After four official sessions in the first two days of the Synod on the New Evangelization, the discussions are well underway. Some forty Bishops and a few delegates have presented their interventions in the General Assembly and certain themes are beginning to develop across continental borders. One in particular is of special importance at this beginning phase. It is not a strict and well-defined program, nor is it a practical solution, but rather an overarching state of mind and heart. It is the recognition of the need to proclaim the message of the Gospel with hope and joy. It may sound like a basic principle, like a self-evident truth, but in the context of the discussion it is indeed a profoundly bold, if not radical proclamation. Remember that Pope Benedict called this Synod in response to a particular contemporary reality, the problem of entire societies and cultures losing their fundamental Christian character. It is always possible, and sometimes inevitable, that such circumstances evoke a response that is reactionary and condemnatory in nature, a call to “count our losses” and build walls to safeguard what is left of the good.
Drawing from the opening address of the Relator General, Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, DC, the Synod Fathers are setting down a different path, in conformity with the great dogmatic constitution of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, which opens with these words: The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. It is rapidly becoming apparent that these two expressions of life (joy and hope), which are entirely complementary and indeed defining elements of the Christian faith, are the most transformative tools of the New Evangelization. They reflect, in fact, our very identity as a community founded on and in the person of Jesus Christ, and in this way can provoke in others the deeply human capacity for conscious reflection. Amidst a world of confusion, estrangement and turmoil, unwavering expressions Christian joy and hope offer to the modern world the enchanting and humbling gift of delightful puzzlement, which may just be the necessary first step. At the close of day two at the Synod on the New Evangelization, I leave you with the words of G. K. Chesterton, who perhaps more than any other modern man, embodied this elemental sense of revolutionary joy:
“Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial… Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small.”
Photo courtesy of CNS. Cardinal Donald Wuerl laughs while speaking to another bishop during the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith.