George A. Sprecace M.D., J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New London, P.C.

ZENIT, The world seen from Rome
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Father Cantalamessa's 1st Advent Sermon
The First Wave of Evangelization

ROME, DEC. 8, 2011 ( Here is a translation of the first Advent sermon delivered last Friday, Dec. 2, by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the pontifical household.

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Go into all the world

The first wave of evangelization

In response to the Supreme Pontiff's call for a renewed commitment to evangelization and by way of preparation for the 2012 synod of bishops on the same issue, I intend to identify in these Advent meditations four waves of evangelization in the history of the Church, that is, four moments in which we witness an acceleration or a taking up again of the missionary commitment. These are:

1) The spread of Christianity in the first three centuries, until the eve of Constantine's edict, which is led by, first, the itinerant prophets, and then the bishops;

2) The 6th to 9th centuries in which we witness the re-evangelization of Europe after the Barbarian invasions -- evangelization led by the work above all of monks;

3) The 16th century, with the discovery and conversion to Christianity of the peoples of the New World -- the work above all of friars;

4) The present age, which sees the Church committed to a re-evangelization of the secularized West, with the decisive participation of the laity.

In each of these moments I shall attempt to illumine what we can learn in the Church of today: the errors that must be avoided and the examples to be imitated and the specific contribution that pastors, monks, religious of active life and the laity can make to evangelization.

1.The spread of Christianity in the first three centuries.

We begin today with a reflection on Christian evangelization in the first three centuries. There is a reason that makes this period a model for all times. It is the period in which Christianity gains grounds by its own strength. There is no secular arm that supports it; conversions are not determined by external, material or cultural advantages; to be Christian is not a custom or fashion, but a decision to swim against the current, often at the risk of one's life. In some ways, it is the same situation that is happening again in many parts of the world.

The Christian faith was born with a universal openness. Jesus had said to his Apostles to go into all the world (Mark 16:15), and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), and be witnesses to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8), and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached to all nations (Luke 24:47).

This universality was already lived out in principle during the apostolic generation, though not without difficulties and struggles. The first barrier, race, was surmounted on the day of Pentecost (the 3,000-some converts belonged to different nations, but they were all Jewish believers); in Cornelius' house and in the so-called Council of Jerusalem, especially at Paul's prodding, the most difficult barrier of all was surmounted -- the religious one, which divided the Jews from the Gentiles. The Gospel had before it the whole world, although momentarily this world was limited in men's knowledge to the Mediterranean basin and to the borders of the Roman Empire.

It is more complex to follow the expansion of Christianity in fact or geographically in the first three centuries which, however, is less necessary for our objective. The most complete and so far unsurpassed study in this respect is that of Adolph Harnack, Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries.[1]

A strong intensification of the Church's missionary activity took place under the rule of Emperor Commodus (180-192), and then afterward, in the second half of the 3nd century, that is, until the eve of the great persecution of Diocletian (302). Apart from sporadic local persecutions, this was a period of relative peace that enabled the nascent Church to consolidate herself interiorly, carrying out a missionary activity in a new way.

Let us see in what this novelty consisted. In the first two centuries the propagation of the faith was entrusted to personal initiative. There were itinerant prophets, of which the Didache speaks, who went from place to place; many conversions were due to personal contact, fostered by the common work in which individuals were engaged -- journeys and commercial relations, military service and other circumstances of life. Origen gives us a moving description of the zeal of these first missionaries.

Christians make every possible effort to spread the faith on earth. To this end, some of them pose formally to themselves as a duty of their lives to go from city to city, also from village to village, to win new faithful to the Lord. It cannot be said that they do it to benefit themselves, because they often reject even what is most necessary to live.[2]

Now, that is in the second half of the 3rd century, these personal initiatives were increasingly coordinated -- and substituted in part -- by the local communities. The bishop, reacting also to the disintegrating effects of the Gnostic heresy, took the lead over the teachers as the director of the internal life of the community and the propelling center of its missionary activity. The community was the evangelizing subject to such a point that a scholar such as Harnack, not suspected of sympathy for the institution, stated: We must take as certain that the sole existence and constant work of the local communities was the principal coefficient in the propagation of Christianity.[3]

Toward the end of the 3rd century, the Christian faith virtually penetrated every level of society, had its literature in Greek and, although just beginning, in Latin; it had a solid internal organization; it began to build increasingly larger buildings, a sign of the growth of the number of believers. Diocletian's great persecution, apart from the numerous victims, did no more than demonstrate the insuppressible strength of the Christian faith. The last confrontation between the Empire and Christianity had given the proof of that. 

Constantine did no more than confirm the new relationship of forces. It was not he who imposed Christianity on the people, but the people who imposed Christianity on him. Affirmations such as Dan Brown's in the novel The Da Vinci Code and of other writers, according to whom it was Constantine who, for personal reasons, transformed with his edict of tolerance and with the Council of Nicaea, an obscure Jewish religious sect into the religion of the Empire, are based on total ignorance of what preceded these events. 

2. Reasons for the Success

A subject that has always impassioned historians is the reason for the triumph of Christianity. A message born in a contemptible corner of the empire, among simple people, with no culture or power, spread in less than three centuries throughout the known world, subjugating the most refined culture of the Greeks and the imperial power of Rome!

Among the different reasons for the success, there are those that emphasize Christian love and the active exercise of charity, to the point of making it the most powerful individual factor of the success of the Christian faith, to the point that later it induced the Emperor Julian the Apostate to endow paganism with similar charitable works to compete with this success.[4]

For his part, Harnack gives great importance to what he calls the syncretistic nature of the Christian faith, namely, the capacity to reconcile in itself opposite tendencies and different values present in the religions and culture of the time. Christianity presents itself at once as the religion of the Spirit and of power, that is, supported by supernatural signs, charisms and miracles, and as the religion of reason and of the integral Logos, the true philosophy, as Justin Martyr said. Christian authors are the rationalists of the supernatural,[5] states Harnack quoting St. Paul's saying on the faith as rational worship (Romans 12:1).

Thus Christianity brings together in itself, in perfect balance, what the philosopher Nietzsche describes as the Apollonian and Dionysian element of the Greek religion, the Logos and Pneuma, order and enthusiasm, measure and excess. It is, at least in part, what the Fathers of the Church understood by the sober intoxication of the Spirit.

From the beginning, the Christian religion, writes Harnack at the end of his monumental research, presented itself with a universality that enabled it to seize in itself the whole of life, with its functions, its heights and depths, sentiments, thoughts and actions. This was the spirit of universality that assured its victory. This is what led it to profess that the Jesus it proclaimed was the divine Logos … Illumined thus with a new and seeming almost as a necessity also is the powerful attraction with which it even absorbs and subordinates Hellenism in itself. All that was capable of life entered as an element in its construction … Could this religion not conquer?[6]

The impression one has on reading this synthesis is that the success of Christianity was due to a combination of factors. Some have gone further in the search of reasons for such success to the point of specifying 20 reasons in favor of the faith and as many others that acted in a contrary way, as if the final success depended on the first prevailing over the second.

I would now like to show the inherent limit to such a historical focus, including when it is done by believing historians as those I have already taken into account. The limit, due to the same historical method, is that of giving more importance to the subject than the object of the mission, more to the evangelizers and the conditions in which it is carried out, than to its content.

The reason that drives me to insist on this point is that this is also the limit and the danger inherent in so many present and media focuses, when there is talk of a New Evangelization. A very simple thing is forgotten: that Jesus himself gave, in anticipation, an explanation of the spread of his Gospel, and we must go back to it again every time a new missionary commitment is assumed. 

Let us hear again two brief Gospel parables, that of the seeds that grow also at night and that of the mustard seed. And he said: The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come (Mark 4:26-29).

This parable on its own says that the essential reason for the success of the Christian mission does not come from the exterior but from the interior, it is not the work of the sower and not even primarily of the earth but of the seed. The seed cannot sow itself and yet, it germinates by itself. After having sown the seed, the sower can go to sleep because the life of the seed no longer depends on him. When this seed is the seed that falls to the earth and dies, that is Jesus Christ, nothing will be able to impede its bearing much fruit. One can give all the explanation one wishes for these fruits, but they will always remain superficial and will never reach the essential.

