Dr. Fr. Ivan Dugandzic, OFM, 1998
MEDJUGORJE AND THE NEW EVANGELISATION
1. The context of Medjugorje in the Church and in time
Medjugorje, in other words, that which is understood when the name of that small parish in Herzegovina is mentioned today, has already for seventeen-
If we take all of this as the good fruits of Medjugorje, then the word of the wise Gamaliel that a work of God cannot be destroyed (cf. Acts 5:39) has already been fulfilled here. The fact is that both the visionaries and their parents, as well as the parish with its priests, have from the very beginning been exposed to pressures and threats by the authorities who wanted to extinguish everything, but they, even at the price of persecution, did not yield. In the beginning, the bishop was well disposed to the events only later on incomprehensibly to turn against them. Pressured by public opinion rather than by the real will to authenticate which spirit is operating in Medjugorje, the Bishops' Conference attempted to be even-
In order to comprehend the significance and far reaching quality of these events, the context of the time in which these events are unfolding is equally important. When the apparitions started, the end of an almost century long dictatorship of atheistic communism was on the horizon and it did soon happen. That presented one of the greatest spiritual challenges to mankind today, not only because of the collapse of the illusion of a happy classless society and the equality of all people, but still more so due to the condition of mind and spirit of hundreds of millions of people who were for generations brought up without God and without true spiritual values. On the other hand, the part of mankind that was beyond the range of communism had in the second half of this century been overtaken by a never before seen wave of hedonism which in a flood of drugs and pan-
Consequently, we must not look at Medjugorje as some isolated island to which we will retreat escaping from the world in which one can no longer hold out, looking for a substitute for the Church which is failing to orientate itself to a world the way it today is at the end of the twentieth century. On the contrary, Medjugorje is happening in the midst of a modern world, which needs God in order to have any future at all. It is happening in the Church in order to startle it from being confused in face of the great modern challenges and to animate within it the spirit of its beginnings. It seems that the profound meaning of the Medjugorje events is not in just one more spiritual movement originating in the Church in addition to many others, but to set the Church as such into motion and that it recognizes its mission in the world of today, to comprehend its responsibility for the future of the world, which for various reasons has been brought into question. Naturally, that will be the reaction only of the one who understands that something good can come even from insignificant Nazareth (cf. John 1:46) and that God always acts through the little and insignificant ones.
2.Medjugorje and spiritual movements in the Church
The Church of Jesus has from the beginning been aware that it owes its existence to the working of the Holy Spirit, which He had promised and sent in His time (cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:4 ff; 2:1 ff; John 14:16 ff, 26; 16:7-
Based on that, throughout the centuries the Church has formed an awareness about itself as "the Church that must always be renewed" (Ecclesia semper reformanda). The Holy Spirit has in different times always found new ways for that internal fervour and life to come to expression in ever new forms. "The word on the Church that it must be constantly renewed throughout the centuries has essentially characterized the history of the Church. Again and again within the Church have emerged movements which endeavoured radically to live the gospel, such as the religious communities founded by Benedict of Nursia, Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi and Ignatius of Loyola". It must be admitted that all the above-
The Second Vatican Council made an effort to correct that, emphasizing the dignity, importance, and mission of Christian laymen in today's world. In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church we read: "Therefore the laity, since they are consecrated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are wonderfully invited and instructed for all the more abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit to be brought forth in them" (LG, no. 34). Thereby the Council then confirmed what was already happening in the Church, and at the same time gave a still greater impetus to new movements. Besides the already existing lay movements such as Focolarini, Cursillo, Opus Dei, Communione e Liberatione, Marriage Encounter, other different forms of renewal in the Spirit also appeared after the Council. Some were about individual renewal, or the various states of life through the renewal and the enlivening of the grace of the respective sacrament, or about renewal of parish communities. What is common to all these movements is the endeavour to create a style of spirituality suitable to our time, "spirituality as an impetus for the renewal of human ways of thinking and willing in the spirit of the Gospel, connected with an aspiration for experiencing faith in communion which opens up new approaches to prayer, the word of God, and the sacraments."
