By Brother Enzo Biemmi
After having seen the missionary horizon that Evangelii gaudium proposes to the whole Church, we can now concentrate on an important aspect for catechesis: the content. What “content” we are called to announce in this cultural context. We can summarize this aspect referring to two expressions: first proclamation, second proclamation.
The first proclamation
EG, in its missionary approach, invites us to rethink the content of the proclamation on the basis of three criteria: what is essential, hierarchy of importance, gradualness.
First of all the return to the essential, which is the kerygma. Pope Francis expresses himself thus:
«We have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the centre of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal.… On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over again, “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.» (Evangelii gaudium, 164)
With disarming simplicity, EG brings us back to the essential: in a missionary context it is necessary to return to the foundation of faith, which is not the doctrine, but an event witnessed in kerygma (to use an expression of John Paul II: it is not an extensive totality but of intensive totality).
«Pastoral ministry in a missionary key is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed. When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone without exception or exclusion, the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing.» (Evangelii gaudium 35).
The hierarchy of truths
The second criterion is that of the “hierarchy of truths”. EG invites us to put all the “secondary aspects” (or better “seconds”) in close connection with the heart of the gospel, the essential, the kerygma (EG 34-39). An order of priority is indicated: the proclamation of God’s love precedes the moral request; the joy of the gift precedes the commitment of the answer; listening and proximity precede the word and the proposal.
«The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today. It has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical. All this demands on the part of the evangelizer certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental.» (Evangelii gaudium 165)
The third criterion is that of gradualness. It consists in recognizing the “possible stages of growth of the people who are being built up day by day” and this “without diminishing the value of the Gospel ideal” (EG 44). It corresponds to one of the 4 principles of EG: time is superior to space.
«Giving priority to time means taking care of starting processes rather than owning spaces. […] This criterion is also very appropriate for evangelization, which requires keeping in mind the horizon, to adopt the possible processes and the long road» (GS 225).
The strength of this third criterion is applied in all its consequences by Amoris laetitia, which underlines: «a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties» (AL 305). The fineness of Amoris laetitia lies in having transformed the principle of “lesser evil” into that of “the possible good”. The first perspective tends to limit damage and therefore inhibits you, reminding you of your limit and your sin; the second makes you see the good that you already accomplish and what is in front of you, and gives you wings, inviting you to walk towards an ever greater good, the good that is historically possible for you according to the grace of God. The first perspective “aspires”, the second “inspires”. The prospect of possible good has the effect of being magnetized by the good that attracts you and not being sucked under by the evil that paralyzes. It is the attraction of good that motivates, whatever the situation in which we find ourselves.
The intervention of these three criteria on the content of faith (doctrine and morals) and its proclamation makes clear the innovative force of the missionary approach to the content itself, that is, to its doctrine. From a closed system of non-negotiable principles (and codified in behavioural laws), EG’s mission concept transforms the “depositum fidei” into a heritage of life that grows over time. Precisely because it is truly missionary, the approach of EG is truly doctrinal, because it is not doctrinal in the Christian faith unless it is truly pastoral, it does not allow everyone to be reached by the grace of Easter. It is the figure of faith guarded by the central affirmation of the Symbol: “for us and for our salvation”. The missionary approach to faith, which implies the taking on of history and life in all its complexity, saves the doctrine, prevents it from becoming an ideology, and gives it its profound salvific meaning. Adopting completely the criterion of Missionarity, EG gives back to God the name by which he revealed himself, the merciful one. In this way, the understanding of Christian doctrine reopens. It returns life to God and “tender flesh” to the doctrine of the Church. Thus, it sets the premises for a Church that no longer separates what God has united: dogma and history, doctrine and life, gospel and human experience. With an expression dear to catechesis: fidelity to God and to man.
Pope Francis spoke to the Italian bishops in this way:
«Christian doctrine is not a closed system, incapable of raising questions, doubts, inquiries, but is living, is able to unsettle, is able to enliven. It has a face that is supple, a body that moves and develops, and flesh that is tender: Christian doctrine is called Jesus Christ.» (Pope Francis, Meeting with the participants in the Fifth Convention of the Italian Church, Florence 10-11-2015).
We can accurately indicate the pivot on which the pastoral revisiting of the heart of Christian doctrine rests, of its dogma. It consists in having transformed an attribute of God (merciful), into the qualifying trait of His identity, and therefore in the hermeneutical principle to know and to guard his face and consequently to preserve and interpret the deposit of the Christian faith.
The second proclamation
Why do we talk about “second proclamation” after having clarified the fundamental sense of “first proclamation”? This expression was introduced by John Paul II in 1979: «A new evangelization has begun – said the Pope – almost as if it were a second proclamation, even though it is always the same».
Even if we do not find the precise term, we can find it meaning in Evangelii gaudium:
«All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma, which is reflected in and constantly illumines the work of catechesis, thereby enabling us to understand more fully the significance of every theme which the latter treats.» (Evangelii gaudium, 164-165).
The second proclamation can be defined as “becoming flesh” of the first proclamation in the fundamental stages of people’s lives, adults in particular. We can then call the second “first proclamation”. The majority of Catholics received a “first proclamation”, had contact with the Christian faith, receiving it in some way as an inheritance. The “second proclamation” is the resounding of the first proclamation as a word of blessing within the difficulties of human life. It is the way it becomes “true”, taking shape and flesh in the fundamental crossroads of life: it is “second” because it appears again as a grace that offers itself, and therefore again as an appeal to freedom for that is available.
