The second day of the RE Congress was a terrific opportunity to hear from some Catholic personalities I particularly admire in LA Auxiliary Bishop and media evangelist Robert Barron and the Filipino Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila. Both were men with extraordinary intelligence and both were skilled orators. I also heard an excellent talk from Theologian and social media personality John Ronaldo. Being the Feast of St Patrick, the day concluded with a beautiful Mass of St Patrick in the arena with a 4,000 strong congregation.
Bishop Robert Barron – Evangelising Through Beauty
Bishop Robert Barron, most notable for his Catholicism series and his evangelisation apostolate (and soon to be movement) Word on Fire, presented the first talk of the day on Evangelising Through Beauty.
Bishop Robert Barron
Bishop Barron began by discussing St John Damascene’s victory against the iconoclast controversy and its importance in the way this allowed for the flourishing of grand traditions of art and architecture in the Catholic Church. No John Damascene: No Michelangelo, Medieval Cathedrals. Barron recalled Woody Allen’s line in the film Hannah and her Sisters, when in an existential discussion with Priest about why he was considering converting to Catholicism: “Well, you know… first of all because it’s a very beautiful religion.”
He went on to discuss the conversion from Judaism of Jean-Marie Lustiger who would go on to become the Cardinal of Paris. Lustiger saw first hand the beauty of Christians who sheltered him during the Shoah, but his conversion came when he entered a Cathedral in Orlean and witnessed the beauty of the liturgy.
Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger
Similarly, Paul Claudel, the French poet, dramatist and diplomat experienced his conversion upon listening to the choir chant vespers in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris while gazing at the famous rose window.
Notre Dame Cathedral’s Stained Glass Rose Window
Barron went on to discuss the beauty of gesture exhibited by Pope Francis in his many actions such as kissing and washing the feet on Good Friday. He reminded us that Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) is the frame of his pontificate and its call to follow the via pulchritudinis (the way of beauty).
Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the “way of beauty” (via pulchritudinis). Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendour and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties.
Evangelii Gaudium 167
Pope Francis – washing of the feet
Barron then introduced one of the most prolific theologians of the 2oth Century Hans Urs von Balthasar. von Balthasar reversed what was considered the primary pathway to evangelisation through the transcendentals of Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Traditionally the pathways was to teach the undeniable truth of the Catholic faith, which would show one how to act in a good way, which would allow them to appreciate and enter into the beauty of the faith. Von Balthasar reversed this notion, positing that an exposure to objective beauty will lead one to seek to act in a good way which will in turn lead them to the truth of the faith. Barron, agreeing with von Balthasar argues that whiles the truth is undeniably important, we do not need to begin with the ‘rules and regulations’ to evangelise and in many cases, this can be polarising and counterproductive.
Hans Urs Von Balthasar
Beauty, argues Barron, is less threatening. Beginning with the beauty of Christ leads us to imitate Christ which then leads to an understanding of Christ.
To explain this further, Barron then introduced Fordham theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand who argued that we need to see true beauty as not the merely subjectively satisfying but as the objectively valuable.
The merely subjectively satisfying is something that can be perceived by different people in different ways. We can elect to have or appreciate the subjectively satisfying or I can choose not to.
True beauty, however, is that which is objectively valuable: it rearranges my subjectivity to align with its objectivity. I do not elect to choose that which is objectively valuable, it elects me, changes me and sends me forth on mission, having been altered. This is what Paul Claudel experienced in gazing up at the rose window in Notre Dame. It is what we experience in looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or when listening to Mozart’s 7th Symphony.
Dietrich von Hildebrand
Pressing our understanding of beauty further, Barron took us to St Thomas Aquinas, who argued that beauty occurs at the intersection of three things:
- Integritas (wholeness)
- Consonatia (harmony)
- Claritas (radiance)
When these three are present, we experience something of beauty that is objectively valuable. It is the search for this form of beauty which moves us towards greater levels of beauty. The soul is objectively more beautiful than the body and the soul’s creator infinitely more-so.
Bishop Barron then took us to other examples of the path from beauty, through goodness to the objectively true. In Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, atheist protagonist Charles is initially drawn in by the beauty of Catholic Sebastian. This leads to want to adhere to the moral demands of the Church he is discovering through the beauty of Brideshead. This in turn leads him to accept the fullness of the truth of the faith by developing a relationship with Jesus and becoming Catholic.