It was the Apostle Paul who perceived with lucidity the priority of the object of the proclamation over the subject: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. These words seem to be a commentary to Jesus' parable. It is not a question of three operations of the same importance. In fact, the Apostle adds: So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). The same qualitative distance between the subject and the object of the proclamation is present in another of the Apostle's statements: But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us (2 Corinthians 4:7). All this is translated into the exclamations: We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus Lord! and again We preach Christ crucified.

Jesus pronounced a second parable based on the image of the seed that explains the success of the Christian mission and that today must be taken into account, given the great task of re-evangelizing the secularized world.

And he said, with what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all the shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade (Mark 4:30-32). 

The teaching Christ gives us with this parable is that his Gospel and his very person are the smallest that exist on earth because there is nothing smaller or weaker than a life that ends in death on a cross. However, this small mustard seed is destined to become an immense tree, which is able to shelter in its branches the birds that take refuge in it. This means that the whole of creation, absolutely all of it, will go to seek refuge there.

What a difference in regard to the historical reconstructions mentioned earlier! There everything seemed uncertain, accidental, suspended between success and failure. Here everything is decided and assured from the beginning! As the conclusion of the episode of the anointing of Bethany, Jesus pronounced these words: Truly, I say to you, wherever this Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her (Matthew 26:13): the same tranquil awareness that one day his message would spread to the whole world. And it is certainly not about a post eventum prophecy, because at that moment everything seemed to presage the contrary.

Also on this occasion the one who grasped the hidden mystery was Paul. There is an event that always calls my attention. The Apostle preached in the Areopagus of Athens and witnessed a rejection of the message, courteously expressed with the promise to hear him on another occasion. From Corinth, where he went immediately after, he wrote the Letter to the Romans in which he said he received the commission to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations (Romans 1:5-6). Failure did not discourage his confidence in the message: For I am not ashamed of the Gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).

Each tree, Jesus says, is known by its own fruit (Luke 6:44). This is true of all trees, except for the one born from him, Christianity (in fact he speaks here of men); this unique tree is not known by its fruit, but by its roots. In Christianity plenitude is not at the end, as in the Hegelian dialectic of becoming (only the entire is true), but it is at the beginning; no fruit, not even the greatest saints, add something to the perfection of the model. In this sense, those are right who say Christianity is not perfectible.[7]

3. Sow and … Go to Sleep

What the historians of the Christian origins do not recount or give little importance to is the indestructible certainty that the Christians of that time had, at least the best of them, of the goodness and final victory of their cause. You can kill us but you cannot destroy us, the Martyr Justin said to the Roman judge who sentenced him to death. In the end it was this tranquil certainty that assured them of victory and that convinced the political authorities of the uselessness of the efforts to suppress the Christian faith.

This is what we most need today: to awaken in Christians, at least those who attempt to dedicate themselves to the work of re-evangelization, the profound certainty of the truth of what they proclaim. The Church, Paul VI once said, needs to take up again the yearning, the pleasure and the certainty of her truth.[8] We must believe, we first of all, in what we proclaim; but really believe it, with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind. We must be able to say with Paul: since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, I believed, and so I spoke, we too believe, and so we speak (2 Corinthians 4:13).

The practical task that Jesus' two parables assign to us is to sow. To sow widely in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2). The sower of the parable who goes out to sow is not worried by the fact that part of the seed ends up on the road or among thorns. And to think that the sower, outside the metaphor, is Jesus himself! The reason is that in this case one cannot know which terrain is the adequate one, or which will be hard as asphalt and asphyxiating as a bush. In between is human liberty that man cannot foresee and that God doesn’t want to violate. How many times among people who have heard a certain preaching or have read a certain book, we discover that the one who has taken it most seriously or has changed his life is the person we least expected, one who, perhaps, was there by chance and against his will. I myself could count a dozen cases.

Sow and then … go to sleep! That is, sow and do not stay there the whole time looking to see where the seed arises and how many centimeters it grows by the day. Its rooting and growth is not our concern but God's -- and the one who listens. Jerome Klapka Jerome, a great English humorist of the 19th century, said that the best way to delay the boiling of water is to look over it and wait for it with impatience. 

To do the contrary is the inevitable source of disquiet and impatience: all the things that Jesus does not like and that he never did when he was on earth. In the Gospel he never seems to be in a hurry. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day (Matthew 6:34).

Related to this, the believing poet Charles Péguy puts in God's mouth some words that we would do well to meditate:

I am told that there are men

Who work well and sleep badly,

Who do not sleep. What a lack of faith in me!

It would almost be better if they did not work but slept, because laziness is not a more serious sin than anxiety …

I am not speaking, God says, of those men who do not work and do not sleep.

These are sinners, of course …

I am speaking of those who work and do not sleep.

I feel sorry for them. They have no confidence in me …

They govern their affairs very well during the day.

But do not want to entrust to me their governance during the night …

He who does not sleep is unfaithful to Hope …[9]

The reflections developed in this meditation drive us, in conclusion, to put at the base of the commitment to a New Evangelization a great act of faith and hope and to shake off every sense of impotence and resignation. We have before us, it is true, a world enclosed in its secularism, inebriated by the successes of technology and the possibilities offered by science, which rejects the Gospel proclamation. But, perchance -- was the world in which the first Christians lived, the Greeks with their wisdom and the Roman Empire with its power, less certain of itself and less refractory to the Gospel?

If there is something we can do, after having sown, it is to irrigate with prayer the seed sown. This is why we end with the prayer that the liturgy brings us to recite in the Mass for the evangelization of peoples:

O God, you who will all men to be saved,

And come to the knowledge of truth;

See how great is the harvest and send your laborers,

So that the Gospel is proclaimed to all creatures

And your people gathered by the word of life

And molded by the strength of the sacrament,

Will proceed on the path of salvation and love.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen


[1] A. von Harnack.
[2] Origen, C. Cels. III, 9.
[3] Op. cit. p. 321- s.
[4] H. Chadwick, The Early Church, Penguin Books 1967, pp. 56-58.
[5] A. von Harnack, Mission and Propagation of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, Rist. Anast., Cosenza 1986, p. 173.
[6] Harnack, op. cit., p. 370.
[7] S. Kierkegaard, Diary, X5 A 98 (ed. C. Fabro, Brescia II, 1963, pp. 386 ff).
[8] Address at the general audience of November 29, 1972 (Teachings of Paul VI, Vatican Polyglot Typography, X, pp. 1210f.).
[9] Ch. Péguy, Le porche du mystère de la deuxième vertu, Paris, La Pleiade 1975.

ZENIT, The world seen from Rome
News Agency

Father Cantalamessa's 2nd Advent Sermon
The Second Wave of Evangelization

ROME, DEC. 15, 2011 ( Here is a translation of the second Advent sermon by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the pontifical household. It was delivered last Friday, Dec. 9.

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There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free.

The second, great wave of Evangelization, after the Barbarian invasions.

In this meditation I want to talk of the second great wave of Evangelization in the history of the Church, that which followed the fall of the Roman Empire and the mix of nations caused by the Barbarian invasions. I want to do this with a view to how we can learn from this today. Given that vast historical period under examination and the brevity imposed on a sermon, I am able to treat this only as a broad overview.

1. An epoch-making decision

At the official end of the Roman Empire in 476, Europe had been showing, for some time already, a new face. Instead of a single Empire, there were many kingdoms called Roman-barbarian. Broadly speaking, and starting from the North, the situation was as follows: instead of the Roman province of Britannia, there were Anglos and Saxons and in the ancient provinces of Gaul, the Francs; to the east of the Rhine, the Frisians and Germans; in the Iberian peninsula, the Visigoths; in Italy the Ostrogoths and later the Lombards; in northern Africa the Vandals. In the East was still resisting the Byzantine Empire.

