For the first time in a quarter century a new Pontifical Council has been mandated; one that is not a reorganization of an existing council, but something new. At the vigil of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Holy Father announced the establishment of the Pontifical Council on the New Evangelization. This is, of course, the same New Evangelization that Pope John Paul II spoke of in his apostolic letter, At the Beginning of the Third Millennium. In it, he wrote, "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." Mission of the Redeemer, 3
In that same text, Pope John Paul II identified three aspects of this new evangelization. One was what we often think of as evangelization - bringing the Gospel to those who have not heard it before. "To preach the Gospel and to establish new Churches among peoples or communities where they do not yet exist, ... this is the first task of the Church." Mission of the Redeemer, 34. But he also identified healthy and mature Catholic communities in which the faith is alive, along with a sense of the mission to the world. These situations require normal pastoral care, ongoing proclamation, the discernment of gifts and personal vocations, and other aspects of Christian catechesis and formation.
Finally, in Mission of the Redeemer, Pope John Paul II spoke of our situation in the U.S., Western Europe, and other developed, traditionally Christian nations. He addressed the fact that a living sense of faith no longer exists, and that many are unchurched. He wrote, "In this case what is needed is a 'new evangelization' or a 're-evangelization.'" Mission of the Redeemer, 33. It is this third situation which, apparently, the new Pontifical Council is meant to address.
"Pope Benedict said he received this legacy upon his own election to the Chair of Peter, and noted the challenges of the present time are mostly spiritual. He said he wanted to give the new Pontifical Council the task of promoting a renewed evangelization in countries with deep Christian roots which are now experiencing a sense of the 'eclipse of God', and becoming increasingly secularized. He said this situation presents a challenge in finding the appropriate means in which to revive the perennial truth of the Gospel of Christ." (Vatican Radio brief)
We need to be clear about what this third aspect of the New Evangelization means, and I think there has been a great misunderstanding of it for some time. As an example, deacon Keith Fournier of Catholic Online writes, "There is a desperate need for such a new evangelization in the secularized Western world. Many Catholics do not know what the Church actually teaches. Some have embraced what is often called a 'cafeteria Catholicism'- choosing what parts of their faith they will follow. Others bearing the title Christian profess the Creed but confine its influence only to recitation at the Liturgy on Sunday."
This is typical of what I hear in my travels to different parts of the country - evangelization most often understood as catechesis. Often there are a few digs made about the quality of catechesis immediately following the Second Vatican Council, characterized as an abandonment of rote memorization of texts from the Baltimore catechism to the Gospel simply as "God loves you," and "let's cut and paste some pretty pictures for Jesus."
While catechesis is a part of evangelization, it is the tail end of a long process which, theoretically, begins in the domestic Church - the family home - as parents proclaim the Gospel to their children and introduce them to a life of prayer and service to others.
Next week, I'll look at a wonderful, and perhaps largely unknown document, that might give us some insights into what this Pontifical Council might be about - or at least what I hope it will be about. And it will probably look a lot different than what Deacon Fournier is imaging, I think! Have a great, safe, Fourth of July celebration.