The Marshallan and the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith
My Dear Knights and Ladies of Marshall.
You have asked me to speak on “The Marshallan and the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith”.
I don’t need to emphasize the special place you occupy in the Church. I recognize with gratitude your contribution to the growth of the faith in this Diocese and in the country. The interest you have always demonstrated compels me to respond to you anytime you call on me to offer my services. I do this not only because I am your Shepherd but also because, I strongly feel I owe this to you as Christ’s faithful who desire to learn in order to acquire the tools for a better Christian witnessing.
I hope to offer brief reflection on three parts of the theme you have asked me to address. The first part concerns the Marshallan. We shall investigate a little into who the Marshallan stands for and what tasks await him in the Church. The second part is about the New Evangelization. We shall ask ourselves, what is new in the new evangelization and what can the Marshallan in the Western South Regional Council do in the New Evangelization? The third part concerns the faith received and our responsibility to transmit it or hand it to the next generation. As a sequel to this third part, we shall look briefly at a more practical point, how the celebration of the Jubilee of Mercy can be our way of transmitting the Christian faith.
The Marshallan is about you; you as a Christian, a Catholic who entered into a covenant with God through the sacrament of baptism, a believer who religiously profess faith in God the creator of the world, in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen and whose second coming you await, a Catholic seeking to understand your faith and live it to the glory of God. It is about you who have chosen to be a Marshallan and through the Marshallan fraternity and with the Marshallans live your faith in the world today, a world that offers so many challenges to your faith and to your family and social life. It is about you in the social, political, economic and religious context or environment of society. It is about you, a lay faithful in the Church. Even if your primary duty is to proclaim Christ and His message in the socio-political and economic fields, you also have an obligation to directly proclaim the message of Christ in order to transform lives and bring people to full knowledge of Christ. It is about you together with your brother Knight and sister Lady of Marshall in the Western South Regional Council and within the wider fraternity.
You form a friendly society whose nature is to remain loyal to the Church. It is indeed a contradiction of terms to speak of a Marshallan who is disloyal to the Church. This, however, is not a cheap loyalty where you literally cease to have an opinion of your own on Church matters. You do responsibly, and your opinion matters.
As a fraternity, you aim at helping individual members develop spiritually. This is essential as nothing worthwhile and enduring can be achieved that has no strong spiritual base. As human beings we sometimes think we can do without God. When this happens, we build on sand. We act like the “foolish man” Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount: “anyone who listens to this word of mine and does not act on them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell. What a fall that will be” (Mt 7: 26-27). The Psalmist puts it beautifully, “the fool says in his heart, there is no God” (Ps 14:1).
As Marshallans, three words are our catchwords: unity, charity and fraternity. They are at the core values of your spirituality and encapsulate what we stand for. You seek to unite solidly behind the Church in order to promote its well-being. You desire to be friends and people who speak for the poor and the distressed of society. You want to demonstrate in all things love and compassion that show forth in charity above all. You recognize the common brotherhood of humanity under the fatherhood of God. So you seek to build bridges and promote fraternal relationships. If you can live these core tenets of your fraternity, you will directly be transmitting the faith you love so much, and you will be heading towards heaven.
The new evangelization is a pastoral program of the Church. Remember that when Pope John Paul convoked the first African Synod, his intention was that “the Synod may result in a deep renewal of the Church in Africa so that Christians on that continent may be filled with zeal to live the Gospel fully and to share Christ’s salvation and liberation with humanity”. He said this in 1992, about a decade after he had called for the New Evangelization (1983) which he esteemed would be new in its “ardor, methods, and expression” and directed to those who have not only heard the gospel but who have become tired and stale in the expression of their faith. So therefore, the African Synod was already part of the renewal the Pope was seeking, but this time directed particularly to the Church in Africa. As you have heard over and over again, the NE is not a “new gospel” but a way to return to Christ and drink from the fountain of the hope and life He offers. But this is really not a new call because the primary intent of all these statements is “renewal”. The Church is constantly in the process of renewing itself so that it can respond to the needs and questions of the day. You must have heard of the Latin phrase, “ecclesia semper reformanda est”. It was first used by Karl Barth, a protestant theologian in 1947. This is the Church. The Spirit of God in the Church does not permit it to be stagnant. It is constantly in the process of renewal. This was indeed the spirit of Vatican II so that by its doctrine and activities, the Church would remain faithful to what Christ desired it to be. This is about “New Evangelization”.
Let us note that as a so-called “mission territory”, we have known what is called “primary evangelization”. The missionaries came to bring us the Gospel of Jesus Christ which had not been heard by our forebears. They condemned many practices some of which they had not understood. They therefore missed a great opportunity to inculturate the Christian message and practices. They also rightly condemned some practices that were really condemnable. Many heard the Christian message and became believers. Others too heard it and believed but have already lost sense of the Gospel and have not allowed it to impact on their lives. As we jokingly say, some of us are “Sunday Christians and Weekday Traditionalists”. You have certainly noticed the number of billboards indicating places where you can consult fetish priests. They have a good market – some of our Christians! We have compartmentalized our Christian faith and separated from it our daily practices. Some of us have become “lukewarm” (cf. Book of Revelations) in their faith. These people are the targets of the New Evangelization.
