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Vatican letter says modern individualism reflects ancient heresies

March 1, 2018 CNA Daily News 3

Vatican City, Mar 1, 2018 / 05:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new letter issued by the Vatican’s doctrinal office has reaffirmed that Christian salvation can only come through Christ and the Church, and highlighted modern expressions of Pelagian and Gnostic thought which contradict this belief.

Signed by Archbishop Luis Ladaria SJ, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the Feb. 22 feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the letter is addressed to the world’s bishops.

It clarifies how the ancient heresies of Pelagianism and Gnosticism are diffused in modern culture, and urges Christians to evangelize while engaging with those from other religions in a spirit of genuine dialogue.

The four-and-a-half page letter consists of six points, including an introduction and conclusion, outlining the errors of Pelagianism and Gnosticism in light of Christian doctrine, and reaffirming Christ as the only means of salvation, which is offered through the sacraments.

According to the letter’s introduction, the aim in writing it is to “demonstrate certain aspects of Christian salvation that can be difficult to understand today because of recent cultural changes,” incorporating Pope Francis’ reflections on the issue.

Modern expressions of Pelagianism and Gnosticism

The letter pointed to the difficulty many have in accepting the teachings of Christianity in today’s society, noting that on one hand, “individualism centered on the autonomous subject tends to see the human person as a being whose sole fulfillment depends only on his or her own strength.”

In this view, Christ is seen as “a model that inspires generous actions with his words and his gestures,” but is not recognized as the one who transforms the human condition by incorporating mankind into a new, reconciled life with the Father.

On the other hand, the letter noted that “a merely interior vision of salvation is becoming common, a vision which, marked by a strong personal conviction or feeling of being united to God, does not take into account the need to accept, heal and renew our relationships with others and with the created world.”

Pope Francis, the letter said, has often spoken of these two tendencies, identifying them with the ancient heresies of Pelagianism and Gnosticism.

Pelagianism gets its name from the monk Pelagius, who lived in the 400s and taught that the human will, as created by God, was enough to live a sinless life. Gnosticism, on the other hand, was a widely diffused belief in the 2nd century that the material world is the result of error on the part of God.

Since the beginning of his pontificate Francis has spoken out about the two heresies, and in 2015 during his pastoral visit to Florence, told participants in the Fifth Convention of the Italian Church that Pelagianism and Gnosticism are two of the greatest temptations that lead the Church away from humility and beatitude.

In the speech, he said Pelagianism “spurs the Church not to be humble, disinterested and blessed,” and does so “through the appearance of something good. Pelagianism leads us to trust in structures, in organizations, in planning that is perfect because it is abstract. Often it also leads us to assume a controlling, harsh and normative manner.”

Norms, he said, “give Pelagianism the security of feeling superior, of having a precise bearing,” while Gnosticism “leads to trusting in logical and clear reasoning, which nonetheless loses the tenderness of a brother’s flesh.”

The attraction of Gnosticism, he said, is “a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feeling.”

Likewise, in Cardinal Joseph Ratzingers’ 1986 spiritual exercises, the future Pope Benedict XVI also condemned the Palegian trend in modern society, calling it a “vice” and saying those who accept Palegianism “do not want forgiveness and in general they do not want any real gift from God either. They just want to be in order.”

“They don’t want hope they just want security,” he said, adding that “their aim is to gain the right to salvation through a strict practice of religious exercises, through prayers and action. What they lack is humility which is essential in order to love; the humility to receive gifts not just because we deserve it or because of how we act.”

In Thursday’s letter, Ladaria said a “new form” of Palegianism is spreading in today’s culture in which the individual, “understood to be radically autonomous, presumes to save oneself, without recognizing that, at the deepest level of being, he or she derives from God and from others.”

According to this thought, salvation “depends on the strength of the individual or on purely human structures, which are incapable of welcoming the newness of the Spirit of God,” the letter said.

However, a new form of Gnosticism is also widely diffused, promoting an understanding of salvation which is “merely interior, closed off in its own subjectivism.”

“In this model, salvation consists of improving oneself, of being intellectually capable of rising above the flesh of Jesus towards the mysteries of the unknown divinity,” the letter said. “It presumes to liberate the human person from the body and from the material universe” in which God is no longer found, “but only a reality deprived of meaning” and “easily manipulated by the interests of man.”

Comparing the two heresies is intended as a simple recognition of “general common features, without entering into judgments on the exact nature of the ancient error,” the letter said, emphasizing that there is a vast difference between modern, secularized society and the social context in which the heresies were born.

However, “both neo-Pelagian individualism and the neo-Gnostic disregard of the body deface the confession of faith in Christ, the one, universal Savior,” the letter said, and reaffirmed that “salvation consists in our union with Christ.”

Man’s search for salvation and Christ as Savior

The letter noted that each person, in their own way, seeks happiness and tries to obtain it through the means they have available.

Yet this desire is not always explicitly expressed, and is frequently “more secret and hidden than it may appear,” revealing itself only in situations of crisis, the letter said, noting that this desire can often be manifested as a desire for better health or economic well-being, and can be expressed as a need for interior peace and peace with others.

It also takes on the character of endurance and the desire to overcome pain, fighting off the “evil” of error, fragility, weakness, sickness and death.

Faced with these aspirations, faith, the letter said, teaches that in rejecting all attempts at “self-realization,” these desires “can be fulfilled completely only if God himself makes it possible, by drawing us toward Himself.”

“The total salvation of the person does not consist of the things that the human person can obtain by himself,” such as wealth, reputation or knowledge, the letter continued, noting that if redemption were judged solely according to the needs of mankind, “how could we avoid the suspicion of having simply created a Redeemer God in the image of our own need?”

The letter then emphasized that God has never stopped offering salvation to his people, and that this redemption has a concrete name and face in Jesus Christ.

Salvation, it said, doesn’t occur in just an interior manner, because Jesus was made flesh in order to communicate with mankind. And by becoming part of the human family, Jesus “has united himself in some fashion with every man and woman and has established a new kind of relationship with God, his Father, and with all humanity.”

Each person can be incorporated in this new relationship and participate in Jesus’ own life, the letter said, adding that Christ’s incarnation, “rather than limiting the salvific action,” allows him “to mediate the salvation of God for all of the sons and daughters of Adam.”

Given this understanding, when faced with the “individualist reductionism of Pelagian tendency, and the neo-Gnostic promise of a merely interior salvation,” Christians have to remember “the way in which Jesus is Savior.”

“He did not limit himself to showing us the way to encounter God, a path we can walk on our own by being obedient to his words and by imitating his example,” but instead opened the door to freedom and pointed to himself as the way.

This path, the letter said, “is not merely an interior journey at the margins of our relationships with others and with the created world,” but consists of a “new and living way” that Jesus inaugurated for mankind in his own flesh.

“Therefore, Christ is Savior in as much as he assumed the entirety of our humanity and lived a fully human life in communion with his Father and with others.”

Salvation is through the Church, the Body of Christ

The letter reaffirmed that the place where humanity receives the salvation of Jesus “is the Church,” beginning with baptism and continuing through the other sacraments.

“Both the individualistic and the merely interior visions of salvation contradict the sacramental economy through which God wants to save the human person,” the letter said.

Salvation cannot be achieved by one’s own individual efforts alone, as neo-Pelagian thought would argue, but is instead found “in the relationships that are born from the incarnate Son of God and that form the communion of the Church,” the letter said.

Likewise, it stressed that the grace of God leads us to concrete relationships that Christ himself formed, and of which the Church is an image.

Salvation, then, “does not consist in the self-realization of the isolated individual, nor in an interior fusion of the individual with the divine,” but rather means being incorporated “into a communion of persons that participates in the communion of the Trinity.”

While Gnosticism has a negative view of creation, seeing it as a limitation of man’s freedom and therefore implying that salvation means freeing oneself from the body and concrete human relationships, true salvation offered by Christ includes the sanctification of the body, the letter said.

With the sacraments, “Christians are able to live faithful to the flesh of Christ and, as a result, in fidelity to the kind of relationships that he gave us,” the letter said, explaining that under this rationale, care for those who are suffering is especially important, particularly through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

The letter closed urging Christians to advance in announcing the “joy and light of the Gospel,” while also establishing a “sincere and constructive dialogue” with those from other religions, believing that God can lead all men of goodwill toward salvation in Christ.

“Total salvation of the body and of the soul is the final destiny to which God calls all of humanity,” it said, and urged believers to look forward to the coming of Christ, who will “change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.”

