* The New Evangelization (continued)
To be baptized (and later fully initiated through Eucharist and Confirmation) is to be marked for mission. That is exciting! You and I have a purpose, a mission that is unique to us and is essential for this world of ours. To live your life as husband, father, employer or employee, neighbor, friend, uncle, brother, son, grandfather, or citizen takes on a sharper understanding when we connect all that to Christ, and pray for the ability to be a source of God’s blessing to others. To live as wife, mother, business owner or worker, neighbor, friend, aunt, sister, daughter, grandmother, or citizen and so on becomes the vocation to which God is calling us. Each person has a vocation, no matter who we are. Every direction life takes can become a vocation, if we begin to view our lives through the lens of “calling” or “mission.” God asks each of us to take all the circumstances of our lives that now exists and find a way to trust that we will be exactly the person God needs us to be for others. God calls. We respond. We begin to see our lives in terms of “mission” rather than just obligation or disappointment or personal success.
This shift—viewing our lives through the lens of vocation and mission—is at the heart of what the Catholic Church means by the term “the new evangelization.” When we tap into the reality that our life has a mission, we immediately gain focus and energy and enthusiasm. We even gain an endurance for the long haul, do we not? Take the example of a pregnancy and all that entails for the mother and father-to-be. Everything changes. Every thought of the future now includes a connection to this new life. We find ourselves with a crystal clear focus. It leads parents to quit smoking and drinking, do better at budgeting money, think about re-arranging the home and getting it ready for the child, read parenting books and take parenting classes, and so on. Why? Because the mission is clear—we are responsible for the child and want to be ready for all the changes that will entail. When the child comes and the reality is not so easy—sleepless nights, bloated bodies, extra worries, such a sense of mission (whether we use that term or not) is very important. It keeps us from marking the child “return to sender”! (smile) A little aside: in fact, that is a strong argument for why children belong within marriage, within a faithful, permanently committed, monogamous relationship. That is the situation that is best able to handle this new mission, this nurturing and raising of a new life in the fullest way.
The root of the word “evangelization” is “evangel” which means “the gospel or good news” and comes into our language through the Christian gospels about Jesus Christ. The term “the new evangelization” is suggesting that each of us individually and communally need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ fresh and anew and recommit our lives to following the gospel. The impetus for this new evangelization goes back to the Second Vatican Council over sixty years ago. Pope John XXIII called for an “opening of the windows”, aggiornamento, to let the Holy Spirit breathe life and energy into the whole Church anew. As a result, a Church that many had thought was fixed in place forever in terms of its structure and liturgy and teaching, began to move out of the 16th century into the 20th century. Then, in 1975 Pope Paul VI asked a Synod of Bishops to look at the topic of “Evangelization in the Modern World.” Using their deliberations as a foundation, Pope Paul issued the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi. He laid out a wonderful, theologically deep and rich, groundwork for why evangelization is as important today as it was to the first Christians. In it he says “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize.” (# 14) Those two sentences, inspired by what took place at the Second Vatican Council and desiring to see the fruits of that Council continue to grow, capture what is at the heart of the Church’s energy for a new evangelization.
With Pope John Paul II this idea of a “new” evangelization really comes front and center into the Church’s life and teaching. Pope John Paul II realized that it was not enough just to move the Church from its late medieval roots to a 20th century setting. It needed to be prepared to enter the third millennium and embrace the challenge of the next 1000 years. To that end, from the very beginning of his papacy he talked in terms of preparation for the coming millennium (meaning the year 2000). Core to that preparation was the desire that the Church fully embrace a “new evangelization” which was as important (or perhaps more important) for the supposedly already Christianized world as it was for areas of the world that were only beginning to be evangelized. Pope Benedict XVI built on this foundation, especially emphasizing the unique reality of Jesus Christ as universal Savior. Pope Francis has continued to stress the importance of the new evangelization during his pontificate, with special attention to those in our Church who are hurting or feel excluded. Our own Archdiocese, under Archbishop Vigneron, has made the new evangelization the focus of everything we do and promote.
No matter the words or terms we use ‘new evangelization’ is always a mouthful! The energy and strength of the Church here in the Archdiocese and at St. Regis Parish will depend on us becoming excited about the mission we all have to live our Catholic baptismal faith intentionally and more fully. It will not be enough to occasionally come to Mass or to send our children to Catholic schools and faith formation. We can no longer hold on to the coattails of our parents and grandparents, remembering them as devout in faith and faithful Mass-goers, and say that we are Catholic because they were, or think that we and future generations will be fine even though we no longer connect on a regular basis to the Church community. The new evangelization challenges us to encounter, grow and witness to Christ by actively participating in a Eucharistic community of faith. Thank you to all who recognize this and make it a reality with their families.