It is over 2000 years when Christ selected his apostles from among the crowd and gave them the missionary mandate, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore, make disciples of nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I give you. Look I am with you always, yes, to the end of time” (Mt 28:18-20). Jesus did not only give them this missionary mandate to go and make disciples of all nations, he also assured them that he would be with them until the end of time. This assurance is as important as the mandate. Jesus does not leave the Church alone and unaided. Jesus walks and works with His Church. The work we do as Church is the work of the Spirit of the Lord who abides with and in the Church of Christ. This is one of the lessons the resurrection narratives teach us as believers. The Gospel of John is quite vocal on this point: In the evening of that same day, Jesus appeared to his disciples who had gathered in a room behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. He appeared to them and gave them a short and clear message.
The first was his message of peace. “Peace be with you”, was not only a way to greet them but a definition of what his presence means to the apostles. Fear does not give life. It incapacitates and renders us disoriented. Fear makes us lose our bearing and sense of direction. When a person is engulfed in fear, he or she loses its balance. He or she becomes a prey for all the horrendous practices and strange doctrines that are on the religious market. This is why the exhortation “Fear not” and “Do not be afraid” and similar phrases are replete in the Bible. Some say, they are as many as 365 – one for each day. Fear blocks that positive energy in us and renders us fossilized and inactive. No one can achieve anything in life when he or she is bonded in fear. “Peace be with you” is an exhortation to the apostles to come out of their fear and move on. It is also a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of his gift of peace, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you, not as the world give do I give” (Jn 14:27). It is the peace he gives to his followers who live in a hostile world and who experience the hatred and persecutions of their time. Remember he told his disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you… A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you, if they kept my word, they will keep yours too..” (Jn 15:18-25). Jesus had, in fact, told them before; “Do you suppose that I am here to bring of peace on earth? No, I tell you but rather division. For from now on, a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; father opposed to the son and son to the father, mother to daughter and daughter against mother, mother in law against daughter in law, daughter in law against mother in law” (Lk 12:51-53; Mt 10:34-36).
The second is a message that associates us with the mission of Jesus, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you”. Jesus had said this before. In what we traditionally call the “priestly prayer of Jesus”, Jesus prayed, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (Jn 17:18). It is a world of hatred and persecution, a world that despises those who live the truth, a world that considers lies, injustice and wickedness as “virtues” of the wise and powerful, a world that adores and upholds infidelities. This is the world in which the Christian is called to be a counter-sign, to live the Beatitudes of Jesus, to offer strong and uncompromising witness of the resurrection.
The statement, “As the Father sent me so I send you”, indicates the continuity of the divine mission. Matthew’s Gospel calls this mission “the harvest” (Mt 9:35-38). We are doing exactly what Jesus was sent to do. We are his hands, legs, eyes and nose. The New Evangelization requires that we see as Jesus sees, touch as Jesus touches, and speak as Jesus speaks. This is our greatest challenge, if we live up to it the world will know that we are men and women with mission: We are people sent, we are messengers: a messenger does not speak his own message. The messenger shares the message of his her master – the one who sent him or her. This “sending” tells us that this mission is not ours, it belongs to the “Lord of the harvest”. We are only “laborers of the harvest” (Mt 9:38). And when we have done our part, we only need to remember of the words of the Master; “So with you, when you have done all is required of you, say “we are useless servants. we have done no more than our duty” (Lk 17:10).
The statement, “As the Father sent me so I send you” also indicates the continuity of the apostolic mandate. We are apostles precisely because we have been sent just as Jesus was sent. The word “apostle” was not reserved to Peter, James and John – the Twelve – but Paul, Barnabas and others who were sent with the word of God (cf. Acts 14:14). But we also know that there were self-styled apostles whose teachings contradicted the message of Christ. These self-acclaimed “apostles” were actually charlatans (2 Cor 11:4-5) who were seeking their self-interest. This is why the angel commended the Church in Ephesus for having tested those who claimed they were apostles but were not and for exposing their false teachings (Rev 2:2) (see Craig R. Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things, 58).
Jesus knew that the work for which we have been sent is huge and gargantuan. No one can do it relying on his / her strength. So He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. (Jn 20:19-23). This is the way Jesus empowers His Church to stand up to the trials and difficulties and temptations. He gave His Church and every individual the Holy Spirit. This is the only way we can get the work done – in the Spirit! The Spirit is the principle of empowerment. The Jesus of the Gospel according to John puts it this way, “it is the Spirit that gives life” (Jn 6:63). When Jesus breathed on the disciples, He did exactly what the Father did at the dawn of creation. The Genesis writer tells us that when God fashioned man from the soil of the ground, he breathed into his nostrils and he became a living being (Gn 2:7). This description is also evoked in the prophetic imagination of Ezekiel: “The Lord Yahweh says this, breath, breathe on these dead, so that they come to life” (Ez 37:9). That was how the dry bones came back to life.
