True Evangelization Must Lead Souls to the Divine Life

True Evangelization Must Lead Souls to the Divine Life

“If men and women are really made for heroism and glory, made to stand in the presence of the living God, they can never be satisfied with bourgeois, mediocre, feel-good religion. They’ll never be fed by ugly worship and shallow moralizing. But that’s what we too often give them.” -Archbishop Charles Chaput

I’m praying about creating a book on this topic. This is a truncated version of something I have been working on for quite a while. I will try to outline the major themes in a brief, more readable summation.

 

The Underlying Premise

In a previous article, I wrote:

Surveys by Gallup, the National Opinion Research Center, and the Pew Organization conclude that spiritually devout people are twice as likely to report being “very happy” than the least religious people. Secular analysts seem to be doing back flips trying to explain away the simple reality that there is no other authentic and fulfilling way to live other than a supernatural life; the Divine Life.

I went on to outline the four levels of happiness drawn from Greek and later Christian writers, culminating in the fourth level of happiness: Sublime Beatitudo (Sublime Blessedness). This level is not reserved for the saints alone, but is offered to every child of God. In fact, it is referred to as the unum necessarium, the one thing necessary.

Humans are pulled by their desire for the sublime, something beyond their imagination, beyond their complete understanding. To be sure, they desire love, goodness, truth, beauty, and being as they experience them in the world; but they also desire these in their perfected and unlimited form. St. Augustine describes this quest as fides quaerens intellectus: “faith in search of understanding.” Those of faith recognize this as their desire for God.

In the “Three Ages of the Interior Life,” Fr. Réginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange writes about it this way …

As soon as a man seriously seeks truth and goodness, this intimate conversation with himself tends to become conversation with God. Little by little, instead of seeking himself in everything, instead of tending more or less consciously to make himself a center, man tends to seek God in everything, and to substitute for egoism love of God and of souls in Him. This constitutes the interior life. No sincere man will have any difficulty in recognizing it. The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary consists in hearing the word of God and living by it.

As I wrote in an earlier article, I’ve come to understand that we have, by and large, removed the very gateway into the Divine Life. Pope St. Gregory the Great who, wanting to capture the spiritual dynamism of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, posited the following order:

“Through the fear of the Lord, we rise to piety, from piety then to knowledge, from knowledge we derive strength, from strength counsel, with counsel we move toward understanding, and with intelligence toward wisdom and thus, by the sevenfold grace of the Spirit, there opens to us at the end of the ascent the entrance to the life of Heaven” (“Homiliae in Hiezechihelem Prophetam,” II 7,7).

As you can see, the gateway is “Fear of the Lord” (or “Awe and Wonder”). If there is an order, and I agree with this saint that there is, then we must break through to the first gift of the Holy Spirit in order to traverse to and through the other gifts. Or, to put it another way, “If we don’t *get this* we won’t *get the rest.*” And, we will languish in a darkened and dreary existence.

So, what is Fear of the Lord? According to Fr. John Hardon, Fear of the Lord …

“… inspires a person with profound respect for the majesty of God. Its corresponding effects are protection from sin through dread of offending the Lord, and a strong confidence in the power of His help. The fear of the Lord is not servile but filial. It is based on the selfless love of God, whom it shrinks from offending. Whereas in servile fear the evil dreaded is punishment; in filial fear it is the fear of doing anything contrary to the will of God.”

In speaking of the need for a New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI said, “the true problem of our times is the ‘Crisis of God’, the absence of God, disguised by an empty religiosity.”

Yes, we have gone a long way, over the past 50 years, to remove the very gateway to the Divine Life. Before the noxious post-Vatican II trend of stripping out of all things sacred, Catholicism led the way in preparing the souls of the faithful to receive this first and most necessary gateway Gift of Awe and Wonder through sacred art, sacred architecture, sacred music and special attention to the sacred offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

So, we can see that our aim is to invite souls to become more interior and to tend to union with God. As long as they linger in an egocentric existence, they remain darkened in this impoverished and diminished existence.

St. Paul wrote:

“The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14).

With this in mind, we become aware of the true or authentic nature of evangelization. All efforts must be made to assist the faithful in becoming “more open” to the first gift of the Holy Spirit: “Awe and Wonder;” to help them move from “unspiritual man” to “spiritual man.” If we miss this, we miss everything.

 

Laying the Groundwork for Authentic Evangelization

Okay, if you accept my premise, then let’s look at what authentic evangelization looks like, and how to lay the groundwork.

