy of the scientific method, the resurgence of elitist ideologies (sometimes masquerading as populist fundamentalism) and the various aspects of post-modernity… these challenge Catholics to greater transparency and accountability. Accountability: we must be ready to give a respectful and gentle account of the hope that is in us. Transparency: our joy and our witness must be so authentic that we can almost “expect” the rewards of a good evangelizer: in the world to come, eternal life; in this world, the hundredfold… and persecution!
My brothers and sisters, the Catholic Church – lay men and women, consecrated brothers and sisters, priests and bishops – is known in the Philippines as the conscience of the nation and the foundation of a culture of service and life. In order to build the Body of Christ and strengthen our faith for the New Evangelization, that conscience has to be fully catechized and that foundation must be Christian prayer.
Daghang salamat kaninyong tanan.
Blessed Pedro Calungsod, pray for us.
X Jesse E. Mercado, D.D.
Bishop of Parañaque
Chairman of the Episcopal Commission on the Laity
 For example, how easily did people believe the headline “Pajero bishops”? And yet, no bishop received a single Pajero. What they received were mere utility vehicles, some were even second- and third-hand. Moreover, they used the vehicles for bringing aid to the poor, transporting the sick and other charitable endeavors. There is a negative prejudice against people in authority, whether in government or in religion.
 Apostolic Letter “motu proprio data” Porta fidei for the indiction of the Year of Faith, 6.
 Ibid., 4.
 Discurso a la Asamblea del CELAM, 9 March 1983.
 Cf. NCDP.
 Paul VI, Address to the Food and Agriculture Association on the twenty-fifth anniversary of its foundation (16 November 1970).
 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 207.
 Letter to the Hebrews 12:1.
 cf 1 Peter 3:15
 Cf. The Gospel according to Mark 10:30.