The New Martyrdom

Everyone is talking about the New Evangelization. In the spirit of the Second Vatican Council (the reason for the Council, in this author’s humble opinion), it is a missionary effort to bring the Gospel to a modern, secular world which has, for the most part, rejected, ignored, or at best, compartmentalized it for its own purposes.

I love Pope John XXIII’s image of “opening the windows”. Some have interpreted this as the Council’s blessing on bringing the modern world into the Church, on updating its teachings and practices to “better fit into” the modern world that the Church finds herself in. These same people have been gravely disappointed that the Church has remained consistent in its teachings, especially the ones that prove difficult for the modern mind to accept. If the Council was not about bringing the modern world into the Church, then what do we do with this image of the open window?

I say, “Fly!” Yes, the New Evangelization is about flying out of the window with the Gospel in hand (and heart!) and living it radically, encountering the world at every turn, bringing the light of Christ to it. I say flying because human beings cannot fly of their own power. The New Evangelization requires a complete trust in God’s providential care. A radical living of the Gospel demonstrates that trust. It will bring about a transformation of the world, not a “better fitting into” it.

The Christian views the world through the eyes of the Gospel, not the Gospel through the eyes of the world. Just like the first Christians, a person radically living the Gospel, radically loving as God loves, will be misunderstood, labeled an outcast at best or a threat at worst, and ultimately rejected or persecuted. The Christian is not of the world, and will be hated by the world (John 15:9). Thus, the New Evangelization is a call to a New Martyrdom.

This martyrdom is not to be sought, nor is it a rejection of the world. It is simply the response the world will have to the Christian, who is loving for the world’s sake, in order to transform it. If the world is considered “the enemy”, the Christian loves the enemy, making friends (even brother and sisters) in the process, and bringing about the kingdom of God. We fight the enemy with love, not so the enemy dies, but so that he may have life.

Both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his successor Pope Francis understand this. Two ways the contemporary Christian lives out this martyrdom is by loving God and loving one’s neighbor – regardless of the worldly consequences. In a modern world, where human reason is god and wealth is the measure of success, faith in a transcendent God and life that first concerns the welfare of one’s neighbor put one in opposition to the way things work. Benedict spent much of his papacy tending to the celebration of the liturgy, the worship of God. His papacy culminated in a Year of Faith, celebrating faith in the resurrected Jesus and the consequences of having a personal relationship with Him (which is, of course, to know unconditional love in one’s life and to be able to recognize the lack of it in the world). Pope Francis has followed up with a focus on how human beings are to treat each other in light of this faith, placing a spotlight on the poor of the world, our neighbor.

We might come to an awareness of how our actions – economic, political, environmental, etc. – affect other people (even future generations), but we will only care about these effects if, by faith, we are united to all people in the love of God. Only with the faith of which Benedict speaks can the Church of Francis come to fruition. The witness of the New Martyrs will bring the world to Christ, for they will prove the truth of the Gospel.

Carmina Chapp teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Ut Unum Sint

Pan Orthodox Synod announcedThis month, an event of tremendous religious significance is in the process of coming to fruition and, yet, is receiving far less media attention than it deserves. The event in question is a Pan-Orthodox Synod which is the formal title for, what one might call, an Orthodox council. For those who might not be familiar with Orthodox Christianity, such an event has not happened since the split between the Eastern (later Orthodox) and Western (later Catholic) branches of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. In other words, an event of this type has not occurred since the 9th century! [Some Orthodox theologians contend that a 14th century synod held in Constantinople which endorsed the theology of St. Gregory of Palamas also qualifies, but that is by no means a universally-held position among Orthodox Christians.]

The news relating to this event was made public on March 9th (the actual communiqué can be found here: ). At a Synaxis (gathering) of the primates of all the autocephalous (self-governing) Orthodox churches, it was agreed that the proposed Pan-Orthodox Synod should be held in 2016 in Constantinople (Istanbul). [The one “hitch” to the vote was the absent Patriarch of Antioch, who left because of a dispute unrelated to the pending council. Because he elected to “suspend” his vote, rather than dissent from the vote, the plans for the future Synod will proceed.] The preparations for this historic Pan-Orthodox Synod began in 1976 and, needless to say given the date, the process has been an arduous and often politically-fraught one.

[For the input of the USCCB on the topic (from 1977!), see the following link: ]

How does this topic relate to the “average Catholic?” According to St. John’s Gospel, the final prayer which Jesus uttered before his arrest on Holy Thursday was for the unity of all those who believe in him. “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are” (Jn 17:11). Jesus’ prayer not only expresses his ardent desire for our communion, but also points us towards the mystical font of all Christian communion, i.e., the very inner-life of our Triune God. Blessed Pope John Paul II, inspired by this verse of St. John’s Gospel, entitled his encyclical on the Church’s commitment to ecumenism Ut Unum Sint (So That They Might Be One). In this text, Pope John Paul reiterates a phrase which he often used in relation to Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, namely, that “the Church must breathe with her two lungs!” (§ 54). That is to say, the Church is called to the communion which she enjoyed during the first Christian millennium. Pope John Paul’s successors have consistently echoed this belief as well. Pope Benedict XVI stated in an address to Orthodox church leaders that “we dare to hope, even if humanly speaking constantly new difficulties arise, that the day may still be not too far away when we may once again celebrate the Eucharist together” (9-24-11). Pope Francis, speaking to a delegation from the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, said that “the search for unity among Christians is an urgent task – you have said that ‘it is not a luxury, but an imperative’ – from which, today more than ever, we cannot rescind” (6-28-13).

The eminent Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann (+1983) once said that any communion with Rome would have to follow a Pan-Orthodox Synod. In other words, intra-communion among the Orthodox must come first. He also, rather infamously, followed that statement by referring to the idea of a Pan-Orthodox Synod as an “eschatological concept.” Well, given the recent communiqué from the Synaxis, perhaps we all should be a little extra-vigilant in awaiting the Lord’s return in the next few years. At the very least, we should all share in his prayer that we be one as he and the Father are one. “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).

 Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.