“God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. 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” (Bl. John Paul II – Redemptoris Missio 3).
The New Evangelization is becoming more widely known in dioceses across the country, at least as a buzzword. In light of blossoming initiatives, especially in the year of faith, I will offer the following reflections through my lens as a Youth Minister.
Ultimately these points touch upon my experience of the New Evangelization, which I can personally credit for my conversion. I grew up in the typical “American Catholic” household: Mass on Sunday, Catholic school, and a good deal of moralism and “Catholic guilt”, oddly buttressed by a cafeteria approach to the doctrines of the Church. By the time I got to college, my Catholic faith was practically dead – I never left the Church or became an atheist, but I was far from the Lord.
My conversion happened that freshman year and set my life on a course that can only come through an encounter with the Person of Christ. A couple years later, in my reading and spiritual conversations, I learned of the New Evangelization.
None of what I read surprised me because it was exactly what I had experienced firsthand as a Catholic. The New Evangelization is the Church’s response to the modern crisis. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in Porta Fidei, describes the current milieu:
“It often happens that Christians are more concerned for the social, cultural and political consequences of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition for life in society. In reality, not only can this presupposition no longer be taken for granted, but it is often openly denied. Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people” (PF 2).
For this reason, “we are in need of a new evangelization – if the art of living remains an unknown, nothing else works. But this art is not the object of a science – this art can only be communicated by [one] who has life – he who is the Gospel personified” (Ratzinger – 2000 Address to Catechists).
What the New Evangelization Is: Essential Elements
In light of my own background, and the reflection from Benedict XVI, I offer these thoughts on the essential elements of the New Evangelization:
- The New Evangelization proclaims the Person of Christ – his Incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection. The New Evangelization is a lived encounter with Christ in the Catholic Church. It is this or it is dead. Jesus Christ can be encountered today. He is not outdated. He has not been pre-empted by the iPhone (that’s why Apple has to come out with a new one every 6 months… they haven’t saved man!). The Christian message is not moralism, escapism, or abstraction. “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est 1). So we have a need for an encounter with Christ that changes everything, and keeps changing everything – this is really the deepening of the event that changed our lives forever: Baptism. The New Evangelization is this re-proposal of the Person of Christ to the faithful.
- The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and Eucharistic Devotion. As stated in CCC 1378: “In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. ‘The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession.’”
The place of encounter for the baptized Catholic is in the Eucharist. To be sure, Christ is present in his Church, especially in liturgical celebrations, in various ways (in the person of the priest, the word, the body), “but especially in the Eucharistic species” (CCC 1088). “In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist ‘the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” (CCC 1374).
This brief anecdote will illustrate my point about the necessity of the Eucharist: I recently sat with high school juniors and seniors who participate in Peer Ministry for our Youth Ministry program. The topic of testimony came up, as it often does. Apparently many of the teens in the room had engaged in a conversation outside of our meeting about conversion. No doubt they must have been talking about their own conversions, as they related their amazement to me about how all of their stories centered around a real encounter with Christ, an Other, in the Eucharist – a Person, Love himself, who desires to be so close to us that He gives Himself to us in the most Blessed Sacrament. Their lives have been changed. They have become disciples, not because of a perfect hospitality ministry, a charismatic leader, an overemphasis on activity, or the blurring of lines, but through an encounter with Jesus Christ who is really and truly present in the Eucharist – body, blood, soul, and divinity.
- The encounter with Christ, and the active reception of the Gospel, demands substantial conversion. One of the consistent refrains in the Gospels is the invitation: “Follow me.” Closely related to this is that familiar call: “Repent and believe. The Kingdom of God is at hand.” Christ, the King, the ruler over all sin, wickedness, and even death, has the power to break into the darkest parts of our hearts, in order to bring light, peace, and healing. Where the Gospel is proclaimed unabashedly, where the call to proclaim repentance is taken seriously, confession lines continue to grow. The New Evangelization demands conversion because Christ demanded it, and one key place where this conversion is borne is in the confessional.
- The New Evangelization is proclaimed by the witness (i.e. Conversion). The Gospel message, at whose heart is a Person, depends upon witnesses in order to be known in the world, because the salvation of the world depends upon the witness of the Church. The faith in 2013 is still compelling because Christ continues to make life new. He can bring about radical conversion that transforms a person on every single level. The dynamism of this encounter must be proclaimed by the witness. What does the witness proclaim with his life? The Church’s ongoing experience of Christ that harkens back to the words of St. Peter: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God…Where else will we go? You have the words of eternal life.” As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in Porta Fidei:
“Through his love, Jesus Christ attracts to himself the people of every generation: in every age he convokes the Church, entrusting her with the proclamation of the Gospel by a mandate that is ever new. Today too, there is a need for stronger ecclesial commitment to new evangelization in order to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith. In rediscovering his love day by day, the missionary commitment of believers attains force and vigour that can never fade away. Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness” (PF 7).
- Dynamic Orthodoxy/Becoming a Papist. The Church’s teaching is beautiful and good because it is true. The Catholic faith has survived for 2000 years because in spite of being hated by “the world” simply because it is true. We cannot be afraid of the truth, and we cannot forget to always teach it in love. We cannot water down the message or be ashamed of the Church’s teachings on all matters with regard to faith and morals. Tied closely to all of this is the person of the Pope. The Pope, the “perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful,” testifies to an experience. He gazes upon Christ, and the faithful look through his testimony.
- The Kingdom of God . I’ll let Cardinal Ratzinger’s words guide this reflection: “The keyword of the proclamation of Jesus is: the Kingdom of God. But the Kingdom of God is not a thing, a social or political structure, a utopia. The Kingdom of God is God. Kingdom of God means: God exists. God is alive. God is present and acts in the world, in our – in my life” (Ratzinger 2001).
By way of conclusion, then, I will simply quote Benedict XVI’s address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization:
“There is a dynamic continuity between the proclamation of the first disciples and ours…The Church has never ceased to proclaim the salvific mystery of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, but today that same message needs renewed vigour to convince contemporary man, who is often distracted and insensitive. For this reason, the new evangelization must try to find ways of making the proclamation of salvation more effective; a proclamation without which personal existence remains contradictory and deprived of what is essential.”
In the face of the modern world, the Church must take up her essential mission of proclaiming Christ to all nations. She must propose the Person of Christ, especially the encounter with His real Presence in the Eucharist. She must call for conversion through dynamic orthodoxy, because the world needs witnesses to testify that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
The Church must “find ways of making the proclamation of salvation more effective.” Yet there are certain temptations strapped to the New Evangelization, and the Enemy will love to rally ministers in the Church around his half-truths… we will look at these pitfalls in the next article.
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