Thereby, we may say, coordinates are given within which we are easily able to place Medjugorje as a special spiritual phenomenon of our time. In Medjugorje, from the very beginning, an explicitly lay spirituality has been created, since the visionaries are lay people, and their messages have to the greatest measure found a responsive chord in Christian lay people, inspiring them to an ever greater renewal out of the spirit of the gospel and to be open to prayer, the word of God, and the sacraments. From the very beginning in the church of Medjugorje, it is the Eucharist, the proclamation of the word of God, the sacrament of reconciliation, and prayer that hold the central place, but all that experienced in a new and powerful way. In that sense Medjugorje cannot be placed within any already known spiritual movement, but it is a movement that, to a great extent, is contributing to the renewal of the Church throughout the world. In fact, Medjugorje's spirituality is not some spiritual movement in the Church, but is rather the Church in movement, since it is equally interesting and attractive to everyone, from the most ordinary lay believer to the highly educated theologian, many priests, bishops, and cardinals. When the above mentioned essential elements of the Medjugorje spirituality are put together, then it seems the best way to describe and define them is by what is understood today as the so frequently used term "The New Evangelisation".
The first Christian communities had a strong awareness of being sent out with a mission. Toward the end of the oldest gospel, the one of Mark, is this word of the Risen Lord to the disciples: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation" (Mk 16:15). After he very briefly reports on Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the evangelist concludes: "They went forth and preached everywhere. The Lord continued to work with them throughout and confirm the message through the signs which accompanied them" (Mk 16:20). This is certainly not only a confirmation that the disciples fulfilled Jesus’ command, but a still ever greater new impetus to the readers of the gospel to continue to do the same. Nor did Matthew omit finishing his gospel with the same command, although he somewhat modified it in keeping with the spirit of the theological concept of his work: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. . ." (Mt 28:19). An additional promise shows that this is an unlimited mission for all times, which the disciples need not be afraid of: "I am with you always even to the end of the world" (Mt 28:20). In light of his view of salvation history, Luke interprets that proclamation as the fulfilment of Scripture, which has to take place beginning from Jerusalem. And since according to his theology the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of everything happening, the disciples must remain in Jerusalem until He comes and then they will be His witnesses (cf. Lk 24:45-
His great work, which we may call the history of the early Church, Luke finishes with a glorious affirmation about the triumph of the gospel in Rome, in spite of Paul's imprisonment: "For two full years Paul stayed on in his rented lodging. . . where without any hindrance whatever, he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 28:30). That ending was consciously left open that way to be the ongoing perspective of the gospel. But one should also say that such a quick and successful advent of the gospel throughout the huge Roman empire and the arrival at its centre in Rome, has by no means been without resistance and great difficulties. Judeo-
Throughout the long history of the Church God always acted in a similar way. Whenever the Church got weaker or faced problems difficult to solve, God sent special people or made use of unordinary interventions, most usually through the apparitions of Our Lady in those of Medjugorje should also be included. The intention of Pope John XXIII in convoking the Second Vatican Council was to find an adequate way of proclaiming the gospel to modern man. The council fathers in the greatest detail analysed the state of the modern world, its needs and hopes, and also its anxieties and fears in the face of the future, emphasizing that the great progress in every field has not resolved the most important human questions regarding man's true happiness and future. Thus, our time has an equally both good and bad prospect. The council sees the principal causes for this in the division of the human heart and in its unquenchable need for God which the Church wishes to satisfy (cf. GS no. 4 -
The New Evangelisation, announced and being prepared already for fifteen years in numerous papal documents, has been actualised in Medjugorje throughout that time. There the gospel is proclaimed with all the seriousness that it demands from the proclaimer and it is precisely because of this that millions of listeners have experienced it as the good news about God who loves and forgives. In it they have found the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price that is worthy of sacrificing everything to obtain (cf. Mt 13:44-
