Earlier today, together with a group of other Catholics involved in interfaith dialogue, I was working through the discussion document released by the ACBC on the Lineamenta for the 2012 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation.
The second to last question on the discussion paper is this:
In what ways does the Gospel offer a way forward in the midst of disappointments and discouragement?
I then made this comment:
“I would have no hope at all, were it not for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If it were not for that one fact, I would have no faith in God, no incentive for moral living, no interest in theology or spirituality, no hope for the future.”
The reaction from the table was unanimous astonishment and horror. They could not comprehend what I was saying.
I was, of course, merely paraphrasing St Paul, who wrote in 1 Cor 15:
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
I think the difficulty arises in part because the meaning of “evangelisation” has been “churchified” and we have forgotten that at its core it means to proclaim the good news that Jesus is risen from the dead and that he is therefore Lord (Kyrios). In the ancient world an “evangelium” was the proclamation of a victory of a king or ascension to power of a new ruler (eg. a new Caesar). Those who carried this message – the “evangelists” – were royal emmissaries, or heralds. Paul had come face to face with the Risen Christ and therefore had accepted the duty to proclaim this “evangelium” to the whole world (“Woe to me if I do not announce the evangelium” 1 Cor 9:16).
For myself, in presenting the good news to others, I have to start with the Resurrection. That one historical fact is the one thing that changes everything. For me it is this, and this alone, which gives us any reason at all to hope in a good God who loves me, and who is doing something to “offer a way forward in the midst of disappointments and discouragement.” From the Resurrection all else follows – from the goodness of Creation to the necessity of the Church.
Pope Benedict put it well and simply in Spe Salvi (43): “Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh. There is justice.”
Why am I a Christian? Because Jesus is risen from the dead.
It’s as simple as that.
[UPDATE: You can read more on the meaning of the word “evangelisation” in the presentation I gave last week to the Catholic Women’s League National Conference]