Then Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry, and the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.’ But he replied, ‘Scripture says: One does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
In the modern world, atheism and materialism strongly challenge the faith and the traditional methods of evangelizing. Therefore, members should carefully study the causes of this phenomenon, realizing that in this situation they are called upon to give witness to a stronger personal faith in the living God and also to seek out new ways of fulfilling their vocation to evangelize.
Atheism and materialism go hand in hand. The explicit allusion to materialism, as something distinct from atheism, emphasizes the influences of material things in people’s lives and, as a consequence, on their evangelization. Excessive love of this world’s goods weakens the soul and makes it insensitive to the things of God.
1. Why Serve God?
We need material things to live and to develop all the human and spiritual potential that God has placed in us. At times we fall into idolatry, becoming the slaves of our possessions, rather than their masters. Paul VI also spoke of this temptation to adore the things of the earth and to believe that God is useless:
All of our longings are marked by the desire for immediate and personal gratification. We are centered on ourselves, that is to say, we value ourselves more than the honor and service of God. We are utilitarians. We are egotists. We are more inclined to value profit than to value who we are or who we ought to be. When we value things, our interests and our pleasures tend to prevail over the Highest Good, so mysterious to us, so unrecognized in our consciousness. But once again, the word of Jesus, with all the seriousness and drama of a verdict, forces us to reconsider our values. ‘What, then, will we gain if we win the whole world and ruin our souls?’ And how can we save our souls? We have to uncover the falsehood in the temptation to consider God useless. Here is the ultimate question for our salvation: how can we exist if we are determined to forget what faith in God, in Jesus and in the Holy Spirit teaches us? The indispensable gain, the one and only profit, is salvation1.
2. I Am Your Salvation
The missionary should not be a passive observer of the phenomenon of materialism. He ought to search for ways to confront it. The first is to delve into the reality of God. Paul VI spoke to us about the resplendent presence of God in our lives:
The numerous advantages (of faith) are too many to describe in a short space. God is a Light for those who cultivate their faith. God is the true Good. God is Love for those who dedicate themselves to action. How could anyone develop an ethics without him? Today, we describe some people as ‘totally horizontal’—people without God and without the God-Man. After they have given themselves to others, what is left for them if they have no vertical dimension? How could they not be burned out? How could they not go wrong, since they lack the challenge of God’s name, which would enable them authentically to call others ‘brother’ and ‘sister’, children of the same Father?2
3. Witnesses of the Word
In the face of materialism, we are required not only to explain the meaning of the goods of this world, but also to live our lives in such a way that our preaching is meaningful because it is sustained by our witness.
For the Church, the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentic Christian life… Our contemporaries listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. It is, therefore, primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus—the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity. It is not superfluous to emphasize the importance and necessity of preaching. ‘And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?… So faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ’… Preaching, the verbal proclamation of a message, is indeed always indispensable… The word remains ever relevant, especially when it bears the power of God3.
- The evangelical counsel of poverty places us in opposition to materialism. Have I thought of the obligation to practice poverty in my state as a missionary?
- What do I do in ministry to counteract the influence of the materialistic mentality in my Christian life?
- Does my life bear witness to what I preach about material goods?
God our Father, open our eyes to see your hand at work in the splendor of creation, in the beauty of human life. Touched by your hand, our world is holy. Help us to cherish the gifts that surround us, to share your blessings with our brothers and sisters, and to experience the joy of life in your presence. We pray in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen4.