This possible availability is often for many people really the first making oneself open: the passage from a faith by hearsay to a faith by personal trust. What is announced as a promise, takes place as a proposal for a good life within the different trials of human life. It is analogous to what happened to Israel: its first exodus become a second exodus in all the decisive ‘crossings’ of its history, and therefore a genetic return on the shores of the Red Sea. This also applies, for example, to a “yes”- pronounced in marriage – or in the choice of a life consecrated to God. There is always a first yes, but the decisive one is the second one. This is why we can also call the second first proclamation. The second first proclamation is the most important challenge of catechesis addressed to people who are already sociologically considered Christians. It is also decisive for those who face the faith for the first time, because the gift of God and its reception take shape throughout the whole of human existence.
The importance of the “second”
The notion of “second” is not an alternative to the expression “first proclamation”. On the contrary, it is at its service and makes it possible to highlight better the specific task. There are at least three reasons that motivate the choice to call the proclamation as “second”.
Firstly, there is a cultural reason. In Europe, the end of a long period in which adherence to the Christian faith was the result of social conformity calls for a complex work of new enculturation of Christianity, within a society that is no longer sociologically Christian and characterized by biodiversity, as stated above. If this is particularly evident for the countries of ancient Christianity, it is now valid for all the continents, which have become a great global village. The Gospel must be rediscovered by the ecclesial community and made to resonate as a culturally habitable place. We are facing a “second” cultural situation. Then there is a reason inherent in the acceptance of faith itself, which does not happen once and for all: on a number of occasions faith must be rebuilt in its own right, and then re-announced and listened to. This is true both for the Christian community and for every believer. Faith demands a “second” adhesion, a “second” conversion, a “second” alliance.
Finally, there is a theological reason linked to the God of Jesus Christ, to the always surplus gift of His Spirit, the unpredictable grace, that always new encounter with God, His surprises that are never exhausted. He never said His last word of grace towards us. His “first” coming in the Son made human is always followed by His return, by His “second coming”, which we await until His final manifestation.
The opportune times of the second proclamation
When does God pass “the second time” in life? When does He present Himself with His “second” visit? The opportune time (kairòs) of the passages of God in the lives of many people are the “cracks” that open up within human experiences, those that as adults we must face throughout life. It does not generally happen in periods of stability (cultural, emotional, economic, physical …) that God intervenes in us, but when reached equilibriums are shaken. We give these cracks the name of “crisis”, understood as the intervention of a discontinuity in our life, a discontinuity due to excess or defect. To excess: the appearance of a special gift that surprises (like a sudden love, a child who is born, something that excites, a beautiful thing that surprises). By default: the appearance of a threat of death (a loss, a physical and psychological earthquake, a situation of loneliness, a lack of work, a wound, a failure, an illness, a mourning).
Surprises are possible openings. Wounds can become possibilities. In these passages the question of the meaning of our life, of its origin and its destiny returns to us. They challenge us in our deepest identity, when we feel ourselves given to ourselves as a gift (every beautiful surprise tells us the gratuitousness of life) or threatened in our existence. These situations bring about in us the need for thanksgiving or an invocation of help: we feel the need to give thanks, we feel the need to invoke and ask for help. Precisely because they are decisive in the process of maturation of adult life, precisely because the question of meaning is at stake, the crises of adults (both those by default and those by excess), are possible “thresholds of access to the faith”, it does not matter whether first or second proclamation. This is because within these experiences we encounter the human mystery in its two realities, with respect to which we cannot pretend: that of life and that of death. In each of these fundamental passages, therefore, a Pasqual experience is at stake. They are anthropological passages: it is valid for falling in love, the birth of a child, an emotional crisis, an illness, a loss, the lack or loss of work, etc.
For these experiences to change from a ‘threshold’ to becoming ‘consent’ and profession of faith, it is evident, that within the human process of introspection a “revelation” is offered and an “unveiling” occurs, that is to say the testimony of someone who helps to be a “Presence in one’s favour” in what is happening. It is at this point that the experience of crisis by default can become prayer of invocation and the experience of crisis by excess can become thanksgiving and praise. The psalms, in their various harmonies, offer themselves to us as the qualified expression of these two movements: invocation and gratitude. The resonance of a word of blessing within transition situations in life can thus become for many true experiences of first or second proclamation. The word that Paul, with particular lucidity and effectiveness, continues to repeat becomes decisive again: “Whoever invokes the name of the Lord will be saved.” Now, how can they invoke Him without having first believed in Him? How will they believe, without having heard of it? And how can they hear of it without one announcing it?” (Romans 10: 13-14). This word of Paul invites the Christian community to reopen the time of the first and second first proclamation. It is decisive that, in times of positive or negative disruption in people’s lives, a word of the Gospel resounds. Only in this way, can the silent passages of God be discovered as a blessing and promise.
The life of man, the alphabet of God
The second announcement recognizes that the life of man is the alphabet of God. He recognizes that every human story is sacred ground, in which to walk on tiptoe, taking off his shoes. On this ground, which is human nature, one suspends all judgment, every evaluation. Living and accompanying the story of women and men is the greatest act of love. It is also the most beautiful, perhaps the only way to proclaim the Gospel, to show everyone the gift of the good life it contains. The Church, which often concentrates on the objective level of faith alone, needs this move in the history that God writes in the flesh of today’s women and men. Then it will also understand differently and in greater depth the objective aspect of Revelation.
The Synod on the family recalled the words of Pope Francis in its final document, applying them to the family:
«The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment”, which teaches u show to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.»(EG, 169)
The second first proclamation is committed to this path.