Over a century and a half ago a young British gentleman was deciding that he should become a Roman Catholic. He was already an author with a keen theological sense, and he would gradually become highly-regarded in the Church, so much so that Pope Benedict XVI recently traveled to John Henry Newman’s hometown of Birmingham, England, to beatify him. In the middle of the nineteenth century Blessed John Henry Newman wrote, “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.” How true!
And because human beings do change and must change if we are going to become ever more the persons God has created us to be, the society we make and the Church we build must change too. The change that Blessed John Henry Newman was highlighting is conversion to the true and the good and the beautiful. Unfortunately, too often the changes individuals and society make are haphazard, as if to say, “If we can do it, we will.” Instead, we must discern what is the right way to change and when is the right time to bring about change.
Throughout his pontificate, as he traveled from country to country, Pope John Paul II highlighted the need for “a new evangelization.” By this, the Holy Father meant that the members of the Church need to recognize that we live in a rapidly changing world and so we need to preach the Gospel of Jesus accordingly. Jesus first brought his Gospel message to his fellow Jews. St. Paul and other apostles of the first Christian community then took the Gospel to the wider Greco-Roman community and, if they were going to be successful, they needed to evangelize with sensitivity to that cultural context. In the 21st century we have the same challenge: how to preach the one and only Gospel of Christ Jesus in our cultural circumstances. Jesus never said that evangelization is easy.
At Christ the King Seminary we take seriously Pope John Paul II’s call to evangelize the people of our time and place in ways that genuinely speak to the rapidly changing culture in which we live. We want to preserve the true faith; that doesn’t change. But we need to preach that faith in ways that invite a response on the part of people today. In his instruction to priests written in 1992, Pope John Paul II issued a clarion call: be a bridge for the people you serve so that they can access the Gospel; don’t be an obstacle keeping them from the Gospel message. This involves the truths of our faith and it involves the pastoral sensitivity in which we present the truths and, indeed, the whole life of the Church.
We can’t run from the serious challenges of maintaining a seminary in our constantly changing culture. The Church must continue to educate seminarians on track to become priests, even if fewer are coming forward to serve in this ministry. No less, the Church must educate candidates for the permanent diaconate and for lay ecclesial ministry. Let us keep working together to build up the kingdom of God.