Sunday, April 05, 2009

Vestibules of Hospitality

This latest Q&A of Pope Benedict XVI is truly a goldmine. Now, he's speaking to priests of the Diocese of Rome, and so his answers are especially informed by the needs of those pastors and priests. In Question #2, regarding evangelization, Benedict offers several points. Here are three snippets that emphasize the unity of Word, witness, and community.

"In this way, I believe that the faithful can also play a missionary role ‘without words,’ because it’s a matter of persons who really live a just life. Thus they offer a witness of how it’s possible to live well along the path indicated by the Lord. Our society needs precisely these communities, capable of living justice today not only for themselves but also for others."

Over the past few years, I've thought a lot about this 'without words.' Without words, it seems to me, means without a pulpit, without setting oneself up as a teacher (though lay people can teach or offer exhortations at certain times). Without words meaning that life rings out a greater and more consistent witness than the words that must percolate periodically. I think also of the Messianic Secret of Mark's Gospel: See that you tell no one anything. Yet time and again, the changed person is impossible to conceal.

"For proclamation we need two elements: the Word, and witness. We need, as we know from the Lord himself, the Word that tells us what he has said to us, that makes the truth of God clear, the presence of God in Christ, and the path that opens up before us. It’s a matter, therefore, of a proclamation in the present, as you said, that translates the words of the past into the world of our experience. It’s absolutely indispensable, fundamental, to give credibility to this Word through our own example, so that it doesn’t seem like just a beautiful philosophy, or a beautiful utopia, but rather a reality. It’s a reality with which one can live, but not just that: it’s a reality that makes us come alive."

Word, witness and the common life of Christians are inseperable.

"We have our customs, of course, but we have to be open and to try to create ‘vestibules,’ meaning places where others can approach us. One who comes from afar can’t enter right away into the life formed by a parish which already has its ways of doing things. For such a person, at the beginning everything is very surprising and distant from his or her life. Thus we have to try to create, with the help of the Word, what the ancient church created with the catechumenate: spaces in which one can begin to live the Word, to follow the Word, to render it understandable and realistic, corresponding to forms of real experience."
This bit has an element of criticism for parishes, especially even vibrant, successful parishes. The question is: how to provide vestibules, porches of entry for those unfamiliar with the Church. Movements have a role here, but there are no doubt other initiatives that parishes could make that would enable the parish to be a positive missionary presence even within the physcial boundaries of its neighborhood. 
Post a Comment