Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Evangelical Catholicism

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Evangelical Catholicism

Article excerpt

The deep reform of the Catholic Church has been underway since the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903), which marked a decisive break with the essentially defensive strategy Pope Pius IX and his immediate predecessors had adopted toward cultural and political modernity. Outlined in vitro in Leo's extensive magisterium, this reform process was accelerated, not without difficulty, by the great movements of liturgical, biblical, philosophical, theological, and pastoral renewal in mid-twentieth-century Catholicism, and reached a moment of high ecclesiastical drama in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The authoritative interpretation of Vatican II by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI has focused this evolution through the prism of what these two men of the council have called the New Evangelization, which is now the grand strategy of the Catholic Church for the twenty-first century and beyond.

The emergence of Evangelical Catholicism is a Spirit-led development reflecting the cultural contingencies of history, like other such evolutions over the past two millennia: the evolution from the primitive Church to the Church of the Fathers; the evolution from patristic Catholicism to medieval Catholicism; the development of Counter-Reformation Catholicism (the Church in which anyone over sixty today was raised) from medieval Catholicism. Counter-Reformation Catholicism, which arose in response to the challenges of the Protestant Reformation and the first phases of Western modernity, was, in its time, a powerful expression of the faith that is ever ancient and ever new. It was the Catholicism that converted much of the Western Hemisphere and began the modern evangelization of Africa and Asia. It was the form of Catholicism that withstood the onslaught of the French Revolution, giving birth to new religious communities and new missionary energies. It was the Catholicism that successfully met the challenge of twentieth-century totalitarianism, and in its last stages, helped prepare the ground for the Second Vatican Council.

Now, its time has passed. The internal dynamics of the Church itself, attentive to the promptings of the divine Bridegroom and the unique challenges posed to the Great Commission by late modernity and postmodernity, have, together, impelled a new evolution in the Church's self-understanding and self-expression. The result of that evolution, Evangelical Catholicism, is an expression of the four enduring marks of Christian ecclesial life - unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. It expresses and lives those marks, however, in ways shaped by the deep reform of the Church that began in 1878, and that has now been thrust into the third millennium by the Second Vatican Council, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.

Evangelical Catholicism displays ten distinctive characteristics that, taken together, provide a profile of the Catholic Church of the future and suggest standards for the Church's ongoing reform.

Evangelical Catholicism is friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation asked the people of the Church to know who Jesus Christ is, and, through that knowledge about him, to meet him. Evangelical Catholicism begins with meeting and knowing Christ himself, the primordial sacrament of the human encounter with God.

In friendship with Jesus Christ, we come to know the face of the merciful Father, for whoever experiences the Son's power to forgive sins sees the merciful Father, who welcomes home the prodigals and reclothes them with the garments of integrity. In friendship with Jesus Christ, we also come to know the full truth about our humanity, for friendship with the Lord Jesus - conforming our lives to the pattern of his life of self-giving love - enables us to live our lives as the gift to others that life is to each of us. Thus friendship with Jesus Christ enables us to gain a glimpse, here and now, of eternal life within the light and life of the Trinity, a communion of radical self-giving and receptivity. …

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