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Making Christians, Remaking the Church, Transforming the World

By James M. Schellman
Jim is executive director of Forum. A former associate director of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), Jim has worked for a number of years in liturgical and ministerial formation as a writer and presenter. He began pastoral work with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in the 1970s and is one of the final editors of the present edition of the Rite.

I recall vividly a conversation I had a number of years ago with my father. In my late adolescence, I was full of ideas that I was sure had never been thought before. In the full flush of this maturity, I announced to my dad that when it came time to marry, I wanted to do so quietly, in a small ceremony without all kinds of people present. The usual arrangement of family and their many friends seemed to me embarrassing and unnecessary. My dad heard me out with unusual patience. Then, with a vigor I had not expected, he responded that when I was really in love and knew this was the woman I wanted to spend my life with, I would want to proclaim this and share it with everyone I could. Though I walked away unconvinced, I could not help but be intrigued by my fathers conviction and passion in the matter. A few short years later, his wisdom shone as I stood in the midst of numerous family and friends and professed my love and commitment to the woman whose life I have now shared for more than two decades. Those years have taught me about how love leads to proclamation in word and deedthe sharing and living out of that love. From Love to Evangelization As my father taught me years ago, the experience of being in love leads inevitably to the overwhelming desire to proclaim, share, and live that love. This is true of deep human love, and it is no less true of our experience of Gods love. The more we know Gods unfailing love for us, the more we come to be in love with God. And this experience impels us to evangelize, to invite others into the experience of that same love. By initiation into the mystery of Christ, we share in Gods very life. Through such communion in the divine life, we enter into the astoundingly unique Christian understanding that Gods essence is one of loving relationshipFather, Son, and Spirit. Out of the depths of this divine communion of persons comes the Triune Gods indescribable longing to share that communion. Creation was the result, with humanity as its crown. Once sin ruptured this communion through human choice, God could not rest until all could be set right in Christ, Gods only Son. This reconciliation to God in Christ is experienced in community, the community of the Church. And true to the essence of divine life in which we have graced communion, the community of faith is impelled to offer this experience of loving reconciliation to others. Love longs to be shared, thus reconciliation begets evangelization. We have been made agents of this reconciliation to all whose lives we touch: All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us(2 Cor. 5:18-20).

Remembering the Garden We who have made the journey through the waters of baptism and been sealed by the Spirit have been brought to the table of the Lords Body and Blood. And in the strength of this food we have become keepers and preachers of a memory, the memory of that first garden in which humanity strolled in intimate conversation with our Creator. We know within our own hearts the price of sin, the deep alienation it brings from God and one another. And from our own experience we know that deep in the human heart lies a longing for the new garden of graced reconciliation with God, with one another, and with all God has created. It is this very longing that our evangelization recognizes and calls out to in others. That garden memory holds out for us the promise of right relationships restored. In the garden Gods people and nature itself existed in the harmony for which they were created. All knew Gods presence and served Gods purpose. God was God, we Gods stewards, and creation our cherished garden playground. To keep and preach this memory is an active thing, a work, a mission we share with Christ to help nourish that longing and restore those relationships. Pope Paul VI placed before us the full vision of evangelization in his 1975 Apostolic Exhortation On the Evangelization of Peoples: The purpose of evangelization is interior changeof both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 18). Everything about us is touched by the evangelizing mission of the Lord. Nothing is to be left out. All is to be transformed into Gods original design and purpose. But this change is about more than just us. Yes, everything about us is to be transformed, our consciences, relationships, activities, and institutionsbut this vision is not complete apart from the very milieu in which we live, apart from the world and creation itself.

Nothing is left out. God will not rest until all has been brought back into right relationship. Creation itself was affected by our sin and will share in our salvation. Witness that great and faithful forebear, St. Irenaeus:
The visible universe is itself destined to be transformed so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just, sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ (St. Irenaeus, quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1047). There is a new and hidden world coming to birth within the world as we know it, the world that is passing away. The longing that resides in the deepest recesses of the human heart is a longing shared by all that God has created: All creation is longing and groaning, eagerly awaiting the revelation of the children of God (Romans 8: 19-20). We are the key to this transforming labor. We got it wrong and ever since everything we know has reflected that choice. Our getting it right, being reborn as the children of God, will mean the rebirth of all as it was always meant to be. The world is going with us in a way we cannot imagine, a way that parallels the very resurrection of our whole humanityspirit, soul, and body.
A Work of Charity, Justice, and Peace

We who share Christs mission of evangelization have work to do. People were not made to turn

on one another. Creation was not made to turn on people. People were not made to despoil creation. Nothing is untouched or left out of humanitys story of sin and broken relationship. Nothing is left out of the story of Gods unrelenting and passionate purpose to restore those relationships as they were meant to be. Gods people are called to mirror that divine passion for charity, justice, and peace. We are being transformed into Gods very longing to feed the hungry and give adequate clothing and shelter to those without them. But if this vision of evangelization teaches us anything, it is that the very structures we have created, our whole milieu, are an intimate part of the problem. Charity seems task enough, but it is not sufficient. We must heed the call to justice so that nothing is left out of the story, nothing is left untouched by Gods plan. Systems of greed, envy, and mistrust in which we all are complicit must come under our scrutiny and be the steady objects of our labor. Economic exploitation, racism, sexism, sexual and other forms of abuseall cry out for Gods voice of truth and compassion, Gods transforming hand. Without this effort, this systemic sinfulness leads inevitably to the hatred and violence that plague our communities at every turn. Nothing can be left out of Gods story of transforming love unfolding in our families, neighborhoods, communities, states, provinces, country, and world. Initiation as the Job Description If evangelization is the Churchs mission, then initiation is our job description. As embodied in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the initiation process begins with the evangelization of others and concludes with their being invested with a place in the community and a full share in its mission. In this way, initiation functions as the engine that drives parish and diocesan life. It manifests the Christian vocation of searching out and birthing new Christians in love with God in Christ and inflamed with the very longing of the Spirit to bring all into Gods reign. Just as begetting, birthing, and nurturing are the full-time, year-round, and privileged tasks of family life, so too is initiation at the center of parish life, week by week, year after year. As the community experiences the catechumens in its midstworshiping at the table of Gods word, being introduced to parishioners by their sponsors, assisting with the parishs service to the needs of the surrounding communitythe parish feels itself called to deeper renewal and commitment. To see others falling in love with Christ among us makes that love that much more palpable in our own lives. The story comes full circle when, fully initiated, these new members of the Body of Christ take their full part in the mission of evangelization with a passion for Gospel witness and the hard but indispensable works of charity, justice, and peace. (This article appeared in adapted form in the July 2000 issue of Catechumenate Magazine. For a current subscription to Catechumenate Magazine, visit http://www.ltp.org/)