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Disciples Called To Witness: Part IV

 

Part IV: Culture of Witness
Disciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization
A statement by the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis

"I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Jn 13:34-35

Christ teaches us how to evangelize, how to invite people into communion with him, and how to create a culture of witness: namely, through love. A Christian life lived with charity and faith is the most effective form of evangelization. Evangelization testifies to the transformative power of the Gospel and the mission of the Church to sanctify society, hand on the faith to future generations, strengthen the faith of her members, and renew the faith of those who have slipped away from the Church:

"Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses." ... It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus - the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity.32

The faithful become agents of evangelization through living witness and commitment to the Gospel. The everyday moments of one’s life lived with Christian charity, faith, and hope provide witness to family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and others who have stopped actively participating in the life of the Church. This witness is essential for reaching others in today’s modern world.

The witness of Christians, whose lives are filled with the hope of Christ, opens the hearts and minds of those around them to Christ. This openness to Christ is a moment of conversion (metanoia). It is the moment in which a person’s life is reoriented to Christ, when he or she—by grace—enters into a relationship with him and thus enters into a relationship with the community of believers, the Church. “The purpose of this [new] evangelization is to bring about faith and conversion to Christ. Faith involves a profound change of mind and heart, a change of life, a ‘metanoia.’”33

The New Evangelization does not seek to invite people to experience only one moment of conversion but rather to experience the gradual and lifelong process of conversion: to draw all people into a deeper relationship with God, to participate in the sacramental life of the Church, to develop a mature conscience, to sustain one’s faith through ongoing catechesis, and to integrate one’s faith into all aspects of one’s life. 34 The process of conversion and evangelization that accomplishes the objectives above must include the witness of the Church through her members in the everyday living out of the Gospel. In light of today’s cultural contexts and situations, many struggle with how to create a culture of witness that will invite our missing brothers and sisters back to the Lord’s Table. In the National Directory for Catechesis, the Catholic bishops of the United States have provided catechetical methodologies that foster and sustain an evangelizing culture of witness.

Methodologies

Catechetical methodologies are based on the proclamation of the faith from Sacred Scripture and Tradition and their application to human experience, or they are based on human experience examined in light of the Gospel and teachings of the Church. 35 These catechetical methods, though distinct, are complementary and should guide pastoral programs aimed at renewing the faith of all Catholics, including our missing brothers and sisters. For these methodologies and the programs based on them to be effective, they must be grounded in witness to the Gospel. This section explores the following methodologies:

  • Discipleship
  • A commitment to the Christian life
  • Parish life
  • The liturgical life of the Church: popular devotions and piety
  • The Christian family
  • Catechists and teachers of the faith
  • Human experience

Discipleship

To create a culture of witness, we must live explicit lives of discipleship. Being a disciple is a challenge. Fortunately, one does not become a disciple of Christ on his or her own initiative. The work of the Holy Spirit within the Christian community forms the person as a disciple of Christ. One seeking to learn how to be a disciple of Christ does so through apprenticeship. Those seeking to return to the faith are seeking to live a life of discipleship, to follow in the footsteps of Christ. 36 The parish must provide formed disciples who can accompany those who are returning to the Church and guide them throughout their journey. Apprenticeship “links an experienced Christian believer, or mentor, with one who seeks a deeper relationship with Christ and the Church.” 37 Apprenticeship is an essential element in witnessing to the Gospel message. Furthermore, this relationship is a “guided encounter with the entire Christian life, a journey toward conversion to Christ. It is a school for discipleship that promotes an authentic following of Christ based on the acceptance of one’s baptismal responsibilities, the internalization of the word of God, and the transformation of the whole person to ‘life in Christ.’”38

A Commitment to the Christian Life

The commitment to living the Christian life provides an essential element of the culture of witness. To those seeking answers to the increasing secularization, individualism, and materialism of society, a Christian life provides a powerful witness to the Gospel. The public profession of one’s faith through active participation in prayer, the sacraments, and especially Sunday Mass contributes to the sanctification of the world. Additionally, the works of charity and justice as well as the promotion of solidarity, justice, peace, and stewardship of creation build up the Kingdom of God.39 Increasingly, we recognize that generosity of spirit and commitment to charity and justice are vehicles to bring people into relationship with Jesus and his Church. Social justice and direct service opportunities provide powerful experiences with the person of Jesus, especially for adolescents and young adults. Service, when understood as serving Christ in others and as a means to share the Gospel, has the ability to bring the server and the one being served closer to Christ.

