Archbishop Lacroix says softening the message not part of the new evangelization
By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
OTTAWA (CCN)—Quebec Archbishop Gerald Lacroix believes it is a mistake to “mellow down the Gospel” to draw people.
Softening the message has nothing to do with the new evangelization, says the Primate of Canada, though some people have tried to make the Gospel “sweeter” and “easier,” telling people “it’s not as difficult as you think” or “you don’t have to convert completely.”
“That’s not what will attract people,” Lacroix said in an interview from Quebec City Nov. 14. “Our mission must be to preach the truth of the Gospel, and the full message of the Gospel.”
“The rest does not belong to us,” he said. “Some will convert and will follow Christ; others will reject us and persecute us for being different.”
At the recent plenary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), Lacroix said he exhorted his brother bishops to make the New Evangelization “absolutely first in our pastoral activities.”
While guiding a plenary discussion on preparations for next year’s Synod on the New Evangelization in Rome, Lacroix reminded the bishops that ten years after the close of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI described a state of “emergency” concerning evangelization in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World).
Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have continued making the case for the urgent need of a new evangelization over the past three decades.
“I told my brother bishops, don’t you think we’ve been in the emergency room long enough? “ Lacroix said. “Why are we so slow in reacting?
Instead, he says we continue to do what we have always done, while we have a world that is suffering, going farther away from the light, being taken over by other ways of thinking, dominated by economic interests that do not free people, by terrorism.
“We need really to get up to par to find ways to reach out and evangelize others,” he said. “We’ve been talking about it so long.”
“Sometimes we say, the Church is so slow, it’s 2,000 years old, and it’s quite a big machine to turn over,” he said. “Church has been fast on this. We’re the ones who have been slow in accepting this challenge.”
The new evangelization refers to the mission of re-evangelizing people in societies like those in North America or Europe where Christianity has deep roots, but many people have only a superficial faith or have fallen away, he said. Evangelism refers to reaching out to peoples who have never heard the Gospel.
When he became Quebec archbishop last February, he said journalists asked him, “You’re a young man, a young bishop, how are you going to adapt the Gospel so it will be receivable by today’s modern men and women?”
“I don’t think it’s the Gospel we need to adapt,” he said. “It’s our lives that we need adapt to be faithful to the Gospel. “
“We need to convert,” he stressed. “I know that word doesn’t go by very easily. It’s a difficult word, but we need to be in harmony with the Gospel, not water it down to our level.”
“The Gospel is inviting us to be happier, freer people, filled with truth, light and love,” he said.
Don’t expect me to be “tearing out pages” of the Word of God, saying “this is expired,” or “this is no longer up-to-date,” or “this is too difficult for modern men and women,” he said.
“We’re not telling people, listen we have a new message, It’s not going to be as demanding as we were before, we’ve found a smooth version of the Gospel; it won’t be so difficult to live, it’s going to be easy, come right in, no that’s not what it’s all about,” he said.
Lacroix said the new evangelization requires new methods, a new audacity and dynamism, but it’s the same Gospel that invites people “to encounter the saving Lord.”
Room for the Cross
There is a popular, “feel-good” Jesus that we hear about on some television shows, from pastors who have mega churches in the United States and preach a Christ who will bless you, make you rich and successful, he said.
“There is not much room for the cross,” Lacroix said.
The new evangelization brings the Paschal Mystery, the death and resurrection of Christ.
“If you take apart the Paschal Mystery, you are not preaching Christ,” he said. “It can make you feel good, it can sustain you for a little while, but it’s not deep enough and not faithful to the Gospel.”
But the Gospel message starts with the love of God, he said.
“God is love, and he loves you personally. He wants you to be happy, filled with life, truth and love.”
“The second step is recognizing that you’re not quite up to par; there are some things in your life and some things my life things that are not filled with life, love and truth,” he said. “That’s it. I’m sorry, if you’re not willing to go there and look at that part of your life, well you don’t need a saviour.”
Lacroix admits it is not easy to present sin in today’s postmodern, relativist age.
“We don’t present sin by itself, we present it as our human reality that God wants to save us from,” he said. “That’s why he sent Jesus Christ so we can recover from sin, so we can get up and live and be free and not be prisoners of that sin forever.”
The archbishop also acknowledged that a forthright presentation of the Good News will bring opposition.
“I have enough lucidity to see that some people absolutely reject and will not accept the values of Christianity. That’s for them to deal with,” he said. “I will not adapt my speaking, my values so they will be acceptable.”
He noted that not everyone followed Jesus either, that some rejected him.
“We have to be faithful to this mission and do everything we can to reach people,” he said, noting that an audacity and missionary spirit is needed to “go out there and make sure we preach Jesus Christ” and not just “beautiful human values,” humanitarian concerns on the environment, or on social issues.
“That’s all part of it, but we need to preach Jesus Christ,” he said. “That’s what makes a difference; that’s what makes us Christian. All the rest comes after. We’ve been a little shy.”
While Quebec needs the new evangelization, Lacroix said the province needs plain old evangelization because many, especially young people, have never been exposed to the Christian faith.
“Easter is more about bunnies, and chocolate, and eggs, than it is about Jesus dying and resurrecting,” the archbishop said, recalling some television interviews last spring that revealed many Quebeckers see no religious significance in Easter at all.
“This is in Quebec, so these people need evangelization.”
A beautiful mission
“So we have a beautiful mission. I am enthused when I see this, it does not discourage me,” he said.
Instead of seeing non-believing Quebeckers or Canadians in a negative light, he sees them as potential Christians.
“We need to love them and get in contact with them and share this Good News, so they can make the choice,” he said. “It’s not for us to decide if they want it or not but it’s our duty, our mission and our responsibility to preach the Gospel.”
“How will they believe it if no one preaches it, says St. Paul, right?” he said.
In Quebec, Lacroix pointed out there has been a 400-year history of preaching the Good News. “We’re at a point now where we need something very special,” he said. “We need the Holy Spirit to step in, and He’s going to do it.”
“People are reacting in a very positive way,” he said. “They’re not afraid of the challenge; they’re less afraid than we are.”
Light of the world
Lacroix said he has focused on Jesus’ call to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Salt brings good flavor, it preserves, but it is discreet, hidden, he said. “We need to continue to be the salt of the earth in the midst of world, in all its pains, in all sectors of life and society.”
“Maybe we need to discover how to be more light, to shine, to be more as a Church and Christians more affirmative more proactive, more missionary, and not be afraid of our Christian values,” he said. “That doesn’t make us warriors or militant, but it makes us missionaries like Christ wants us to be.”
“We’ve been shy lately, laid back,” he said. “Society’s done a good job of pushing us back into our churches and sacristies, telling us you don’t have anything to bring to our society, that’s your thing, it’s personal.”
“We need to live our faith in the midst of world and bring the light of Christ to all sectors of society whether it be education, politics, health, you name it, we need to be there.”
“We’re not out there to win votes, not out there to be reelected, not out there for public opinion, we’re there sent out by Christ and his Church to be witnesses of the Good News.
“We need to be that,” he said. “Sometimes it’s very costly, sometimes its hurts, but that’s what it is.”