The Church found itself before an epoch-making decision: What attitude would she adopt in front of this new situation? The determination which opened the Church to the future was not immediately arrived at without scars. It repeated, in part, what had happened at the moment of separation from Judaism and the welcoming of the Gentiles into the Church. With the sacking of Rome in 410 by Alaric, king of the Visigoths, the general confusion among Christians was at its apex. It was thought to be the end of the world since the 'world' was identified with the Roman world and the Roman world with Christianity. St. Jerome is the most representative voice of this general disarray. Who would have believed, he wrote, that this Rome, built through the victories attained throughout the entire universe, had to fall one day?[1]

From an intellectual point of view, with his work, The City of God, St. Augustine contributed most to taking the Faith to this new world. His vision, which marks the beginning of the philosophy of history, distinguishes the City of God from the earthly city, identified (somewhat forcing his own thought), with the city of Satan. By earthly city, he understands every political order, including that of Rome. Therefore, the fall of Rome was not the end of the world, but just the end of a world!

In practice, the determining factor in opening the Faith to the new reality that confronted it was a coordination of initiatives of the Roman Pontiff. St. Leo the Great was convinced that Christian Rome would survive pagan Rome and would even preside with her divine religion more broadly than she had with her terrestrial domination.[2] Little by little the attitude of Christians towards the Barbarians changed; from inferior beings, incapable of civilization, they would begin to be considered possible brothers in the Faith. From permanent threat, the Barbarian world begins to appear to the Christians a new, large field of mission. Paul had proclaimed the end of the distinctions of race, religion, culture, social class brought about by Jesus, Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11). But how difficult it was to translate this revolution into practice! And not just then!

2) The re-evangelization of Europe

Confronted by the Barbarian nations, the Church found herself fighting two battles; the first was against the Arian heresy. Many of the Barbarian tribes, above all the Goths, before penetrating the heart of the Empire as conquerors, had had exposure to Christianity in the East and had embraced it in its Arian version, booming at that time, especially through the work of Bishop Ulfila (311-383), the translator of the Bible to the Goths. Once introduced to the Western territories, they took with them this heretical version of Christianity.

Arianism had no united organization, not even a culture or theology comparable to that of the Catholics. Throughout the 6thcentury, one after another, the Barbarian kingdoms abandoned Arianism to adhere to the Catholic faith, thanks to the great work of a few bishops and Catholic writers and also, at times, for political reasons. A decisive moment was the Council of Toledo in 589, called for by Leandro of Seville, which marked the end of the Visigoths Arianism in Spain and practically in the entire western world.

The battle against Arianism however was nothing new, having begun much earlier in the year 325. Evangelization of the pagans became the true new work of the Church after the fall of the Roman Empire. This took place in two directions, that is to say, ad intra and ad extra, in the regions of the old Empire and in those that had more recently appeared on the scene. In the territories of the old Empire, Italy and the provinces, the Church up till then had established itself mostly in the cities. It now extended its presence into the countryside and villages. The term pagan, as we know, comes from pagus, village, and took its current meaning from the fact that evangelization of the villages, in general, came long after that of the cities.

It would be very interesting to follow also this kind of evangelization that gave birth to the development of the system of parishes, as sub divisions of dioceses, but given the objective I have set myself, I must limit my discourse to the other direction of evangelization, that ad extra, destined to take the Gospel to the Barbarian territories situated in the aisles and in central Europe, that is to say, England, Holland, France and Germany.

In this new task, the conversion of the Merovingian King Clovis on Christmas Eve of 498 or 499 baptized by the bishops of Reims, St. Remigius, proved a crucial moment. This decided, as was the custom of the time, not only the religious future of the Francs, but also of other peoples on both sides of the river Rhine. There is a famous phrase pronounced by Bishop Remigius at the moment of Clovis' baptism: Mitis depone colla, Sigamber; adora quod incendisti, incende quod adorasti: Humbly bow your head, wild Sicamber, adore what you have burned, and burn what you adored.[3] To this event the French nation owes her title of the eldest daughter of the Church.

Thanks to the work of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the Christianization of the continent culminated in the 9th century with the conversion of the Slavic peoples who had occupied Eastern Europe and the territories left freely by the preceding waves of migrants who had moved to the West.

The evangelization of the Barbarians presented a new condition, with respect to the previous Greco-Roman world. There, Christianity had before it a highly educated world, well organized, with an order, a common law and a common language; it had, in short, a culture with which to dialogue. Now it finds itself having to civilize and evangelize at the same time, having to teach reading and writing while teaching Christian doctrine. Inculturation presented itself in an entirely new form.

3) The monastic epic

This gigantic work, which I have only traced in broad outline, was completed with the participation of all the faithful of the Church. In first place, the Pope who promoted the first mission to the Anglos and played an active role in the evangelization of the Germans (through the work of St. Boniface) and of the Slavic peoples through the work of Sts. Cyril and Methodius; afterwards, the bishops, the parish priests, in the measure local communities were formed. A silent but decisive role was exercised by some women. Behind the great conversions of the Barbarian kings, we frequently find the influence exercised by their respective wives: St. Clotilde, in the case of Clovis; St. Theodolinda, in the case of the Lombard king Autari; the Catholic wife of King Edwin, who introduced Christianity to the north of England.

But the leading protagonists of the re-evangelization of Europe after the Barbarian invasions were the monks. In the West, monasticism, beginning in the fourth century, spread rapidly in two distinct periods and directions. The first wave starts from middle and central Gaul, especially Lerin (410) and Auxerre (418), and thanks to St. Patrick who formed himself in those two centers, Christianity arrived in Ireland whose whole future religious life was shaped by him. From here, in a first phase, the Irish monks went to Scotland and England and afterward returned to the Continent.

The second monastic wave, destined to absorb and unify the different forms of Western monasticism, had its origin in Italy from St. Benedict (+547). From the 5th to the 8th centuries Europe would be literally covered by monasteries, many of which developed a primary task in the formation of the Continent, not just of its faith but also of its art, culture and agriculture. For this reason, St. Benedict was proclaimed the patron of Europe and the Holy Father in 2005 chose Subiaco for his lesson on the Christian roots of Europe.

The great evangelizing monks of our period belong, almost all of them, to the first of the two mentioned currents, that which returns to the Continent from Ireland and England. The most representative names are those of St. Columbanus and St. Boniface. The first, starting from Luxeuil, evangelized numerous regions of the north of Gaul and the tribes of middle Germany, arriving at Bobbio in Italy; the second, considered the evangelizer of Germany, extended his missionary work from Fulda to Frisia, today's Holland. To him, the Holy Father Benedict XVI dedicated one of his catecheses during the public audiences of Wednesday, on March 11, 2009, highlighting his close collaboration with the Roman Pontiff and the civilizing work among the peoples evangelized by him.

Reading their lives one has the impression of reliving the missionary adventure of the Apostle Paul; the same longing to take the Gospel to every creature on Earth, the same courage to confront every type of danger and inconvenience and, for St. Boniface and many others, also the same end, martyrdom. The weak points of this evangelization of such wide embrace are well known, and the comparison with St. Paul highlights the most serious one. The Apostle, together with Evangelization, established everywhere a Church that assured its continuity and development. Often, for lack of resources and the difficulty of acting in a society still in a state of magma, these pioneers were not capable of assuring a follow-up to their work.

The Barbarian nations were inclined to put into practice only one part of the program indicated by St. Remigius to Clovis; they adored what they had burned, but did not burn what they had adored. Much of their idolatrous and pagan baggage would remain, and would surface at the first opportunity. The most long lasting work left by these great evangelizers was precisely the foundation of a network of monasteries and, with Augustine in England and St. Boniface in Germany, the erection of dioceses and the celebration of synods that assured a deeper and more durable evangelization in the future.

4) Mission and contemplation

Now is the time to extract some lessons for today from the historical overview we have made. To begin with, we note a certain analogy between the period we have covered and the situation today. Then, the movement of peoples was from East to West, today it is from South to North. Now again, the Church, through its Magisterium, has made its decision opening itself to the new reality.