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“God did this” – How a 22-year-old Texan began a Catholic school for Uganda’s deaf children

March 1, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Denver, Colo., Mar 1, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Rannah Evetts had always wanted to go to Africa. She has no explanation for it, other than that God had planted a deep love of everything Africa in her heart for as long as she can remember.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I would say I was going to Africa, and I didn’t really understand why, and my mom would just call me her little African child because that’s all I would talk about,” Rannah recalled.

Today, Rannah is living out her childhood dream, having founded a Catholic school for deaf children in Uganda at the age of 21.

But it came to fruition in a way she could never have imagined.

Evetts loved to talk about Africa as a little girl. But there was a lot she did not talk about – the sexual abuse she was experiencing and the traumatic consequences she suffered silently for years: depression, suicidal thoughts, self hate and despair.

“Through a lot of hurt and pain that God worked through me,” Evetts told CNA.

Desperately seeking happiness in high school, she threw herself into the party scene, looking for relief.

“I wanted to be happy, I was so tired of hating myself and being miserable, and so when I was a junior in high school I started partying a whole lot…and I quickly realized this isn’t making me happy, I’m just suffering more and more,” she said.

Looking for answers, Evetts started attending different churches with friends and family on the weekends.

Having never been baptized, she bounced around non-denominational Christian churches for a while, but did not feel like she had found the truth until she began looking into the Catholic faith.

“When I was a senior I started RCIA…and through all of that, I gave up drinking, no more parties, I was reading the Bible all the time, and realizing that I just want Jesus. He has to be the cure, because I knew that the world wasn’t,” she said.

When she was baptized at the end of her senior year, Evetts said she felt the presence of Christ, in an indescribable way, in her heart. She felt God calling her to an unfolding mission that would piece together seemingly unconnected parts of her life, including her love for Africa, and her knowledge of American Sign Language.

“It’s hard to explain the real presence that I experienced of Christ inside of me when I did get baptized…and receiving the Eucharist, receiving him in the flesh, I gave up everything, that’s when he opened up the door and said ‘This is what I want you to do and this is why.’”

At her high school in Texas, the only classes offered to fulfill language requirements were Spanish or ASL. Evetts said she joined the sign language class because it was required, she thought it was “cool”, and her sister had taken the same class.

“It was just a requirement, I did not think ever one time that I would do anything with it,” she said, and she even considered dropping the class.

But by her senior year, and as she experienced a conversion, she said God began to pull on her heart through her sign language class, especially when she completed a project on deafness in Uganda.

She learned that the deaf in Uganda are often misunderstood and often mistreated, considered sinners or even cursed. She said that the deaf are often outcast out of malice or because of a lack of resources.

“I relate to the deaf people here because they are outcasted, they’re seen as cursed, they’re seen as sinners, and so they’re shut away from the world kind of, they’re living in this darkness and this silence,” she said.  

“And God pulled me to give what he gave me after all of my years of darkness and hating myself and feeling like I had no friends and nobody to talk to, of wanting to die, feeling like I had no purpose in life – all of those things I was struggling with after being sexually abused, God took them and he transforms everything and he said, ‘These I’m turning into graces.’ And with the deaf people here that’s what he did,” she said.

After high school graduation, Evetts flew to Uganda for the first time to work for seven months for an established school for the deaf in the capital city of Kampala. Through that experience, she met a priest in a village in northern Uganda, in an area with hundreds of deaf children and no resources for them.

“I basically just walked back to the sacristy and I was like, ‘Hi Father, I’m Rannah, can I talk to you?’” she recalled.

The initial meeting sparked a conversation that continued for more than a year and a half, while Evetts, the priest, and the local bishop discerned h starting a school for the deaf.

In 2016, Evetts moved to the village for five months to get used to living in the area and adjust to the culture, and to see if her dream could become a reality. By September 2016, the local bishop gave her permission to use an old catechesis building, “and basically he just said ‘begin.’”

By February 2017, the St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf opened its doors for the first time. St. Francis was chosen as the patron because he personally developed a sign language to preach the Gospel and teach the Catholic faith to Martin, a deaf man.

“We are here to promote the education and welfare of the Deaf in the West Nile region,” the school’s mission statement says on their website.

“Most importantly we are here to fulfill a deeper meaning behind Christ’s “Eph’phatha” in Mark’s Gospel: ‘… and looking up to heaven, he [Jesus] sighed, and said to him, “Eph’phatha,” that is, ‘be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released and he spoke plainly.’”

