by Helen Hull Hitchcock
Joy and Hope. Grief and anguish. These first words of the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, have a particular resonance for Catholics in this Year of Faith which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, as proclaimed by Pope Benedict XI in his apostolic letter Porta Fidei.
The historic events of recent months have almost overwhelmed us with grief and with joy and hope. For the first time ever, a much-beloved pope chose to renounce his office and retire to a life of prayer. Pope Benedict, whose wise, intelligent, and effective teaching was superseded only by his fatherly kindness, resigned during the season of Lent. This seemed a most appropriate time of the Church’s liturgical year, as during Lent we contemplate Our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice of Love His suffering and death on the Cross.
The Church was bereft. We had no Holy Father from the last day of February until mid-March, when the cardinals gathered in Rome to elect his successor which they did with astonishing speed and surprising results.
They elected the first pope from the Western Hemisphere, the first Jesuit ever to serve the Church in this office, and the first pope to choose the name Francis. Our new Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, ap-peared on the balcony of St. Peter’s on March 13 and humbly asked for our prayers. We had just enough time to assimilate this unprecedented joyous event before celebrating the exuberant triumph of Our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Day. Joy!
Some of you may have watched these history-making days on television. We certainly did! We especially watched EWTN and for a special reason: the anchor of the EWTN Live shows during these exciting days in the Vatican was Colleen Carroll Campbell, a member of our Voices editorial board (and frequent contributor to these pages); and a guest commentator was historian James Hitchcock, who, besides being my closest relative, is author of a new book, History of the Catholic Church: from the Apostolic Age to the Third Millenium (Ignatius Press).
The early weeks of Pope Francis’s reign have been the occasion of intense curiosity and high expectation. Clearly our new Holy Father is continuing the evangelization mission of his predecessors. While adding his own note of energy a measure of spontaneity and newness he is deeply committed to transmitting the Church’s truth, “ever ancient, ever new,” to the whole world. Hope!
In his last meeting with the clergy of Rome, February 14, Pope Benedict spoke about the Second Vatican Council, its goals and objectives, and how misinterpretations (he called it the “virtual Council”) seriously affected the Church. Despite those who presumed to interpret the “spirit of the Council” in ways that contradicted the Council’s true reform, Pope Benedict said, “the real force of the Council was present and, slowly but surely, established itself more and more and became the true force which is also the true reform, the true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that, 50 years after the Council, we see that this virtual [misinterpreted] Council is broken, is lost, and there now appears the true Council with all its spiritual force. And it is our task, especially in this Year of Faith on the basis of this Year of Faith, to work so that the true Council, with its power of the Holy Spirit, be accomplished and the Church be truly renewed.”
This renewal of the Church from within, which is necessary to revitalize her mission to the world, is at the heart of the “new evangelization.”
Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed our duty as Christians to evangelize to bring God’s truth to the people of this troubled world even when this is very difficult. In his homily on May 17, he said,
This is what we should always draw courage from: knowing that the strength of evangelization comes from God, belongs to Him. We are called to open ourselves more and more to the Holy Spirit’s work … to be instruments of God’s mercy, His tenderness, His love for every man and woman, and especially for the poor, the excluded and the marginalized. And this holds for every Christian, for the whole Church. It isn’t an optional mission but an essential one.
An essential mission for all of us. The concern for the “new evangelization” is not exactly new, as we know. Pope John Paul II addressed this in his apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, issued at the close of the Jubilee Year 2000. He wrote:
Over the years, I have often repeated the summons to the new evangelization. I do so again now, especially in order to insist that we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardor of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost.
How do we prepare ourselves for this essential evangelical task? This most basic mission of every believer? We are so often unequipped for effective evangelization. Where do we start? How can we do this?
One place to begin is to revitalize our own faith, to deepen our personal experience of prayerful communication with God, and to increase our knowledge of the Church’s teachings so that we can give this truth to others. And we rely on the Holy Spirit to inspire us with understanding, wisdom, and courage to open ourselves to God’s will. We do need to receive these gifts in order to give them to others. Our source of the knowledge we need is provided by the Church in the Sacraments, the Scripture, the Catechism, and the authoritative teachings of our bishops and popes. Especially when particular teachings are challenged by our secular culture, we must increase our personal knowledge of these teachings in order to be effective witnesses.
To help address this need, in this issue we have published two documents that directly address issues that confront us in our culture today, in the hope that they will provide both information and inspiration:
First, an abridged version of the US bishops’ pastoral letter “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan,” with links to related resources for study and action;
Second, the final and vitally important chapter of Pope John Paul II’s powerful encyclical Evangelium Vitae, The Gospel of Life, “‘You did it to me’: For a New Culture of Human Life.” (A study guide for this key encyclical is on our website: wf-f.org/EvangeliumVitaeStudyGuide.html).
And we must pray. First, last, and always. Pray that God’s grace will supply our lack. Pray that our witness be strong, that our words and actions reach hearts, and that we may be given the grace of growing faith. Pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire what we say and do, and give us the courage to say what needs to be said and do what must be done.
Evangelization requires prayer, Pope Francis stated strongly in his May 22 Wednesday audience on the Creed: “a new evangelization, an evangelizing Church, must start always from prayer, from asking, like the Apostles in the Upper Room, for the fire of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “Only the loyal and intense relationship with God allows one to come out from one’s closure and announce the Gospel with parresia [fearless confidence]. With-out prayer our activity becomes empty and our announcement doesn’t have soul, it is not animated by the Spirit.”
Let us pray without ceasing. And witness with fearless confidence. Many precious lives and the salvation of souls may depend upon us.
WFF is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax deductible.
Membership Donation - $25.00 a year
you will receive Voices quarterly
Foreign Membership Donation - $35 a year
you will receive Voices quarterly
Voices copyright © 1999-Present Women for Faith & Family. All rights reserved.
All material on this web site is copyrighted and may not be copied or reproduced without prior written permission from Women for Faith & Family,except as specified below.
Permission is granted to download and/or print out articles for personal use only.
Brief quotations (ca 500 words) may be made from the material on this site, in accordance with the “fair use” provisions of copyright law, without prior permission. For these quotations proper attribution must be made of author and WFF + URL (i.e., “Women for Faith & Family www.wf-f.org.)
Generally, all signed articles or graphics must also have the permission of the author. If a text does not have an author byline, Women for Faith & Family should be listed as the author. For example: Women for Faith & Family (St Louis: Women for Faith & Family, 2005 + URL)
Link to Women for Faith & Family web site.
Other web sites are welcome to establish links to www.wf-f.org or to individual pages within our site.