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
The New Evangelisation and Medjugorje
The first Christian communities had a strong awareness of being sent out with a mission. Toward the end of the oldest gospel, the one of Mark, is this word of the Risen Lord to the disciples: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation" (Mk 16:15). After he very briefly reports on Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the evangelist concludes: "They went forth and preached everywhere. The Lord continued to work with them throughout and confirm the message through the signs which accompanied them" (Mk 16:20). This is certainly not only a confirmation that the disciples fulfilled Jesus’ command, but a still ever greater new impetus to the readers of the gospel to continue to do the same. Nor did Matthew omit finishing his gospel with the same command, although he somewhat modified it in keeping with the spirit of the theological concept of his work: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. . ." (Mt 28:19). An additional promise shows that this is an unlimited mission for all times, which the disciples need not be afraid of: "I am with you always even to the end of the world" (Mt 28:20). In light of his view of salvation history, Luke interprets that proclamation as the fulfilment of Scripture, which has to take place beginning from Jerusalem. And since according to his theology the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of everything happening, the disciples must remain in Jerusalem until He comes and then they will be His witnesses (cf. Lk 24:45-49). Acts of Apostles begins by recalling that promise (Acts 1:4 ff) and by recounting its fulfilment on the day of Pentecost when the Good News resounded, not only in Jerusalem, but also among representatives of some fifteen nations that happened to be in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-13).
His great work, which we may call the history of the early Church, Luke finishes with a glorious affirmation about the triumph of the gospel in Rome, in spite of Paul's imprisonment: "For two full years Paul stayed on in his rented lodging. . . where without any hindrance whatever, he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 28:30). That ending was consciously left open that way to be the ongoing perspective of the gospel. But one should also say that such a quick and successful advent of the gospel throughout the huge Roman empire and the arrival at its centre in Rome, has by no means been without resistance and great difficulties. Judeo-Christians had difficulty being reconciled with the evangelisation of Samaria (cf. Acts 8; Jn 4) and with Paul's persistence in proclaiming the gospel to the gentiles without imposing the prescriptions of the Mosaic law (cf. Gal 1 - 2). Under such conditions, as if the activity of the promised Holy Spirit was insufficient, God also made use of extraordinary interventions, such as Peter's vision in Cornelius' house (Acts 10), and also of a completely human effort like Paul's conflict with Peter in Antioch when they were dealing with the very important question of the relationship of the gospel to the law of Moses, which for the Church had far reaching significance (Gal 2:11-14), or through the assembling of the apostles at the Council of Jerusalem and its conclusions (Acts 15).
Throughout the long history of the Church God always acted in a similar way. Whenever the Church got weaker or faced problems difficult to solve, God sent special people or made use of unordinary interventions, most usually through the apparitions of Our Lady in those of Medjugorje should also be included. The intention of Pope John XXIII in convoking the Second Vatican Council was to find an adequate way of proclaiming the gospel to modern man. The council fathers in the greatest detail analysed the state of the modern world, its needs and hopes, and also its anxieties and fears in the face of the future, emphasizing that the great progress in every field has not resolved the most important human questions regarding man's true happiness and future. Thus, our time has an equally both good and bad prospect. The council sees the principal causes for this in the division of the human heart and in its unquenchable need for God which the Church wishes to satisfy (cf. GS no. 4 - 10). One cannot say that after the Council, the Church throughout the world has not undertaken with great diligence the implementation of its conclusions, but there have been no true fruits. And while some say that we should not lose patience, pointing out that some other councils also needed a lot of time for their fruits to appear, there are, it seems, critical spirits that are pointing the finger at the right place. They emphasize that the Church in all that huge conciliar renewal did not reckon with the Holy Spirit and, not having gathered in prayer with Mary like the community of Jesus’ disciples in the beginning, it did not give Him the chance to renew the Church and give hope to the world. Pope Paul VI summed it up the best in one of his speeches: "After the Christology and especially after the ecclesiology of the Council, a new phase must arrive and a new cult of the Holy Spirit as the inescapable supplement to the teaching of the Council" (General Audience July 6, 1973). And Yves Congar, one of the most outstanding theologians of this century, resented that the Council in developing its doctrine, forgot pneumatology, that is, doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and he immediately explains that it is possible only when and where the Spirit is already active: "Pneumatology as theology and a dimension of ecclesiology can be developed completely only thanks to what the Church is already actualising and living. And it is precisely in that area that theology depends strongly on practice."3 Thus it has been since the beginning of the Church. Liturgy with the celebration of Eucharist and the proclamation of the word of God was the locus theologicus, the place where New Testament theology was created. I dare say that Medjugorje has already thus far given a lot of impetus to modern pastoral theology to be able to overcome fruitless rationalism and give more space to the activity of the Holy Spirit.
The New Evangelisation, announced and being prepared already for fifteen years in numerous papal documents, has been actualised in Medjugorje throughout that time. There the gospel is proclaimed with all the seriousness that it demands from the proclaimer and it is precisely because of this that millions of listeners have experienced it as the good news about God who loves and forgives. In it they have found the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price that is worthy of sacrificing everything to obtain (cf. Mt 13:44-46). If the main points emphasized in the program of New Evangelisation are considered, then they are in strong agreement with the Medjugorje messages. We shall only compare some of the most important ones.
The Apostolic Letter of Pope Paul VI Evangelii Nuntiandi (December 8, 1975) emphasizes as the chief and decisive way of the New Evangelisation is witnessing to authentic Christian life, which presuppose the new man, who is possible only by conversation and internal transformation in the spirit of the gospel. In that line is also the Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae (October 16, 1979) as well as the extraordinary Bishops' Synod of 1985. The same is also expressed in the final document of the extraordinary synod for Europe (1991) under the significant title: To Be Witnesses of Christ Who Has Set Us Free. Today it is no longer enough merely to proclaim the gospel. Authentic witnesses are demanded because in the eyes of modern man the Church to a large degree has lost its credibility. One of the bishops, having at heart the future of Christianity in his own country and the destiny of the New Evangelisation, warns: "What the Church has to say can indeed be correct, but it does not necessarily make man joyful and free." In other words, the gospel lost the strength of conviction because the proclaimers are not sufficiently joyful and free, they are not witnesses. The above mentioned Apostolic Letter says the testimony of Christian life should be characterized by "surrender to God in a communion that must not be destroyed by anything and at the same time by surrender to one's neighbour in unlimited availability. . ." (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no 41). It is nothing else than remembering the realization of Christ's twofold commandment of love in the conditions of the modern world, which is obviously at work in Medjugorje. Medjugorje's spirituality from the very beginning has an emphatic quality of charity. It makes people sensitive to the needs of their fellow man, something that has been demonstrated in so many wonderful examples of unselfish generosity during the recent war in Croatia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina.