Friday, July 24, 2009

Evangelii Nuntiandi

Since reading Pope Benedict XVI's new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, I've been wanting to re-read Pope Paul VI's 1975 encyclical, Evangelii Nuntiandi. Benedict's third encyclical is in large part about the relationships between human charity and world economics. Pope Paul's focuses on evangelization.

Paul makes note that the encyclical is released 10 years after the closing of the Second Vatican Council and one year after the Third General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which had been devoted to evangelization.

Pope Paul begins,
1. There is no doubt that the effort to proclaim the Gospel to the people of today, who are buoyed up by hope but at the same time often oppressed by fear and distress, is a service rendered to the Christian community and also to the whole of humanity (Sec.1).
The encyclical elaborates on this theme. What I didn't remember from reading before was that the bishops were looking to the Pope at that time for a "fresh forward impulse" for a "new period of evangelization" (Sec. 2). The Pope explores what has happened in our day to the "hidden energy of the Good News." This is still a question with which our Church continues to grapple, and so the encyclical is worthwhile reading for all of us.

Paul makes no bones about the importance of evangelization:
Such an exhortation seems to us to be of capital importance, for the presentation of the Gospel message is not an optional contribution for the Church. It is the duty incumbent on her by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved. This message is indeed necessary. It is unique. It cannot be replaced. It does not permit either indifference, syncretism or accommodation. It is a question of people's salvation. It is the beauty of the Revelation that it represents. It brings with it a wisdom that is not of this world (Sec. 5).
Certainly belief in that urgency is a factor in the energy we put into evangelization. Another factor, says Paul, is the constant need for the Church itself to be evangelized:
The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself. She is the community of believers, the community of hope lived and communicated, the community of brotherly love, and she needs to listen unceasingly to what she must believe, to her reasons for hoping, to the new commandment of love. She is the People of God immersed in the world, and often tempted by idols, and she always needs to hear the proclamation of the "mighty works of God"[41] which converted her to the Lord; she always needs to be called together afresh by Him and reunited. In brief, this means that she has a constant need of being evangelized, if she wishes to retain freshness, vigor and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel (Sec. 15).
The Pope talks about living a good life in order to witness as a Christian (Sec. 21). However, he said evangelization is not complete without the proclamation of the name of Jesus Christ, and explanation that He came to offer salvation to all. It is upon each of us to accept that, be converted and in turn proclaim that Good News to others (Sec. 22).

Interestingly, Pope Paul also felt compelled to address economic problems in his letter. The bishops, especially of the Third World, even then were seeking support from the Church for the oppressed peoples of the underdeveloped countries, many of them Catholic. I will pick up discussion of the encyclical at this point in the next post.

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