Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The New Evangelization: Baptizing/Rebaptizing a Culture

Andrew Sorokowski's column entitled "Rebaptizing Rus'" is both timely and valuable from several points of view. Among other things he speaks in favor of commemorating a 25 year anniversary (1025 years since the Baptism of the People of the Rus' under their prince St. Volodymyr), arguing the span of a generation as always being timely to invite a people to embrace Christianity anew or very simply to make the choice for themselves as something which cannot be imposed from one generation to the next.

Reading his column, I was reminded of an observation Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman made in his novel about life and faith in persecuted North Africa, whereby times of prosperity or peace for the Church do not necessarily foster the zeal of individual Christians. The great Newman's observation notwithstanding, I wish for everyone a culture supportive or respectful of faith practice, of living and believing without having to face animosity and ridicule at every turn (as it seems we must do in the West today). Granted, a society cannot carry or constrain us unto salvation, but the baptized culture is the "city on the mountain top" or "the lamp on the lamp-stand", as opposed to the hidden under a basket conducive, perhaps, only to the chance encounter.

Much in the same vein, I've been thinking a lot about one of the threads woven through the movie Les Miserables, which I watched on my transatlantic flight the other day. The protagonist of the film, Jean Valjean, on parole but rejected by all, is taken in by the goodly bishop and returns the hospitality by fleeing with the bishop's silver. Brought back in chains by the law, the bishop frees him saying the goods were his gift and adding he had forgotten the most valuable pieces, namely two candlesticks and a Crucifix. At regular intervals throughout the film these pieces reappear, always majestic and a constant reminder of Jean Valjean's conversion and intimacy with his Crucified Lord. The misery of everyone and everything else in the film puts Jean Valjean awash amidst the universal shipwreck of a world which does not know Christ. Even the beauty of youth in the star-struck lovers saved for each other and brought together by the heroic sacrifices of Jean Valjean pales by comparison with his intimacy in prayer with the Lord. Nothing of this world has a sufficiency in and of itself.

I wish, not only for beloved Ukraine but for all the world, the constant gift and challenge of a truly baptized or rebaptized culture supportive of faith and genuine intimacy with Jesus, our Lord and God. I wish trial, persecution and martyrdom for no one. One of the great scandals of our world are the ever returning and death-dealing choices of contemporary society, its diffidence before the sacrificial love of Christ, embodied in His Church. Jean Valjean's nemesis ultimately cannot escape his own rigor, refuses grace granted through the intercession of a man he had always hounded, and commits suicide; a baptized culture is something else.

From the language of the New Testament, we know the early Christians referred to themselves as the saints. Not law but divine intimacy, sanctity, holiness is the hallmark of the new evangelization, of a baptized culture. Sorowkowski knows this and alludes to it in his column. We cannot pretend as sufficient a neat and tidy society, paying lip service to the mystery of the Cross and Christ's victory over sin and death in the glory of the Resurrection. We wish baptism and lively faith for each and every one. In fact, I guess I would be happier about our world if I encountered more young parents, supported by family, priests and parish, who were eager for the baptism of their newborn children, who were excited about showing them Jesus, taking them to Him already from the cradle.

The goal or the lesson of the Year of Faith is simple, obvious, all too evident, as we seek to evangelize culture and reclaim the fullness of faith for ourselves and others. It starts at home. So does culture.


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