EVANGELIZATION-COMMUNICATION-FORMATION A QUESTIONNAIRE

 

To Bishops and Commissions dealing with Evangelization – Communication – Priestly Formation/Seminaries – Pastoral Training Centres

Introduction

If we want to evangelize , we need to know how to communicate, and work on the formation of good preachers and teachers.

The Bishops of the IMBISA region want to have a “strong voice speaking on social justice”, here evangelization means making the Gospel of Social Justice known; they have a Family Action Programme, i.e. they want to “evangelize the family” with the “Gospel of the Family”; they hope for new insights and initiatives from the Synod on the Family and Evangelization (October 2014). Our manual for evangelization is Pope Francis’ “Evangelii Gaudium/The Joy of the Gospel”.

Never in the history of the Church have we been so well equipped for communicating the Word of God; new ways and methods and technologies are being devised all the time.

But what about the quality of our teaching and preaching, writing and broadcasting, using the Internet and personal and social media?

Priests and bishops are our chief communicators and trainers of evangelizers. Therefore we invite formators of priests to participate in this exercise.

IMBISA asks all who receive this Questionnaire to let us know about their achievements as well as their problems. Perhaps by getting a clear picture of the situation we can help each other, share ideas and experiences.

Pastoral Department/Communications IMBISA

QUESTION No 1 : WHAT ARE OUR ACHIEVEMENTS ( 1 A) AND/OR GREAT WEAKNESSES AS EVANGELIZERS/COMMUNICATORS OF THE WORD OF GOD (1 B) ?

1 A………………………………………………………………………………………………………

1 B ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

You may need extra space to respond to these questions.

The Joy of the Gospel

Our vastly advanced technology is a means towards an end, it is not an end in itself.

The way we use technology may be brilliant, but if our message is ‘answering questions nobody is asking’ (Pope Francis), we are no more than a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” – a lot of noise and nothing else (1.Cor. 13: 1). If we preach merely to entertain and get the applause of an amused audience, what use is that?

First we have to look at our SPIRITUAL BASE, at OUR MESSAGE AND THE LOVE MOVING US. Then we look for electronic or otherwise tools in Cyberspace, Internet or wherever. The MESSAGE is so vital, only the best of what technology has to offer is good enough.

Pope Francis is our guide:

9. Goodness always tends to spread. Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others. As it expands, goodness takes root and develops. If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good. In this sense, several sayings of Saint Paul will not surprise us: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor. 5:14); “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).

10. The Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane, but with no less intensity: “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others”. When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfillment. For “here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is certainly what missions mean”. Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ”. (Evangelii Gaudium/The Joy of the Gospel, Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis, 2013).

Before we can evangelize, we must be evangelized ourselves. Before we can give the Joy of the Gospel, we must have experienced this joy ourselves, and it must be found deep down in our hearts.

QUESTION No 2: What is the real motivation of our seminarians, our priests, our religious, our teachers and catechists who volunteer for the work of sharing the Faith as teachers of children and adult Catechumens?

Do they merely carry out a duty imposed upon them, imposing rules and laws on others ( 2 A ),

OR do they radiate the joy and peace they have found in their encounter with Christ which they wish to share with their fellow Christians & Catechumens, children as well as grown-ups? (2 B )

Are our candidates for the priesthood and young priests relating to Christ in a personal way, or do they act merely as church officials? (2 C )

2 A …………………………………………………………………………………………………..

2 B……………………………………………………………………………………………………

2 C……………………………………………………………………………………………………

“The people of God, by the constant inner working of the Holy Spirit, is constantly evangelizing itself” (EG, n 139). “The priest – like every other member of the Church – ought to grow in awareness that he himself is continually in need of being evangelized” (EG n. 164, St John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, 26).

The Homily within the Eucharist

There are many ways of evangelizing and proclaiming the Word of God. Most central is the homily within the liturgy of the Eucharist. Pope Francis frees the homily from distortions and very narrow conceptions of it. A renewal of the homily is central to his letter “Evangelii Gaudium” (see Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, nn. 135 – 159).

The homily is not a lecture or a moral appeal. It is not entertainment or a political commentary on current affairs. The preacher must be more than merely well informed. He must be a person who has received the gift of Faith and is ‘full of grace’.

