BY MARITA WINTERS
There has been much discussion in recent days at the Synod about how we communicate the message of the Good News given that so many people in so many parts of the world no longer have the words to make sense of or understand the culture of the Catholic Church.
“Joy” is a word which is not often used in discussions on the Church, where we can become focussed on the challenges which face us. There is a place for these discussions, and the issues need to be faced up to and addressed.
While the issues are being noted and suggestions offered, there is a great deal of talk about joy at this Synod on the New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. This was pointed out by Fr Thomas Rosica, English language attaché, with historical reference to its use in the words of Pope John XXIII to open the Second Vatican Council, as the subject of the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Paul VI and of course in the present Synod.
The Second Vatican Council, the 50th Anniversary of which we mark today, was announced with joy, not with a note of caution nor of despair. Pope John XXIII declared: “Today, Venerable Brethren, is a day of joy for Mother Church: through God's most kindly providence the longed-for day has dawned for the solemn opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, here at St Peter's shrine...”
Later Pope Paul VI wrote an Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete in Domino (On Christian Joy) in 1975 stating: “It is a sort of hymn to the divine joy that we would like to utter, so that it may awaken an echo in the whole world, and first of all in the Church: may joy be poured out in hearts together with the love of which it is the fruit, by the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
The Relator General of this Synod, Cardinal Wuerl, noted that joy is an important attitude of the evangeliser when presenting a summary of his talk to open the Synod. He said: “Jesus beckons us. The joy we experience compels us to share it with others. We are not only disciples, we are evangelisers.”
“Our message must be one that inspires others joyfully to follow us along the path to the kingdom of God. Joy must characterise the evangeliser. Ours is a message of great joy, Christ is risen, Christ is with us.”
It is to Christ that those gathering at the Synod turn as the source of joy. Each morning the Synod Fathers begin with prayer. I had the privilege of being among a handful of journalists and photographers/camera crew who witnessed and joined this time of prayer on Tuesday morning. To see the Bishops and key advisors gathered with the Holy Father, invoking the Holy Spirit upon them during their meeting, was reminiscent of the Apostles awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the First Pentecost. It was indeed an “upper room” and here were the chosen men and women praying ancient prayers and psalms before they moved on to the general order of business. It was an extraordinary moment of grace and it filled my heart with joy.
In re-proposing the Catholic faith to those who don’t know it or don’t know it well, as we are called to do in the new evangelisation, the words are important. So is the attitude of those who are sharing their faith.
Pope Benedict XVI in his Homily to open the Synod on Sunday, referred to the need for conversion to God, to the purification by which “Christians can regain a legitimate pride in their dignity as children of God, created in his image and redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and they can experience his joy in order to share it with everyone both near and far.”
It is a challenge not just for the bishops gathered in Rome for the Synod but for each one of us in the Church to consider our perspective on our faith. Do we have a heart that is purified by God, are we able to speak with joy about the gift of faith we have been given, and are we willing to share both our attitude of joy and our faith with others we meet? Can we find joy in communicating the word of God?
Marita Winters is Director of the National Office for Evangelisation.
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