In this article, I would like to offer an argument for the prominent inclusion of moral preaching as part of the ministry of homiletic preaching in the new evangelization.
The Archdiocese of Detroit, to which I belong, has taken as a motto for its new evangelization initiative, “Unleash the Gospel.” Borrowing this motto, the idea of which is rooted in 2 Timothy 2:9—“the word of God is not chained”—my proposal is a simple one: that the whole Church is called to “unleash the Gospel” in its entirety. Put another way: what could it possibly mean to “unleash the Gospel” if we leave Our Lord’s moral teaching very much on the leash?
To some readers, perhaps the idea of “leashing” the moral component of our Catholic faith sounds far-fetched. It has been my experience, however, that many voices these days seem to downplay the role of moral preaching at this moment in the life of the Church. Some experts on the new evangelization, which has generated its own particular rhetoric, emphasize that the Church is not “about rules” and that we must “lead with love”—i.e. offer an essentially positive message—before doing any moral preaching.
Such voices express much that is true and they can claim substantial papal support for their general idea, if not for every particular way this idea is being expressed in today’s conversation about evangelization. And this trend in papal thought is not merely about Pope Francis’s emphasis on mercy. Pope Benedict XVI has famously written, “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”1 Among his many statements about showing mercy, reaching out with kindness to those on the margins of the Church and society, and similar themes, a text from Pope Francis’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization encapsulates much of the Holy Father’s thought on the topic: “The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy. No human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift. … This principle of the primacy of grace must be a beacon which constantly illuminates our reflections on evangelization.”2
This article is in no way intended as a criticism of the important and edifying points made by recent popes or by those who serve the Church as teachers of evangelization theory and strategy. My purpose, rather, is to argue that these insights can be preserved and even advanced while remaining faithful to the example of Our Lord’s preaching and the mission He has entrusted to His Church of sharing the entire “splendor of truth”3, including the truth of the moral life. A further purpose is to warn against the exclusive use of a form of evangelization rhetoric that, while including some truths, may easily give the wrong impression when insufficient attention is paid to other important points that would balance the message. For example, to speak only of such ideas as “leading with love” or about the Church not being “about rules” at a time when preaching about the Commandments is quite rare may be imprudent and harmful to the faithful. 4
In the Gospels, we see Jesus engage in moral preaching from the beginning to the end of His public ministry. Our Lord begins His preaching with a moral exhortation: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15).5 His final instructions to His apostles also have a moral component, as He enjoins on them the duty of “teaching them to observe all that I have command you” (Mt 28:20). Not only does Jesus preach moral truth throughout His public ministry, but He commands His apostles to carry-on this work as they evangelize the world.
Read more at Catholic World Report