The difference is that today, the new arrivals to Europe are not pagans or Christian heretics but often nations in possession of a well constituted self-conscious religion. Therefore the new element is the dialogue that does not oppose evangelization but rather determines its style. Blessed John Paul II, in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, about the perennial validity of the missionary mandate, expressed himself clearly: Inter-religious dialogue is a part of the Church's evangelizing mission. Understood as a method and means of mutual knowledge and enrichment, dialogue is not in opposition to the mission ad gentes; indeed, it has special links with that mission and is one of its expressions. ... In the light of the economy of salvation, the Church sees no conflict between proclaiming Christ and engaging in interreligious dialogue. Instead, she feels the need to link the two in the context of her mission ad gentes. These two elements must maintain both their intimate connect
ion and their distinctiveness; therefore they should not be confused, manipulated or regarded as identical, as though they were interchangeable.[4]

What happened in Europe after the Barbarian invasions shows us above all the importance of the contemplative life in view of evangelization. With respect to this, the conciliar decree Ad Gentes, says about the missionary activity of the Church: Worthy of special mention are the various projects for causing the contemplative life to take root. There are those who in such an attempt have kept the essential element of a monastic institution, and are bent on implanting the rich tradition of their order; there are others again who are returning to the simpler forms of ancient monasticism. But all are studiously looking for a genuine adaptation to local conditions. Since the contemplative life belongs to the fullness of the Church's presence, let it be put into effect everywhere.[5]

This invitation to look for new ways of monasticism with a view to evangelization, inspired even by ancient monasticism, has not been ignored.

One of the forms in which it has been realized is the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, known as the monks and nuns of the city. Their founder, Father Pierre-Marie Delfieux, after having spent two years in the Sahara desert, in the company only of the Eucharist and the Bible, understood that the true deserts today are the great secularized cities. These Fraternities which began in Paris on the Feast of All Saints 1975 are present already in various great cities of Europe, including Rome, where they are situated at the Trinita dei Monti. Their charism is to evangelize through the beauty of art and the liturgy. What is traditionally monastic is their habit, their style of life simple and austere, the balance between work and prayer; what is new is their location at the center of the cities, generally in ancient churches of grand artistic value, and the collaboration between nuns and monks in the liturgy, even within their total reciprocal autonomy insofar as living and juridical dependence is concerned. Not a few conversions of unbelievers or nominal only Christians have taken place around these centers.

Of a distinct type, but one which also forms part of this flourishing of new monastic forms, is the monastery of Bose in Italy. In the field of ecumenism, the monastery of Taizé in France is an example of the contemplative life also directly involved on the front lines of evangelization.

In Avila, on the 1st of November 1982, receiving in audience a wide representation of the feminine contemplative life, John Paul II expounded on the possibility, also in the feminine cloistered life, of a more direct involvement in the work of evangelization. Your monasteries, he said, are communities of prayer amid Christian communities to which you give help, nutrition and hope. They are consecrated places and they can also be centers of Christian welcome for those, above all the young, who often seek a simple and transparent life in contrast to that which is offered by the consumer society.

The calling was not ignored and has grown into original initiatives of the feminine contemplative life open to evangelization. One of these was able to give a presentation here in the Vatican at a recent Congress, organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization. All these new forms do not substitute the traditional monastic realities, many of which are also spiritual centers of evangelization, but they accompany and enrich them.

It is not enough in the Church that there be some dedicated to contemplation and some dedicated to mission; it is necessary that the synthesis between these two things be present in the same life of a missionary. In other words, it is not enough to pray for the missionaries, what is needed is the prayer of the missionaries. The great monks who re-evangelized Europe after the Barbarian invasions were men coming from the silence of contemplation who returned to silence as soon as circumstances permitted. In fact, with the heart they never left the monastery. They put into practice, in fact they anticipated, the advice that St. Francis of Assisi gave to his brothers before sending them to the streets of the world: We have a hermitage always with us wherever we go, and every time we wish, we can, like hermits return to this hermitage. Brother body is the hermitage and the soul is the hermit which inhabits it to pray to God and meditate.[6]

Of this however we have a much more authoritative example than the saints. The daily life of Jesus was an admirable conjoining of prayer and preaching. He did not only pray before preaching, he prayed to know what to preach, to receive in prayer the messages to proclaim to the world. What the Father has told me is what I speak (John 12:50). From there came that authority of Jesus that was so impressive in his speech.

The effort for a new evangelization is exposed to two dangers. One is inertia, laziness, of not doing anything and leaving everything to others. The other is launching into a feverish and empty human activism, with the result of losing little by little the contact with the source of the Word and of its efficacy. It is said: How can I pray in stillness when so many demands lay claim to my attention, how can I not run when the house is burning? It is true, but let us imagine a group of firefighters who would run to put out a fire and who discovered that they had not one drop of water in their tanks. This is how we are when we run to preach without first praying. Prayer is fundamental for evangelization because Christian preaching is not primarily a communication of doctrine but of existence. He evangelizes more who prays without speaking than he who speaks without praying.

5) Mary, star of evangelization

We end with a thought suggested by the liturgical time we are living and by the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, which we celebrated yesterday.

Once in an ecumenical dialogue a Protestant brother asked me, without being polemical, just to understand it, Why do you Catholics say that Mary is the star of evangelization? What has Mary done to deserve this title?. For me it was an occasion to reflect about the subject and it did not take long to find the answer. Mary is the star of evangelization because she has brought the Word, not to this or that nation, but to the whole world!

And not only for this reason. She carried the Word in her womb not in her mouth. She was full, physically, of Christ and irradiated Him with just her presence. Jesus came out from her eyes, her face and her entire person. When one perfumes oneself it is not necessary to announce it; it is enough simply to stand near the person to sense it, and Mary, most especially during the time she carried Him in her womb, was full of the perfume of Christ. One can say that Mary was the first cloistered nun of the Church. After Pentecost, she entered as if into a cloister. Through the letters of the Apostles we come to know innumerable persons and also many women of the primitive Christian community. Once we find mentioned one called Mary (cf. Romans 16:6), but this is not her. Of Mary, the mother of Jesus, nothing. She disappears in a most profound silence. But what must it have meant for John to have her by his side while he wrote the Gospel and what it might mean for us to have her clos
e while we proclaim the Gospel! First amongst the Gospels, writes Origen, is that of John, the profound meaning of which cannot be understood by any who has not rested his head on the breast of Jesus and has not received Mary from Him as his proper mother.[7]

Mary has inaugurated in the Church that second soul, or vocation, which is the hidden praying soul, together with the apostolic or active soul. It marvelously expresses the traditional icon of the Ascension, of which we have a representation to the right of this “Redemptoris Mother” chapel. Mary stands with open arms in an attitude of prayer. Around her the Apostles, all with a foot or hand elevated, that is to say in movement, they represent the Church active, missionary, which speaks and acts. Mary is motionless beneath Jesus, in the exact point from where he ascended into heaven, almost as if to preserve a living memory of Him and keep alive the hope of his return.

We end listening to the final words of Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi, in which for the first time in a pontifical document, Mary receives the title Star of Evangelization: On the morning of Pentecost she watched over with her prayer the beginning of evangelization prompted by the Holy Spirit: may she be the Star of the evangelization ever renewed which the Church, docile to her Lord's command, must promote and accomplish, especially in these times which are difficult but full of hope!

--- --- ---

[1] St. Jerome, Commentary on Ezekiel, III, 25, pref.; cf. Epistole LX,18; CXXIII,15-16; CXXVI,2
[2] St. Leo the Great, Sermon 82
[3] Gregory of Tours, Historia Francorum, II, 31
[4] John Paul II Redemptoris Missio, 55
[5] A.G. 18
[6] Legenda Perugina, 80 (FF, 1636)
[7] Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John, I, 6,23 (SCh, 120, p. 70)

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Father Cantalamessa's 3rd Advent Sermon
The First Evangelization of the American Continent

ROME, DEC. 16, 2011 ( Here is a translation of the third Advent sermon by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the pontifical household, which was delivered today.

