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A New Missionary Paradigm

The new paradigm for mission, which is still being refined and developed, envisions the Church as a communion of local Churches in union with Rome, each in service of the other. The missionary endeavor, in this perspective, becomes multidirectional. The new paradigm does not just envision established Churches sending personnel to the so-called young Churches; rather, it contemplates multiple contexts for evangelization. It sees evangelization as beginning whenever a missionary leaves his or her own culture and crosses a human frontier (geographical or social) to announce the Gospel in a new culture. The missionary not only proclaims the mystery of Christ, but is evangelized too as he or she accompanies others in the process of discovering the Spirit of the Lord already acting in a local Church or culture. Among the elements present in the new missionary paradigm, four can be highlighted:  Evangelization, Inculturation, a Polycentric Church, and respect for other Religions and Eucmenism.

Evangelization: 

eble2Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN 27) describes the content of evangelization in this way: “Evangelization will always contain - as the foundation, center and at the same time summit of its dynamism - a clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made Man, who died and rose from the dead, salvation is offered to all as a gift of God's grace and mercy ... a salvation which indeed has its beginning in this life but which is fulfilled in eternity.” Redemptoris Missio (RM 11) adds: “We know that Jesus came to bring integral salvation, one which embraces the whole person and all humankind, and opens up the wondrous prospect of divine filiation.” The same document, focusing on the Church's missionary activity, states (RM 44): “Proclamation is the permanent priority of mission.... All forms of missionary activity are directed to this proclamation, which reveals and gives access to the mystery hidden for ages and made known in Christ (cf. Eph 3:3-9; Col 1:25-29), the mystery which lies at the heart of the Church's mission and life as the hinge on which all evangelization turns.”

Jesus announced the advent of the kingdom of God. He has sent me to preach Good News to the poor, to proclaim liberation to captives and sight to the blind, to give freedom to the oppressed and announce a year of God's favor (Lk 4:18-19). The Good News he preached was the presence of this Kingdom in his person and his ministry, touching the human person at every level so that we can become a new creation. Paul VI wrote in Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN 9): As the kernel and center of his Good News, Christ proclaims salvation, this great gift of God, which is liberation from everything that oppresses man but which is above all liberation from sin and the Evil One. This Kingdom, God's reign in our lives, transforms the world through truth, freedom, love, justice and forgiveness, and it points to a future not yet fulfilled.

The Church, the community of Jesus' disciples, continues his evangelizing mission. The Church is not identical with the kingdom, but cannot be separated from it. The Church is ... at the service of the kingdom (RM 20). It proclaims the Good News of the Kingdom through word and work, just as Jesus did. The goal of its proclamation is that people encounter Christ. Through this encounter they come to fullness of life.

The proclamation of the Kingdom involves communication. The Good News can be communicated in many different ways, as Paul VI noted in Evangelii Nuntiandi. A frequent means is verbal communication - preaching, catechizing, works of education, sharing the scriptures, theological reflection. Modern media provide a variety of instruments - radio, television, Internet, books, newspapers, magazines.

But proclamation also occurs in nonverbal ways. The sacraments and sacramentals play an essential role. The arts (painting, sculpture, music, dance, film, theater, and architecture) are other ways to communicate the message of Jesus.

People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories (RM 42). Evangelization, a process which begins with proclamation, inaugurates a way of life in which the values of the Gospel are practiced. The message that is preached becomes a message that is lived, a way of life that gives witness to the Good News. The ways that the Gospel can be translated into Christian action are without limit. Works of charity, the struggle for justice, the promotion of human rights, community building, and projects for human development are only some of the possibilities.

Redemptoris Missio envisions three situations for carrying out the Church's evangelizing mission. The first is that of missions ad gentes. Strictly speaking, missions ad gentes are those in which the Gospel is preached to people who have never heard it. This is sometimes called primary evangelization. The second situation is evangelization in areas where the Christian community is already established, but needs nurturing. The final situation is that of peoples who have a long Christian tradition, but where many have never effectively been confronted by the Good News. In this third context, Pope John Paul II talks about the need for a new evangelization: new in its ardor, new in its methods, new in its expression. Redemptoris Missio, while describing these three different situations, also notes that, in practice, it is often difficult to maintain such clear distinctions.

Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN 27) describes the content of evangelization in this way: “Evangelization will always contain - as the foundation, center and at the same time summit of its dynamism - a clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made Man, who died and rose from the dead, salvation is offered to all as a gift of God's grace and mercy ... a salvation which indeed has its beginning in this life but which is fulfilled in eternity.” Redemptoris Missio (RM 11) adds: “We know that Jesus came to bring integral salvation, one which embraces the whole person and all humankind, and opens up the wondrous prospect of divine filiation.” The same document, focusing on the Church's missionary activity, states (RM 44): “Proclamation is the permanent priority of mission.... All forms of missionary activity are directed to this proclamation, which reveals and gives access to the mystery hidden for ages and made known in Christ (cf. Eph 3:3-9; Col 1:25-29), the mystery which lies at the heart of the Church's mission and life as the hinge on which all evangelization turns.”

Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN 27) describes the content of evangelization in this way: “Evangelization will always contain - as the foundation, center and at the same time summit of its dynamism - a clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made Man, who died and rose from the dead, salvation is offered to all as a gift of God's grace and mercy ... a salvation which indeed has its beginning in this life but which is fulfilled in eternity.” Redemptoris Missio (RM 11) adds: “We know that Jesus came to bring integral salvation, one which embraces the whole person and all humankind, and opens up the wondrous prospect of divine filiation.” The same document, focusing on the Church's missionary activity, states (RM 44): “Proclamation is the permanent priority of mission.... All forms of missionary activity are directed to this proclamation, which reveals and gives access to the mystery hidden for ages and made known in Christ (cf. Eph 3:3-9; Col 1:25-29), the mystery which lies at the heart of the Church's mission and life as the hinge on which all evangelization turns.”

Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN 27) describes the content of evangelization in this way: “Evangelization will always contain - as the foundation, center and at the same time summit of its dynamism - a clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made Man, who died and rose from the dead, salvation is offered to all as a gift of God's grace and mercy ... a salvation which indeed has its beginning in this life but which is fulfilled in eternity.” Redemptoris Missio (RM 11) adds: “We know that Jesus came to bring integral salvation, one which embraces the whole person and all humankind, and opens up the wondrous prospect of divine filiation.” The same document, focusing on the Church's missionary activity, states (RM 44): “Proclamation is the permanent priority of mission.... All forms of missionary activity are directed to this proclamation, which reveals and gives access to the mystery hidden for ages and made known in Christ (cf. Eph 3:3-9; Col 1:25-29), the mystery which lies at the heart of the Church's mission and life as the hinge on which all evangelization turns.”

Inculturation:

Sensibility to culture and to inculturating the Gospel is an important priority for the Church. Pope Paul VI states in Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN 20): The split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times. Culture is the context through which people understand the world. It includes a whole spectrum of ideas, beliefs, symbols and values that are shared by a people. Everything learned, including the message of the Gospel, is affected by it. People cannot be truly evangelized unless they are addressed within the context of their culture.

The modern world has become more aware of cultural diversity. Cultures are not static, isolated entities. They change and develop. All cultures have values and disvalues. Cultures constantly come into contact with each other. These encounters can be mutually enriching, but can also be confrontational.

The reality of cultural pluralism has influenced the new missionary paradigm. The Second Vatican Council stated that:

The Church, sent to all peoples of every time and place, is not bound exclusively and indissolubly to any race or nation, any particular way of life or any customary way of life recent or ancient. Faithful to her own tradition and at the same time conscious of her universal mission, she can enter into communion with the various civilizations, to their enrichment and the enrichment of the Church herself (Gaudium et Spes, 58).

The difficulty for missionaries is that, although the Gospel is not identified with any particular culture, it is always communicated through the medium of culture. Missionary evangelization, therefore, always implies the meeting of cultures. At times missionaries have confused the Good News of Jesus with the way their culture has embodied Jesus' message. They imposed their culture along with the Gospel.

Today's missionary paradigm highlights the importance of communicating the Gospel in terms of the local culture. Pope Paul VI beeching5put it this way: What matters is to evangelize human culture and cultures (not in a purely decorative way as it were by applying a thin veneer, but in a vital way, in depth and right to their very roots), in the wide and rich sense which these terms have in Gaudium et Spes, always taking the person as one's starting-point and always coming back to relationships of people among themselves and with God (EN 20). In this way the Gospel permeates the culture and becomes incarnate in it. This creates a dynamism which enables God's Word to transform the culture by promoting values already present in it, while also questioning what is not of God within a culture and what violates the human person.

