Sunday, June 23, 2013

Friendship with Christ and the New Evangelization

I recently finished reading George Weigel's Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church. Weigel's thesis is that the Church throughout the world needs to adapt to the challenges facing the Church in the twenty-first century. Taking his cue from popes like Leo XIII, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, Weigel argues that the "Counter Reformation Catechetical-Devotional paradigm" will no longer work for the Church in the postmodern era. He advocates for a more evangelical method where Catholics have to be engaged, not only in their faith, but also with the society in which the Church is present, whatever the country may be. How does this come about? Weigel makes several suggestions, but the first and most prominent in the book is a personal friendship and relationship with Jesus Christ in the Church and enriching this friendship in the midst of the Sacraments (Eucharist and Penance especially).

All of this is true, especially about enriching a friendship with Christ through the Sacraments. With the help of solid preaching by priests (and deacons), speaking about the role of the Catholic in the Church and the world, catechesis that does not involve memorizing The Baltimore Catechism, and frequent reception of the Sacraments, the Catholic will come to understand how he or she is able to bring Christ into the world. 

The Catholic is one who lives in the world, but is not of the world; Catholics are pilgrims on earth, journeying their way through life back to their homeland of heaven. In his or her wake, the Catholic leaves a trail of love and charity, helping those along the way and, perhaps, carrying them along the way back to our heavenly homeland. This way through the world can be frightfully trying at times. But just as we carry others who need help along the way, so do we have help along the way; Jesus Christ. He gives us His Body and Blood for nourishment and strength. He gives us His very Self through His friendship. 

Friendship with Christ is often not grasped in the twenty-first century because there is no more sacramental view of Creation. At His Incarnation, Christ Jesus entered time and space and took on humanity in its fulness, subsequently redeeming, not only humanity, but all of Creation. This redemption shows forth more powerfully the sacramentality of God. God reveals Himself to us, not in ways that may be overtly obvious, but in the chirping of a bird, the sky on a starry night, or in the human being being fully alive. All of these beautiful images reveal God in the beauty of His Creation. It was for this Creation that the Father sent His Son into the world and revealed Himself through the beauty of humanity. 

Christ is able to relate to humanity in a truly unique way: Christ is both human and divine, making it possible for man to relate to his Savior as man and walking with Him, giving himself in friendship to Christ to share in Christ's divinity. As the water is added to the wine in the Offertory of the Mass, the priest prays: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity." This is one of the most concise prayers in all of the Mass summing up the reason for the Father's love for us: Sending His only Son into Creation to redeem it so that we can participate in the love and divinity of the Holy Trinity. To put it another way, St. Athanasius said: "God became man so that man could become like God." 

For this transformation, or divinization, to take place, a personal relationship and friendship with Christ must take place, not only between Christ and each of His disciples, but with the Church as well. The Church is Christ, His Bride, His own flesh and blood here on earth. The relationship between Christ and His Church is mirrored in the Sacrament of Marriage. Marriage is part of nature because God willed it from the beginning of time as a sacramental participation in the relationship between Christ and the Church. This is why "gay marriage" is not a matter of changing political laws, it is a matter of redefining an institution that is built into nature. The state has no business redefining marriage. The friendship between Christ and His disciple is one that is marked by walking with the Lord in the path He laid out in His Church. The Sacraments are an indispensable part of this friendship and, since they are, this friendship is very difficult to carry on outside the sacramental system of the Church; not impossible, but difficult. 

Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Our Savior does not merely leave us this way, but He walks along this way with us, giving of Himself freely some that we may do the same for Him and for the members of His Church. Friendship with Christ is thus the key to the New Evangelization.


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