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The Call of the New Evangelisation for the North of Scotland

In 1975 St Paul VI released his encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi, an exhortation to the whole Church about Evangelism. It foresaw the need for Catholics to reengage with evangelism with a new zeal. It took the objectives of the Second Vatican Council and summed it up into one sentence: ‘…To make the Church of the Twentieth Century ever better fitted for proclaiming the Gospel to the people of the twentieth century’. [1]

This call is as relevant to us now as it was then. The questions that contributed to the creation of EN, coming from the Synod of 1974, are questions we must ask now. Whether in the Highlands, Moray and Aberdeenshire, in Golspie or Cannich, Inverness or Aberdeen, the questions the synod asks us:


1) In our day, what has happened to that hidden energy of the Good News, which is able to have a powerful effect on Man’s conscience?

2) To what extent and in what way is that evangelical force capable of really transforming the people of this century?

3) What methods should be followed in order that the power of the gospel may have its effect? [2]


The method by which we share the gospel will be different in different places, and so this article is not going to produce an exhaustive list of methods of evangelism, but the foundations and pillars in which we share the gospel are the same.

First of all, what are we proclaiming and what do we mean by evangelism? To know the answer, we need to look at Jesus Christ, the ultimate evangelist and model for us today. As EN[3] stated; ‘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, in the joy of knowing God and being known by Him, of seeing Him and of being given over to Him’. [4]


So, what is the proclamation? Salvation is liberation primarily from Sin and the Evil one. It calls us to an interior renewal, or metanoia, in which through the initial acceptance and belief of Christ as our Saviour, baptism and all the sacraments, we can be converted day by day. It calls us to go past the mere attendance of Masses, although very good and proper - He demands more. It calls us to devote our lives to God, with Him at our centre, and He being our ultimate desire and goal. As St Paul wrote ‘…it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’[5].


The call of God on all our lives is to live in the Beloved of our Lord, and to show this love to the men and women we encounter in our lives. As Christ began with the Twelve, He continues with us today; having built up a community of faith in the North of Scotland with a deep and rich history. We as a community of lay brothers and sisters can be thankful, we can observe our faith in public without fear. But when it comes to evangelism to our non-believing friends and families, we face difficulties in the form of our own confidence, lack of knowledge, hostility from a secular media, workplace policies that supress or even ban conversation - and trying to communicate to those who do not accept our Lord as God and saviour. But we cannot step back from this as it says’ ‘Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christs Sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection’. [6]




Some may say that this is the job of the Priests and religious, but Christ is the head of the body, [7] and we are members individually of His body, [8] therefore ‘…it is the whole Church that receives the mission to evangelize, and the work of each individual member is important for the whole[9]. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his book ‘Feast of Faith’ prior to his pontificate wrote: ‘ It is a unity through the unifying power of love, which does not destroy the two-ness of I and Thou but welds it into a profound oneness. In finding my own identity by being identified with Christ, I am made one with him; my true self is restored to me, I know that I am accepted, and this enables me to give myself back to Him.[10] By accepting this unity we are accepting that by sending Jesus, He sends us also in the power that comes through Him and by Him.

What is Evangelism?


Evangelii Nuntiandi provides us with a definition for what evangelism actually is; ‘For the Church, evangelizing means bringing the good news into all the strata of humanity and through its influence transforming humanity from within and make it new. [11]

The elements of this as identified in EN include bringing the good news to those who do not know God, catechesis, baptism and the other sacraments. To do evangelism is to follow Jesus and His Apostles example of speaking and doing. How can someone believe if no one tells them? How do they enter this new life without being baptised? How do people continue in sanctification if they do not receive preaching and teaching and the other sacraments, namely the Eucharist and Reconciliation? It is our job as the members of His church in the North of Scotland to communicate all of this.

