After the Corned Beef: St. Patrick Challenges Modern Christians to be Missionaries
We need to learn a lesson from this great missionary. He saw what was good in the culture and "baptized" what could be redeemed. He respected the civil order, but never compromised the faith. Then, he went for the next generation with all his efforts, preaching the Gospel without compromise and letting the Holy Spirit work. As a result, all of Ireland became Christian! From its beautiful shores western civilization, rooted in the Christian faith and the Catholic Church, advanced to change the world.
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CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - In Chicago, they dye the river green on St. Patrick's Day - as well as the beer. On St. Patrick's Day, everyone is Irish. The celebration is an example of the presence of a Christian memory in the West. However, as we tumble toward the abyss in what many call a post-Christian culture, the real heritage of the Apostle to Ireland might be lost if we do not stop and examine his message and mission. I think I stand with the Apostle to Ireland in rejecting the term, "post-Christian". Instead, I choose to call ours a Pre-Christian Culture. Without apology, I proclaim that the greatest thing which could happen to Western culture is a rebirth of Christianity and Christian influence.
Throughout the pontificate of the soon to be Blessed John Paul II he called for a "New Evangelization." Pope Benedict XVI has made this a central pillar of his pontificate. He erected a Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization tasked with evangelizing countries where the Gospel was announced centuries ago, but where its presence in peoples' daily life seems to be all but lost. In a Motu Propio directive (which means issued on his own authority) Pope Benedict established this new dicastery (Vatican Office) and underscored the seriousness with which he views this mission of the New Evangelization.
Cultures formerly infused with a Christian culture are now regularly called post-Christian and understandably so. In April 2009 John Meachem, then of Newsweek magazine, wrote a widely circulated article entitled "The End of Christian America." There is little doubt that Europe, the United States, Canada and Latin America are all "post Christian." Yes, there are many good and genuine Christians living within these Nations. However, the scourge of legal abortion, the attacks on true marriage and the family and society founded upon it, and the intolerance against people of faith, speak of the decline of Christian influence in these Nations. However, as a proponent of the New Evangelization I propose we refer to them as "Pre-Christian." As a Catholic, I also suggest Mr. Meachem has a surprise coming.
When the Venerable John Paul visited the Americas he wrote a letter entitled "To the Church in America" in which we find these words: "The New Evangelization calls for a clearly conceived, serious, and well organized effort to evangelize culture. The Son of God, by taking upon Himself our human nature, became incarnate within a particular people, even though His redemptive death brought redemption to all people, of every culture, race and condition. The gift of His Spirit and His love are meant for each and every people and culture, in order to bring them all into unity after the perfect unity existing in the Triune God." (Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in America, 70)
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This call to a New Evangelization invites each of us to live our baptismal vocation, no matter what our state in life, completely given over to the work of the Lord. We do that when we choose to live at the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. Since the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church we have been constantly reminded that the Church is by nature missionary and that every baptized Christian participates in her missionary activity. The New Evangelization means taking this truth to heart and living differently. The New Evangelization requires an authentic renewal of the Church so that she can undertake such a new missionary outreach to the world. These two aspects of the one call are intricately connected. Only a Church fully alive in the Lord and filled with His Spirit can carry out such an evangelical mission.
I believe that we are at the beginning of a great resurgence in the Catholic Church precisely for this mission. Just when her opponents are ready to count the Catholic Church out, the sleeping giant is rising. The Church is Christ's plan for the entire world. The early Fathers called her the "world reconciled." There is no "plan B" through which He will save this world. She is a universal sign, sacrament and seed of the kingdom of God. The early Christians would have never understood the notion in some contemporary Christian circles that anyone could follow Jesus and not "need" the Church.
Saint Cyprian (A.D. 258) wrote, "He who has turned his back on the Church of Christ shall not come to the rewards of Christ; he is an alien, a worldling, an enemy. You cannot have God for your Father if you have not the Church for your mother. Our Lord warns us when He says: `he that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth.' Whosoever breaks the peace and harmony of Christ acts against Christ; whoever gathers elsewhere than in the Church scatters the Church of Christ." (On The Unity of the Catholic Church)
We are called to love the Church with the affection of sons and daughters; she is our "mother." We were reborn in the fount of Baptism as through a second womb. We live our Christian life now always as a part of the Church. To belong to the Head means to be a member of His Body. The Church is not some-thing, but Some-One, in whom we now live and breathe and have our being. As members of the Church we are passing through a time of purification and preparation. Hopefully, it is bringing us to our knees. It is only there we will find what we need. The Church has undergone similar .. purifications and reform many times over two thousand years. Her hull may be battered but she is still the Ark of Salvation.
