Brothers and sisters,
We celebrate Advent and prepare ourselves for Christmas. On Christmas Eve the angel’s message will sound again, “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Shepherds were the first to hear it. As shepherds of this Good New they went on their way. And from that moment the Good News of Gods Incarnation has not fallen silent.
Through the ages, the Gospel has been handed down from generation to generation. Until recently, in fact, this communication of faith was a matter of course. The Christian faith was part of the cultural pattern on which our society was built. But this is no longer the case. The faith is no longer widely supported by society.
We can regret this. But we can also see that this situation offers new possibilities. Now, more than in the past, the faith can truly be based on a personal choice; a personal answer to Gods word, which touched the hearts of people. You are no longer, as it were, born a Christian. You must truly become it, out of your own conviction. You have to make the decision yourself.
People – young people – are touched by the newness of the Gospel. The hear a sound that they didn’t know at all and which can become a source of joy and hope for them. If we look at it this way, the loss of obviousness offers a new chance for authentic faith. On the other hand, we can’t close our eyes for the many people who, because of all sorts of circumstances, have become alienated from the Christian faith. Others have never even heard of the Good News.
Often the need for a so-called ‘new evangelisation’ has been pointed out from within the Church. Evangelisation understood, than, as a ‘first proclamation’ of the Gospel to people who never or barely got to know it. In the coming year and Synod of Bishops will be held in Rome about this important subject.
Our culture may have lost the tight bond with the faith. This does not mean that the big questions of life, also in our society, do not require a pressing answer. Perhaps more than ever! Like never be we have so many means and possibilities to shape our lives to our own desires. And yet there in many people we can trace an emptiness, a sense of dissatisfaction. People in our time lack the support of a past society, of a past Church. That is why they start searching for themselves, desiring an answer to that deepest question of the purpose of life.
In this situation we, as Church, are faced with a difficult but challenging task. How can we make the Gospel of Jesus understandable for the searching people of this time, without diminishing the identity of the Message? The best way of evangelising is to mirror ourselves on the pastoral attitude that Jesus adopted in His proclamation.
How did He evangelise? He was open to everyone who came to Him. He receptively listened to the life story of everyone. He tried to sympathise with the needs of others; empathise with his or her life; with great respect for each one’s own situation. But He did more. He invited these people to follow Him, to go on a journey with Him. Without being obtrusive or wanting to be condescending he encouraged to imitation; to always get to know the mystery of His Person better: the mystery of Gods incarnated Love. As a Church we can and may not walk another way that this, which Jesus has gone before us.
From the great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer comes the saying, “Everyone comes to imitation alone, but no one stays alone in that imitation.” As faithful we have the obligation to find out together how we can present the faith, so that it can be understood as the Good News by those around us. The most suitable way of transmitting the faith is and remains the example of our own Christian approach to life. In our own daily life we may make visible the enlightening Light which shines on our Christian existence from the Gospel.
In our concrete encounters of every day we must not be afraid to discuss what deeply motivates us from within. As faithful, we can not withdraw from public life. In the process of evangelisation we must all keep on searching for a visible place in society. People of our time are industriously searching for spirituality, to inwardness. He or she must then be given the chance to hear the voice of the Gospel in all freedom.
People who are searching do not necessarily come knocking on the door of the Church by themselves. That is why our witness in the world so very important. Life offers so many opportunities to express our conviction in word and action. In the first place, of course, within families, but also at work or through the social responsibility we have in some area or other. That is why we must make use of the chance to also correct one-sided or incorrect images of the Christian faith.
The great revolution that our world is going through, obviously does not avoid the Church. The Church also enters a new age. A new evangelisation is needed in our area, in which we, as faithful, have our own duties. Every faithful can contribute to this, making use of his or her own talents.
But we should not forget one thing. No matter how much our own effort and our witness is needed for the new evangelisation: people coming to the faith is and remains the work of Gods mercy, of His Holy Spirit. Did not Saint Paul already say, “In this, neither the planter nor the waterer counts for anything; only God, who gives growth” (1 Cor. 3:7). That is why the success of every transmission of faith above all needs the prayer for that mercy of God.
May this prayer fill our hearts in a special way this Christmas, because in the birth of Jesus “God’s grace has been revealed to save the whole human race” (Tit. 2:11). I sincerely wish you all a blessed Christmas.
+ Frans Wiertz,
bishop of Roermond