There are many great teaching aids out there (DVDs, books, websites, etc.) but, if you accept my premise, we still have the problem of what St. Paul calls, “the unspiritual man.” Much is spoken about the lack of catechesis as being the problem today, but little is spoken about a “lack of hunger for catechesis.” All of these books and DVDs are great for those who are already evangelized, but what about those who are not? What about those who have no hunger for these tools, or maybe even see them as foolish?

After many years of “laying the groundwork,” I find myself evangelizing by inviting people to attend Sunday Mass. A great help to evangelization is the realization that people are sick and tired of the mundane. Whether they are consciously aware of it or not, they have a great longing for the transcendent.

Knowing this, I have been in fast food stores, supermarkets, restaurants, etc., and I find myself leading the conversation to faith. Most of the time, I am speaking with someone who has left their faith years ago. While showing no signs of disappointment and judgment, I start speaking to them about the “heavenly Mass” at my parish. I tell them the Mass is offered “old school.” I use words like “classic” and “retro” and “vintage” (because I know they are sick of the trends and fads of modernity too), and I reassure them they will not be asked to do anything that makes them uncomfortable … they are left to simply “soak it in and pray.”

I can’t begin to tell you just how positive are the responses. They assure me they can’t wait to come, and they do. I believe we have something truly substantial and authentic to offer them. In this “heavenly setting,” their hardened hearts are made soft and supple, like a sponge. They are laid open to receive what God so desperately wants to give them: The Divine Life.

Evangelization By Way of the Mass

So, what is this “groundwork” that allows the Mass itself to be Source and Summit of authentic evangelization? This is what we did, in what we call an “Enriched Novus Ordo” (ENO) …

  1. We began offering the Mass ad orientem (this was the most important improvement – greatest impact)
  2. We offer a communion rail (we offered a wedding kneeler – pre-dieux – at first) for the “option” of kneeling
  3. We encourage (mainly through teaching) proper reception of Communion (kneeling and on the tongue)
  4. We restored chant and polyphony (no more contemporary songs)
  5. We added more Latin (Kyrie, Sanctus, Pater Noster, Agnus Dei, Blessing and Dismissal)
  6. We no longer use extraordinary ministers
  7. We use more incense
  8. We added more silence
  9. We eliminated the sign of peace
  10. We encouraged appropriate attire
  11. We support sacred veiling of women (Much teaching was done)
  12. We use only male altar servers, and they are very well-trained (like a military honor guard)
  13. We worked very hard to develop an excellent choir
  14. The priest stays strictly to the rubrics and chants his parts of the Mass
  15. We gave great attention to signs of the mystery of redemption (veiling chalice and tabernacle, vestments of priests, altar servers in cassock and surplice, gloves for servers touching sacred objects, etc.)
  16. We made every effort to restore sacred art and architecture
  17. We offer the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) at one of the Sunday Mass times (With exceptions, the vast majority of souls find the TLM “too foreign” and, therefore, off-putting. However, the “Enriched Novus Ordo” has the opposite reaction in virtually everyone who encounters it. And, through immersion in this “Enriched Novus Ordo,” souls open up more to the sacred beauty and reverence of the TLM. Some, then, end up choosing to attend the TLM, after this exposure to sacred beauty and reverence in the Enriched Novus Ordo).

While all of this is meant to assist the soul in being raised to a sense of transcendence, it also speaks of a “seriousness” of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In such transcendent beauty and splendor, it becomes difficult for the soul to remain flippant about their faith any longer. In many cases, this exposure to a sense of transcendence “flips a switch” in people’s faith lives, and they “get it” (they are illuminated) … they now know their relationship with God is the highest priority of their lives. Many, including myself, are moved to tears of indescribable joy in beholding the “Real Presence” of God in this most sacred liturgy. It is a union one never wants to lose.

This is the gift of “Awe and Wonder.” NOW, one has moved from unspiritual man to spiritual man. NOW, he can receive all of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. NOW, the truths of God are no longer foolishness but a “way of life.” NOW, the soul hungers for “the more” of God. NOW, has the man been truly and authentically evangelized.

Special note must be made that this Enriched Novus Ordo is having a very strong impact on children and teens, as they are in their formative years. The spiritual dividends are countless, as these young people are being strongly impacted, in their formative years, to be future devout parents and, by the grace of God, priests and religious sisters.