The Word of God is God (John 1: 1). The Father sent us his Son who is this Word in person and is alive in us in the power of the Holy Spirit. By proclaiming the Word we take part in God’s work. Without His Spirit we are merely babbling empty verbiage, just as we must understand that the ‘true foundation of the Church is found in the free and gracious initiative of God’ (EG, no. 111). : “The true initiative, the true activity comes from God and only by inserting ourselves into the divine initiative, only begging for this divine initiative, shall we too be able to become – with him and in him – evangelizers” (Benedict XVI, at the Synod, quoted in EG, no 112).

The spirit of this age stresses scientific objectivity and detachment, in our case from the Church. This is not the way to approach preaching a homily or teaching doctrine (catechesis). “The same Spirit who inspired the Gospels and who acts in the Church also inspires the preacher to hear the faith of God’s people and to find the right way to preach at each Eucharist” (EG, no. 139).

Public opinion (= ‘the spirit of this age’) likes moralizing and sitting in judgment (‘trial by the media’). Many preachers see themselves as moral judges. “The Gospel tells us to correct others and to help them to grow on the basis of the recognition of the objective evil of their actions (cf. Mt. 18: 15), but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability (cf. Mt. 7: 1; Lk. 6: 37)” (EG no. 172).

The true preacher and evangelizer does not despise his listeners or denounce them as lost and condemned. He loves them since the Spirit of love is in him. He is “inserting” himself into the love between Father and Son, sharing in the triune love of Father, Son and Spirit. “Preparing for preaching requires love” (EG, no. 146). Pope Francis puts this profound insight into amazingly simple words.[1]. “If the preacher does not allow the word of God to touch his life, to challenge him, to impel him, and if he does not devote time to pray with that word, then he will indeed be a false prophet, a fraud, a shallow impostor. ….Christ’s message must truly penetrate and possess the preacher, not just intellectually but in his entire being….’The Holy Spirit places on his lips words which he could not find by himself’” (EG, no. 151, quote from Evangelii Nuntiandi, Paul VI). Both preachers and listeners must be engaged in a “serious, ongoing study of the Bible” (EG, no. 175).

The homily within the Eucharist should be the word of the one whom the assembly is about to receive. It is not an occasion to discuss parish politics. “Preaching should guide the assembly, and the preacher, to a life-changing communion with Christ in the Eucharist. This means that the words of the preacher must be measured so that the Lord, more than his minister, will be the centre of attention” (EG, no. 138). “The dialogue between the Lord and his people should be encouraged by the closeness of the preacher, the warmth of his tone of voice, the unpretentiousness of his manner of speaking, the joy of his gestures…….The Lord truly enjoys talking with his people: the preacher should strive to communicate that same enjoyment to his listeners” (EG, no. 140/41).

QUESTION No. 3

In what way are candidates for the diaconate and priesthood trained for their office of proclaiming the Word of God in the seminary? What curriculum and methodology of homiletics do we have? 3 A

What do you think needs to be changed or added in the light of Pope Francis’ teaching on preparing for, and preaching, homilies? 3 B

Is there any on-going formation for preachers in theology, scripture studies and homiletics, e.g. on deanery level ? 3 C

As far as you know, are there any priests who get together for prayer, study and dialogue in preparing their homilies? 3 D

Do the laity ever get the chance of telling their priests what they expect from homilies? 3 E

3 A………………………………………………………………………………………………………

3 B………………………………………………………………………………………………………

3 C……………………………………………………………………………………………………….

3 D………………………………………………………………………………………………………

3 E………………………………………………………………………………………………………

You may use extra space for your comments.

Catechesis: a Call to receive Love, Life, Grace

We tend to “catechize” people in the sense that we impose something which they have to endure passively. We present sober, joyless “doctrine” and indoctrinate, without presenting beauty that would be attractive.

“St Augustine says, ‘We love only that which is beautiful’. The incarnate Son , as the revelation of infinite beauty, is supremely lovable and draws us to himself with bonds of love” (EG, No. 167). Is that what our catechesis (‘kerygma’) does? Too often catechists just warn against sin and teach all kinds of rules and regulations, a stage in the instructions that people merely endure because they want to be baptized. “Rather than dour judges bent on rooting out every deviation, we should appear as joyful messengers…, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel” (EG, no. 168).

Visual art showing the new Christians the beauty of Christ and his mother, music that fills their hearts with enthusiasm and joy must be part of catechesis, the beauty of the liturgy and its signs and symbols must attract people and fill with love for Jesus, Mary his mother and the saints.

