Disciples Are Forged From “Encounter” (Impact) with Beauty,Truth and Goodness: (The Person Jesus Christ), And With Them, a New Era

Aparecida, the synod of May 13-31 of 2007, was opened by Pope Benedict XVI.  Upon returning to Rome, Benedict commented to the effect that it represented a blueprint for the way of the Catholic Church of the future.

               In the introduction to the concluding document, it reads that the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean have met in Aparecida, Brazil “to advance the evangelizing action of the Church, which is called to make all its members disciples and missionaries of Christ, Way, Truth, and Life, so our peoples may have life in Him. We do so in communion with all the particular churches in the Americas.”

   Let me comment immediately that the goal of evangelization is not the communication of doctrine in a culture that is contrary to the Truth and Person of Christ, or even open to the Truth and Person of Christ. Rather, it is a positive, personal involvement with persons affirming them and being available to them, and so communicating Life to them. The words used are encuentro and/or impact. Evangelizing takes place person to person. It is a personal experience of meeting one to another which is totally oriented to providing an encounter with the Person of Jesus Christ Who is the explanation of this positive affirming and availability. Aparecida says it this way: “Here lies the fundamental challenge that we face: to show the church’s capacity to promote and form disciples (not primarily ideas) and missionaries who respond to the calling received and to communicate everywhere, in an outpouring of gratitude and joy the gift of the encounter with Jesus Christ. We have no other treasure but that. We have no other happiness, no other priority, but to be instruments for the Spirit of God as Church, so  that Jesus Christ may be known, followed, loved, adored, announced, and communicated to all, despite difficulties and resistances. This is the best service, his service! – that the church has to offer people and nations.” If I am out of myself and there to serve, Christ becomes known by the persons encountered knowing me. “We want the joy that we have received in the encounter with Jesus Christ, whom we recognized as Son of God incarnate and redeemer, to reach all men and women wounded by adversities; we want the good news of the Kingdom of God, of Jesus Christ, victorious over sin and death, to reach all who lie alone the roadside asking for alms and compassion. The disciples’ joy serves as remedy for a world fearful of the future and overwhelmed by violence and hatred. The disciple’s joy is not a feeling of selfish well-being, but a certainty that springs from faith, that soothes the heart and provides the ability to proclaim the good news of God’s love. Knowing Jesus is the best gift that any person can receive; that we have encountered Him is the best thing that has happened in our lives, and making him known by our word and deeds is our joy.” Our self-giftedness is the Word spoken to them that makes Him known.

               In #9 of the document, it speaks of “a new step in the church’s journey, especially since the ecumenical council Vatican II.”  In #11, it speaks of “a deep and profound rethinking of its mission and a relaunch(ing) (of) it with fidelity and boldness in the new circumstances of Latin America and the world. The goal is not to reiterate “worn-out ideological slogans.” The goal is not simply to think or to talk or to have Ecumenical Councils, or Synods but in many ways to go to the peripheries to encounter people with your persona. Thedocument was thought and written by Bergoglio. It is emotionally charged. Having experienced Francis as pope, one gets a feel for the document – which Benedict (I repeat) sees as the future way. And what is new is to actually do it. The text should be read. 

    To save time, I propose from my reading of the document: the goal is to live and build the faith of Latin America and the world. What is new, perhaps, for the man in the pew is that faith is an act of the whole person. It is giving of the entire self to Christ, and in return, one becomes “another Christ.” It is not primarily ideological but existential and personalist. It is a self-giving which is mimicking of the self-gift of Christ crucified, and in that mimicry, a likeness of experience where one experiences in oneself what Christ experienced in Himself. Baptism is physical touching of each of us by the incarnate God which empowers us to make the self-gift.

   So, as St. Francis put it: Evangelize, and sometimes use words.

To give an historical rational for this semantic turn to “encounter” and “impact,” I copy Austen Ivereigh’s “Wounded Shepherd” p. 161-162: “Arriving at the shrine of Aparecida two years after the death of John Paul II, many church leaders in Latin America had watched with sadness how the Church in Europe was nervously retreating from the fires it had lit at the Second Vatican Council. The United States offered another kind of desolation: bitter, argumentative, and divided, the Church there seemed to have been captured by a family-values moralism that was defined best by what it was against. But south of the Rio Grande, delegates at Aparecida had their own reasons for feeling discouraged: the sudden rise of Pente-  costalism, the lack of formation of lay people, as well as formidable social challenges

               Down in Buenor Aires, Bergogllio read the Churhc’s difficulty in evangelizing in terms of a spiri tual desolation that had led to the loss of what the great Swiss theologican Hans Urs von Balthasar called the ‘unity o the transcendental.’

               The transcendental in the Catholic tradition are truth, goodness,and beauty, the objects of the human seeking capacities of feeling, thinking, and desire, which are lierally embodied in th e incarnatin of God. By beaut y Bergoglio means not  just are and mustic, which are a vital part of the Christian offer, but the heart-cap tivating experience of an encounter with Jesus Christ. Beauty is the irruption of the divine in human history and n each human life; beauty is the resurrection; beauty is t he unexpected mercy and gratuity of God, the discovery that God is close and concrete. Without beauty, truth and good fossilize, become dry and moralistic – truth without love. Yet without trut h, beauty was a lie; without goodness, beauty and truth would be corr up ted. The Church could only witness to the real Being of Christ, in hsort, by keeping together the transcendental. As Bergoglio put it, ‘if one elementis missing, Being breaks down, becomes idealized, becomes an idea: it is not real. They have to go together, not be split.’

               Modernity had split them. But now, postmodernity, with the collapse of the grand narratives of liberalism and Marxism with which Catholicism had entered into a great rivalry for most of the twentieth century, those competing narratives no longer held sway. People no longer wished to debate great abstract truths; they preferred to go shopping (my emphasis). The Uruguayan intellectual close to Bergoglio, Methol Ferre, had observed that the ‘atheist libertinism’ of contemporary consumerism is a way of being that seeks beauty, yet in sundering the quest for beauty from truth and goodness, such culture ends in the shopping mall, in distraction, gratification, and self-indulgence.

               Yet the quest for beauty is a sign that humanity is also seeking its source. Such a culture can only be evangelized by a Church that integrates true beauty:  the mercy and gratuity of Saint Francis of Assisi or Saint Teresa of Calcutta. It was not by chance that Francis took the name of the first and canonized the second: Mother Teresa and il poverello were captivating not because they wrote wonderful books or because of the admirable institutions they founded. It was who they were; it was how they were. They had had an encounter (my emphasis) that changed them. Then they spoke of truth and did good, people paid attention; people were captivated. Such Christian witnesses showed what von Balthasar suggested, that precedence matters:  he beauty of the encounter unlocks the heart so that truth and goodness can be grasped.”[1]

[1] A. Ivereigh, Op. cit. 163.

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