Paul in his preaching in Acts evangelizes the pagan world. This ultimately led to the conversion of my barbarian ancestors. Paul in his letters outlines the timeless doctrines of Catholicism were later codified in the Scriptures. Paul had a very particular pattern – he preached the love of Christ and the glory of the Resurrection and following personal conversion, he introduced doctrine.
Paul, the first and greatest missionary, was undeniably successful.
Paul’s model follows the “great Commission” of Matthew 28:19 and 20:
“Go, therefore,and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
So the final words of Christ are baptize then teach. That is the formula.
To baptize, the recipient repents, desires the love of Christ and requests baptism. Following this, doctrine is properly introduced. Francis accurately illuminates how we stress the doctrine and not the love. This is contrary to the successful method of Paul and the very words of the Gospel. Francis’ refocused strategy does not dilute the doctrine - it is obvious that all non-martial sex, abortion, contraception, is and always has been sin. However, it does refocus and reorder the evangelistic methodology. Francis also focuses much on “what we have failed to do” especially with respect to the poor because sins of omission clearly impede Heaven (Matthew 25:31).
The metaphysical and natural law arguments against the sins of our time does not compare to the love of Christ and his mercy towards sinners. Metaphysics converts few, if any. The love and mercy of Christ converts all and, to be frank, the vast majority of Catholics’ grasp of metaphysics and natural law is in a word, lacking.
Francis, in his America interview stresses the nuts and bolts of evangelization which is as unchanging as the doctrine. Francis illuminates our abject failure in evangelization and the need to examine our methods. Francis calls us to preach the love of Christ and his mercy and to not be distracted by the sins of the era (which are the sins of the Corinthians).
For a convert to ask for the grace of repentance, one first needs to know and desire the love and mercy of Christ. Following repentance and coupled to the love and mercy of Christ, then – and only then – can moral doctrine be taught and received. Reverse it and we are simply a moralistic echo chamber speaking only to edify ourselves. After examining my own efforts, and speaking first to myself, this is the state of evangelism in the West.
All the evils of our time are the evils of all time – for certain Paul wrote of homosexuality, adultery, non-marital sex, idolatry and perversions of all stripes. But – and this is KEY – he wrote these teachings to the converted. We (and I) have largely failed in my metaphysical and natural law defenses of the Church to the non-believer. In stressing the natural law, I necessarily dilute the love and mercy of Christ. I only have so many words and so many minutes with each person.
The human fragility in each of us is invited to recognize the face of the Lord, who in his human flesh experienced the indifference and loneliness that often condemn the poorest, both in countries in the developing world, and in affluent societies. Every child not allowed to be born, but unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ, the Lord’s face, inasmuch as before he was born, and while born, he experiences the rejection of the world.
The fools of our era consider this some kind of olive branch to Catholic conservatives. Not so! Francis is far, far from being such a simple panderer.
Francis is not denying or diluting anything – he can not. Francis is attempting to direct the best educated and most highly formed Catholics in history to focus their energies on the love and mercy of Christ to an unloved and justly condemned population dying in sin. They know that they are in sin. They know they are justly condemned. They do not know that the decision to repent is the first act of faith and hope of a new Christian who will always receive the mercy they ask for. Our knowledge-based culture lacks love, not reason. Francis focuses on love, not reason – he is trying to fill a gap that he sees.
Francis challenges us to well, simply follow the Gospel method. First share the Good News of the Resurrection and the love and mercy of Christ. Francis teaches that the methodology, the order of events – repentance, baptism and teaching matters and it does. Francis see that we lack love and mercy, not metaphysics and natural law.
Quoting a former colleague at the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, Marcus Grompe, “God is love. If we don’t convey that message convincingly, discussion of moral truth will never even reach the agenda.” This is the teaching of Francis in one sentence and is the essence of evangelization of the “Franciscan Era”. The “new” Evangelization is a change in focus, not content.