The Apostolic Letter of Pope Paul VI Evangelii Nuntiandi (December 8, 1975) emphasizes as the chief and decisive way of the New Evangelisation is witnessing to authentic Christian life, which presuppose the new man, who is possible only by conversation and internal transformation in the spirit of the gospel. In that line is also the Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae (October 16, 1979) as well as the extraordinary Bishops' Synod of 1985. The same is also expressed in the final document of the extraordinary synod for Europe (1991) under the significant title: To Be Witnesses of Christ Who Has Set Us Free. Today it is no longer enough merely to proclaim the gospel. Authentic witnesses are demanded because in the eyes of modern man the Church to a large degree has lost its credibility. One of the bishops, having at heart the future of Christianity in his own country and the destiny of the New Evangelisation, warns: "What the Church has to say can indeed be correct, but it does not necessarily make man joyful and free." In other words, the gospel lost the strength of conviction because the proclaimers are not sufficiently joyful and free, they are not witnesses. The above mentioned Apostolic Letter says the testimony of Christian life should be characterized by "surrender to God in a communion that must not be destroyed by anything and at the same time by surrender to one's neighbour in unlimited availability. . ." (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no 41). It is nothing else than remembering the realization of Christ's twofold commandment of love in the conditions of the modern world, which is obviously at work in Medjugorje. Medjugorje's spirituality from the very beginning has an emphatic quality of charity. It makes people sensitive to the needs of their fellow man, something that has been demonstrated in so many wonderful examples of unselfish generosity during the recent war in Croatia and in Bosnia-
4. Returning God to human life
All the above-
The previously mentioned bishop laments that the proclamation of many priests is ineffective because when a living God is not abiding in our hearts, our word also does not give any evidence of passion for God. Apologizing for the sharpness of his words, he asks himself: "Is it not because many live "off" the Church and not really "in" the Church, in its real mystery?" And indeed, it is not only individual truths or particular areas of concrete Church life that are in question, but God Himself, and that, among those who are supposed to show others the way to God. This is why the above mentioned extraordinary synod for Europe says without any hesitation: "Indeed, all of Europe today is facing the challenge of a new decision for God."
If the Medjugorje messages are considered from this point of view then it is not difficult to discover a great agreement. In spite of having the concrete messages of peace, faith, conversion, prayer, fasting in the first plan at the beginning, in time to an ever-
5. Role of the Local Church
Considering what the New Evangelisation ought to look like concretely in order to be successful, a well known German bishop and theologian, Karl Lehmann, says: "In the future we need places, groups, movements, and communities in which people with a determined will for life come together, learn together, and mutually help each other. That strengthening of faith, hope and charity is becoming ever more necessary today when Christianity is finding itself in the condition of diaspora. Only that way is faith able to become recognizable again and obtain a clear profile."7 Medjugorje for almost two decades already has been such a place where people gather from all over the world to pray together and to deepen their faith, creating communion in numerous prayer groups, movements, and new forms of community life. All that would, of course, be far stronger and more convincing if the condition in the local Church in Herzegovina were different, if it were not divided in itself. This condition affects many people, at least by confusing them. Therefore, they are ready also to call Medjugorje in question.
May I be permitted to express my own opinion about that. It has grown out of the experience of these seventeen years of Medjugorje, theological reflection, and prayer. During this time, the words of Jesus about the sword have often crossed my mind: "I did not come to bring peace, but the sword" (Mt 10:34). The way to real peace leads through a decision for Jesus. That decision does not tolerate any compromise. He is more important even than the closest family members and especially more so than any personal interests. On the way to real peace with oneself, one's neighbour, and with God one must go through numerous trials which Jesus metaphorically characterizes as a sword. Does not this word of Jesus refer also to Medjugorje and its position in the local Church?
The fact is that Medjugorje is taking place in a Church in which the so-
Is this perhaps at the same time a sign that the Church in Herzegovina has had enough of the sword and that the time has come for peace to reign? The Franciscans who are in Capljina, contrary to the will of their superiors, and those who support them, ordinarily base themselves on reasons of righteousness: 'with the help of the law the Bishop is doing injustice!' This is how the main argument sounds. But obviously, it is not working, and unity and charity in the Church are being put to an even greater test. The very essence of the Church itself is called into question. What then to do? For the man who takes the gospel seriously to the end, even when it seems that all possibilities have been exhausted, there still remains one more possibility, indeed the most difficult, but the one on which Christianity itself is based and that is, the sacrifice of total self-
fra Ivan Dugandzic, OFM, 1998
Dr. Fr. Ivan Dugandzic -