*The New Evangelization
One of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council held sixty years ago was the recognition that the Catholic Church could no longer simply defend doctrinal statements of faith and expect the modern world to be converted. Nor could the Catholic Church see only the non-Christianized areas of the world as the primary focus for evangelization. Pope John XXIII’s “throwing open the windows” to let the Spirit breathe fresh air into the way the Church lived and taught led to Pope Paul VI’s highlighting of the centrality of Evangelization in all that the Church does, in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (translated to English under the title “Evangelization in the Modern World”). He then put that into practice by being the first pope in the modern world to travel extensively throughout the world. This in turn led Pope John Paul II to continue to emphasize both the need to reinvigorate the missionary aspect of the Church and to his even more extensive worldwide travels, especially his World Youth Days. Pope Benedict XVI did not travel as extensively but spoke often of the “new evangelization,” a term that has come to be used to sum up the challenge facing the Catholic Church in today’s world. Needless to say, Pope Francis has further developed this type of focus and outreach, with special attention given to accompanying those who are on the margin—the poor, the immigrant and refugee, those hurting due to abuse by others, those finding themselves seemingly condemned by the Church’s teaching but still in need of the Church’s care and concern.
What are some characteristics of this “new evangelization” that is at the heart of what the universal Church is doing, and the central theme of everything the Archdiocese of Detroit has done under Archbishop Vigneron? We need to recognize that we can no longer presume: that being baptized Catholic will lead to a child who will be raised in the Catholic faith; that a teen will embrace the faith more deeply in Confirmation; that a young adult will make the practice of the faith part of their lives; or that an adult who has a solid understanding of what the Church teaches will be comfortable claiming their Catholic identity. Although many Catholic leaders are too simplistic in diagnosing the reasons for such a change of Catholic identity and life, it is a fact that even all who were born and raised Catholic need to hear the gospel message anew and be invited to become intentional in their identity as Catholic Christians.
There are a lot of reasons why many Catholics have not intentionally and consciously embraced and claimed their Catholic faith and identity: the challenges within families, the competition for family time, the fewer number of Catholics educated in Catholic schools, the growing diversity of many neighborhoods and schools with an early exposure to alternative approaches to God and faith, the ability of celebrity and pop culture to trump family beliefs and practices, and just a general decline in embracing a religious worldview as essential to life. In a real sense, all of us are the ones who need to: hear the gospel message anew, intentionally commit to Jesus’s mission and ministry, and embrace our faith as central to all that we do, not simply as an add on or one of many choices we make. “New evangelization” is contrasted with the more traditional understanding of evangelization as sending missionaries to places that have never really heard the gospel message. The new evangelization wants us to think not just in terms of foreign territories, but of ourselves and our own communities, families, and culture.
Specifically, the “new evangelization” focuses on a personal encounter with the person, message and ministry of Jesus. Although some talk as though it is a matter of accepting all the teachings of the Catholic Church and not deviating from such teachings, the best of the new evangelization reminds us that we need to anchor our faith in a deep, personal connection to Jesus Christ. That is what makes faith come alive. That is what gives heart and soul to any of the doctrines of our faith. Traditionally, Catholics have had a type of heart-felt connection and encounter to Christ via the Eucharist. We do not want to lose that at all, but we want to flesh out the full reality of our connection to Jesus, through prayer, reading and reflecting on the gospels, hearing the personal call of Jesus to follow him, and living lives of discipleship for him. One goal of the new evangelization, then, would be for each Catholic to consciously envision their life as a vocation—a particular calling from God which God will use for the good of others, and embrace with courage and joy the responsibilities of whatever life we have, as a way of living out our particular vocation.
An important aspect of the new evangelization is to trust that our Catholic practices and traditions, properly understood and lived, are precisely what the world and the culture around us needs for its well-being and salvation. It can get a bit tricky here. There are some who pair the idea of the new evangelization with a completely negative view of the world around us, as though Catholic faith and the culture do not really mix. However, rather than focusing on a negative judgment of how secularized the culture is or how it has relativized all truth, we can see the new evangelization in a more positive light, (continued on page 5)
as an invitation to trust our Catholic practices—Sunday Eucharist, daily prayer, embracing the liturgical seasons, a sacramental sense of creation, and a communitarian dimension to all ethical issues. It is true that our culture has much which needs to be critiqued, but it has much to embrace and respect, as well. Much of what is most negative about our culture has been absorbed by all of us—too much individualism, too much emphasis on material goods, too narrow a view of the common good, and too negative a view of people and places that are “different” from us. If we were to intentionally re-commit to basic Catholic practices, we would find ourselves able to resist absorbing what is negative in the culture and appreciate that which is positive. Even more, we would have a certain public, unapologetic way of living out our Catholic faith which by itself would be a good witness to the world around us.
I will continue some thoughts on the new evangelization next week, including where the idea came from.