Summary: Just as post-Resurrection Judaism created a culture that rejected the Gospel, so modern society tries to make people incapable of receiving Christ. But we must bear witness, especially in the cities.

Thursday of the Second Week in Lent

Joy of the Gospel

Last Sunday we heard Jesus tell his key disciples not to disclose their vision of Him transfigured until He would rise from the dead. There was a good reason for that. The Jewish mindset, which had been formed by prophets like Jeremiah, envisioned God as only transcendent. The notion that a human being could be divine, although revealed first in Genesis, was repugnant to them. If Jesus had declared Himself early in His ministry to be the Messiah, the whole collection of civil and religious authorities of the Holy Land would have crashed on Him and His disciples before they could build up a community of healed, strengthened believers, a community that after Pentecost would convert the world. Jesus knew that He should not reveal Himself until the proper time.

Even then, after the Resurrection, the Jewish authorities had no understanding of God’s plan. They were like the brothers of this rich man in the Gospel. Not even a Resurrection could cause them to repent and accept the ways of God, the Church Jesus founded. And, after the fall of Jerusalem, they coalesced around Pharisaic Judaism, and developed a mythology about the Catholic Church that is written down in the Talmud and Mishnah, weaving tales about Jesus and Mary and the early Church that are, frankly, horribly libelous. So I would argue that most Jews, raised with these notions about Christianity, are stuck in what theologians call “invincible ignorance.” They are not the only ones whose upbringing keeps them from considering the valid claims of the Catholic Church to be the ordinary path to sanctity.

The Pope sees something like this in contemporary cities–in the culture that is in our large communities: ‘New cultures are constantly being born in these vast new expanses where Christians are no longer the customary interpreters or generators of meaning. Instead, they themselves take from these cultures new languages, symbols, messages and paradigms which propose new approaches to life, approaches often in contrast with the Gospel of Jesus. A completely new culture has come to life and continues to grow in the cities.’

We need to remember that this encyclical is the Pope’s reflection on the bishops’ last Synod. The Synod fathers believed that the very newness of these city-bound cultures offers new possibilities for spreading the Gospel of Christ. He says, ‘This challenges us to imagine innovative spaces and possibilities for prayer and communion which are more attractive and meaningful for city dwellers. . . .What is called for is an evangelization capable of shedding light on these new ways of relating to God, to others and to the world around us, and inspiring essential values. It must reach the places where new narratives and paradigms are being formed, bringing the word of Jesus to the inmost soul of our cities. Cities are multicultural; in the larger cities, a connective network is found in which groups of people share a common imagination and dreams about life, and new human interactions arise, new cultures, invisible cities. Various subcultures exist side by side, and often practice segregation and violence. The Church is called to be at the service of a difficult dialogue. On the one hand, there are people who have the means needed to develop their personal and family lives, but there are also many “non-citizens”, “half citizens” and “urban remnants”. Cities create a sort of permanent ambivalence because, while they offer their residents countless possibilities, they also present many people with any number of obstacles to the full development of their lives. This contrast causes painful suffering. In many parts of the world, cities are the scene of mass protests where thousands of people call for freedom, a voice in public life, justice and a variety of other demands which, if not properly understood, will not be silenced by force.’

He also reminds us that ‘in cities human trafficking, the narcotics trade, the abuse and exploitation of minors, the abandonment of the elderly and infirm, and various forms of corruption and criminal activity take place. At the same time, what could be significant places of encounter and solidarity often become places of isolation and mutual distrust. Houses and neighbourhoods are more often built to isolate and protect than to connect and integrate. The proclamation of the Gospel will be a basis for restoring the dignity of human life in these contexts, for Jesus desires to pour out an abundance of life upon our cities (cf. Jn 10:10). The unified and complete sense of human life that the Gospel proposes is the best remedy for the ills of our cities, even though we have to realize that a uniform and rigid program of evangelization is not suited to this complex reality. But to live our human life to the fullest and to meet every challenge as a leaven of Gospel witness in every culture and in every city will make us better Christians and bear fruit in our cities.’

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