Evangelization Beyond the Mass

  1. Monthly Holy Hours – With the intent of deepening our love for the Holy Eucharist and the great gift of the Sacrament of Penance, we gather every 1st Friday for Men, 6pm – 9pm. And, every 3rd Friday for Women, 6pm – 9pm. Note: I prefer this format over “faith sharing” groups. This format does not discriminate against “introverts” who are better sharing their “joy” and their “care” than they are “spilling their guts” in the “faith sharing” format (which extroverts would love).
    * 6:00pm – Exposition of Blessed Sacrament for Adoration, Confession available, Vespers, Rosary
    * 7:00pm – 30-40 minute talk on the spiritual life
    * 7:45pm – Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament
    * 8:00pm – Social (Solidifies community)
  2. First Saturday Adoration & Benediction – Adoration is also offered all day on First Saturdays.
  3. Tenacious Teaching – Pastor writes 1-5 articles per week on all areas of Catholic Life in his website (RomanCatholicMan.com).
  4. Adult Formation – On some evenings and Sunday mornings, adult formation is offered.
  5. Devotional Life – We are engaged, year round, in devotional prayer campaigns, such as the 54 Day Rosary Novena, and many other devotions, that have helped all to discover the rich treasure chest of jewels in the Catholic tradition.
  6. Extravagant Access to Sacrament of Confession – Much emphasis is placed on “Being in a State of Grace.” I have built a Confessional in the front foyer of my rectory, and make it clear to all that I truly love making this readily and easily accessible to all. I call it my 24/7 Confessional, but most Confessions occur between 8am and 7pm, every day. The design of the rectory Confessional still allows for anonymous Confessions, instead of “calling for an appointment,” which almost always means “face to face.”
  7. Parish Familial Bonding After Every Mass – I’ve found this to be one of the best decisions I have made, as a pastor. Instead of folks racing for their cars, after Mass, almost everyone stops, if even for 15-20 minutes after Mass, for coffee and doughnuts. Instead of just “ships passing in the night,” these post-Mass socials have gone a long way in building a sense of “parish family.” I describe this time together by saying, “You can cut the joy with a knife.” In other words, after having just received Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, folks are full of the Holy Spirit, and more than ready to share the Fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). 
  8. Outreach – Our parish is very generous and very involved in such things as the Multicultural Center, Clothes Closet, Food Pantry etc. … along with many pro-life efforts, including many of our parishioners praying in front of Planned Parenthood. At many diocesan-wide “benefit dinners,” much of the room is filled with St. Mary’s parishioners, and St. Mary’s always ranks very high in per capita giving to diocesan fundraising efforts. There is a strong sense that the Mass is not the end, but the beginning of our mission to bring Christ’s light to the world. Ultimately, our wonderful parishioners, having entered into the Divine Life, are known to be some of the most generous in the diocese, in terms of time, talent and treasure. Why? Their enthusiastic desire is to please God in every way.

 

Our “Landing Pad” – Worship As Though God is There

Anyone is free to disagree with me, but I believe the Church is in crisis, as Pope Benedict XVI said, because many Novus Ordo Masses are offered etsi Deus non daretur (as though God were not there).

Pope Benedict XVI famously stated,

“I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy, which at times has even come to be conceived of etsi Deus non daretur (as though God were not there): in that it is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not He speaks to us and hears us.”

I agree.

Listen, we can knock on all the doors we want and create all the DVDs we want, but if our “landing pad” … The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – the very Source and Summit of our faith … is not assisting people to move into the Divine Life, we are spinning our wheels … our efforts are in vain.

I believe (and so do the giants in our Church – Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Burke, Cardinal Sarah, Cardinal Arinze, etc. – that the Novus Ordo, offered as I described above, plays a “pivotal role” for those who have been away from the Mass or have been immersed in a Protestantized etsi Deus non daretur version of the Novus Ordo for a lifetime.

Now, I know there are exceptions, and I know some people will describe there own story that refutes this, but we are talking about the vast majority of souls who are simply “unspiritual” right now, mostly due to what Pope Benedict XVI refers to as “the disintegration of the liturgy.” Our charitable concern extends to them. We want to evangelize them.

In my own parish, I have witnessed this very thing. We have had a great influx of beautiful young families whose stories speak of anything from being away for years to being an atheist. One way or another, they checked out our more pure form of the Novus Ordo, and they received the gateway gift of the Holy Spirit – Awe & Wonder! A few years later, and some are now even open to attending the Traditional Latin Mass. Who are they now? Deeply devoted Catholics – full of the Holy Spirit – who are inspiring others to “want” what they found.

This, I believe, is authentic evangelization.

 

I love this depiction of a woman receiving the gateway gift of Awe and Wonder. She will now be changed for life. (You can start watching at the 3:00 mark)

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