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The good that comes from outside the Church

September 25, 2012 ·  By NOEL CONNOLLY

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One thing that concerns me about many people who talk about “New Evangelisation” is that they talk almost exclusively about what the Church has to give and rarely about what it might have to learn.

I hear almost nothing positive about “the world”. We seem to be back to pre-Vatican II Missiology when we were “battling paganism” or preaching to people ignorant of God.

 As a young Columban seminarian each Columban’s Day I sang with enthusiasm our Columban song,

“Who has a blade for a splendid cause,
a cause that is good and true?
To live and to die for the grandest thing,
that man could say or singer sing,
or ever soldier knew….”

I was committed and prepared to give my life to such a crusade. With the grace of God, I have given my life to mission but I have given up the crusading image. I find it dangerous. As Cardinal Hume said after the Synod on the Family, “I saw in a dream a vision. It was a vision of the Church. I saw a fortress, strong and upstanding. Every stranger approaching seemed to those who defended it to be an enemy to be repelled; from that fortress the voices of those outside could not be heard.” Crusaders are not good listeners and necessarily have an excessively negative opinion of the “enemy”.

Undoubtedly there is a lot of evil in the world. As a partly human construct it is ambiguous containing both evil and suffering and opportunities to meet God. But, if we are to be better evangelisers when we must both proclaim boldly and humbly seek out God’s presence around us. This attitude is also more likely to gain us a better hearing. Most people listen more willingly to people who appreciate them and are learning along with them.

It is also theologically correct. A major discovery at Vatican II was that mission is founded in the Trinity. Mission begins in the Father’s boundless love creating and sustaining the world. The three persons of the Trinity love the world and are constantly creating, healing, reconciling, transforming and uniting the world.

Jesus too was consumed with a sense of mission. Although he was intensely conscious of the power of evil he could also see goodness breaking through and preached that the Kingdom of God was near at hand [Mk. 1:15]. The Kingdom of God was Jesus’ central message his dream for the world.

The Church’s mission is to be a sacrament of the Kingdom. The Kingdom embraces all creation but is especially embodied in the church, “its initial budding forth”. However, the church is not the Kingdom but its seed and sign. Or as John Paul II said in Redemptoris Missio, “The Church is effectively and concretely at the service of the Kingdom.” But it “remains incomplete unless it is related to the Kingdom of Christ present in the Church and straining towards eschatological fullness.” [RM #20]

We are compelled to preach Jesus. We must also build Christian communities everywhere to keep alive the memory of Jesus and reveal God’s coming reign. However, the primary aim of mission is not the extension of the Church, important as that is, but the revelation of God’s love and the realisation of God’s plan for the world.

The Church exists for the sake of God’s Kingdom which is breaking into our world in many places including far beyond the boundaries of the institutional church. God is especially active wherever people strive for justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation between peoples, religions and with the environment. Our task is not only to proclaim but to seek out, discover, encourage, celebrate and build on the Spirit’s presence and activity in the world.

The Church does not have to do all the good in the world. Presumably much of the “Kingdom good” done today will be done by people outside the Church. We need to be discerning enough to recognise goodness wherever we find it and humble enough to rejoice in and build on it. We are most missionary when we move out to discover what God is doing around us. Then we will be a more authentic and convincing sign of God’s hopes for the world and more convincing..

Noel Connolly is a Columban missionary priest. He is a member of the Columban Mission Institute, Strathfield, in Sydney, and a lecturer in Missiology at both the Broken Bay Institute and the Catholic Institute of Sydney. Image: columban.org.au

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