Vatican II and the New Evangelisation
The Importance of Culture and Dialogue
The Second Vatican Council’s central purpose was evangelisation. All of its reforms, whether about liturgy, ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, or education, were all ordered toward one goal: to make the Gospel more accessible to the modern world. Vatican II issued a bold call to re-evangelise the modern world, a call that has been taken up faithfully by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. But have we taken it up?
The last 500 years have seen a steady decline in Catholic culture and the public influence of the Church. Vatican II responded to the reality that for the first time in human history we have a secular culture: a way of life that seeks to exclude God. The Council’s response was a new vision for a New Evangelisation, one which looks to the lay faithful.
Vatican II noted that the Church has a twofold mission. Primarily, the Church transmits the salvation of God. It teaches God’s revealed truth and shares his saving grace. Its secondary mission is to transform the world in which we live.
When Christians receive grace and truth, it is not merely an individual event. We are social beings, and if we are saved by grace, this salvation must extend to every facet of our life, including our social life and culture.
While the laity assists the hierarchy in the Church’s primary mission of salvation, the laity’s own unique mission centres primarily on culture. In our secular world, Vatican II realises that only the lay faithful have access to the public realm and that through their witness they can transform the world for Christ. Through their access to the public realm of culture, they can bring Christ where he is being excluded.
The Council makes an important clarification about this kind of evangelisation in the modern setting. It is meant to occur within the context of dialogue. In order to understand what people need today and how we can serve them, we need to listen to them and to engage in conversation. When we show that we truly understand and love others, they are then willing to listen to us and to learn from our message and witness. Those serving in the New Evangelisation must both know Christ and also modern man in order to draw them together.
The goal of Vatican II’s mission of evangelisation is nothing short of a world renewed and transformed by Christ. We could think of it as a Catholic culture, which means a way of life ordered toward the glory of God and genuine human flourishing. It consists of a world that can be what God intends it to be: liberated from sin and permeated by love.
How do we begin this transformation of the world? We have to begin with ourselves. First, we have to let our daily lives be consumed by Christ: our prayer, family life, work, recreation, friendships, parish life and political action. All areas of our life must be ordered to Christ. When this happens, we have taken the first steps toward renewal. We will have allowed our lives to be conformed to Christ and used by him as instruments to re-evangelise the world. – R Jared Staudt, National Catholic Register