But as it says ‘all strata’ must realise communicating the gospel includes working in all spheres of human culture. It involves the practical help for our communities in a Christ centred way. If we as a community began to live out the gospel values of love, then our friends and neighbours will ask why? Why are they doing this? The gospel has and will change the culture in which we live. This could be through helping those young men in the Highlands who are more likely than anywhere else in Scotland to commit suicide. Or is it by engaging with the chronic drug and alcohol problems blighting our towns. Or seeking to help those in poverty on our doorsteps. Did you realise that Merkinch in Inverness is in the top 5% of Scotland’s most deprived areas? Or that parts of Alness, Wick, Thurso, Dingwall, Conon Bridge and Ardersier are in the top 15%? [12]


It would be impossible to evangelize the culture of the Highlands and the NE without also bringing advancement to the people in it. Jesus called us the Salt of the earth [13]. Salt permeates a dish, when used, you know it is there. Salt is also a preservative and at that time Salt was very valuable. Roman soldiers could even be paid in Salt. By sharing the gospel, it changes people that who then can change cultures. This also brings conflict, as we can see in our day. From not being allowed to speak of Religion in certain workplaces, to being flagellated for trying to have an open and critical conversation around gender. We see it regularly in the news regarding Abortion, with the recent change in law in Northern Ireland allowing the killing of children up to 28 weeks. But this conflict in one form or another has always been present and yet Christ in the power of the Spirit has changed people and cultures.

This advancement can be a multitude of temporal things but EN having acknowledged this also brings balance by saying:


‘...in their wish [Christians] to commit the Church to the liberation effort are frequently tempted to reduce her mission to the dimensions of a simply temporal project. They would reduce her aims to a man-centred goal; the salvation of which she is the messenger would be reduced to material well-being. Her activity, forgetful of all spiritual and religious preoccupation, would become initiatives of the political or social order. But if this were so, the Church would lose her fundamental meaning’.[14]


We then must be on our guard that we do not allow our compassion for people to have as its focus only on the temporal, economic or social – it must also have, and primarily be, focused on the spiritual and eternal. The advancement of souls to union with God is our ultimate goal and desire.[15]


The Churches’ work and desire to have the best and most just structures in human society, recognises that they become inhuman and corrupt if the men and women within them do not undergo a heart change. This temporal advancement or liberation in areas of human structures has a place in the overall liberation brought by Jesus Christ, but if this social gospel is all that is presented, then simply speaking, this is not the gospel. It is a different gospel that St Paul warned against but nonetheless we should look at the structures around us - can we redeem them? Can we engage in our towns civic processes to improve them based on the motivation that relies on ,and comes from, the Spirit? The Church has provided for us many examples of how to relate to society, such as Rerum Novarum by Leo XIII 1891 on human work. If we are business owners, how do we bring gospel values to our workplace? Are we only out for financial gain or do we see business as a force for good?

When we ourselves are focused on God, the love that grows for Him begins to overflow onto others. As St John said:


We love because He first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love a Brother or Sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.[16]


So, this love is what should define our action when it comes to evangelism and reaching our friends and neighbours of the North. Our motivation is not to turn people into projects or to become social workers, but to love people as God loves, to see people as God sees, and to act as God did in our lives, and always and ever draw our strength from God

Not by might, nor by power but by the Spirit. [17]


What then is the message of Pope St Paul VI encyclical? It is re-stating something that has been the beating heart of Christianity since Jesus walked the earth – the idea we share the life, death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus, and how He came to save Sinners and bring them into God. EN reminds us we are all involved in this mission and all have a part to play. Whether you can give a 5-point gospel message or not, you have something powerful inside you, you have the Living God indwelling in you. The same Spirit that raised Jesus, is the same Spirit that blew into the Apostles on Pentecost, and resides now in you. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to choose to love, and the gifts to reveal that love.

St Paul VI invites you to join in the mission he so dearly desired back in 1974.

By Eric Hanna

Nairn

[1] Evangelii Nuntiandi 2 [2] EN 4 [3] All references to Evangelii Nuntiandi will be prefixed as EN. [4] EN 9 [5] Galations 2:20 [6] EN 14. [7] Colossians 1:18 [8] 1 Corinthians 12:27 [9] EN 15 [10] Feast of Faith p29, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger [11] EN18 [12] Scottish Government Deprivation Report for the Highlands [13] Mathew 5:13 [14] EN 32 [15] John 14:20 [16] I John 4:19-20 [17] Zechariah 4:6

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