A New Evangelization in a New Millennium A Call for a New Apologetics
CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE, O.M.I.
For those of us seeking to generate a new apologetics in a new evangelization capable of drawing all closer to Christ, His Church, and one another, the account of Jesus’ disposition toward the adulteress and her accusers is instructive.
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her. . . . Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (Jn. 8:7-11).
For those of us seeking to generate a new apologetics in a new evangelization capable of drawing all closer to Christ, His Church, and one another, the account of Jesus’ disposition toward the adulteress and her accusers is instructive. Christ, who is God and thus knows the sinful hearts of all men and women, castigates those who were so ready to punish the adulteress, not because their judgment on her sin was in error, but because they lacked humility and respect. After forgiving the woman, Jesus immediately confirmed the nature of her act by calling it a sin and calling her to conversion — to a turn toward God and His truth that sets us free to love.
As a communion formed by preserving and sharing Christ’s gifts, the Church best fulfills her mission when she ministers with Our Lord’s combination of respect for persons and for the truth that fulfills them. In other words, the Church is both Catholic and apostolic. As Catholic, she reaches out to everyone, even — and especially — those most sinful and broken. But as apostolic, the Church also reaches out with the faith that comes to us from the apostles, without compromises that would contravene the dignity and vocation of beings made in the image of a self-giving God.
The liberal-conservative rift that so threatens the Church’s unity and mission can, at least in part, be explained by the failure to integrate the apostolic and the Catholic aspects of our ecclesial identity and the objective and subjective aspects of the human person. Political labels often prevent us from understanding the Church as she understands herself. Although labels do point to real and important problems, they can leave us divided and paralyzed unless we go beyond them to see the Church as a mystery of faith and love.
A new apologetics will — following Christ’s example — combine truth with charity. Apologists need both clear minds and open hearts. Since only the truth transforms and unites, much work needs to be done to understand and articulate the Magisterium’s moral and doctrinal positions, with particular attention paid to cultivating an authentic understanding of conscience and religious freedom, as taught by Vatican II. Much of this work of telling the truth should take place in homilies, youth and adult catechetical programs, seminaries, diaconate formation programs, and Catholic schools and universities. The implementation of ex corde Ecclesiae is a necessary first step toward a renewed understanding of how our faith supports and sustains in truth the institutions of Catholic higher education.
But given our fallen human nature, the call to conversion at the heart of the Gospel will only be heard if it is made with love for the one who has not yet adequately accepted the faith. Since no Christian evangelizer preaches himself or herself, the call to conversion must be made with humility, and to all. And given our modern appreciation for the uniquely subjective dimension of any human act and of human freedom, the call must presuppose the goodwill and respect the dignity of those in need of conversion.
The Church’s ministry to homosexuals is a case in point. Based on God’s self revelation and the Church’s personalistic reading of the natural law tradition that “discovers in the body the anticipatory signs, the expression and the promise of the gift of self” (Veritatis Splendor, no. 48), Pope John Paul II has reaffirmed Christ and the Church’s constant teaching about the nature of human sexuality. This gift is given in the service of heterosexual married love and for the procreation of new human life. In this context, the sexual self-control promoted by the virtue of chastity means that spouses act chastely when they completely give themselves to one another. Outside the covenant of heterosexual marriage, the virtue of chastity enables men and women to refrain from sexual acts until they are married or even for life, especially if a believer makes a vow of perpetual chastity. For all vocations, chastity permits us to live constantly and joyfully with God and others.
A generation ago, public mores in American life more or less supported the Christian understanding of chastity and marriage. Now it is too often assumed that unmarried people become adult by becoming sexually active — an assumption that makes conversion and life with God and others more difficult. Complicating the reception of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is the idea that one’s personal proclivities — whether biologically or socially generated — are always normative, and that those with homosexual orientations are a persecuted minority whose vindication demands not only respect for them as the Church teaches, but also approval of their sexually acting out. There is great pressure from many sectors of society now to place homosexual relations on a legal par with normal heterosexual relations. For many homosexual activists, therefore, the Church is an unjust enemy. This judgment is shared by others who find common cause with homosexual activists because they share a similar understanding of human sexuality divorced from the complementarity of sexual differences and the transmission of life.
In this challenging and sometimes discouraging milieu, the Church must strive to defend her teaching more convincingly and clearly. But one can win an argument and lose a soul. Ministry to homosexuals begins, therefore, as does all ministry, with love for the person ministered to. In a loving context, the truth may be better heard. There are various theories about the causes of a homosexual orientation, but those whose sexual orientation is objectively disordered nevertheless have the right — circumscribed by law, if necessary — to be respected and regarded with compassion and sensitivity. They will not listen to the call to conversion unless they are respected as persons. They will not have access to the Church’s pastoral and sacramental support, which makes living chastely a concrete possibility, unless the face of those who minister to them is the face of Jesus Christ.
Other examples come to mind. How does the Church reach out in truth and love to abortionists and secularists, to those who believe the Holy Father is the anti-Christ and those who think Catholics are not Christians? Only a Church internally united around Christ and the apostolic faith will be able to reach out effectively to speak the truth in love to the whole world.
The language of love is more universal than the more specialized vocabularies needed for apologetics today, but all languages are essential for the new evangelization. When Vatican II first called the Church to become an evangelizing people, that call put aside the classic apologetics of the counter-Reformation and insisted on just presenting the faith on its own terms. The biblical renewal and renewed study of the Fathers of the Church gave us the sources for presenting the faith. Thirty years after the Council, however, it is clear that the faith still has enemies and that new arguments are needed to create a new apologetics in the service of the new evangelization. Treating our own brothers and sisters in the household of the faith as enemies on the basis of political labels distracts us from the work of creating this new apologetics. Enmity among Catholics saps our strength and stops our evangelizing.
United for the faith among ourselves, we can more easily share the faith with others. There were two kinds of sin among the people Jesus addressed in chapter 8 of St. John’s Gospel: adultery and self-righteousness. The cure for both is faith and love.