The homily of His Excellency Bishop Honesto F. Ongtioco, DD, Bishop of Cubao, at the Mass of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the Academic Year 2012-2013, at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, on the 11th of July 2012:
As we invoke the Holy Spirit at the beginning of this academic year 2012-2013, my mind is raised towards the opening of the Year of Faith this coming October. This Year of Faith will be marked by the Synod of Bishops which will be about “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith.” Our first reading today spoke about the coming of the Holy Spirit to the apostles who gathered in prayer. He descended in the form of tongues of fire and by His inspiration, the apostles declared the praise of God in different languages. The Spirit-inspired proclamation of the praise of God in different languages on that Pentecost Sunday tells us that Evangelization has always been an integral part of the life of the Church even from the very beginning of her existence.
If Evangelization has always been part of our life as Church, why do we speak today of a “new evangelization”? What is this “new evangelization” which seems to be an important concern for the Church today? Are we talking of an overhaul of the doctrines of the Church? Will there be a rewriting of the Gospels of Jesus? Are we embarking on some sort of modernization in the way the Church transmits the Christian message?
In order to appreciate the “new evangelization”, we have to acknowledge the changes happening in the global culture. We are now “facing social and cultural changes that are profoundly affecting a person’s perception of self and the world, and consequently, a person’s way of believing in God.” (Instrumentum Laboris, 6.) There seems to be a prevalent distrust for anything the Church received and hands down to us from Divine Revelation. There is a recognizable “de-Christianization of many ordinary people who, despite being baptized, live a life not in keeping with their Christian faith or express some kind of faith but have an imperfect knowledge of its basic tenets.” (Instrumentum Laboris, 12.) In other words, we are confronted today by widespread religious indifference, secularism, and even atheism.
There is truly a need to “mend the Christian fabric of society” and this begins by remaking the Christian fabric of the Church ((Instrumentum Laboris, 13.). Thus, when we speak of the ‘new evangelization”, we are referring to the “pastoral outreach to those who no longer practice the Christian faith.” (CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization (3 December 2007), 12: AAS 100 (2008) 501.) “Through the new evangelization, the Church seeks to insert the very original and specific character of her teachings into today’s world and everyday discussion. She wants to be the place where God can be experienced even now, and where, under the guidance of the Spirit of the Risen Christ, we allow ourselves to be transformed by the gift of faith.” (Instrumentum Laboris, 88)
It is here where we appreciate the presence of the Church in the field of the academe. The presence of the Church, our presence, in the world of education inserts the teaching of Jesus “into today’s world and everyday discussion.” Our schools mark the presence of the Church where God can be experienced and where we allow ourselves to be transformed by the gift of faith. Let us not underestimate the importance of our Catholic Schools. Let us not underestimate the importance of our Catechists in the public schools. Through these important institutions, we are placed at a privileged position of molding young minds into the mindset of Christ and the culture of Christianity. This privileged position should make us now evaluate seriously as to whether we exert a Christian influence among our young people. Do we still keep in mind that our Catholic schools are the evangelizing arms of the Church? Do we still keep in mind that the primary objective of engaging in the work of Catholic education is the transmission of the faith? Remember that our schools are not simply to produce graduates who are competent in various professional fields. Our schools must produce good Christians…good practicing Catholics.
We cannot simply resign to the prevalent religious indifference among people. As the Holy Father himself said, “We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden (cf. Mt 5:13-16). The people of today can still experience the need to go to the well, like the Samaritan woman, in order to hear Jesus, who invites us to believe in him and to draw upon the source of living water welling up within him (cf. Jn 4:14). We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples (cf. Jn 6:51). Indeed, the teaching of Jesus still resounds in our day with the same power: ‘Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life’ (Jn6:27). The question posed by his listeners is the same that we ask today: ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ (Jn 6:28). We know Jesus’ reply: ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’ (Jn 6:29). Belief in Jesus Christ, then, is the way to arrive definitively at salvation.” (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 3.) Let us embark on this new academic year with a renewed commitment to the transmission of the Faith. Even if we have to contend with “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints for the sake of Christ,” let us continue to profess the faith. For belief in Jesus Christ is the way to arrive definitively at salvation.