The transmission of the faith is an activity of the Church and its individual members. By virtue of our baptism, each Catholic is given a mission to make Christ known. The faith is a special gift we receive from God. As Paul said, it is given by God but nurtured by teaching. Remember that famous but beautiful line that comes from his letter to the Romans, “How then are they to call on him if they have not come to believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard of him? And how will they hear of him unless there is a preacher for them? And how will there be preachers if they are not sent? As scripture says, “How beautiful are the feet of the messenger of good news” (Rom 10:14-15).
Even before Jesus gave them the apostolic mandate to go to the whole world and proclaim the good news, He had taught his disciples and the crowds many things. The Gospel according to Matthew gives us a systematic presentation of these teachings into five blocks of teachings, namely, the Sermon on the Mount, his missionary instructions to the apostles, the parables of the kingdom, his teachings on the Kingdom and the Church, and discourses about the end.
Paul tells us, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1Cor 9:16). As these words find echo in our lives today and in the expression of our faith, we ask ourselves if we really preach the Gospel, and what type of Gospel do we preach? This is a responsibility that lies on every baptized faithful. We preach the Gospel not only in words but with our deeds. I would like to refer you to a well-known document of Vat II, The Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People. This Decree identified three areas that are of interest to us all: 1. The mission of evangelization and sanctification. 2. The mission of renewing the temporal order. 3. The mission of mercy and charity. The strength of this document for the formation of our lay faithful is tremendous. You, our lay faithful are in the secular order to give it life by renewing it with your Christian commitment. How sad will that be if you become insipid. You become like salt that has lost its taste, it is good for nothing but to be thrown on the ground to be trampled underfoot. Your work is to directly be evangelizers of the temporal order. You know it better because you live in it.
I would like to focus a little on the third point, “The Mission of Charity and Mercy” for three reasons. First, because one of your key spiritual poles is charity, secondly precisely because we are in the Jubilee of Mercy, and thirdly, I think that is a concrete way you can transmit your faith. I depend here largely on a work done by Cardinal Martini.
The 5th Beatitude states, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7). The beatitude on mercy is the first of the second four if we consider the beatitudes to be eight in number. If we consider the Beatitudes to be nine in number, then the beatitude on mercy, as the fifth beatitude, is the beatitude that stands at the middle and thus is of great significance to the passage.
This fifth beatitude is the only beatitude that is totally constructed on one Christian principle, MERCY: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”. The others are founded on two words:
- Poor in spirit and Kingdom of heaven, etc.
How must we understand the Lord’s saying that “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”? Cardinal Martini’s approach: Let us look in the Gospel according to Matthew and see what is intended:
- Mt 9:13: “Go then and learn what it means, “mercy is what I desire not sacrifice. In fact, I did not come to call the righteous but sinners”.
- This is how Jesus responded to the Pharisees who reproached Jesus for sitting and eating with sinners. This is how God behaves towards us; He has a preferential love for sinners. God hates sin but loves the sinner.
- Mt 12:7: “If only you had understood what this means, “Mercy is what I desire not sacrifice” you would not have condemned the guiltless”.
- Jesus reproaches those who condemn his disciples for plucking and eating grain and on the Sabbath in order to satisfy their hunger. Jesus reminds his hearers of an ancient principle that runs through the Old Testament; mercy is of immense value than cultic acts, and even than the Sabbath.
- The above considerations point more to God’s inclusive love and openness to embrace everyone. But being merciful also means doing acts of love to the needy and showing compassion.
- Mt 25:35-36: “I was hungry and you gave me to food, thirsty you gave me drink, stranger you welcomed me, naked you clothed me, sick you visited me, in prison you came to me”.
- You notice that this list forms the Church’s traditional teaching on the corporal works of mercy with the exception of “bury the dead” (which is not included here).
- The Church has also the accompanying works that is called “spiritual works of mercy”. These are instructing the ignorant, counselling the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, admonishing the sinner, forgiving injuries, bearing wrongs patiently, and praying for the dead and the living.
- With these two lists (corporal and spiritual works of mercy) Christian tradition has concretely explained what mercy means in everyday life.
- Mercy means being attentive and sensitive to the needs of society. It re-echoes the message of the prophets who called attention to the social dimension of our service to God.
- The list of works of mercy in Mt 25 is in many ways a commentary on Mt 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”. This is clear when Jesus already calls those who practice these virtues “blessed”. He says, “Then the King will say to those at his right, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34).
- Mt 6:2: “When you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and streets that they may be praised by men. Truly they have had their reward”.
- The passage here echoes Jewish spirituality of almsgiving as a concrete expression of mercy.
- We as Church live under the challenge of these words of Jesus. Jesus sends us out as Church to be salt, light (Mt 5:13) and yeast (Mt 13:33).
Most Rev. John Bonaventure Kwofie, CSSp
Bishop of Sekondi-Takoradi