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Missionary Pope Calls Catholics to Preach the Gospel and Bring all Nations to Jesus
By Deacon Keith Fournier
January 31st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
"The mission ad gentes (to the gentiles, or unbelievers) should be, also today, the constant horizon and paradigm of every ecclesial activity, because the very identity of the Church is constituted by faith in the Mystery of God, who revealed himself in Christ to bring us salvation, and by the mission to witness and proclaim him to the world, until his return. Like St. Paul, we should care for those who are far away, those who still do not know Christ and have not experienced God's paternity."
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - Shortly after Pope Benedict XVI's election I wrote an article quoting from Alisdair MacIntyre's book "After Virtue": "It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the Epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages.
"Nonetheless, certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman Imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of the Imperium.
"What they set themselves to achieve instead- often not recognizing fully what they were doing- was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point...
"...This time however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another-doubtless very different- St. Benedict."
I suggested that "another Benedict" was here in the person of Pope Benedict XVI. I am more convinced of it now. I suggested back then, "This will be a pontificate that emphasizes and vigorously contends for the truth; one that recognizes the loss of the soul of contemporary culture and proclaims the ever fresh yet ancient truths of classical Christianity to an emerging new paganism. This will be a prophetic as well as a pastoral Papacy. We will witness a resurgence of Christianity that is rightly "orthodox" in both faith and practice.
"Because of that, many will try to "claim" Benedict. Some, pining for the past, will watch for what they hope will be a return to some perceived pre-conciliar "purity." Others will try to squeeze the clarity of his commitment to the dignity and sanctity of every human life, his unwavering insistence on the unchangeable truth concerning marriage and family, and his love for human freedom into their particular political mold.
"However, he will not fit any political mold. He will not lead the Church backwards but rather forward to a future of hope and into a true and desperately needed reform. Under his leadership we will see new forms of Christian life and community emerging in an analogous way to what happened to the world at the time of St. Benedict."
"From those Benedictine monasteries, an entire monastic movement was birthed which led to the evangelization of Europe and the emergence of an authentically Christian culture. This led to the birth and flourishing of the academy, the arts and the emergence of what later became known as Christendom. One of the greatest hopes of Pope John Paul II, and of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger- now Pope Benedict, was for Europe to rediscover her Christian roots as it did at the time of St Benedict. Now we have "another Benedict" to lead the recovery and reform."
I continued "Pope Benedict XVI will surprise many, particularly in the area of ecumenism, reaching to heal the divide between eastern and western Christianity so that the "two lungs" of the full Christian Church can breathe together again and animate the entire Church so that she can become again the soul of the world. ...
"We will witness the beginnings of the coming full communion of the Church during his pontificate. We will witness the recovery of the authentically Catholic academy through the rebuilding of some institutions almost lost to the Church and the building of new ones. We will see the flourishing of good, solid theological and philosophical work alongside of a flourishing of the arts and human culture, led by the Church, as it has been in ages past. He will be like his namesake and help to bring the Christian influence back to Europe and beyond."
I believe all of this - and much more - has resulted from the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. He turned 84 years old on April 16, 2011. Some early observers indicated his age would make him some sort of caretaker Pope. His pace has demonstrated the observers were wrong. He has proven to be an indefatigable and tireless missionary of a Pope.
He has continued the pastoral visits of his predecessor with amazingly fruitful travels around the world. The youth of the world still flock to World Youth days and his genuine love for them - and they for him - is evident. He has pastorally and decisively dealt with serious matters concerning the need for a purification of the Church.
He is exactly what he told us when he began his service, a "simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord" Notice how little fanfare accompanied his birthday as well as this six year anniversary of his election. Clearly, to this successor of Peter, it is not about him, but about the Lord whom he serves. His diminutive size and humble manner reveal the holy heart of this man totally given over to the Lord.
He has written three encyclicals, three apostolic exhortations and two books about Jesus of Nazareth. He is a scholar of the highest order, yet able to communicate with simplicity and beauty because he is a man of deep prayer. He has given continual teaching to the faithful - including some of the finest hagiography in centuries - during his Wednesday Catechesis.
