In the appeal to conversion the proclamation of the Living God is implicit—as its fundamental condition. Theocentrism is fundamental in the message of Jesus and must also be at the heart of new evangelisation.

The keyword of the proclamation of Jesus is: the Kingdom of God. But the Kingdom of God is not a thing, a social or political structure, a utopia. The Kingdom of God is God. Kingdom of God means: God exists. God is alive. God is present and acts in the world, in our—in my life.

God is not a faraway ‘ultimate cause,’ God is not the ‘great architect’ of deism, who created the machine of the world and is no longer part of it—on the contrary: God is the most present and decisive reality in each and every act of my life, in each and every moment of history.

In his conference when leaving the University of Münster, the theologian J.B. Metz said some unexpected things for him. … After (a) … long and difficult path, … he tells us: The true problem of our times is the ‘Crisis of God,’ the absence of God, disguised by an empty religiosity. Theology must go back to being truly theology, speaking about and with God.

Metz is right: the unum necessarium to man is God. Everything changes, whether God exists or not. Unfortunately—we Christians also often live as if God did not exist (Etsi Deus non daretur). We live according to the slogan: God does not exist, and if he exists, he does not belong.

Therefore, evangelisation must, first of all, speak about God, proclaim the only true God: the Creator—the Sanctifier—the Judge1.

Here too we must keep the practical aspect in mind. God cannot be made known with words alone. One does not really know a person if one knows about this person second-handedly. To proclaim God is to introduce to the relation with God: to teach how to pray. Prayer is faith in action. And only by experiencing life with God does the evidence of His existence appear.

This is why schools of prayer, communities of prayer, are so important. There is a complementarity between

  • personal prayer (‘in one’s room,’ alone in front of God’s eyes),
  • ‘para-liturgical’ prayer in common (‘popular religiosity’) and
  • liturgical prayer.

 

Yes, the liturgy is, first of all, prayer; its specificity consists in the fact that its primary project is not ourselves (as in private prayer and in popular religiosity), but God himself—the liturgy is actio divina, God acts and we respond to this divine action.

Speaking about God and speaking with God must always go together. The proclamation of God is the guide to communion with God in fraternal communion, founded and vivified by Christ. This is why the liturgy (the sacraments) are not a secondary theme next to the preaching of the living God, but the realisation of our relationship with God.

While on this subject, may I be allowed to make a general observation on the liturgical question. Our way of celebrating the liturgy is very often too rationalistic. The liturgy becomes teaching, whose criteria is: making ourselves understood—often the consequence of this is making the mystery a banality, the prevalence of our words, the repetition of phrases that might seem more accessible and more pleasant for the people.

But this is not only a theological error but also a psychological and pastoral one. The wave of esoterism, the spreading of Asian techniques of relaxation and self-emptying demonstrate that something is lacking in our liturgies. It is in our world of today that we are in need of silence, of the super-individual mystery, of beauty.

The liturgy is not an invention of the celebrating priest or of a group of specialists; the liturgy (the ‘rite’) came about via an organic process throughout the centuries, it bears with it the fruit of the experience of faith of all the generations.

Even if the participants do not perhaps understand each single word, they perceive the profound meaning, the presence of the mystery, which transcends all words. The celebrant is not the centre of liturgical action; the celebrant is not in front of the people in his own name—he does not speak by himself or for himself, but in persona Christi.

The personal abilities of the celebrant do not count, only his faith counts, by which Christ becomes transparent. ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ 2

Pope Benedict XVI

 

Adapted from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI) : Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers, Jubilee of Catechists, 12 December 2000.
1 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church.
2 John 3:30

This article can be found in Mirror 0415.