Greatest obstacles to evangelization are ‘our own hearts’

Mexico City, Mexico, Nov 19, 2013 / 04:06 am (CNA).- In the fight to eradicate material problems such as poverty and drugs, we must work to remove the spiritual obstacles in our own hearts, said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.

Speaking to Church leaders from across the Americas on Nov. 16, Archbishop Chaput noted that God is calling us “to build a new 'New World' – a world of mercy, justice, patience and love.”
 
“The biggest obstacle to that new 'New World' is not the enemies who hate us, and not the unbelievers who revile the Church and the Gospel,” he said.

“The biggest obstacle is the Old World that lives in our own hearts, even in those of us who are bishops, and maybe especially in some of us who are bishops: our pride, our cowardice, our lack of trust in the promises of God.”

The archbishop addressed a gathering of bishops, priests, religious and lay leaders from North, Central and South America, assembled for a four-day conference on “Our Lady of Guadalupe, Star of the New Evangelization on the American Continent.”

The conference was sponsored by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, the Knights of Columbus, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the Higher Institute of Guadalupan Studies.

It built on a similar gathering in Rome last year and drew from Bl. Pope John Paul II's exhortation “Ecclesia in America,” examining the role and mission of the Church throughout the region, with an emphasis on Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Despite progress in cooperation and dialogue throughout the American Church in recent years, grave problems abound in the modern world, Archbishop Chaput said, and the Church must respond to this reality, with all of its confusion, anxieties and indifference.

He spoke of the crippling poverty that exists particularly in the southern part of America, such as in the slums of Brazil.

“Poverty is an acid that destroys human kinship. It burns away the bonds of mutual love and obligation that make individuals into a community,” he said, adding that poverty brings with it a host of other problems ranging from homelessness to human trafficking.

Even in the U.S., the wealthiest nation in the world, one in six people is now living below the poverty line, and these people are often ignored, he noted. Furthermore, despite its wealth, the United States is not exempt from “the moral poverty that comes from an advanced culture relentlessly focused on consuming more of everything.”

This culture, which focuses on satisfying the self while ignoring the needs of others, is “like a parasite of the soul,” which leaves people “constantly eating but constantly hungry for something more – all the while starving the spirit that makes us truly human.”

Moral poverty distorts attitudes towards life, marriage and sexuality, breeding depression, greed and more violence, he said. Robbed of meaning in life, much of the contemporary world numbs itself on consumer comforts, becoming “a cocoon of narcotics, from pornography and abortion to crack cocaine.”

Noting the grave consequences of the drug trade, from poverty and despair to prostitution, corruption and murder, the archbishop argued that the real solution lies not in decriminalizing the drug trade, but in “deeper social and political reform.”

Poverty and drugs feed on each other, he observed, and yet both also reveal a deeper “crisis of identity and purpose” which can be seen throughout the Americas.

“Real human development takes more – much more – than better science, better management and better consumer goods, though all these things are wonderful in their place. Human happiness can’t be separated from the human thirst for meaning.”

Therefore, he reflected, efforts that aim solely at satisfying material needs will always fall short of fully serving the human person.

This is also true in responding to other attacks on human dignity, particularly on the family, which is threatened by the “cult of abortion,” the disintegration of marriages, the loneliness of the elderly and laws that “cripple a family’s right to survive and find work, even across borders when necessary.”

In searching for answers, he said, we must remember that “material, programmatic solutions to problems like these, no matter how good they might be, will never work unless they begin with direct human contact and the tenderness of Christian love.”

To thoroughly address the problems facing the Church in America today, Catholics leaders must take an honest – and when necessary, self-critical – approach, Archbishop Chaput said.

Because they have been called by God and ordained by the Church to lead, the bishops bear responsibility, and their weaknesses and failures affect their flocks, he said. Although they cannot control the factors that shape the world around them, the bishops are responsible for examining their own hearts and reforming them when necessary.

“Success in the work of evangelization belongs to God, in his own time, in his own way,” the archbishop recognized. “But the work belongs to us, now. And it needs to involve more than passing along good doctrine. It needs to lead our people – including the well-catechized – to embrace Jesus Christ and his teaching in a new, more personal way.”

As an example, he pointed to some Catholic colleges and charitable ministries that “seem to be 'Catholic' in name only.”

“Are we willing to admit this? And are we willing to do something about it?” he asked his fellow bishops.

Ultimately, Archbishop Chaput said, we can see that the “new” evangelization is very much like the “old” evangelization.

“We need to understand the hopes and fears of today’s world, and especially its young adults. And we need to master the new technologies and methods to reach people as they are today,” he said. “But programs and techniques don’t convert the human heart. Only the witness of other people can do that.”

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