Post-election mandate: evangelize
By Jean Torkelson
The 2012 election is widely seen as a mandate for a worldview that favors abortion, same-sex marriage and a restricted role for religion in America’s public square.
But Catholic leaders in Denver are regarding the 2012 election as a mandate for an equally radical worldview—one that is as old as two millennia and as new as tomorrow: to evangelize the world for Christ.
“There is a struggle for the soul of our country and a radical secularism is getting a deeper hold, and that’s troubling,” said Tim Gray, founder and president of Denver’s Augustine Institute, the fastest growing Catholic graduate school in the United States. “But I am very optimistic that we can renew the Church. And once the Church is renewed, the Church can evangelize the world.”
The day after the election, the Denver Catholic Register asked three Colorado-based theologians, teachers and evangelizers to evaluate the meaning of the election. Each of them urged Catholics to see the election, and the apparently sweeping rejection of sanctity of life values, as a historic opportunity to reinvigorate the Church.
After all, throughout history, the Christian’s role is to challenge the dominant secular culture, said Curtis Martin, founder of FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
“We want to live in comfort, but we were made for greatness,” Martin said. However, “We tend to place our hope and trust in the state. This is a great reminder we must place our hope and trust in Jesus Christ and his Church (cf. 1 Tim 1:1).”
Catholics should also take heart that the Church has not been caught off guard by events, said Ben Akers, director of the archdiocese’s Catholic Biblical School and Catechetical School. In other words, it’s not a coincidence, Akers said, that Pope Benedict launched the Year of Faith in 2012 and chose the new evangelization as its theme.
“The Holy Father said recently that it’s the duty and role of the Christian to be able to discern the ‘signs of the times,’” Akers said. “He has been reading the signs of the times his whole life, and he sees we stand at the edge of a cliff—an abyss, really, given all the crises we face—of secular humanism, the corruption of finance, our use of money … this is a crisis of faith.”
However, in crisis comes great opportunity, Akers said.
“This is our chance to really build a culture of life and what several popes … including Pope Benedict, have called, in a beautiful phrase, ‘a civilization of love.’"
Evangelize Catholics, too
Yet a deep fissure divides the cultures of life and death, even within the Church. Voting data shows that 50 percent of Catholic voters helped re-elect an administration whose policies force Catholic employers to offer insurance options that violate sanctity of life values, including birth control, sterilization and abortion.
Gray said that the deep divide among Catholics emphasizes even more strongly Pope Benedict’s call to evangelize the Church first.
“That’s the whole point of the new evangelization—to reach out to those who are indifferent or who have drifted away,” Gray said.
That mission has led to the dramatic expansion of the Augustine Institute, from 37 to more than 200 students in seven years, and many new programs. Its core fields of study are theology, history, Scripture and pedagogy, with an emphasis on evangelizing Catholics and everyone hungry to learn more about the Church.
When Catholics are “supernaturally grounded in the faith,” Gray said, they are able to discern the difference between secular values and eternal ones. Then they can effectively bring the faith to the world.
“We’re called to be salt and light, so we can’t despair, we can’t lose our optimism,” Gray said. “We have had the luxury of a lot of freedom in this country, but now, to be religious, to be a Catholic, means we will be swimming upstream. But that’s not bad—it’s dead things that go downstream. When you swim upstream that means you’re alive. And we are alive! That should give us hope for renewal.”
Akers offered a challenge to the faithful.
“The call for me at the Biblical School,” Akers said, “is to keep teaching what the Church teaches. I’m reminded of the story of the sower—some seed fell on good ground, some did not—there’s nothing wrong with the seed, it’s the soil it falls on. This is a great opportunity to ask, what kind of soil are we? Have we listened to what the Church teaches? Have we integrated it into our life?”
Time for action
Yet all three acknowledged that it is sobering to stand on the opposite side of a dominant, and increasingly hostile culture. That fissure prompted one woman to write to the Denver Catholic Register on post-election day to say she was “Heartbroken. … What about the sanctity of life? … Will someone please (give) a message of hope?”
The Christian faith teaches us that crises, or crosses, are opportunities to cling to Christ.
“The response of every Christian should be to fall to our knees and not be discouraged,” Akers said. “Mysterious as it is, God has chosen each one of us to live in this particular time of history … and God is still the Lord of history.”
Don’t be discouraged—act, Martin advocates.
“For Catholics who are brokenhearted, don’t get bitter or angry, this is a time to get creative and prayerful,” Martin said. “Join with us! There is no place on earth where more things are going on than Denver, Colorado.”
Martin said that Blessed John Paul II’s visit in 1993 anointed and energized the city, and, under former Archbishop Charles Chaput and now under Archbishop Samuel Aquila, the Denver Archdiocese has produced fruits that continue to this day in her wide and creative array of teaching, outreach and service ministries.
What’s more, Martin said, “(We have seminaries) filled to capacity, lay people engaged—these are all amazing signs of life, and this is just the beginning. So much more could be done.”
In short, the future beckons, he said.
“We’ve got a lot of evangelizing to do.”
Jean Torkelson: 203-715-3122; www.twitter.com/DCRegister