The Missionaries, while being faithful to the message of the Gospel, must also seek to discover the seeds of the Word in the local culture. Inculturation is a long and difficult process. It requires study and reflection. It calls for dialogue, respect and humility. It involves a conscious awareness of one's own cultural values, meanings and prejudices as well as an understanding of the local context. The encounter between cultures which always accompanies evangelization can be mutually enriching, but only if a dialogue of cultures takes place in an atmosphere of respect, openness and sensitivity.

The
missionary crosses not only geographical but also cultural boundaries to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Inculturation of the Gospel is not merely the translating of theological propositions into a different language, as if the Good News was a set of ideas to be learned. It is communicating the message of the Kingdom by word and work in such a way that people can encounter the person of Christ and become disciples.

A Polycentric Church:

A logical consequence of inculturating the Gospel is recognition that there are many ways to live faith in Jesus. Evangelii Nuntiandi points this out:

The universal Church is in practice incarnate in the individual Churches made up of such or such an actual part of humankind, speaking such and such a language, heirs of a cultural patrimony, of a vision of the world, of an historical past, of a particular human substratum. Receptivity to the wealth of the individual Church corresponds to a special sensitivity of modern man (EN 62).

The alternative, an approach focused on Western culture or any other single culture, in the long run will render the universal Church's evangelizing mission impossible.

baptismThe new missionary paradigm places much responsibility for evangelization on the local Churches. Much of the initiative and creativity for devising ways to inculturate the Gospel and the practice of faith must come from local Christian communities. The paradigm envisions a communion of local Churches which support each other as equals by sharing concerns and by responding to each others' needs. The flow of missionaries, then, is not only from North to South, but multidirectional.

The polycentric Church lives in worldwide communion through its faith in the person of Jesus, the bonds of charity that draw its members together, and a unifying ecclesial structure - the college of bishops, in union with Peter, that continues Jesus' ministry of teaching, governing, and sanctifying. The Catholic Church is both one and universal. It is a sign of unity within diversity. Pope Paul VI noted in Evangelii Nuntiandi:

Let us be very careful not to conceive of the universal Church as the sum, or, if one can say so, the more or less anomalous federation of essentially different individual Churches. In the mind of the Lord the Church is universal by vocation and mission, but when she puts down her roots in a variety of cultural, social and human terrains, she takes on different external expressions and appearances in each part of the world (EN 62).

The role of the college of bishops, in union with the Bishop of Rome, is to promote the unity of the Church, but a unity in diversity. The concretization of how this diversity takes shape in liturgy, law and practice requires much dialogue between the local Churches and the Holy See. This is a perennial challenge for the Catholic Church as a missionary Church.

Respect for Other Religions and Ecumenism

In every country the Catholic Church encounters people who are members of different ecclesial communions or religions. Inter-religious dialogue is a part of the Church's evangelizing mission (RM 55). Because the Church itself is called to continual conversion it welcomes dialogue with men and women of other faiths. Dialogue does not originate from tactical concerns or self-interest (RM 56). It is a consequence of the Church's respect for human freedom. Sharing with people of other faiths can be mutually enriching. It can provide both parties with insight into God's action in the world and create new sensitivity to different experiences of life.

This mutual enrichment comes about through respect, understanding, and a common search for the truth. Missionaries must be aware that truth also resides beyond the confines of the Catholic Church.beeching Other religions with deeper roots within a country often have more insight into local cultures than we do. From the wisdom of other religions we can learn much that will strengthen our own Christian faith and make us aware of God's presence in ways we had never previously considered.

Inter-religious dialogue does not imply abandoning the Church's mission to evangelize. Self-identity is an essential part of any sincere dialogue. While calling for dialogue, Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio cautions against relativizing Christ and his message. Christians cannot speak about God's action in history and the world without reference to Christ. Dialogue will discover areas of agreement and mutual concern. It will also uncover points of divergence and disagreement.

Missionaries in dialogue always need to recall that the Church proposes; she imposes nothing (RM 39). Faithfulness to Christ and the Gospel does not involve intransigence towards other faiths. On the contrary, Christian witness involves love, respect and freedom.  (SEDOS)

 

 

 

 

 





 
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