There are some who write about spirituality issues who are saying the Catholic Church has lost the “masculine” spirituality of the early Apostles who, after Pentecost, went forth to preach to the nations and shaped the culture and world around them. These contemporary writers suggest that after the Church Christianized Europe, it began to focus its spirituality on a more introspective, contemplative approach, emphasizing receptivity and openness to God.
Interestingly, if they are correct in this assertion, the decline of the evangelistic spirituality of the early Church coincides in time with the decline of the diaconate in the western Church.
They go on to comment that our protestant brothers and sisters, especially of the more fundamentalist orientation, have retained the spirituality of evangelization and mission much more effectively than Catholics.
Pope Benedict’s message on this year’s World Day of the Missions was interesting and points to the imperative nature of evangelization and missionary activity in the Church. (It is only out in Italian, but if you read the language you can log on to: The Vatican and take a look.) Here are a few excerpts (my translation of the Italian):
All peoples are to hear the Gospel. The Church, ‘by her nature is missionary, in that it takes its origin from the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit, according to the design of God the Father. (Ad Gentes, 2) This is the ‘grace and vocation proper to the Church, her most profound identity. She exists to evangelize.’ (Evangelii nuntiandi, 14) Consequently, she can never close herself up within herself…… This work has not lost its urgency….
…. the throngs of people increases who, though they have received the Gospel have forgotten and abandoned it; they no longer recognize the Church; many places, even in societies traditionally Christian, they are resistant to opening themselves to the word of faith….
…the universal mission involves all of us, completely and always. The Gospel is not a benefit to be enjoyed only by he who has received it, but it is a gift to be shared, a beautiful announcement to be communicated…
… particular attention …. is always given to solidarity… contributing to the betterment of life conditions to people in countries with serious problems with poverty, malnutrition (especially children), illnesses… this also enters into the mission of the Church… it is not acceptable… that evangelization neglect promoting human progress, justice, liberation from all forms of oppression…”
The more I reflect on the evangelistic mission of the Church, the more I come into a deeper awareness of one critical aspect of diaconal spirituality: Being a deacon is a call to becoming an active evangelist, not waiting around, but getting up and doing something, all the while staying connected to the Church’s universal prayer, i.e., the Eucharistic Liturgy and the Liturgy of the Hours.
After all, each deacon was given a book of the Gospels and sent forth by his bishop who said to him, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read; teach what you believe; and practice what you teach.”
Perhaps it is time for all of us to more fully embrace the deacon’s call to evangelize.