Isn’t it so easy to judge others by their appearance or let oneself go by first impressions? Many years ago I had an experience that made me think twice before following this natural tendency. I was in the seminary and didn’t really like a certain fellow seminarian. I thought: “this guy is pretty superficial and at times arrogant.” Because I let myself go by this judgment, I preferred to avoid him than to get to know him. One day we were asked to work together on a special project. At first I would just dedicate myself to the project not leaving any space for friendly conversation. But after a while, we started talking. After a few days I had to change my judgment about him because he was not at all as I had thought.
After the Second Vatican Council the Church has been judged as either conservative or liberal (or progressive). These terms, more proper to political positions, do not reach the true identity of the Church. When you hear those who long to return to the past saying the Church after Vatican II took the wrong path becoming progressive, and then you hear those who interpreted Vatican II as an opportunity to go against the Magisterium say that Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI are too conservative, you can’t help but wonder is that what the Church is really about.
Back in 1985, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in an interview by Vittorio Messori, published in English with the title “The Ratzinger Report,” affirmed the true intent of the Second Vatican Council regarding the Church: “The Council wanted to mark the transition from a protective to a missionary attitude. Many forget that for the Council the counter-concept to ‘conservative’ is not ‘progressive’ but ‘missionary’.”
Pope Benedict true to his firm convictions, twenty years later, states in his Apostolic Letter Ubicumque et Semper, that “the mission of the evangelization, a continuation of the work desired by the Lord Jesus, is necessary for the Church: it cannot be overlooked; it is an expression of her very nature.”
Pope Paul VI firmly expressed in his 1975 Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi, that “evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church. This task and mission are particularly urgent because of the expansive, penetrating changes in present-day society. In fact, evangelizing is the grace and vocation proper to the Church; her utmost identity. She exists in order to evangelize.” (EN, 13)
What is it that we, as members of the Church that is missionary, have to preach? The example of Philip, the deacon, which we find in the Acts of the Apostles is enlightening in this regard. Philip was one of those who, due to the persecution of the first Christians, had to flee from Jerusalem and spent there time going through different towns proclaiming the word. The text says that Philip “going down to the city of Samaria would preach Christ, the Messiah, to them.” (Acts 8:5) Therefore, it is not so much what we have to preach, but whom do we have to proclaim.
Dr. Jamie Blosser, Assistant Professor of Theology at Benedictine College recently posted an article titled “How the Church Fathers Can Help Us Engage the Culture for Christ”. There he draws out certain teachings of Origen, an ancient highly intellectual ecclesiastical writer, stating that “conversion to Christianity does not come about through a series of inferences or syllogisms, but rather from an encounter with the person of Christ.” He then states: “That is why the central task of the Church can never be argument, but rather a proclamation.”
You can’t give what you don’t have. In order to preach Christ you have to know him and love him. To know him and love him you have to encounter him. There is an intimate relationship between encountering Christ and preaching him to others. If you encounter Christ, but don’t proclaim him to others, then you empty that encounter of its meaning. But it is also true that if you really want to proclaim him, you have to encounter him deeply in prayer, in Scripture, in the Sacraments, in others.
“It is the duty of the Church to proclaim always and everywhere the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (opening line of Ubicumque et Semper). In the measure in which we preach Christ, then we will truly be members of the Church.