Ps 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17
You may have heard of the New Evangelization, an effort within the Church to “re-propose the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith.” The focus in the New Evangelization is on those areas of the world that have Christian roots but who have suffered a crisis of faith in the rise of secularism.
Back in 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of the need for a new evangelization:
We can see a progressive process of de-Christianization and a loss of the essential human values, which is worrisome. A large part of today´s humanity does not find the Gospel in the permanent evangelization of the Church: That is to say, the convincing response to the question: How to live?
This is why we are searching for, along with permanent and uninterrupted and never to be interrupted evangelization, a new evangelization, capable of being heard by that world that does not find access to “classic” evangelization. Everyone needs the Gospel; the Gospel is destined to all and not only to a specific circle and this is why we are obliged to look for new ways of bringing the Gospel to all.
Our readings for this week remind us of this important theme of the New Evangelization in this Year of Faith that the Gospel is essential to the good life. In our reading from Mark, a man approaches Jesus with the fundamental question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This question is fundamental because it relates to the point of human existence. The young man is not asking about what rules he needs to follow, but he is asking about the good life, total fulfillment and human happiness. And he has approached Jesus because he senses that in the “Good Teacher” is the wisdom he needs.
Jesus directs him towards God. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
John Paul II writes in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor:
“To ask about the good,” in fact, “ultimately means to turn towards God,” the fullness of goodness. Jesus shows that the young man’s question is really a “religious question, and that the goodness that attracts and at the same time obliges man has its source in God, and indeed is God himself. God alone is worthy of being loved “with all one’s heart, and with all one’s soul, and with all one’s mind” (Mt 22:37). He is the source of man’s happiness. Jesus brings the question about morally good action back to its religious foundations, to the acknowledgment of God, who alone is goodness, fullness of life, the final end of human activity, and perfect happiness (9).
In other words, to be good requires knowledge of the source of goodness, God. In order to communicate this knowledge, God willed his Church whose mission it is to make this encounter with Christ possible. John Paul also writes in Veritatis Splendor,
“People today need to turn to Christ once again in order to receive from him the answer to their questions about what is good and what is evil.” Christ is the Teacher, the Risen One who has life in himself and who is always present in his Church and in the world. It is he who opens up to the faithful the book of the Scriptures and, by fully revealing the Father’s will, teaches the truth about moral action. . . Consequently, “the man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly–and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being–must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter him with all his own self; he must ‘appropriate’ and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deeper wonder at himself” (8).
The call for a New Evangelization is based in a recognition that in much of the world, areas of the world which have historically been “Christian,” more and more people are refusing to turn to the Church in order to learn what must be done to gain eternal life. The question posed by the rich young man is going un-asked. This is, in part, because in the wake of the rise of secularization, many feel that they no longer need the Church or the Christ that she makes present. Following Christ appears accidental to the good life, a fine choice but an unnecessary one. The adamant boos from the delegates of the Democratic National Convention at the decision to put the name of God back into the platform of the party reflects this understanding of the possibility of achieving the good apart from God. Paul Ryan’s endorsement of a secular political philosophy contrary to the social teaching of the Church reveals a similar rejection of the Church’s role in making Christ present and determining what needs to be done to be good.
“Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Jesus invites the young man to sacrifice his worldly comforts and to follow as a disciple. Following Christ is the foundation of Christian morality. John Paul goes on in Veritatis Splendor to say that “[following Christ] is not a matter only of disposing oneself to hear a teaching and obediently accepting a commandment. More radically, it involves “holding fast to the very person of Jesus,” partaking of his life and his destiny, sharing in his free and loving obedience to the will of the Father. By responding in faith and following the one who is Incarnate Wisdom, the disciple of Jesus truly becomes “a disciple of God” (19). Here our attention is directed to the first reading, which affirms that God is the source of wisdom and moral knowledge: “I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded and the spirit of wisdom came to me.” Christians understand this Christocentrically, that wisdom is Christ himself. Union with Christ is the only path to true wisdom. And that Christ’s wisdom is the source of true wealth and happiness: “Yet all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands.”
Christ is the way. Christ is the only way. This Year of Faith and this time of evangelization is a change for us all to have the truth of Christ “re-proposed” and to recommit ourselves to discipleship. It is a chance to make the decision the rich young man could not make. It is a chance to return to the Word, “which is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword.” It is a chance to return to obedience to God’s commandments. And it is a chance to experience the joy that comes with being a follower of Jesus so that we can share that joy with the world.