Church history demonstrates that such seasons of purification are followed by times of great restoration and revival for the Church. So it will be in our day. This Church called Catholic is not a mere human institution. If it were, it would have shipwrecked long ago.The contemporary culture has lost its way, throwing off almost every remnant of Christian influence. It has embraced a new paganism. What Pope Benedict calls the "Dictatorship of Relativism" is the bad fruit of a rejection of truth. The West has embraced a practical atheism. It is Eden's error written large in an age which has rejected God and His plan. Like Cain, western culture wanders aimlessly in a land of Nod, East of Eden. America consistently polls as one of the most "religious" of the Nations of the West but has little evidence of the influence of religious faith in its daily life. Alasdair MacIntyre once exclaimed, "The creed of the English is that there is no God but it is wise to pray to him from time to time." This is the "creed" of the West. Religion is acceptable in America as long as it is kept "private."
However Christianity can never be kept "private." It must be given away in love. The Church exists to evangelize. The Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is profoundly public. Only a holy, faith filled Catholic Church can bring the current culture of death, use and darkness to a conversion and transformation. This is the task of the "New Evangelization." Given the current state of moral decline we need to view the entirety of the American continent as missionary territory, ripe for the New Evangelization. We also need to view the once Christian Nations of the European continent as mission territory. Most importantly, we need to view ourselves as missionaries in a new missionary age.
The Lord of the harvest is calling workers to the New Evangelization of His Church. Then, as loyal sons and daughters of that Church, He is calling us into the fields of contemporary culture which are ripe and ready for harvest. St. Patrick stands as a model of just how we must pursue this mission. Like so many, I paid my tribute to him this year with my article entitled "St. Patrick calls us to live in the Heart of the Church for the Sake of the World."
On the day after, when the world arises from the St Patrick's Day celebrations, after the Corned Beef and green beer, we need to learn from the Apostle to Ireland. When Patrick landed in Ireland in 432, tasked by the Holy Spirit with evangelizing a pagan people, he drew from a deep, living, dynamic faith. He understood well the challenge he faced. He had been held captive as a prisoner in that land. He knew the culture, the Druids who ruled it, and the realities he faced in a hostile culture. But, more importantly, he knew the Lord whom he served and he was unafraid. History records that Patrick had a missionary strategy, and it bore extraordinary fruit.
When he entered into a district, he would first preach the Gospel to the Chieftains and, following their custom, offer them a gift to honor them. Only a few were converted, but Patrick knew exactly what he was doing. He would ask for two favors, for a plot of land upon which to build a church and permission to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ - as fully revealed in the Catholic Church - to the people. Both would be granted. Historic accounts revealed that he would then go to the sons and daughter of the rulers. He wrote in his Confession " Wherefore, then in Ireland, they who never had the knowledge of God, but until now only worshipped idols and abominations - now there has lately been prepared a people of the Lord, and they are called children of God. The sons and daughters of the Irish chieftains are seen to become monks and virgins of Christ."
We have a similar task in the West. We need to learn a lesson from this great missionary. He saw what was good in the culture and "baptized" what could be redeemed. He respected the civil order, but never compromised the faith. Then, he went for the next generation with all his efforts, preaching the Gospel without compromise and letting the Holy Spirit work. As a result, all of Ireland became Christian! From its beautiful shores western civilization, rooted in the Christian faith and the Catholic Church, advanced to change the whole world. The Gospel took root in the Celtic culture, transforming it from within as leaven in a loaf. Ireland came to be known as the "island of saints and scholars". Even now, in the midst of its travail and the purification underway in the Church in Patrick's homeland, it can - and it will - rise once again in Christ!
After the corned beef is digested and the green beer has left its after effects. it is time for the Saint Patrick's of our age to rise to the hour in this new missionary age. After all, the same God whom Patrick served is still at work, pouring out His Spirit and calling men and women to be fishers of men in this Third Christian Millennium.
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