The XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith" took place from October 7 to 28, this past fall. The working document for the Synod, released in June, described it as "an event to energize Christian communities and, at the same time, provide concrete answers to the many questions facing the Church today and the resources available in her evangelizing activity." Two hundred sixty-two Synod Fathers came together (as well as about one hundred experts and auditors). These included delegates from various Vatican commissions, representatives from episcopal conferences, including four from Canada, and Synod Fathers by Papal appointment. Among the latter was Reverend Julián Carrón, President of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. At the end of the Synod, Father Carrón sent a letter to the members of this fraternity to communicate what were the most crucial questions that emerged from those three weeks of work and prayer. This document is reproduced below.
I was deeply struck by Father Carrón's letter because it lifted me out of my usual habit of reducing the greatness of an event to a list of propositions. It is very easy for us to translate the great moment of the Synod into a series of issues that need to be addressed in the future. What is striking about Carrón's message is the link he draws between the global consequences of a loss of faith and the intimacy of the human heart. The "educative emergency, the economic crisis, political confusion, lack of trust, violence in relationships," all of these can be traced back to aridity in a world void of faith. Our first reaction might be to ask ourselves what we should "do." Carrón picks up on the Holy Father's reminder at the Synod, that "the Church does not begin with our 'making,' but with the 'making' and 'speaking' of God."
And so, if we don't "do," what do we do? We undergo the experience of conversion. Only with a true conversion can we eschew mere analysis, theorization and activism and propose "a fact of life" to the world. Our "doing," our effort, is to mature in the "self-awareness of our original dependence," as Father Luigi Giussani, the founder of CL, told a group of educators in the 1970s. This is not an idea but something concrete: it means that we must follow a master, a teacher, to retrace the steps of one who has lived the deep experience of faith. And where is that teacher to be found? Christ places masters on our path, starting from Pope Benedict XVI himself.Our response is to follow them, for our destiny and that of the world. — John Zucchi
Having just returned from the Synod of Bishops, I want to share with you what I believe to be most decisive about the experience that I lived, in order to help us on our journey.
As you know, the theme of the Synod was "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith." The starting point was the conviction, evident to all today, that faith is no longer an obvious presupposition. This situation not only regards faith as a personal experience, but it also has consequences for the life of nations, for whom fertile land can become an inhospitable desert. We already see many signs of this "desertification": the educative emergency, the economic crisis, political confusion, lack of trust, violence in relationships, exasperation in social life... perhaps the most significant sign of this desertification is the inability to discern a point from which to start again, even on the part of the keenest observers, who are always ready to point out what is lacking, but are powerless when it comes to offering suggestions for how to begin anew.
In this context, it is moving to see that an institution like the Church, with 2,000 years of history behind it, is still free to challenge itself. So much so that one of the topics most often addressed in the synod hall was related to the need for conversion. Everyone was aware that in order to make the desert blossom again it's not enough to change strategies nor to fine-tune pastoral plans. What is needed is a real, true, personal and ecclesial conversion. There was an awareness that, without conversion, there cannot be a new evangelization—simply because we, too, as members of the Church, participate in that weakening of faith that has brought us to the current situation. It was not for nothing that the Holy Father called for a Year of Faith—he did so precisely in order to help us to rediscover the gift and the beauty of faith.
From where do we start again, then?
On the very first day of the Synod, the Pope posed the fundamental question, "God has spoken, He has truly broken the great silence, He has shown Himself, but how can we communicate this reality to the people of today so that it becomes salvation?"
And he indicated the response clearly: "We cannot make the Church, we can only announce what He has done. The Church does not begin with our 'making,' but with the 'making' and 'speaking' of God. In the same way, the Apostles did not say, after a few meetings, 'now we want to make a Church and that by means of a constituent assembly they were going to draft a constitution.' No, they prayed and in prayer they waited, because they knew that only God Himself can create His Church, that God is the first agent: if God does not act, our things are only ours and are insufficient; only God can testify that it is He who speaks and has spoken".
Our contribution can only be inserted into the dynamism set in motion by God Himself through His Spirit. "Only God's precedence makes our journey possible, our co-operation, which is always co-operation, and not entirely our own decision. Therefore, it is important always to know that the first word, the true initiative, the true activity comes from God, and only by inserting ourselves into the divine initiative, only by begging for this divine initiative, shall we too be able to become—with Him and in Him—evangelizers. God is always the beginning." Only those who let themselves be taken hold of by God, who became close to us in Christ, will be able to respond to the challenge of new evangelization. "The real protagonists of the new evangelization are the saints."
Hearing the call to conversion that came from the synod hall, I could not help but remember the call that Father Giussani issued many years ago in Viterbo [Italy, in a meeting with teachers from the movement], inviting us to "recoverthe truth of our vocation and our commitment." Because we, too, he told us, run the risk of "reducing our commitment to a kind of theorization of a sociopedagogical method, reducing it to a kind of activism that follows upon this theorization, and then a commitment to the political defence of it. Instead, our task is to reaffirm and to propose to man, our brother, a fact of life." Father Giussani asked, "But what does a fact of life rest upon? Where is this life? You yourself are this life." And yet, to us this position often seems like it is not concrete enough, not historically significant, a sort of "religious choice." In fact, continued Father Giussani, "For many of us, the fact that our salvation is Jesus Christ, and the fact that freedom for the life of man, here and in the afterlife, is continually bound up with an encounter with Him, all this has become something of a merely 'spiritual' call to us. The concrete facts of life are considered to be something else altogether: the concrete facts of life would be something like a commitment to organized labour, having certain rights legally sanctioned; it would be a question of organization, the work of teams and requiring many meetings. But all this would not be done as an expression of a need vital to our existence, but rather as a kind of inescapable mortification of our lives, as a weight and the price to pay for belonging, a belonging that we are still inexplicably desirous to pay for." And he concluded, "We must go back and start over in order to recover the truth of our method for a rebirth of life within us, among us, and in the places where we live our lives. We have to take up again our awareness of where all of this dynamic began."
What was the beginning?
"The Movement [the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation] was born out of a presence that imposed itself and brought to people's lives the provocation of a promise to follow. But then we entrusted the continuity of this beginning to speeches and to projects undertaken, to meetings and to things that we had to do. But what we have not done is entrusted, handed over, our lives; in this way, the beginning very quickly ceased to be the truth offered to our person, and instead has become the starting point for an association, for a reality upon which we can shrug off the responsibility of our own work, and from which we demand the resolution of things. What was supposed to be the open-armed welcoming of a provocation, and thus a following that is alive, has become an obedience to the organization" (Benedict XVI).
In order to be able to offer a fact of life to our fellow men, there must mature in each of us a self-awareness of our original dependence, to the point that it allows us to be reborn in any darkness; and it is necessary to be so taken hold of by the event of Christ that His memory dominates our days, because never am I more myself than when You, Christ, happen to me and flood me with Your presence. In this way, we will be able to live life as vocation, where "everything, every relationship, every joy, as well as every difficulty, finds its ultimate reason in being an opportunity for a relationship with the Infinite, God's voice that continually calls us and invites us to look up, to discover in adherence to Him the complete fulfillment of our humanity" (Benedict XVI).