KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY FOSUABA AKWASI MENSAH BANAHENE AT THE MARSHALLAN TEMPLE OF COUNCIL NO. 3 ON SATURDAY 20 FEBRUARY 2016 ON THE OCCASION OF THEIR 80TH ANNIVERSARY
I bring you all kind greetings. I salute the members of this Council of the Noble Order for doing me the honour to deliver your anniversary’s Keynote Address at this very Temple where I was initiated into the Noble Order nearly 35 years ago. As I speak now, I can see in my mind’s eye, the faces of some of the great senior Knight Brothers at that time whose leadership exuded confidence, chivalry and inspiration, but they are no longer around – they have joined the Noble Order above. It is to them that I dedicate my Keynote Address. May their souls rest in perfect and eternal peace! Let perpetual light shine on them!
The theme you have chosen for the 80th Anniversary is most appropriate, for as a Church, we appear not to have moved near the achievement of our purpose with the methods we have so far used to spread the faith. We seem to convince ourselves that we are doing well in evangelisation but in reality, the situation is different. As Pope Francis observes in Evangelii Gaudium, “the daily life of the Church in which all appears to proceed normally while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness” It is this reality, coupled with the discernment brought by the Holy Spirit during the pontificate of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, that informed the XIII General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to propose that there is the need to adopt a New Evangelisation for the transmission of the Christian Faith. You have chosen this same concern as your theme for your 80th Anniversary.
THE NEW EVANGELISATION: WHAT IT IS AND BY WHO
Evangelisation is the primary task of the Church, the whole Church. By our baptism, we are enjoined to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. We are all a people advancing towards the way of God, a pilgrim Church, and so now that the Church has embarked on a New Evangelisation; we must be part of it. The New Evangelisation is, to announce the gospel anew so that the faith can be effectively transmitted. The New Evangelisation does not mean preaching a “new message”. The message is the same all the time but for purposes of a more effective transmission, it has to be repackaged so that it becomes attractive to the man of the modern world. In 2012 during the papacy of Benedict XVI, the 3rd Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was held and the Bishops concluded that the New Evangelisation should target three areas, namely;
- Ordinary pastoral ministry – to inflame the hearts of regular worshippers}Shepherd’s
- The baptised – but with no meaningful relationship to the Church now }Approach
- Those who do not know Christ or who rejects Him – original purpose }Fisherman’s
of evangelisation } Approach
In this new task, Pope Francis makes it clear in Evangelii gaudium that all Catholics are enjoined to be active participants. We are called to be part of a new way of announcing the gospel. Members of the Noble Order, being a leading lay society in the Church, are expected to lead in this new venture.
GUIDELINES TOWARDS ANNOUNCING THE NEW MESSAGE ANEW
After the October 2012 Synod of Bishops, the entire Church was waiting for the Supreme Pontiff to issue an exhortation to serve as a framework to guide the new way of announcing the gospel message but, not long after, Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly announce his decision to resign from the papacy, effective 28 February 2013 and so he did not issue any exhortation from the Report of the Synod. Gladly, his successor Pope Francis, soon after his enthronement as the 266th Vicar of Christ, issued an Exhortation titled Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) on 24 November 2013 to satisfy the longing for a framework to guide the process of the New Evangelisation. It is my recommendation that any Catholic who is determined to be a credible participant in the work of the New Evangelisation should endeavour to obtain a copy of this Exhortation. What the evangeliser is supposed to preach to people out there is the word of God as put forward in the Bible and which is summarily packaged as in the Apostolic Creed which, in turn, is put in a nutshell in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “Charity”. Charity is defined by the Church as “to love God Almighty above all things for His own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God”. It is this core message and its expanded form that the Church calls us to preach in a different way so that the faith can now be transmitted effectively. This duty is also the challenge your chosen theme demands of you.
The Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, proposes several broad guidelines for this New Evangelisation but I wish to highlight only three of them emphasised in the encyclical.
- Adequate preparation
The Pope specifically charges our priests to take preparation of their homilies, for instance, very seriously, saying that a priest who fails to do so is not “spiritual; he is dishonest and irresponsible”. But as already mentioned, the task is not for priests alone because lay people by virtue of their baptism and confirmation are, in their particular way, “sharers in the priestly, kingly and prophetic office of Christ”. It is a duty for the laity too, and we must not shirk. The Pope urges us to undertake the new evangelisation either as individuals or preferably as a group. The essential aspect of this preparation is an understanding of the Word so that the kerygma does not move astray. Sometimes, we just read the Word without understanding it and preach the message in a meaningless way. Pope Francis advises that to facilitate our proper understanding, we constantly need to keep a posture of docility to the Word so that as we pray it can penetrate deeply into our minds and transform us. (lectio divina) In all this, we have to rely on the invaluable assistance of the priest, and even then there must be a constant prayerful reflection to keep us on the right path.
- Knowledge of the Faith May Not Be the Same As Expressed
Evangelizers must know that the deposit of the faith is one thing …..the way it is expressed is another thing. We must avoid the danger of holding the faith and yet “failing to convey its substance”. If we are not careful we give our audience a” false god” e.g. a human ideal which is not Christian. Communication across cultures if not properly handled can lead to improper understanding of the message of Christ. Some people think they can be good evangelizers because they know what ought to be said, but they pay no attention to how it should be said. The usual problem between “form” and “substance” found in all fields of endeavour can bedevil the evangelizer’s performance. It is important to practice simplicity and clarity in the language we use. The evangelizer must also be positive and stop dwelling on what portrays negativities.