Jesus himself, Barron explained exemplifies the understanding of beauty as the fullness of expression of Integritas, Consonatia and Claritas. Jesus was wholly devoted to God’s will, He is a perfect harmony of divinity and humanity and is the perfection of radiance as he IS the Light of the World.
When we read the gospels, we come to know and fall in love with Jesus Christ.
John Rinaldo – Technology and Social Media: A Primary Means of Evangelisation
I was very excited for this workshop as I really believe that technology is such an important avenue for the New Evangelisation. As Pope Benedict XVI explains in his address on the 44th World Communications Day:
The world of digital communication, with its almost limitless expressive capacity, makes us appreciate all the more Saint Paul’s exclamation: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16)
Rinaldo’s workshop was very affirming of the work that has been done in our diocese and my own understanding of the approach to using social media to spread the Good News.
The main takeaway from this session for me was that Face-to-face communications, built on relationships of trust and love remain and will remain the primary source of evangelisation.
Rinaldo highlighted the importance of what we put forth on social media. It is easy to feel anonymous when posting on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. However, this is dangerous as it can lead to less charitable posts and responses. We need to always ask ourselves if our posts are truly showing the face of Christ. We also need to be wary of our tone, which is hard to regulate on social media. It is important to remember to promote Truth, but this can and should be done from a position that avoids judgment. We need to remain charitable and inclusive in all of our encounters online.
Rinaldo also highlighted the importance of receiving and listening to feedback from our users in social media platforms, particularly those designed to promote and provide information about parishes and schools.
In regards to a strategic social media approach, Rinaldo suggested that the organisation’s website should be the ‘hub’ from which the ‘spokes’ of all other social media platforms we utilise should emanate. This is because our website is really the only digital platform over which we have total control. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can determine what our audience sees and can change their algorithms without notice. Our website should therefore be the backbone of our evangelising work. Our website should direct visitors to our social media platforms and our social media platforms should always refer the audience back to our website.
The importance of email was also highlighted by Rinaldo. This was something I hadn’t really considered. Despite what some may think, email will continue to remain the tool for businesses; it is not going anywhere. Catholic organisations need to think about how they are collecting email addresses and using these to invite them to join your community for key events.
Text messaging too is such a powerful strategy for gaining the attention of our community. While Rinaldo explained that an email open rate of 20% should be considered a very high rate, text message open rates are generally as high as 90%!
One of the most important points raised by Rinaldo was to recognise who we are reaching through our social media efforts. He asked the provocative question:
Have we turned more people away from the Church through our social media efforts than we have brought into the Church?
This is such an important point. How are we representing ourselves as Catholic and our Catholic faith online? If we present only the ‘pretty’ aspects of our faith, without showing the reality of the challenges of developing a relationship with God, do we risk isolating people who feel they can’t possibly live up to the ‘perfected’ church we represent?
Finally, Rinaldo presented two last points that I think we can all be reassured by:
- It is OK to NOT be on all social media platforms: there is not the time and we are better remaining where we are comfortable.
- Turn off the social media notifications on your phones: we can spend too much time on our devices without remembering to engage people face-to-face.
A great overview from John Rinaldo which provided some keen insights into this work.
John Rinaldo – Ways of New Evangelisation in Asia
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is the 32nd Archbishop of Manila. I was fortunate enough to be involved in the planning of the Parramatta Diocese Filipino Chaplaincy Mass when the Cardinal visited Australia in 2014 and so I had heard him speak before. I could not miss the opportunity to hear from this energetic and charismatic preacher again and so jumped at the opportunity to hear him talk of the New Evangelisation in Asia.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle
Cardinal Tagle commenced by reminding us of what we mean when we talk of Evangelisation. He reminds us that evangelisation is the spreading of the ‘Good’ News. It should be accompanied with great joy and that we need to work to recover this.
Tagle is a master storyteller. He crafts narratives which have his audience at one moment laughing hysterically and at the next on the verge of tears. I’ll do my best to recount some of the tales woven into Tagle’s presentation.
Tagle began with a cautionary tale for catechists. He spoke to one of the young catechumens from his parish about her religious education teacher, in the hopes of affirming the teacher’s excellent work. He asked the young girl, ‘what do you remember most from your lessons with your teacher?’ Without pause the young girls replied: ‘Quiet! Quiet! Quiet!‘ The Cardinal reminded us that if our Church is to grow, we should be hopeful for the sounds of children. This is the sign of life for the parish.
