Christians who live as Christians convince others
Excerpts from a paper given by Joaquin Navarro-Valls at a conference on “Catholics and Public Life” held in Madrid, Spain, November 19-21, 2010.
Today’s circumstances necessarily recall to our minds the very beginnings of Christianity. After decades or even centuries when Christians were trying to defend Western societies against the de-Christianization of culture, we find ourselves today in a situation of neo-paganism. But Christianity can’t go on the defensive. It’s no longer a tradition that needs safeguarding, it’s a vision of life that needs to be re-created, that we have to build for the future. The question is not whether Christianity will be able to survive, but whether the Christian faith can spread once more as it did two thousand years ago.
How can we put Christian truth across to today’s world? The early Christians managed to communicate quite effectively even though they didn’t have degrees in Communication Studies. Not all of them were even very well educated, but they won the battle for communication and culture in their own day. Because Christians who are actually living as Christians are the ones who succeed in convincing others. People with the courage of their convictions are infinitely more powerful than people who merely have interests. From that standpoint Christianity is a way of life, and while it gives us life and makes our lives joyful it also provides reasons, makes sense of life, and shows how it hangs together internally.
We have to go towards Jesus of Nazareth, but there is only one way to get to him, and that is personal conversation with him in the Sacraments and in prayer.
For most of us, prayer is a duty. For Pope John Paul II it was different. It wasn’t a duty he had to fulfil at certain times of the day, he felt it as a need. That shows the root of every Christian’s mission: union with Jesus Christ, who is the one who gives it. Otherwise it wouldn’t really be a Christian’s mission, only the mission of Joaquin Navarro or whoever. If I receive my mission from someone else, I have to stay in vital contact with that person.
What they had in common
John Paul II often said that the synthesis between faith and culture is not only needed by culture but also by the faith. A faith that does not become culture is a faith that hasn’t been fully internalized, hasn’t been fully thought through, isn’t being lived out to the full. That summed up all his human experience as a believer and a Pope, but also as an intellectual. For instance, when Genesis tells us that human beings are made in God’s image and likeness, that fact can give rise to a whole culture, a whole anthropology that needs to be worked out, brought to maturity, developed rationally and scientifically. And part of that culture is to accept that that “likeness” means that we ourselves are God’s imprint on the world.
We are contributing to this culture every time we treat the people we come in contact with every day fairly, in a way that matches the fact of their having been made by God in his image.
I was blessed in knowing three saints: St Josemaria, the Servant of God John Paul II, and Blessed Mother Teresa. Inevitably, I tried to see whether these three people, who were so completely different from each other, had anything in common. I came to the conclusion that what they had in common was a cheerful sense of humour that was so extraordinary, so contagious, that it could make them laugh even at times when you would have expected them to cry. And it wasn’t the result of some psychological trait, but was based on something much deeper, that underpinned their whole character, making each of them into a sower of joy.
If you believe that God created each human being in his own image and likeness, you never have any reason to lose your cheerfulness. That is the conviction Christians need as they fulfil their mission in the world of today: the conviction that there really is a happy ending.