- Life of Witnessing
In addition to the proclamation, evangelizers must be seen to be practicing what they preach, for the modern man listens more to witnesses than teachers and preachers. St. Charles Borromeo once said, “Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing but live otherwise.” People are always looking at what we do as a measure of our integrity even before we have spoken to them. An agent of the New Evangelization should aim at all times exhibiting a Christ-like posture at home, workplace and in the community.
TARGETS AND ATTITUDES
As has already been indicated, the New Evangelization requires that we target all people, however, Pope Francis maintains that since there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor, evangelisers should go to the poor first, especially the poorest of the poor. They are the privileged recipients of the gospel. If we cannot identify with the poor then we cannot be true followers of Christ. Making the poor our priority is in keeping with the love of God.
ATTITUDES AND STRATEGIES
Because people who are the targets of evangelisation make up their minds not only from what they hear but also the general posture and demeanor of the evangeliser, the latter needs to adopt credible, honest and transparent attitudes.
In Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis harps on a number of positive attitudes some of which are as follows:
- Portray joy as you preach the gospel. “Do not allow yourself to robbed of this joy”
- Show respect and humility to those you go to evangelise. This requires that we do not exhibit any “holier than thou” attitude
- Avoid a lifestyle which leads to attachment to financial gain or inordinate desire for pleasure or desire for power or heightened human individualism and glory
- Avoid the culture of prosperity in our evangelisation message
WHAT CAN KNIGHTS OF COUNCIL 3 DO?
Pope Francis leaves the approach to specific activities to the discretion of the various Bishops and Bishops’ Conferences. But while we wait for directions from the Bishops, as baptised and educated members of the Church, members of the Noble Order can discern appropriate activities and put them into action, of course with the guidance of our Bishop. For instance, if we understand the text of the Apostolic Creed, have been studying Scriptures, have studied the Catholic Social Doctrine and have taken seriously the many times we have listened to our pastors in their homilies, there would be a number of concrete messages and actions open to us to undertake our duty. What the evangeliser needs to specially do is to discern a most appropriate way of conveying the message and the Holy Spirit who inspired the Word will “place on his (evangeliser) lips the words which he could not find by himself.” Surrendering one’s thoughts in prayer to God is very essential because without prayer we may go astray. Satan sometimes “disguises himself as an angel of light”to mislead us. The New Evangelisation should not be “business as usual” because that has already failed us. Are we going to adopt a door-to-door strategy? Are we going to use electronic communication? Can Council 3 members serve as instructors of young people, encouraging them to undertake peer evangelism or undertake “callejeros de la fe”  (street evangelisers)? Or are we going to adopt Blessed Teresa’s approach by going round the streets to bring the hungry, the dying, the sick and the outcast home to help them wash, heal their wounds, give them water and food and other things that will restore their human dignity? Indeed, doing all these can speak to people more than preaching.
Members of Council 3 of the Noble Order should not run away from the task. It may not be easy. In our worldly estimation, it may even appear below our social status but the faith we hold impels us to persist in making the gospel reach the target groups. Council 3 members can serve as instructors to the youth and encourage them to undertake peer evangelism. Let us be sources of living water from which others can drink. If your Bishop is taking too long to come with specific guidelines, do not rest on your oars – Go to him, demonstrate your readiness and demand his directions or offer him suggestions for his consideration. The responsibility for ensuring there is a proper way of announcing the gospel in any particular Church belongs to the Bishop and this places a duty on evangelisers to listen to their Bishops.
THINGS TO WATCH
Be careful not to fall into media deception and misleading scientific conclusions. Do strengthen yourselves by working in groups or pairs so you can carry each other’s burdens. We live in a cultural pluralistic society and so we must be careful about our communication style and posture. The fact that the message receives different cultural modes should not worry us because it shows that the Church is like a bride who surrounds herself with various jewels (sponsa ornata monilibus suis). The evangeliser can be ignored because of his anti-cultural posture and that will point to his failure.. The Pope warns us against the tendency of acedia – we must not rush because evangelisation is slow by its nature
If we have failed in the past to effectively announce the gospel message, the time is now for us to make amends in our methods so we can become true messengers of Christ. It is not too late. We must choose between worldly standards and our Christian call. We are either Christians or we are not. In this New Evangelisation, we must heed the teaching of Blessed Paul VI when he says that evangelisers must, first of all, have an “interior change” before embarking on evangelisation. The members of Council 3 because they are to become “God’s leaven in the midst of humanity”must have this “interior change” so that they can be competent and it should be a continuous and lasting mark of their 80th Anniversary. This is my challenge to you.
Five years ago, you kindly invited me to speak at your 75th Anniversary and I ended my speech in a particular style and I wish to do same today, too.
We must endlessly strive, as true Christians, to become the
Voice of the voiceless and protector of the weak and marginalized
Refuge of the outcast and the home of the orphan
Refectory of the hungry and the spring well for the thirsty
Shelter for the homeless and the succor of the disadvantaged
Healer of the afflicted and the comforter of the dejected, and
Resilience of the vanquished and the solace of the poor
Indeed we have to work relentlessly to replace
Injustice with justice, and hatred with love;
Culture of unbridled individualism with that of Christian fellowship
Enslavement of the poor with the promotion equality, and above all
We must work relentlessly to replace the reign of sin with righteousness .
We will either save ourselves or perish with it.
 Evangelii Gaudium. Para. 83
 CCC. Para. 900
 CCC. Para. 1822
 Evangelii gaudium. Para. 145.
 Ibid. 897
 Ibid. 48
 Ibid. 151
 2 Cor 11:14
 Ibid. 106
 Ibid 116: Is 61:10
 Ibid. Para. 114