* * *

1. The Christian faith crosses the ocean

Four days ago the American continent celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which in Mexico is also a holy day of obligation. This is a happy coincidence, when our subject in this meditation is the third great wave of evangelization that followed the discovery of the New World. Never more than in the history of this devotion did Mary deserve the title of Star of Evangelization.

I will briefly summarize the main headings of the growth of this missionary enterprise. Let me begin with an observation. Along with the faith, Christian Europe also exported its own divisions. By the end of the great missionary wave, the American continent would exactly reproduce the situation that existed in Europe: a Catholic majority in the south, and a corresponding Protestant majority in the north. We will only deal here with the evangelization of Latin America, which happened first, immediately after the discovery of the New World.

After Christopher Columbus, in 1492, returned from his journey with the news of the existence of the new territories (at that time still thought to be part of India), Catholic Spain took two decisions that were inseparably linked: to bring the Christian faith to the new peoples, and to extend to them their own political sovereignty. For this purpose, they obtained from Pope Alexander VI a decision by which Spain was given the right to all lands discovered one hundred miles beyond the Azores, and Portugal to those on this side of the line. The line was later moved in favour of Portugal, in order to legitimize its possession of Brazil. Thus were drawn the outlines of the future face of the Latin American continent, including its languages.

Each time they entered a country, the troops would issue a proclamation (requerimiento), ordering the inhabitants to embrace Christianity and recognise the sovereignty of the King of Spain.[1] Only a few great spirits, notably the Dominicans Antonio de Montesino and Bartolomeo de Las Casas, had the courage to raise their voices against the abuses of the conquerors in defence of the rights of the natives. In little over fifty years, also on account of the weakness of the local kingdoms, the continent was under Spanish dominion and, at least nominally, Christian.

Recent historians have tended to dilute the somber tones in which this missionary enterprise was painted in the past. First they point out that in Latin America, unlike what was to happen with the “Indian” tribes of North America, most of the native populations, though they were decimated, survived with their own language and territory and were subsequently able to reclaim and recover their identity and independence. One must also take into account that the missionaries were conditioned by their theological formation. Taking the adage “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” literally and rigidly, they were convinced of the need to baptize as many people as possible, and in the shortest time possible, in order to ensure their eternal salvation.

It is worth dwelling for a moment on this axiom, which has had so much weight in evangelization. It was formulated in the 3rd century by Origen, and above all by St. Cyprian. To begin with, it was not about the salvation of non-Christians, but on the contrary, about that of Christians. In fact it was aimed directly and exclusively at the heretics and schismatics of the time, to remind them that by breaking ecclesial communion they were guilty of a grave sin by which they were excluding themselves from salvation. It was therefore directed against those who were leaving the Church, not against those who were coming in.

It was only later, when Christianity had become the state religion, that the axiom began to be applied to pagans and Jews, based on the then common, even if objectively erroneous, conviction that the message was by now known to everyone and that therefore to refute it meant that one was culpable and deserving of condemnation.

It was precisely following the discovery of the New World that those geographical boundaries were drastically broken. The discovery of entire peoples who had lived outside of any contact with the Church forced a review of such a rigid interpretation of the axiom. The Dominican theologians of Salamanca, and later a few Jesuits, began to adopt a critical position, recognizing that it was possible to be outside the Church, without being necessarily culpable and therefore excluded from salvation. Not only that, but in the face of the manner and the methods whereby the gospel had sometimes been announced to the native people, someone for the first time raised the question of whether those who, while knowing the Christian message, had not adhered to it, could really be considered culpable.[2]

2. The friars as protagonists

This is certainly not the place to make a historical judgement on the first evangelization of Latin America. On the occasion of its fifth centenary, in May 1992, an international symposium of historians specializing in the subject was held here in Rome. In his speech to the participants, Pope John Paul II stated: “Of course, in that evangelization, as in any human undertaking, there were mistakes as well as successes, ‘lights and shadows,’ but more lights than shadows, to judge from the fruits that we find there five hundred years later: a Church that is alive and dynamic which today represents a considerable portion of the universal Church.”[3]

From the opposite side, on that occasion, some spoke of the need for a “de-colonization” and a “de-evangelization,” giving the impression that they would have preferred it if the evangelization of the continent had not happened at all, instead of happening as we know it did. With all the respect due to the love for the peoples of Latin America which moved these authors, I believe that such an opinion must be vigorously refuted.

To a world without sin but without Jesus Christ, theology has shown that it prefers a world of sin, but with Jesus Christ. “O happy fault,” exclaims the paschal liturgy in the Exsultet,  “which gained for us so great a Redeemer.” Shouldn’t we say the same about the evangelization of both Americas, South and North? Which is preferable: a continent without “the mistakes and shadows” that accompanied the preaching of the Gospel, but also a continent without Christ, or a continent with those shadows, but with Christ? Surely anyone would prefer the latter? Could any Christian, of the left or of the right (especially a priest or religious) say the opposite without by that very fact betraying his own faith?

I read somewhere this statement, which I fully agree with: “The greatest thing that happened in 1492 was not that Christopher Columbus discovered America, but that America discovered Jesus Christ.” True, it was not the whole Christ of the Gospel, for which freedom is the very pre-requisite of faith, but who can claim to be the bearers of a Christ free of all historical conditioning? Aren’t those who propose a revolutionary Christ, who challenges structures and is directly involved in the political struggle, perhaps also forgetting something about Christ, for example, his statement that “my kingdom is not of this world”?

If in the first wave of evangelization the protagonists were the bishops, and in the second the monks, the undoubted protagonists in this third wave were the friars, i.e. religious from the mendicant Orders, in first place the Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians, and at a later stage the Jesuits. Church historians recognise that in Latin America “it was the members of the religious Orders who determined the history of the missions and churches”[4]

John Paul II’s judgement that “there were more lights than shadows” can well be applied to them. It would be dishonest to underestimate the personal sacrifice and heroism of so many of these missionaries. The conquistadores were moved by a spirit of adventure and a thirst for profit, but what could they expect for leaving their homelands and their friaries? They were not going there to take, but to give; they wanted to win souls for Christ, not subjects for the king of Spain, even if they shared the patriotic enthusiasm of their fellow countrymen. When you read the stories of the evangelization of a particular territory, you realize how unjust and far from the truth are generalised judgements. I once had occasion to read, on the very spot, the chronicle of the beginnings of the Guatemala mission and in the neighboring regions -- stories of sacrifices and mishaps that can scarcely be recounted. Of a batch of 20 Dominicans who left for the New World, bound for the Philippines, 18 died on the way. 

In 1974 a Synod was held on “Evangelization in the contemporary world”. In a hand-written note added to the final document (which the Prefecture of the Papal Household had published together with the programme for these sermons), Paul VI wrote:

“Is what is said [in the document] enough for religious? Shouldn’t we add a word about the voluntary, enterprising, generous character of the evangelization done by religious men and women? Their evangelization must depend on that of the hierarchy and be co-ordinated with it, but the originality, the genius, the devotion, often in the front line and entirely at great risk to themselves, is surely praiseworthy.”

This recognition fully applies to the religious who were the protagonists of the evangelization of Latin America, especially if we think of some of the things they achieved, such as the famous “reductions” of the Jesuits in Paraguay, villages where the Christian Indians, protected from the injustices of the civil authorities, could be instructed in the faith, but could also invest their human talents.

3. Current problems

Now, as usual, we will try to move on and look at what this briefly reconstructed history of the Church’s missionary experience has to say to us today. The social and religious conditions of the continent have changed so profoundly that, instead of insisting on what we should learn or unlearn from those times, it is useful to reflect on the current task of evangelization in the Latin American continent.

On this subject there has been, and still is, such a vast amount of reflection and documentation, produced by the pontifical magisterium, by CELAM and the individual local Churches, that it would be presumptuous of me even to think I could add anything new. But I can share a few thoughts from my own experience in the field, having had occasion to preach retreats to episcopal conferences, clergy and people in nearly all the countries of Latin America, in some cases several times. Also, the problems that arise in this field in Latin America are not so very different from those in the rest of the Church.