He made Church history, when Motu Propio, on his own authority, he released of the Apostolic Constitution on Groups of Anglicans which has begun the healing of the divided Western Church. Two Ordinariates have already been formed and more will follow. The fruits of these Ordinariates will be recounted by future historians as among the most important events in the Third Millennium of the Church.
He has earned the great respect of Patriarchs and leaders of the Orthodox Church and is making progress toward some form of communion between Eastern and Western Christianity which could make the Third Millennium a millennium of communion.
He has championed the re-christianizing of Europe and passionately promoted the New Evangelization of the Church - even establishing a new Pontifical Council on the New Evangelization. He has been a champion of the New Ecclesial movements and helped to ensure that they are rooted in the heart of the Church and received as gift for the missionary work of the Church in this hour.
He has doggedly defended the Christian roots of the West and defended religious freedom as a fundamental human right. He has engaged the Islamic world with great charity and courage on the ground of dialogue in truth. He began the "Courts of the Gentiles" outreach engaging atheists and agnostics. Clearly, this is a missionary Pope.
And, it looks like he is just getting warmed up. We have had six years of Pope Benedict XVI and it appears to this Deacon that he is leading the Catholic Church into a New Missionary Age. Indeed, another Benedict is here, and the Church is truly blessed to have him at the helm of the Barque of Peter as she sails into the Third Christian Millennium.
Here are some excerpts from the Pope's message for World Mission Day which was recently released by the Vatican Press Office. The Day will be celebrated on Oct. 21 and the full text can be read here.
"Called to Make the Word of Truth Shine" (Apostolic Letter Porta fidei, 6)
The celebration of World Mission Day has an altogether particular meaning this year. The observance of the 50th anniversary of the Conciliar Decree Ad gentes, the opening of the Year of Faith and the Synod of Bishops on the subject of the New Evangelization concur in reaffirming the will of the Church to commit herself with greater boldness and ardor in the mission ad gentes, so that the Gospel will reach the ends of the earth.
The mandate to preach the Gospel is not exhausted, therefore, by a Pastor in caring for that portion of the People of God entrusted to his pastoral care, or in the sending of a fidei donum priest, layman or laywoman. It should involve the whole activity of the particular Church, all her sectors, in short, all her being and action. Vatican II indicated this clearly and the successive Magisterium confirmed it forcefully.
This requires the constant adaptation of lifestyles, pastoral plans and diocesan organization to this fundamental dimension of being Church, especially in our world in constant change. And this is also true for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, as well as for the Ecclesial Movements: all the components of the great mosaic of the Church must feel strongly drawn in by the Lord's mandate to preach the Gospel, so that Christ is proclaimed everywhere.
We, Pastors, men and women religious and all the faithful in Christ, must follow in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, who, "a prisoner for Christ on behalf of you Gentiles" (Ephesians 3:1), worked, suffered and fought to have the Gospel reach the Gentiles (cf. Ephesians 1:24-29), not sparing energy, time and means to make Christ's Message known.
The mission ad gentes (to the gentiles, or unbelievers) should be, also today, the constant horizon and paradigm of every ecclesial activity, because the very identity of the Church is constituted by faith in the Mystery of God, who revealed himself in Christ to bring us salvation, and by the mission to witness and proclaim him to the world, until his return.
Like St. Paul, we should care for those who are far away, those who still do not know Christ and have not experienced God's paternity, in the awareness that "the missionary cooperation must be extended today to new forms including not only economic aid but also direct participation in evangelization" (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio, 82). The celebration of the Year of Faith and of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization will be propitious occasions to re-launch missionary cooperation, especially in this latter dimension.
Dear brothers and sisters, I invoke upon the work of evangelization ad gentes, and in particular upon its workers, the effusion of the Holy Spirit, so that the Grace of God will make it advance more decisively in the history of the world. With Blessed John Henry Newman, I would like to pray: "O Lord, accompany your missionaries in the lands of evangelization, put the right words on their lips, make their toil fruitful." May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and Star of Evangelization, accompany all missionaries of the Gospel."
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