St. Paul said that Christ is not yes and no, but always yes. Why then, when so many people hear the Gospel preached, do they hear it as a big No? Perhaps it is not the message that they reject, but the preacher.
Think of the newly minted Christian who, still fragile in his belief, needs to persuade and convince others in order to convince himself of the Gospel. Or think of the overly zealous moralist who preaches a moral code instead of the Person of Christ, wielding the Gospel more as a bludgeon than a salve.
It’s not hard to see why these messengers ring false. We easily sense that the Gospel is becoming an instrument to fulfill someone’s private needs or to impose one’s self-will. The Gospel becomes an instrument which restricts our freedom and seems to frustrate our own good. It should be no surprise that disciples of the counter-gospel of the secular world, the gospel of radical autonomy, see our message as an unwanted imposition. Whenever we share the Gospel for our own personal ends, we feed this story and reinforce its lie.
The true challenge of the new evangelization lies here. It can’t be (only) about proposing the Gospel in new media, because no matter how tech-savvy the presentation, the secular listener can’t hear the gospel if it is perceived as a violent imposition on his person. The challenge is learning to propose the gospel as “the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, §1). This is a proposal which someone who does not know Christ can hear as a yes.
Pope Francis offers a model of this. His example draws from people the realization that the Gospel enlivens, and does not restrict, our true humanity. There is a critique of Christianity, which says that faith “diminish[es] the full meaning of human existence . . . stripping life of novelty and adventure” (Lumen Fidei, §2). But Pope Francis insists that “faith is a light . . . capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence” (LF, §4). Referencing the faith of the early Church, he explains that,
For those early Christians, faith, as an encounter with the living God revealed in Christ, was indeed a “mother,” for it had brought them to the light and given birth within them to divine life, a new experience and a luminous vision of existence for which they were prepared to bear public witness to the end (LF, §5).
Perhaps this is why the deepest renewal of our Church since the Council has tended to come through Eucharistic adoration. “In the Eucharist we learn to see the heights and depths of reality” (LF, §44). Gazing at Christ in the Eucharist we encounter that Person who gives us that new experience and vision of existence, an existence that when shared with others can always be heard as a yes.
Image: Giacomo Balla, Spirit-form transformation