One reflection concerns the need to overcome an excessive polarization, which is present everywhere in the Church, but is particularly acute in Latin America, especially in recent years: the polarization between the active and the contemplative souls, between the Church of social commitment to the poor, and the Church that proclaims the faith.  When we are faced with differences, we are instinctively tempted to come down on one side or the other, exalting the one and despising the other. The doctrine of charisms should save us from getting into that battle. The gift of the Catholic Church is to be precisely that -- Catholic, in other words, open to welcome the most diverse gifts given by the Holy Spirit.

This is shown by the history of religious Orders, which have accommodated very different and at times opposing demands: involvement with the world and flight from the world, apostolate among the learned, like the Jesuits, and apostolate among the people, like the Capuchins. There is room for both. Besides, we need each other; no-one can embody the entire gospel and represent Christ in every aspect of His life. Everyone ought therefore to rejoice that others are doing what he or she could not do: that some cultivate the spiritual life and proclaim the word, and that others devote themselves to justice and social development, and vice versa. The Apostle’s warning is always valid: “It is not for you to condemn anyone else!” (cf. Rom 14:13).

Another observation concerns the problem of Catholics leaving the Church for other Christian denominations. First we should remember that these different denominations cannot all be called “sects” without distinction. With some of them, including Pentecostals, the Catholic Church has maintained an official ecumenical dialogue for years, which it would not do if it simply considered them to be sects.  

The promotion of this dialogue, even at the local level, is the best way to improve the climate, to isolate the more aggressive sects and discourage the practice of proselytism. A few years ago an ecumenical prayer meeting and Scripture sharing took place in Buenos Aires, attended by the Catholic archbishop and leaders of other churches, with seven thousand people present. One clearly saw the possibility of a new relationship among Christians, far more constructive for faith and evangelization.

In one of his documents, John Paul II said that the proliferation of sects forced us to ask why, to ask what is lacking in our pastoral methods. My own conviction, based on experience -- and not only in Latin American countries -- is as follows. What is attractive outside the Church are not certain alternative forms of popular piety, which the majority of other churches and sects reject and fight against. It is a proclamation, partial perhaps, but powerful, of the grace of God, the possibility of experiencing Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Saviour, belonging to a group of people who personally take care of your needs, who pray over you when medicine has nothing more to say.

If on the one hand we can rejoice that these people have found Christ and have been converted, it is sad that in order to do so they felt they had to leave their Church. In the majority of churches where these brothers and sisters end up, everything revolves around first conversion and the acceptance of Jesus as Lord. In the Catholic Church, thanks to the sacraments, the magisterium, and the wealth of spirituality, there is the advantage of not stopping at that initial stage, but one can reach the fullness and perfection of the Christian life.  The saints are proof of this. But it is necessary to take that conscious and personal initial step, and this is precisely where we are challenged and stimulated by the evangelical and Pentecostal communities.

In this respect, the Charismatic Renewal has proved to be, in the words of Paul VI, “a chance for the Church.” In Latin America, the pastors of the Church are realising that the Charismatic Renewal is not (as some believed at the beginning) “part of the problem” of the exodus of Catholics from the Church, but is rather part of the solution to the problem. Statistics will never show how many people have remained faithful to the Church because of it, because they found within its ranks what others were looking for elsewhere. The numerous communities that have sprung up from within the Charismatic Movement, albeit with the limitations and at times the drifting that one finds in any human venture, are at the front line of service to the Church and of evangelization.

 4. The role of religious in the new evangelization

As I said, I don’t want to talk only about first evangelization. But there is one lesson we need to learn from it: the importance of the traditional religious Orders for evangelization. To them Blessed John Paul II devoted his Apostolic Letter on the occasion of the fifth centenary of the first evangelization of the continent, entitled, in the original, “Los caminos del Evangelio”. The final part of the letter deals precisely with “religious in the new evangelization”: “Religious,” he writes, “who were the first evangelisers and contributed so considerably to keeping the faith alive in the continent – cannot fail to keep this appointment with the Church for the new evangelization. The diversity of charisms in the consecrated life make the message of Christ come alive, making it present and relevant in every time and place.”[5]

Community life, a centralized government and formation houses of high quality were the factors that gave the religious Orders at the time such a vast missionary outreach. But what has happened to their strength today? Speaking from the inside of one of these ancient Orders, I can venture to speak with a certain freedom. The rapid decline in vocations in western countries is causing a dangerous situation: nearly all their resources are being spent on meeting the internal needs of their own religious family (formation of the young, the maintenance of structures and works), with few active forces available for service in the wider Church. The result is that they tend to turn in on themselves. In Europe the traditional religious Orders are forced to merge several provinces and face the pain of having to close one house after another.

Secularization is, of course, one of the causes of the decline in vocations, but not the only one. There are religious communities of recent foundation that attract scores of young people. In the letter quoted earlier, John Paul II encouraged the men and women religious of Latin America to “evangelize by starting from a profound experience of God.” And that, I believe, is the point: “a profound experience of God.” This is what attracts vocations and lays the foundations for a new and effective wave of evangelization. The adage “nemo dat quod non habet,” you can only give what you have, has never been truer than in this field.

The Capuchin provincial superior of the Marches, who is also my superior, has written an Advent letter this year to his brothers. In it he makes a challenge which I believe all traditional religious communities would do well to heed:

“As you read these lines, imagine you are the Holy Spirit. Yes, you heard right: imagine not just that you are ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ thanks to the sacraments you have received, but that ‘you are’ the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, and in that guise, imagine that you have the power to call a young person to embark on a way that will help him to grow toward the perfection of charity -- I mean of course, the religious life. Would you be brave enough to send him to your fraternity, in the sure certainty that your fraternity would be the place that would seriously help him attain the fullness of charity in the concrete reality of everyday life? Poorly expressed, what I mean is: if a young man were to come and live for a few days or months in your fraternity, sharing in your prayer, your fraternal life, your apostolates …would he fall in love with our way of life?” 

When the mendicant Orders, the Franciscans and Dominicans, were born at the beginning of the 13thcentury, even the existing monastic Orders benefited from them and made their own the call to greater poverty and a more evangelical life, while living according to their own charism. Should we not do the same today, we the traditional Orders, in the face of the new forms of consecrated life which have come to life in the Church?

The grace of these new realities takes many forms, but it has a common denominator called the Holy Spirit, the “new Pentecost.” After the Council nearly all the existing religious Orders revised and renewed their Constitutions, but already in 1981, Blessed John Paul II warned: “The whole work of renewal of the Church, so providentially set forth and initiated by the Second Vatican Council -- a renewal that must be both an updating and a consolidation of what is eternal and constitutive of the Church's mission -- can be carried out only in the Holy Spirit, that is to say, with the aid of His light and His power.”[6]

“The Holy Spirit,” as St Bonaventure wrote, goes “to where He is loved, where He is invited, where He is awaited.”[7] We must open up our communities to the breath of the Spirit who renews prayer, fraternal life, and love for Christ, and together with this, renews missionary zeal. Of course we do need to look back, to our origins and our founders, but we must also look ahead.

Observing the situation of the ancient Orders in the western world, the question Ezekiel heard as he surveyed the heaps of dry bones spontaneously arises: “Can these bones live?” The dry bones spoken of in the text are not the bones of the dead, but of the living; they are the exiled people of Israel, who keep saying: Our bones are dried up, our hope has gone, we are doomed!” Sometimes the same sentiments arise in those of us who belong to the ancient religious Orders.

We know the hope-filled reply that God gives to the question: “‘I will put my Spirit in you, and you will revive; and I will resettle you on your own soil. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done this,’ declares the Lord God.” We must believe and hope for the fulfilment of the last part of the prophecy, for us too, and for the whole Church: “The Spirit entered them: they came to life and stood up on their feet, a great, an immense army” (cf. Ez 37:1-14).

Four days ago, as I recalled at the beginning, Latin America celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There is much discussion about the historicity of the facts underlying the origins of this devotion.  We need to understand what is meant by an historical fact. There are so many facts that are historical but not historic, because not everything that happened is “historic” in the truest sense, but only that which, in addition to having happened, has had an impact on the life of a people, has created something new, has left its mark on history. And what a mark has left the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the religious history of the Mexican and Latin American peoples! 

