In this time of rapidly shifting cultural values — usually not for the better — the Church and Catholics are struggling to find the right way to proclaim the Gospel and live according to our faith. The public witness of the Church and Catholics is becoming increasingly difficult, as our government and secularized culture becomes more hostile to us. Each new day seems to bring a new challenge, and everyday Catholics are confused, uncertain, and frequently upset.
I think that in times like these, it’s crucial to make sure that we remind ourselves of the fundamentals.
The entire purpose of the Church is not to decide who can attend what dinner, or who can be part of a parade. The mission of the Church is to bring people into a loving encounter with Jesus Christ. That means we have to bring people to the real Jesus, and the model for this is the story with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11).
That meeting involved two things — compassion and conversion. Both are essential, and can never be separated. The woman was treated with compassion and mercy by Jesus, and thus was open to his call to conversion. If we fail to present both aspects of the encounter, we are lying to people and presenting a false Jesus — he’s not just about mercy, and he’s not only about conversion (and he’s never about condemnation). The real Jesus simultaneously says “I love you even when you’ve sinned”, and “come, follow me”.
I think our Holy Father and our own Archbishop have realized that there are significant impediments in our culture to hearing the Gospel message, and thus people are unwilling to come to meet Jesus. In the minds of all too many people, we are not seen as merciful and compassionate, but judgmental and condemnatory. In response, our leaders have decided that we have to emphasize the message of mercy, so that people will be more open to hearing the message of conversion. In his closing remarks to the young men and women who attended World Youth Day in Rio, Pope Francis said this:
Every one of you, each in his or her own way, was a means enabling thousands of young people to “prepare the way” to meet Jesus. And this is the most beautiful service we can give as missionary disciples. To prepare the way so that all people may know, meet and love the Lord.
This is the task of the New Evangelization, and of the Church. We have to make sure that when people encounter us, they’re encountering Christ, and feel both his compassion and his call to conversion. When they see his face in our face, we will be fulfilling our mission.