By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published January 3, 2013
One of my two California nephews has been working on a career in the film industry. He’s found some early success so he is quite enthused, and needless to say I am very proud of him. When I spoke with him over the Christmas holidays, he told me that he is currently engaged in a project that will be dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen. Those extraordinary African-American pilots defied the segregation standards of the time and rose to heroic military status during World War II in the defeat of the Nazi regime. In order to prepare for the film project, my nephew has to research and study the Tuskegee training program that prepared these fine American pilots: Before he can perform on the silver screen depicting this moment in history, he must learn about the men and the struggles that they faced.
As I listened to him, I thought, he’s about to experience evangelization (involving a secular topic). He must learn about the history of these courageous men before he dares to attempt to portray them. We Catholics have been challenged during this Year of Faith to rediscover our own religious heritage, our Catholic faith and our spiritual roots.
Like the Tuskegee Airmen, too much of our heritage has gone unnoticed by people who have not lived in a time of struggle like they did. Because of the social norms of their time, the heroics of those Americans were largely overlooked and neglected. Our Catholic faith has also been shrouded in disregard by many of us. We all need to rediscover the faith that is so much an important part of our background.
The Holy Father has recently completed his three-volume work on Jesus Christ since he recognizes that evangelization must begin with a deep and personal knowledge of the Lord. Jesus Christ must be more than a mere historical figure; He must be a living person for each one of us. We must come to know Him, to love Him and to desire Him as the very center of our lives.
I suspect that my young nephew will be intrigued by the character of the Tuskegee Airmen and be amazed at the obstacles that society placed before them and their courage in overcoming those barriers.
When we learn about Jesus, we find ourselves amazed at His fortitude, courage and inviting personality. As the Scriptures frequently commented, the people of His time were mesmerized by His teaching, His power and His compassion—some of them left everything to follow Him—some of them even handed over their very lives for love of Him.
The New Evangelization is an invitation to rediscover Him in our own lives today so that we might become His witnesses tomorrow.
My nephew will do much of his research about the Tuskegee Airmen at Tuskegee Institute because that place is a major repository of their heroism and history. The Church is the unique repository of the Person of Christ because He Himself has so designated us to fulfill that role. The Church is not merely the archive of Jesus’ achievements; the Church is the continuation of His presence in the world today. We are the community wherein the Lord lives through His teaching, exercising His mission and offering His Sacramental manifestation. The Church reveals a living Lord and allows us to encounter Him under Word and Sacrament as truly as He lived and encountered the people of the Holy Land 2,000 years ago.
The Church is not a perfect community, but one called to perfection and to strive to fulfill the Lord’s commands. Some people choose tohighlight the Church’s imperfections—which are real and constantly in need of healing. The Lord might well have chosen another vehicle to continue His presence and mission in the world—but He selected a community of sinful and flawed human beings so that all of us might approach Him without hesitation with our own failings and imperfections.
The New Evangelization invites us to come to know and love a real and living Christ, so that through that personal encounter we might bear fitting witness to Him. In a similar way, hopefully my nephew will discover the splendid character of the Tuskegee Airmen so that he can better portray them on the silver screen as the heroes that they were for all Americans.