It is of great symbolic significance that, at the dawn of the evangelization of the American continent, in 1531, on the hill of Tepeyac to the north of Mexico City, an image of the Virgin Mary was imprinted on the cloak, or tilma, of St. Juan Diego as “La Morenita,” in other words, with the features of a humble half-caste girl. There could have been no more expressive way of saying that the Church, in Latin America, is called to become -- and wishes to become -- indigenous with the indigenous, Creole with the Creoles, all things to all peoples.

[Translation by Charles Serignat]


[1] Cfr.  J. Glazik, in Storia della Chiesa, ed. H. Jedin, vol. VI, Milano Jaca Book, 1075, p. 702.
[2] F. Sullivan, Salvation outside the Church? Tracing the History of the Catholic             Response, Paulist Press, New York 1992.
[3] John  Paul II, Speech to the participants at the International Symposium on the evangelisation of Latin America, 14 May 1992.
[4] Cfr. Glazik, op. cit., p. 708.
[5] John Paul II, “Los caminos del Evangelio”, nr. 24 (AAS 83, 1991, pp.  22 ss.)
[6] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter “A Concilio Constantinopolitano I”(25 March 1981).
[7] St. Bonaventure, Sermon  for the IV Sunday after Easter,2 (ed. Quaracchi, IX, p.311).

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Father Cantalamessa's 4th Advent Sermon

The Current Wave of Evangelization

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 23, 2011 ( Here is a translation of the final Advent sermon by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the pontifical household, which was delivered today.

* * *

1. A new audience for the proclamation

Prope est iam Dominus: venite, adoremus (The Lord is close at hand; come, let us worship him). We begin this meditation just as the Liturgy of the Hours begins in the days that precede Christmas in such a way that it may also serve as part of our preparation for the solemnity.

I have tried to recount in the preceding meditations three great waves of evangelization in the history of the Church. Other great missionary enterprises can certainly be recalled as well: the mission of St. Francis Xavier in the 16th century in the East -- India, China, and Japan -- and the evangelization of the African continent in the 19th century by Daniel Comboni, Cardinal Guglielmo Massaia, and so many others. Nevertheless, there is a reason for the selection I made that I hope has emerged in the course of our reflection.

The thing that changes and distinguishes the various waves of evangelization mentioned is not the content of the proclamation -- the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints as the Letter to Jude verse 3 says -- but those to whom that proclamation is addressed: the Greco-Roman world, the barbarian world, and the new world, that is, the American continent, respectively.

We can ask ourselves, therefore, who comprises the new group that allows us to speak of the proclamation today as a fourth wave of new evangelization? The answer is the western world that has been secularized and in some respects is post-Christian. This analysis, which already appeared in the writings of Blessed John Paul II, has become explicit in the teaching of the Holy Father Benedict XVI. In the Motu Proprio with which he established the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, he speaks of many traditionally Christian countries that now seem particularly resistant to many aspects of the Christian message.[1]

During Advent last year, I tried to demonstrate what characterizes this new group to be evangelized, summarizing into three categories -- scientism, secularism, and rationalism -- the three mindsets that lead to a common result, relativism.

Paralleling the appearance of a new world to evangelize, we have also observed the emergence of a new category of heralds with each wave: bishops in the first three centuries (especially in the third century), monks in the second wave, and friars in the third. Today as well, we can observe the emergence of a new category of primary agents in evangelization: the laity. This does not mean, of course, that one group displaces another but rather that a new component of the people of God is being joined to the others, while the bishops, with the leadership of the pope, always remain the authorized guides and the ones ultimately responsible for the missionary task of the Church.

2. A parallel to the wake behind a large ship

I said that over the centuries, those to whom the proclamation was addressed has changed but not the message itself. I must, however, clarify this last statement. It is true that the essence of the proclamation cannot change, but its mode of presentation, the priorities, and the departure point of the proclamation can and must change.

Let us summarize the unfolding progression of the gospel proclamation up to our time. There is first of all the proclamation by Jesus whose central theme is the news that The kingdom of God has come to you. After this unique and unrepeatable period that we call the time of Jesus comes the time of the Church after Easter. In this second period, Jesus is no longer the one who proclaims but is the one proclaimed. The word gospel no longer means the good news brought by Jesus but the good news about Jesus that has Jesus as its focus, and his death and resurrection in particular. That is what St. Paul always means by the word gospel.

We need to be careful, however, not to separate too strictly the two phases and the two proclamations -- of Jesus and of the Church or what is sometimes called the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith. Jesus is not just the focus of the Church's proclamation, that which is proclaimed. We dare not reduce him merely to that! It would mean forgetting the Resurrection. It is the risen Christ who, by his Spirit, still speaks in the Church's proclamation; he is also the one who is doing the proclaiming. As one Vatican Council text says, He is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in church.[2]

Beginning with the initial proclamation of the Church, that is, the kerygma, we can summarize the successive unfolding of the preaching of the Church through an image. Let us picture the wake made by a large ship. It begins as one point, and that point is the ship itself, but it grows wider and wider until it spreads out across the horizon and touches the opposite shores of the sea. This is what has happened with the Church's proclamation. It begins with one point, the kerygma: [Christ] was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4:25; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1–3) or, in a phrase that is even more concise and pregnant with meaning, Jesus is Lord! (Romans 10:9; cf. Acts 2:36).

An initial expansion of this one point occurs with the appearance of the four Gospels, written to explain that original nucleus, and then with the rest of the New Testament. After this comes the Tradition of the Church, with its magisterium, its theology, its institutions, its laws, its spirituality. The final result is an enormous patrimony that can make us think precisely of a ship's wake in its maximum distension.

So now, if we want to evangelize a secularized world, there is a choice to make. Where do we begin? From some place within that expanded wake or from its initial point? The immense wealth of doctrine and institutions can become a handicap if we are trying to present all of that to a person who has lost all contact with the Church and no longer knows who Jesus is. That would be like clothing a baby with one of those enormous, heavy brocaded copes that priests and bishops used to wear.

Instead, it is necessary to help this person establish a relationship with Jesus. We need to do what Peter did on the day of Pentecost when 3,000 people were present: to speak about Jesus whom we have crucified and whom God has raised and to bring that person to the point that he or she, cut to the heart, asks, Brethren, what shall we do? (Acts 2:37). We will respond as Peter does, Repent, and be baptized every one of you (Acts 2:38) if you have not been baptized, or if you have already been baptized, go to confession.

Those who respond to the proclamation will join themselves -- today as in that day -- to the community of believers. They will listen to the teaching of the apostles and will partake in the breaking of the bread. Depending on each person's calling and response, little by little they will be able to make the immense heritage arising from the kerygma their own. Jesus is not accepted on the word of the Church, but the Church is accepted on the word of Jesus.

We have an ally in this effort: the failure of all the attempts by the secular world to substitute other calls and manifestos for the Christian kerygma. I often mention the example of the famous painting by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch called The Scream. Against a reddish background, a man on a bridge with his hands cupped around his mouth is emitting a scream that we immediately recognize is a cry of anguish, a hollow-sounding cry without words. This seems to me the best description of the situation of human beings in modern times who, having forgotten the cry of the kerygma that is full of meaning, find themselves having to scream their existential anguish in a vacuum.

3. Christ, our Contemporary

I would like now to explain why it is possible in Christianity to start over at any time from the point of the ship, without this being either a mental pretense or a mere exercise in archeology. The reason is simple: that ship is still sailing on the sea and its wake still begins with one point!

There is an issue about which I do not agree with the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, although he has said some very wonderful things about faith and about Jesus. One of his favorite themes is the contemporaneity of Christ, but he conceives of that contemporaneity as our making ourselves contemporaneous with Christ: He who believes in Christ, he writes, must be contemporary with Him in His humiliation.[3] His idea is that in order to truly believe with the same faith required of the apostles, we need to ignore 2,000 years of history and of affirmations about Christ and to put ourselves in the shoes of the very ones to whom Jesus addressed his word: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28). Dare you believe a man uttering such incredible promise while he himself has not even a stone upon which to lay his head?