Parish Life

Because the parish, through its pastor and members, is typically the first contact that returning Catholics have with the institutional Church, “it is the responsibility of both pastors and laity to ensure that those doors are always open.” 40 Evangelization must remain rooted in the parish. It is in the parish that one becomes engaged with the Church community, learns how to become a disciple of Christ, is nurtured by Scripture, is nourished by the sacraments, and ultimately becomes an evangelizer. Successful evangelization and catechetical initiatives must be focused on the parish and parish life. The parish is where the faith is passed down, lived, and sustained for all members of the Body of Christ, most especially for those members seeking to return. “It is the responsibility of the parish community and its leadership to ensure that the faith it teaches, preaches, and celebrates is alive and that it is a true sign, for all who come in contact with it, that this truly is the living Body of Christ.”41

The Liturgical Life of the Church: Popular Devotions and Piety

leon-mexico-guadalupe-teens-cns-david-maung-315x215The active participation and practice of the liturgy, prayers, devotions, and popular piety of the Church provide a powerful witness to the faith. Participation in Mass should be encouraged, as the Eucharist is the heart of the Church’s life. By participating in Mass, learning common prayers, and practicing devotions, a person appropriates the teachings of the faith. The prayers, popular devotions, and liturgies of the Church form the basis of “Catholic culture”; they allow for the community to pray together in a common language and contribute to one’s continuing faith development. 42 Often, our returning brothers and sisters remember and have a fondness for their cultural and familial devotional practices. Asian and Pacific Islander and Hispanic devotions to our Blessed Mother, such as Our Lady of Antipolo and Our Lady of Guadalupe, should be encouraged. The use of gospel music by the African American community and liturgical movement by the black community should be fostered. The rich traditions of prayers, liturgy, and devotions such asAkathistos, Paraklesis, and Molebens of our Eastern Catholic Churches are a great grace and blessing. The desire of returning Catholics to reconnect with their cultural devotional practices should be encouraged and fostered, as it presents an opportunity to invite them into a prayerful relationship with God.

The Christian Family

A culture of witness is sustained within the Church through marriage and the family. The communal relationship that exists between and among the three Persons of the Trinity is the model for Christian marriage, 43 and through the Sacrament of Matrimony, married love actually participates in Trinitarian love. It is within the Sacrament of Matrimony that the husband and wife evangelize, become evangelized, and share their witness of the faith to their children and to society. “Spouses, ‘not only receive the love of Christ and become a saved community, but they are also called upon to communicate Christ’s love to their brethren, thus becoming a saved community’ (cf. Familiaris Consortio, no. 49). The family founded on the Sacrament of Matrimony is a particular realization of the Church, saved and saving, evangelized and evangelizing community.”44 

The family, called the domestic Church, 45 is often the first place where one experiences and is formed in the faith. In fact, “the new evangelization depends largely on the domestic Church.” 46 It is through the example of mothers and fathers, grandparents, siblings, and extended family members that one most concretely witnesses how to live a Christian life: “Family members learn more of the Christian life by observing each other’s strengths or weaknesses than by formal instruction. Their shared wisdom and experience often constitute a compelling Christian witness.” 47

child-praying-in-churchCatechists and Teachers of the Faith

The witness of catechists and teachers of the faith also creates and fosters a culture of witness. Catechists, together with the pastors of the Church, are entrusted with the duties of teaching the faith, overseeing sacramental preparation, supporting the formation of consciences, and developing a love of prayer in those they catechize. 48 Catechists, who are dedicated disciples of Christ, provide a powerful witness to the Gospel. Additionally, Catholic schools and their teachers are witnesses to the faith. For over one hundred years, the Catholic school system in America has prepared generations of disciples in this country and been a powerful evangelizing presence. A vibrant Catholic identity and active promotion of gospel values in Catholic schools help foster future generations of disciples and evangelists.

Religious Experience

Discipleship is rooted in human experience. It is through human experience that one enters into a dialogue with modern culture. The human experience provides the “sensible signs” that help us come to know ourselves, one another, and God.49 It is through common human experiences that the Word of God is revealed to us. These sensible signs are not abstract metaphysical signs but the concrete actions of the Holy Spirit present in the Christian’s everyday life. These concrete actions of the Holy Spirit are numerous. Some common examples are retreats, direct service opportunities, parish prayer groups, Bible study programs, and involvement in the ecclesial movements. It is through the prompting of the Holy Spirit that one comes to understand the Good News of the Gospel. One’s interaction with a Christian who lives an authentic gospel life leads to questioning about how to better appropriate the faith into one’s own life. “Catechesis links human experience to the revealed word of God. . . . Catechesis helps them relate the Christian message to the most profound questions in life: the existence of God, the destiny of the human person, the origin and end of history, the truth about good and evil, the meaning of suffering and death, and so forth.” 50

These catechetical foundations are necessary for creating a culture of witness that testifies to the transformative power of the Gospel. The next section of this resource examines concrete skills and methods that can be used in diocesan and parish-based programs designed to invite our missing brothers and sisters back to the Lord’s Table.

Notes

  1. EN, no. 41.
  2. NDC, no. 17.A.
  3. See NDC, no. 17A.
  4. The first methodology is deductive, while the second is inductive. For a detailed examination of these two methods, please see NDC, no. 29. 
  5. NDC, no. 29.B. 
  6. NDC, no. 29.H. 
  7. NDC, no. 29.H.
  8. NDC, no. 29.G. 
  9. USCCB, "Welcome and Justice for Persons with Disabilities: A Framework of Access and Inclusion."
  10. NDC, no. 29.C. 
  11. NDC, no. 29.F.
  12. NDC, no. 13.
  13. Benedict XVI, Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family, The Vatican.
  14. USCCB, pastoral letter Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2009), 38-42.
  15. Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family. 
  16. NDC, no. 29.D.
  17. NDC, no. 29.E.
  18. NDC, no. 29.A.
  19. NDC, no. 29.A.


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