When Pope Benedict XVI visited the Marian shrine of Aparecida in Brazil last May to open the 5th Conference of the Church of Latin America and the Caribbean, he told the assembled bishops: “If we do not know God in and with Christ, all of reality is transformed into an indecipherable enigma; there is no way, and without a way, there is neither life nor truth.” We are observing the 40th anniversary of our diocesan Church as a Year of Evangelization precisely to underscore the fact that given the climate of relativism in which we are living as a culture and a society it is all the more urgent that we as Catholics root ourselves in the certainty that Christ, the God with a human face, is our true and only Savior.
Jesus sent his disciples to evangelize “without cloak, walking stick, or purse”. The only thing they carried with them was the good news. This good news was born of the most important and decisive encounter of their lives, an encounter that had filled them with light, strength and hope: the encounter with Jesus. He became for them their rock, their peace, their life. In accepting the gift of faith, they left behind the darkness and shadows of death. Being a Christian, which for many of Jesus’ early disciples led to martyrdom, was not experienced as a burden but as a gift: through Jesus in the gift of his Holy Spirit we enter into communion with God, our loving Father.
“Evangelization” then will depend not so much of new programs or structures but on a new conviction on the part of all Catholics that by virtue of our baptism each one of us is called to be disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ. However, a Catholic faith reduced to being merely a collection of some do’s and don’ts, that we selectively choose to follow or not, will fail to convert others much less ourselves. Such a fragmented and bland faith will not survive the storms that assault us in these times of relativism and secular nihilism. As Pope Benedict insists, “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, who gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
Evangelization can only start from a rediscovery on the part of every baptized Catholic of the joy and beauty of being Christian. It is precisely for this reason that I asked in response to a suggestion that emerged from our recent Synod that we as a diocesan Church celebrate our 40th anniversary with a “Festival of Faith”. The “Festival of Faith” will take place May 8 to 10th at the Orlando Convention Center South Concourse on International Drive just off of I-4. Many generous and dedicated people from throughout our diocese are working hard to prepare the various events and exhibitions that will make up the festival. I hope every Catholic here in Central Florida will make a special effort to participate in one or more of the various events – and to bring a friend or two along with you.
The Festival of Faith will afford us an opportunity to look back on our first 40 years with gratitude – despite the shadows that accompany any human activity, these years have been years of grace for which we thank our good and gracious God. But, more importantly, the Festival will help us to look to the future with confidence as we face the great challenges ahead of us. During the Festival of Faith, we will celebrate with gratitude and joy of our encounter with Jesus Christ. Knowing Jesus Christ by faith is our joy, following him is a grace and passing on this treasure to others is a commission that the Lord has entrusted to each one of us in calling and choosing us. The Festival of Faith will remind us that there is no other priority for us as Catholics than to make Jesus Christ known, loved, adored, announced and communicated to all.