The Cardinal then sought to clarify what is meant by ‘New’ in the New Evangelisation. The Gospel is always new, he reminded us but the emphasis on the ‘New’ reminds us of this fact and calls us more urgently to spread the Good News. Tagle recalled Pope John Paul II’s call for new settings, new conditions, new methods and expressions and a new fullness and ardour to accompany this New Evangelisation. Tagle reminded us that we need to remember this when we engage our students, particularly through digital media.
Tagle went on to discuss the unique challenges of the New Evangelisation in Asia. Two thirds of the people in the world are Asian and Asia is the birthplace of the most refugees in the world. If we include the Middle East in our categorisation of Asia, we can even argue that Jesus was born on Asian soil. He spoke of Asia as a land of great dichotomies. Of vast wealth and debilitating poverty. Asia is also a place of great conflict: ethnic, political and religious. An enormous number of people are displaced due to causes both natural and man-made. This context means there are great challenges when it comes to spreading the Good News in Asia.
These challenges mean that the stories of the people of Asia are crucial in bringing to them the Word of God. Tagle spoke of ‘weaving stories’, of weaving in the story of Jesus as we listen to the stories of the lives of the people. In our attentiveness to the stories of these men and women in our evangelisation efforts, and by weaving in Jesus’ story, we are weaving the divine into the human.
Tagle continued by acknowledging the importance of building community by sitting together at one table. We each bring our own gifts to the table and while the gifts we bring are important, we must always be prepared to receive from the gifts of others at the table. To illustrate this, Cardinal Tagle spoke of his experiences in Nepal following the earthquake that claimed 9,000 lives in 2015. Tagle visited a remote Nepalese village to mark the one year anniversary of the earthquake, a village where there were no Christians and no one had heard of Jesus. The visit was a day of celebration, of the locals welcome, dance and poetry. After five hours without a break, the delegation was starving. It was then they realised that at this table, the Nepalese did not have food to bring to the table. However, they brought what they could, specially choreographed dances and composed poems and songs. These people gave what gifts they could to share at the table. I their recognition of this, the delegation was spiritually filled… The Nepalese remembered that ‘the Christians’, in Caritas, had arrived to help them only two days after the earthquake. They asked ‘who are these Christians to think of us?’ Now the story will always be told of the Christians who came and gave what they had. The table had been opened, community birthed and Jesus shared.
Cardinal Tagle spoke of the importance of letting go. He told the story of the daughter of a friend of his whose parents parents felt that she was experiencing a difficult time. With some reservations, he agreed to talk to the girl. Eventually she opened up to him, explaining that she felt her parents were hypocrites! Her father forbade her from smoking, while he himself chain-smoked. Her mother expected her to be frugal, while she herself shopped all of the time. This was a reminder of the importance of listening and of avoiding judgment. This young girls was not going through a difficult time, she was a modern day prophet, struggling with the hypocrisy of her parents. Can we let go of these preconceived notions of how an evangelist looks and what an evangelists does? Can we let go and let new life come?
Finally, Tagle spoke of joining in community on a common pilgrimage, through walking with the other and sharing our lives and stories together. We need to see one another as brother and sister. We need to open our hearts to journeying with those who have been scattered and left behind.
Liturgy: St Patrick’s – The Immigrant Saint
This liturgy was incredibly special. The Mass was celebrated in the main arena with around 4.000 other congregants. Fittingly, the presider was Irish priest Fr David Loftus, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Northridge CA. Music was composed and sung by multi award-winning composer and Catholic Priest Liam Lawton.
In light of the Mass’ theme and the circumstances of saint whose feast we were celebrating, the liturgy began with a an audio-video montage of the trials of refugees and immigrants from across the world. This was an incredibly moving experience which reminded me of Pope Pius XII’s elegant words:
“The exiled Holy Family of Nazareth, fleeing into Egypt, is the archetype of every refugee family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are for all times and all places, the models and protectors of every migrant, pilgrim and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave his native land, his beloved parents and relatives, his close friends, and to seek a foreign soil.”
Pope Pius XII Exsul Familia Nazarethana
The Mass commenced with a beautiful rendition of The Lord of the Dance led by Liam Lawton and accompanied by liturgical movement, Irish dancers and a procession of a dozen cardinals and bishops and scores more clergy.
It was an incredibly moving Mass with a compelling homily from Fr David. Concluding with the Breastplate of St Patrick was a particular highlight.
If you are an RE teacher or leader or a Parish RCIA leader, I can highly recommend attending the LA RE Congress. This is a truly inspirational and formative experience that will linger in my memory for many years to come.