“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:14-15)
There has been a lot of talk recently about how best to evangelize to the world. While every generation has its own challenges, there are things that this modern world faces the likes of which we have never seen before. Unlike the pagans of old, in many ways, we live in a post-Christian society. CS Lewis made the observation in Mere Christianity that preaching to the pagans was like preaching marriage to a virgin about marriage while speaking to modern non-Christians is like speaking to a divorcee about marriage. Both are unmarried, but one has never experienced marriage and the other one has and rejected it.
In our modern world, many people have rejected Christianity or at least what they think is Christianity. So when we speak to them about the faith, their hearts close up against something that they think is antiquated, outdated, discredited, and thoroughly unmodern.
One of the purposes of Vatican II was to open the windows of the Church to reach out to the modern world as it. There is no point in preaching to a world in which you have no understanding or engagement. In the post-modern society, a world that has in many ways become smaller and larger, the Church must constantly learn the best ways to engage and dialogue with modernity.
But dialogue is not the end. It is only a means.
I have noticed that in many circles, there appears to be a kind of detente (meaning a kind of peace with the modern world that accepts it as it is) mentality when it comes to the Church and the modern world: . In the name of tolerance and diversity, there seems to be an acceptance of the ways in which modern society is at odds with the Church. This is, of course, not a blanket statement. But when we reach out to communities at odds with our faith, what is the end or purpose?
Our ultimate goal must always be to bring them into communion with salvific love of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Matthew ends with the great commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Our goal must always be to bring people to Jesus. As long as this is the ultimate goal, then there can be some legitimate disagreement on methods. For example, many in proposed during the Amazon Synod that missionaries do not impose a Western style of Christianity if it will not make sense to the people. This may be wise or foolish. But as long as the ultimate goal is to bring people to Christ, then we can have a legitimate debate.
The place where I find great discomfort is where there seems to be a shyness regarding the truths of the faith. I see this sometimes in those who minister to people with same-sex attractions. There is something to be said about not over-emphasize the “dont’s” of life for someone who has same sex attraction. I have found that focusing only on the “don’ts” can have an ultimately negative effect on bringing people with same sex attractions to Christ. But I’ve found that there is an over-correction that often takes place. In this case, we talk about the unconditional love of God, but the moral law regarding homosexual activity is hardly mentioned or even ignored. I find that this leads to more confusion and frustration from all sides.
“Live and let live,” seems to be the order of the day for many in the modern Church. And to be sure, we are here to offer and propose the faith to others in love, not to impose the faith with force. But if the message of the Gospel is true, then we do the modern world a disservice by not trying to convert it. Getting a culture to turn away from its popular heresies has always been the unpopular job of the Church. We do not do people any favors when we imply that a life without Christ is just as fulfilling as a life without Christ.
Detente with the world implies exactly that. Because ultimately, there can be no compromise with the world. The world will either be converted to Christ or the world will oppose Christ, as He told us at the Last Supper.
Because detente with the world is the surrender of our faith.