Medjugorje and the New Evangelisation
Date: August 2, 2005 , Originally published November 10, 2001
Author: Dr. fra Ivan Dugandzic, OFM
Category: Theology reports , Medjugorje in the Catholic Church
Content of the article
Medjugorje and spiritual movements in the Church
The Church of Jesus has from the beginning been aware that it owes its existence to the working of the Holy Spirit, which He had promised and sent in His time (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:4 ff; 2:1 ff; John 14:16 ff, 26; 16:7-14). That holds not only for the original community in Jerusalem, which had Jesus' promise, but also for any other. Thus Paul reminds the Galatians that they "began in the Spirit" (Gal 3:3), but he invites the Thessalonians "not to extinguish the Spirit" (1 Thess 5:19). When he invites the Christians in Rome "not to conform to this world" but "to be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God's will" (Rom 12:2), Paul again proposes the Holy Spirit as the renewing force which through baptism is already present in Christians (cf. Rom 8:9 ff). That, it is true, is not a definitive, completed salvation, but only the first fruits of the Spirit, but sufficient for a Christian, together with all creation, to endure the birth pangs through which one must yet pass (Rom 8:23-27).
Based on that, throughout the centuries the Church has formed an awareness about itself as "the Church that must always be renewed" (Ecclesia semper reformanda). The Holy Spirit has in different times always found new ways for that internal fervour and life to come to expression in ever new forms. "The word on the Church that it must be constantly renewed throughout the centuries has essentially characterized the history of the Church. Again and again within the Church have emerged movements which endeavoured radically to live the gospel, such as the religious communities founded by Benedict of Nursia, Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi and Ignatius of Loyola". It must be admitted that all the above-mentioned orders, and also many others, have in their times meant a profound renewal of the Church. Their charism has shed light throughout the centuries, strongly characterizing the spiritual life of the Church and the world in general. For that reason the very term "imitation of Christ" in spiritual doctrine and theology was limited only to the religious state, something certainly not in the spirit of the New Testament. Because the New Testament does not admit a double moral standard, for some only the way of the commandments and for others a very high set of demands to be followed. There is only one, and it is a common ideal of the Christian life, and that is the imitation of Jesus Christ. It pertains to the whole Church and that everywhere and at every time. That this ideal is able to be realized in different ways is another issue.
The Second Vatican Council made an effort to correct that, emphasizing the dignity, importance, and mission of Christian laymen in today's world. In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church we read: "Therefore the laity, since they are consecrated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are wonderfully invited and instructed for all the more abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit to be brought forth in them" (LG, no. 34). Thereby the Council then confirmed what was already happening in the Church, and at the same time gave a still greater impetus to new movements. Besides the already existing lay movements such as Focolarini, Cursillo, Opus Dei, Communione e Liberatione, Marriage Encounter, other different forms of renewal in the Spirit also appeared after the Council. Some were about individual renewal, or the various states of life through the renewal and the enlivening of the grace of the respective sacrament, or about renewal of parish communities. What is common to all these movements is the endeavour to create a style of spirituality suitable to our time, "spirituality as an impetus for the renewal of human ways of thinking and willing in the spirit of the Gospel, connected with an aspiration for experiencing faith in communion which opens up new approaches to prayer, the word of God, and the sacraments."
Thereby, we may say, coordinates are given within which we are easily able to place Medjugorje as a special spiritual phenomenon of our time. In Medjugorje, from the very beginning, an explicitly lay spirituality has been created, since the visionaries are lay people, and their messages have to the greatest measure found a responsive chord in Christian lay people, inspiring them to an ever greater renewal out of the spirit of the gospel and to be open to prayer, the word of God, and the sacraments. From the very beginning in the church of Medjugorje, it is the Eucharist, the proclamation of the word of God, the sacrament of reconciliation, and prayer that hold the central place, but all that experienced in a new and powerful way. In that sense Medjugorje cannot be placed within any already known spiritual movement, but it is a movement that, to a great extent, is contributing to the renewal of the Church throughout the world. In fact, Medjugorje's spirituality is not some spiritual movement in the Church, but is rather the Church in movement, since it is equally interesting and attractive to everyone, from the most ordinary lay believer to the highly educated theologian, many priests, bishops, and cardinals. When the above mentioned essential elements of the Medjugorje spirituality are put together, then it seems the best way to describe and define them is by what is understood today as the so frequently used term "The New Evangelisation".