QUESTION No. 4

Do you use visual art in catechesis? Do you have attractive paintings and statues in your church, depending on the local culture and financial means available? 4 A

Are your students introduced into Christian Art? Do they understand the theological basis of Christian Art (at a time when evangelicals reject art as “idolatry”, and students may be aware that Islam and Judaism reject all representations of persons in their places of worship) ? 4 B

In this visual age do you use films, videos, DVDs in catechesis? Is such visual material sufficiently available? 4 C

What training and on-going formation do we give voluntary catechists, on parish, deanery, diocesan or national level)? 4 D

What spiritual support do we give voluntary catechists and full-time evangelizers (mostly religious, maybe some lay persons depending on policy) so that they can become “joyful messengers” sharing the love of Christ with the people to whom they are sent? 4 E

4 A…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

4 B…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

4 C…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

4 D…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

4 E……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The Good News is that God loves us even though we are sinners and do not deserve it. It is sheer “grace”.

Jesus and Paul were opposing those of their fellow Jews who were holding that our keeping the Law earns us God’s benevolence which we are given as a reward for our “good works”.

Many teachers and preachers preach the Law, not Grace. They threaten their listeners with punishment if they do not observe and keep all the rules of the Bible and of the Church. That is what the Pharisees did whom Jesus opposed. Such teaching misses the point entirely of Jesus’ Good News. They have missed the point of Christianity.

In the history of the doctrine of the Church this is the heresy (= false teaching) of Pelagianism, called after the British monk Pelagius who taught this doctrine which for a time split the Church.

Jesus new and liberating message is contained in the encounter between him and the woman who was a sinner, John 8: 1 – 11. Jesus tells her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (8: 11).

There are two messages: the first and surprising one is the complete forgiveness, mercy and love Jesus shows this despised woman. The second message is that she is not to sin again. Yes, there are laws and rules. We keep them, not because they earn us God’s love. But because, knowing ourselves to be infinitely loved despite our sinfulness, we can now keep God’s good and helpful and constructive law as a sign of gratitude for having been forgiven our sins of ingratitude to God.

Above all else our hearers must get to know this Jesus and enter into a loving relationship with him. First and foremost we have to announce (kerygma) “God’s saving love which precedes any moral obligation on our part” (E.G. no. 165). This is the right order of things: first grace, the gift of love, forgiveness, then, secondly, the demands made on us, the right order of our lives which we can keep since the Lord gives us his love and grace in abundance. Grace always comes first!

Means of Communicating the Gospel – Our Presence in today’s Media Culture

First and foremost we must be able to proclaim the Good News by word of mouth, in a personal encounter with the people face-to-face. Some people want to jump the first stage and immediately use media. We must keep the right order: direct communication first, intermediate communication and its technology second.

The pulpit and the TV studio are two very different places. In front of the camera your are asked questions. Other than on the pulpit you are not in control. You are in a situation of dialogue. For this our students have to be prepared. [2]

The media are our culture. Just as we cannot choose whether or not we want to live in this technological culture, so we have no choice as to media; they are part of our world. Depending on education and economic status the degree of exposure to modern media varies: even low income earners have mobile phones and know how to use even quite sophisticated ones, while they lack access to computers and the Internet. Even rural people in remote areas are somehow touched by them. A rural priest may well be able to use mobile phones to stay in touch with his scattered parishioners, and young people can reach their friends with short messages inviting them to church activities on their mobiles even when nothing else is working.

What our future preachers and teachers of the faith must realize is that they have enormous competition. Parents feel this pressure most. What they tell their children is constantly questioned, if not contradicted by various media voices. They need to be very convincing and have great personal authority if they want to have any impact at all on their children. The same holds true for teachers and preachers and the competition they face coming from media. “If you can’t beat them, join them”. There is no alternative.

Indeed, the power of the media extends to defining not only what people will think, but even what they will think about. Reality, for many, is what the media recognize as real; what media do not acknowledge seems of little importance. Thus de facto silence can be imposed upon individuals and groups whom media ignore; even the voice of the Gospel can be muted, though not entirely stilled, in this way” (Pastoral Instruction “Aetatis Novae”, Pontifical Council for Social Communications, 1992).

If a clever young child nowadays wants an answer to a question what does he do? Where does she go for an answer? To her father? To his mother? Not likely. They look it up on Google, or other Internet information services, which know everything and can answer any question. The problem is, if the question concerns religion, moral issues, the church, the answer given may be far from being satisfactory and not lead to a good life.

Where do Catholics get their information about church events, about pronouncements of the Pope or even developments in the local church? More likely or not on TV news, websites or social media.

The Church has little control over her own affairs and how they are being presented to the public. What follows from this?

We need to be skilled in the media and be able, in front of a camera maybe, “to have an answer ready when you are asked to give a reason for your hope” (1. Peter 3: 15). We must never say “no comment”. We must be part of the unending public conversation that takes place in the media.

There must also be room in this media culture which guarantees freedom of expression for church media. Church papers have served us well and still do. Public media must be complemented by media initiatives coming from various communities; here the Church has its rightful place.

But there is a problem, especially in the use of print media , CDs and DVDs. “Production is easy / marketing is the problem”. Bishops may write a very good pastoral letter as a conference. But how do you get it to the people, first members of the Church, then the public at large? If you ask Catholics about recent pastoral letters, most never seem to have heard of them. – Proper books are expensive. Few people spend money on books, even electronic books. Our reading culture is weak. We need broadcasting and visual media. We need more Pauline Sisters whose apostolate is to do the marketing of good books and DVDs. We need active communication committees in our parishes, running efficient little book shops for the parish.

Every evangelizer needs basic media skills. Some will need professional training for full-time work in this field.

All of us need to be computer-literate, just as people need to be literate in the sense of being able to read and write. Depending on their social and educational background our students are already highly skilled in the use of computers and cell-phones, accessing the Internet, using Twitter and Facebook.

But having technical skills is not enough. As future priests and teachers of the faith they must be able to evaluate the media ethically, its lights and shadows. They must be able to exercise self-control in the use of the media (TV, DVDs, social media like phones, iPads etc) themselves.

As priests they will have to be able to give guidance in the right and creative use of the communication media.

QUESTION No. 5

Do your students have the chance to become computer-literate if they still lack these skills? 5 A

Are subjects like Communication and Media and Pastoral Communication taught in your seminary, at your faculty in one form or another, including their ethical evaluation? 5 B

Is the right personal use of media included in the spiritual formation you give your students? 5 C

Can you share with us successful projects in media education? 5 D

Can you give us some ideas about what a spirituality of communication would look like? 5 E

As a teacher, lecturer are you concerned that students spend too much time as media consumers, to the detriment of their studies (watching TV, DVDs, no longer doing any reading) ? 5 F

Do you worry that the spiritual life of students may suffer as a result of over-exposure to media? 5 G

Do your students use their social media for sharing the Good News with friends? 5 H

Have you any workable idea how to “market” the message of the Church better? 5 I

5 A ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….

5 B…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

5 C…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

5 D…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

5 E…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

5 F…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

5 G………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

5 H………………………………………………………………………………………………………

5 I

You may use extra space for your comments.

HOW CAN IMBISA HELP ?

We have discussed Evangelization, Communication and Formation. We hope to get some more information from your answers to our questions.

Our final question is : Would it be helpful if the Pastoral Department of IMBISA could organize a Formators’ Workshop for the whole of the IMBISA region?

At such a workshop formators could share their views, experiences, and creative ideas with one another. Some expert speakers could provide further inspiration and guidance. The last time such a conference took place was in 1998, Chishawasha/Harare/Zimbabwe.

IMBISA could invite bishops with responsibility for the formation of candidates for the priesthood, seminary rectors, deans of faculties, deans of studies, and spiritual directors. Venue: most likely Johannesburg. Date: to be determined.

Costs (travel, conference, speakers’ fees, etc) : we would hope that donors will assist.

WOULD YOU PLEASE RETURN THE FILLED-IN QUESTIONNAIRE PLUS FURTHER COMMENTS EITHER BY E-MAIL (softcopy) OR BY LETTER (hardcopy).

Your kind help will be very much appreciated.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Fr Oskar Wermter SJ

Pastoral Department/Communications, IMBISA , P O Box EH 99, Emerald Hill, Harare / Zimbabwe, owermter@ymail.com.

This Questionnaire was put together with the help of Bishop S Sipuka of Mthatha, SA, the bishop responsible for the Pastoral Dept. at IMBISA, and is being distributed with his approval.

[1] It is a piece of secular wisdom among old and experienced broadcasters: people will listen to you when they feel you are truly sympathetic, really feel with them and share their worries, in one word, when you love them.

[2] One might of course say that even a preacher on the pulpit is in a situation of dialogue and has to respond to the questions and expectations of his listeners.

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