“The deaf are often outcasts in Ugandan society; isolated, deprived of their rights, and looked down upon by hearing people. They are more exposed to being raped, abused, and neglected by society. They are often thought of as stupid, cursed, and many parents still think it is a waste of money to send them to school,” the statement continues.

“We are here to break this cultural stigma, provide quality education, and give our Deaf students the most precious thing in this world: Jesus Christ.”

Evetts said she was most moved by her love for God to give language to those who otherwise could not speak.

“I didn’t think I would do anything with [sign language], but it’s like everyday [God] reveals more and more why I’m doing what I’m doing,” she said.

“I knew I wanted to evangelize, I knew I wanted to share the word of God with people and what he did in my life. It’s so huge what he did for me, that you can’t not share that with people! I’m a convert and I’m on fire, you know? It’s like, ‘no, I’ve been to the other side, trust me!’”

But it hasn’t been easy. The school is open to children ages 3-14, and the age range brings a variety of needs. When they first arrive, most of the children  have no way of communicating their needs, their thoughts, their experiences, pain or ideas.

“All of a sudden they’re being thrown into this and they have no idea what’s going on, so we have kids who are trying to run away, a lot of our kids just cried seeing me because they’ve never seen whatever I am, and the everyday challenge of bringing them a language…it was incredibly difficult,” Evetts said.

It also came with times of personal darkness and challenge for Evetts, who was the only foreigner in her village, the only woman living at the parish, and the only person from her culture in the area. She would also often feel overwhelmed by the weight of responsibility on her shoulders.

“I have a lot of thanks to give to my mom, because I would tell her ‘I want to come home Mom, because I don’t know what I’m doing,’ and she would stick with me and pray with me,” she said.

She was also still struggling with anxiety attacks and the painful healing of the abuse in her past.

“I want to tell you this because…it shows God’s goodness, because there were days when I couldn’t do this. I’m 22 years old and I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m the leader of all of this thing and I’m working in another country and having my own problems… that I’m dealing with and alone in that silence with God,” Evetts said.

There were several weeks at a time where she felt like she was literally unable to get out of bed in the morning.

“But I want to share that with you because it shows that God did this. You say ‘yes’ to God and he does it, he fulfills it, because this is his school and this is his mission,” she said. “I don’t know how to explain it, but he’s here and he’s got this all under control.”  

The transformation she and the staff began seeing in the students throughout the year was incredible, she said.

Children came to them having been raped, abused or neglected because of their disability, and were transformed in personality and behavior as they started acquiring a language.

At the beginning of the year, many parents reluctantly sent their children to the boarding school, believing it impossible to educate a deaf child. But on the night after the first term ended, and the children went home for the first time, parents started calling the school in amazement.

“They were like, ‘there’s stuff written in [their notebooks]! There’s grades!’ And then their kids are signing all this stuff to their parents, and these parents are like ‘we don’t know what our kids are saying but they know stuff, and they’re talking with their hands!’”

“And so they’re really seeing the evidence of this works, so its a real encouragement for the parents,” Evetts said.

The school has just begun its second year, with 50 students enrolled. It was recently licensed, and the plan is to eventually find enough land to build a boarding school for more than 300 nursery and primary school deaf students in the area.

Evetts said the way the local community has embraced the school with love has been encouraging. As the only white person in the area, Evetts said it automatically brings her a lot of attention, which in turn lets her bring that attention to her work with deaf children.

“God uses that, then I get to explain about sign language and about deafness and how awesome it is. We’re walking around town, playing games with the students, using sign language, and people just gawk and stare–like what? White people know this language too?” Evetts said. “This year I’ve had volunteers come and it’s more people knowing sign language and giving it attention, and Caritas is now helping sponsor our school, so it’s just been growing and I see that the community has really taken us on, and it really has been great.”

Evetts said the most rewarding part of the experience has been how God has used her ‘yes’ and the ‘yes’ of her staff members to transform lives and to do something that they would be unable to accomplish without him.

“The closer you get to God in his silence, that’s where he reveals himself, that’s his language,” she said. “And not only that, he reveals you to you–he draws that out of you, and I really learned that the closer I came to him, he just showed me – ‘this is why I put this desire in you, and this is how I’m going to use your sufferings or your vices and this is how I’m going to transform it.’”

“It was all him.”

 

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