What comes to mind when we hear the term “New Evangelization?” Some have never heard the idea of a New Evangelization. What’s wrong with the old evangelization? For others, they’ve seen this term being thrown about in various circles and a number of images come to mind: new and improved Jesus! Catholicism 2.0! Or is it, and God forbid (literally), a cynical marketing ploy from a 2,000 year old church struggling to remain relevant? It is probably a good idea to clarify just what the New Evangelization is and what it means to our community of faith. In doing so I hope to share with you all just what it is my new role will hopefully mean for the future of our parish.
What is the New Evangelization? It most definitely is not new and improved Jesus, after all you can’t improve on perfection. It is not Catholicism 2.0. Jesus promised Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church—the Catholic Church. We’re still on Plan A and there is no Plan B. As for an attempt to remain relevant, I can’t see anything more relevant than the answer to life’s great questions: Who am I? For what purpose was I made? Is there more to life than meets the eye? Jesus Christ will remain relevant to this world regardless of our efforts because this is His world. He doesn’t simply provide answers to life’s most important questions; He is the answer to life’s most important questions.
The Good News is the same as it ever was. “But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. “(Mt 28:5-6) Christ is risen. Death has died. Sin has no power over us anymore.
Because of this euangelion (“good news” in greek) we who are baptized are all evangelists. We are all missionaries. Each one of us is called to declare to the whole world the Good News by word and deed. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Mt 28:19-20) This is the duty of all baptized Christians.
The newness of the the New Evangelization doesn’t refer to the message itself. The New Evangelization is “new in ardor, method and expression” (Saint John Paul the Great’s Address to the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM), March 9, 1983). I would like to back up a little and explain why this is so necessary for bringing people to Jesus. Saint John Paul identifies three scenarios in which evangelization takes place:
- To people who have never encountered Jesus Christ or the church. This is what most people might think of when they hear about evangelizing and mission work. Worldwide there are billions of people who have never heard of Jesus or the good news. To them is the mission ad gentes (to the people).
- Christian communities that are practicing believers who “bear witness to the Gospel in their surroundings and have a sense of commitment to the universal mission” of the Church. This is the lifelong faith formation which consists of evangelization (spreading the faith), catechesis (teaching believers) and apologetics (defending the faith). We do this as a parish and principally at home in our families.
- An intermediate situation “where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel.”
It is in this 3rd scenario that the New Evangelization is called for. In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio (Mission of the Redeemer) Saint John Paul the Great declared, “I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.” (3)
While the overwhelming majority of people in the world have never heard the Gospel message, the same cannot be said for where we live. I believe Saint Mary of the Hills does a wonderful job at catechizing and evangelizing our own parishioners. But what of those Christ has entrusted to us bring the good news? In our very neighborhoods we see that religious service attendance hovers below 20%. Many people have heard the good news and remain indifferent to Jesus’ invitation. The new “ardor, method and expression” of the New Evangelization is a recognition of this reality.
Discussing matters of religious faith with family, neighbors, friends and co-workers is usually on the list of favorite activities somewhere right between “Getting a Root Canal Without Anesthesia” and “Going To The DMV” or maybe even “Explaining Snapchat To Anyone Over 30.” Pope Francis has echoed the call for a new evangelization in the secularized west noting that there is difficulty in carrying out this work. “The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to sphere of the private and personal…it has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin, and a steady increase in relativism” (Evangelii Gaudium 64). Our world has received a small portion of the gospel message—all too often delivered in a joyless way that acts as a vaccination against catching the “good infection” that our faith is.
He later includes this appeal to Catholics:
“Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the message of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? They themselves would have found this unacceptable. An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it.” (Evangelii Gaudium 183)
For us who are blessed to receive Jesus in the Eucharist there is a strong call to the mission to evangelize. Saint John Paul said, “Communion and mission are profoundly connected…communion represents both the source and the fruit of mission: communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion.” (Christifideles Laici 32) The new evangelization is an answer to the call to mission with a renewed sense of urgency. The Holy Spirit is moving in new ways through the Church and we are blessed to be participants in His work. Programs related to the new evangelization are first and foremost about strengthening our own relationship with Jesus. When we come to believe that he is the Christ, the center and meaning of our lives, we will have a desire to share Him with others. There will be plenty of opportunity to learn how to evangelize in everyday life with and without words. Most especially, how to have breakthrough conversations with others when our example of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22) has brought someone to believe that we have something (or Someone) that they too want.
We know Jesus. We know “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7). We receive his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist. We receive healing and absolution in the sacrament of Reconciliation. We are adopted sons and daughters of our “Abba,” our Father, through baptism and confirmation. To know Jesus Christ is to know unspeakable joy. It is my great hope that by answering this call to the New Evangelization we can, all of us, be bold in our love for Christ and passionate in our desire to lead others to Him. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Is 43:19) He is doing something new through Saint Mary of the Hills to enliven the spiritual desert that has grown around us.