A Seven-Point Recipe for a New Evangelization

4/15/2012

Later this year, the Church will begin a special Year of Faith, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Those watershed events are being celebrated in preparation for the upcoming Synod of Bishops in October. The Synod focuses on the theme: The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.

Pope Benedict XVI, like his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, has been insistent in calling the whole Church to a renewal of faith, especially in once Christian areas where faith has grown cold. This is the essence of the New Evangelization. It is not a new message. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. But it is a new way of proposing the Gospel so that it responds to the questions of a highly secularized culture in a compelling manner. It recognizes that in places where faith and the apostolic impulse has grown cold, we have to move deliberately and with all haste from maintenance to mission.

The Church exists to evangelize: to bring Christ to the world and the world to Christ. But in order to evangelize the culture we have to be fully evangelized ourselves. This is a challenge for all of us: laity, religious as well as the ordained. This is the crucial pastoral challenge of our time: to propose the faith, to witness to the faith, to unveil the beautiful riches of the Christian faith so that all people might come to know Christ, to love Christ, and to follow Christ in the bosom of his Church. Faith is not an abstraction. We put our faith in a person, Jesus Christ. Nor can we separate the person of Jesus from the Church which he established to continue his mission and hand on the treasures of faith.

This is a tall order! Or so it may seem. At the February Consistory in Rome which gave the Catholic Church 22 new cardinals, one of these, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, outlined a Seven-Point Plan for the New Evangelization. It is a framework to help us embrace our mission as agents of the New Evangelization. I would like to share a summary of it with you.

1. The secular mind-set disdains the need for God. Though this mindset is widespread in our culture, it will not win the day. We are created in such a way that we are hard-wired for God. There is an innate longing in each of us for a transcendent reality, for God. St. Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself,O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Our hearts cannot be satisfied by anything less than God: not wealth, not pleasure, not prestige or power. The recent film “The Way” depicts this longing in a beautiful and compelling way showing how the Christian message can strike a chord even among very secular irreligious people. The first key for the New Evangelization, then, is to keep this quest for God alive. We have to find ways to tap into it.

2. The second point: “Be not afraid!” With a humble confidence we have to stand ready to “Put out into the deep.” We have been entrusted with the treasure that every human heart is searching for: the Word of God. This is the key to the mystery of human existence. We have to put our trust in that reality. It is the power forth to share this good news. We do not labor on our own authority or take on this mission by ourselves. We are sent as ambassadors of Christ and of his Church.

3. The New Evangelization does not first propose a belief-system, but a Person: Jesus Christ. We don’t lead with apologetics. We are sent to help people encounter Christ. It is Christ who captivates the hearts and minds of men and women.

4. Jesus is the Truth. The encounter with Jesus, this first step of evangelization, has to be followed by a systematic catechesis (and an effective apologetics). Jesus has entrusted his mission to the Church and it is the Church guided by the Holy Spirit that transmits the fullness of Christian faith to every generation. The evangelizers themselves have to be fully evangelized and catechized.

5. An evangelist is a person of joy. Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Leon Bloy said, “Joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence.” St. Teresa of Avila said, “A sad saint is a sorry saint!” If we are going to be credible witnesses, we have to be joyful. Do our lives manifest the joy of faith? Do we smile? Are we cheerful and hopeful? Our lives will either be a sign or a countersign to the truth of the Gospel’s claims. Gospel means “Good News.” Do we conduct ourselves as bearers of good news?

6. The New Evangelization is about sharing the love of God. As St. Paul writes, “The love of Christ urges us on!” The love of Christ has to be made manifest in concrete ways, especially in our willingness to serve others. Jesus said, “I have come to serve and not to be served.” Whether in our personal relationships, or through our ecclesial institutions such as Catholic Charities, Christian service motivated by the love of Christ is a necessary element of evangelization.

7. Martyrdom is a sign of the times in which we live. Does this sound shocking? The 20th century saw more martyrs than the previous 19 combined. Martyrdom is the supreme witness to the truth and power of the Gospel. Those who live the faith with integrity will suffer persecution in some form. A few might even be called upon to shed their blood. Those who patiently suffer persecution for their faith give a powerful impetus to the New Evangelization. We are called to bear the cross faithfully and joyfully by following Jesus as his disciples and witnesses. An ancient Christian writer, Tertullian, wrote that “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.”