The true contemporaneity with Christ is something quite other than that: It is Christ who makes himself our contemporary because, having risen, he lives in the Spirit and in the Church. If it were up to us to make ourselves contemporaries of Christ, it would be a contemporaneity that was merely intentional; if it is Christ who makes himself our contemporary, it is a real contemporaneity. According to a bold idea in Orthodox spirituality, anamnesis is a joyful remembrance that makes the past even more present than when it was lived. This is not an exaggeration. In the liturgical celebration of the Mass, the event of the death and resurrection of Christ becomes more real for me than it may have been for those who were actually physically present at the event, because they were present in the flesh, but now we are present in the Spirit.

The same thing is true when someone proclaims with faith, Christ died for my sins, he was raised for my justification, and he is Lord. A fourth-century author writes, For every man the beginning of life is the moment when Christ was immolated for him. But Christ is immolated for him at the moment he acknowledges grace and becomes conscious of the life obtained for him by means of that immolation.[4]

I realize that it is not easy and may perhaps not even be possible to say such things to people, much less to the secularized world of today. But it is what those of us who evangelize need to be very clear about so that we can draw courage from it and believe the word of John the Evangelist that says, he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

4. The laity, the primary agents of evangelization

I said at the beginning that in terms of the protagonists, the novelty in today's period of evangelization consists in the laity. Their role in evangelization has been described by the Council in Apostolicam actuositatem [Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People], by Paul VI in Evangelii nuntiandi [Evangelization in the Modern World], and by John Paul II in Christifideles laici [The Lay Members of Christ's Faithful People].

The basis for this universal call to mission is already found in the Gospel. After Jesus first sent the apostles out on mission, we then read in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus appointed seventy-two others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come (10:1). Those seventy-two disciples were probably all the disciples he had gathered at that point, or at least all those who were disposed to commit themselves seriously to him. Jesus thus sent all his disciples.

I know a layman in the United States, the father of a family, who alongside his profession also carries on powerful evangelization. He is the kind of man who has a good sense of humor and evangelizes to the sound of loud laughter that can only happen with Americans. When he goes to a new place, he begins by saying very seriously, Twenty-five hundred bishops gathered in Rome have asked me to come proclaim the gospel to you. People are of course intrigued. He then explains that the 2,500 bishops are those who participated in the Second Vatican Council and wrote the decree on the apostolate of the laity in which they exhort every Christian layperson to participate in the evangelizing mission of the Church. He was perfectly correct when he said, they asked me. Those words are not blowing in the wind, addressed to everyone but no one in particular. They are personally addressed to every Catholic lay person.

We all know about the nuclear energy that is released by the fission of the atom. An atom of uranium absorbs a high energy neutron and splits in two, creating two new elements from the original; energy and more neutrons are released though this process. This begins a chain reaction. The two new elements in turn can themselves absorb neutrons and break into four new atoms, and so on to the point where the energy released in the end is enormous. It is not necessarily destructive energy because nuclear energy can be used for peaceful purposes on behalf of the human race.

Similarly, we can say that laypeople are a kind of nuclear energy in the Church on a spiritual level. A layperson caught up with the gospel and living next to other people can contaminate two others, and these two, four others, etc. Since lay Christians number not only tens of thousands like the clergy but hundreds of millions, they can truly play a decisive role in spreading the beneficial light of the gospel in the world.

The apostolate of the laity did not begin to be discussed only by the Second Vatican Council; it had already been discussed for a long time. However, what the Council brought forth that was new about this topic concerned the qualification for laypeople to work alongside the apostolate of the hierarchy. They are not merely collaborators who are called upon for their professional contributions, their time, and their resources. They are bearers of charisms through which, Lumen gentium says, they are made fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the church.[5]

Jesus willed that his apostles would be pastors of the sheep and fishers of men. For the clergy it is easier to be pastors than to be fishermen, that is, it is easier to nourish those who come to Church through the word and the sacraments than it is to seek out those who are far off in cultural environments that are very different. The parable of the lost sheep is reversed today: ninety-nine sheep have gone off and one remains in the sheepfold. The danger for us is to spend all our time nourishing this one remaining sheep and not to have time -- also because of the scarcity of clergy -- to seek out those who are lost. The contribution of the laity in this situation seems providential.

The most developed expression along these lines is found in ecclesial movements. Their specific contribution to evangelization is to offer adults an opportunity to rediscover their baptism and to become active and committed members of the Church. Many adult conversions and the return of nominal Catholics to religious practice are occurring through these movements.

Recently the Holy Father Benedict XVI has returned to the topic of the importance of the family in evangelization, speaking of the central role of the Christian family: Just as the eclipse of God and the crisis of the family are linked, he said, so the new evangelization is inseparable from the Christian family.[6]

Commenting on the text in Luke about the seventy-two disciples, St. Gregory the Great writes that he sent them two by two because there can be no love where there are fewer than two people,[7] and love is how people can recognize that we are disciples of Christ. This is true of everyone, but in a very special way for the two parents. If they can do nothing more to help their children in their faith, they would already be accomplishing a great deal if their children, seeing them, could say among themselves, Look how Dad and Mom love each other. The scripture says, love is of God (1 John 4:7), and that explains why wherever there is some genuine love, God is being proclaimed there.

The first evangelization begins within the walls of the home. Jesus said to a young man who asked him one day what he needed to do to be saved, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, . . . and come, follow me (Mark 10:21). However, in the case of another young man, who wanted to leave everything and follow him, Jesus did not permit him to do that but told him, Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you (Mark 5:19).

There is a famous Negro spiritual called There is a Balm in Gilead.  Some of the words can encourage lay people, and not just them, in the task of person-to-person, door-to-door evangelization:

If you can't preach like Peter, if you can't pray like Paul, go home and tell your neighbor, he died to save us all.

In two days it will be Christmas. It is a comfort to lay brothers and sisters to remember that in addition to Mary and Joseph around Jesus' cradle, their representatives were also there, the shepherds and the magi.

Christmas brings us back to the point of the ship's wake because everything began there with that Baby in the manger. In the liturgy we will hear proclaimed, Hodie Christus natus est, hodie Salvator apparuit (Today Christ is born, today the Savior appeared). Hearing these words, let us ponder again what we said about anamnesis that makes an event more present than when it happened the first time. Yes, Christ is born today, because he is truly born for me in the moment when I recognize and believe the mystery. What good does it do me if Christ was born in Bethlehem once if he is not born again in my heart through faith? This idea was expressed by Origen [8] and repeated by St. Augustine and St. Bernard.

Let us make our invocation the one chosen by the Holy Father for his Christmas greeting this year, and let us repeat it with all the yearning of our hearts: Veni ad salvandum nos (Come, Lord, and save us!).

[English translation by Marsha Daigle Williamson]

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[1] Benedict XVI, Motu Proprio, Ubicunque et semper, September 21, 2010.
[2] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [Sacrosanctum concilium], 7, in Vatican Council II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations, gen. ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Co., 1995), p. 12.
[3] Søren Kierkegaard, Training in Christianity, trans. Walter Lowrie, pref. Richard John Neuhaus (New York: Random House, 2004), p. 29.
[4] Easter Homilies of the year 387 (SCh 36, p. 59ff).
[5] Lumen gentium [Dogmatic Constitution on the Church]. 12, in Vatican Council II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations, p. 17.
[6] Benedict XVI, New Evangelization Inseparable from Family, Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family, L’Osservatore Romano, December 2, 2011, p. 8.
[7] Gregory the Great, Morals on Job, 34, 41, quoted in Gregory the Great, John Moorhead (New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 148.
[8] See Origen, Homilies on Luke, 22, 3, trans. Joseph T. Lienhard (Washington DC: the Catholic University Press of America, 1996), 94: For what profit is it to you, if Christ came once in the flesh, unless he also comes into your soul?

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