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A Pontifical Council for US - part II PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 02 July 2010 14:52

Friday I posted the beginning of this lengthy reflection on the New Evangelization.  Here it continues...

If we want to understand this new evangelization, a great place to start, besides the two letters of Pope John Paul II I mentioned above, might be an address given by then-Cardinal Ratzinger to catechists and religion teachers ten years ago.  There are some great passages worth quoting here, but I hope you read the entire address, which is only about six pages long.  The Cardinal describes evangelization succinctly and surprisingly, given how terrified most Catholics are at the idea of evangelizing someone.  He wrote, "To evangelize means: to show this path [to happiness] —to teach the art of living." Evangelization is first of all about helping people discover how to live happily in this life!  "The inability of joy presupposes and produces the inability to love, produces jealousy, avarice—all defects that devastate the life of individuals and of the world.  This is why 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."

So right away we see that the heart of evangelization is the proclamation of Jesus, the Kingdom of God and the Gospel personified.  It's not the Church, nor is it primarily about doctrines, initially.  It's about a person: a person I love, who has changed my life, whom I have come to know in a relationship of prayer combined with actions based upon Who He has revealed Himself to be and what He has to say about life, purpose, meaning, and happiness.

Then-Cardinal Ratzinger also hinted at what the New Evangelization is not, and mentioned a temptation that I have encountered personally and in many other pastoral ministers.  It is

the temptation of impatience, the temptation of immediately finding the great success, in finding large numbers. But this is not God's way. For the Kingdom of God as well as for evangelization, the instrument and vehicle of the Kingdom of God, the parable of the grain of mustard seed is always valid (see Mark 4:31-32).

The Kingdom of God always starts anew under this sign. New evangelization cannot mean: immediately attracting the large masses that have distanced themselves from the Church by using new and more refined methods. No—this is not what new evangelization promises.

New evangelization means: never being satisfied with the fact that from the grain of mustard seed, the great tree of the Universal Church grew; never thinking that the fact that different birds may find place among its branches can suffice—rather, it means to dare, once again and with the humility of the small grain, to leave up to God the when and how it will grow (Mark 4:26-29).

So this means we have to abandon - or at least be much more realistic - about programs like advertising campaigns or websites, or even group processes that attempt to evangelize over a set length of time, or that focus primarily on becoming a "practicing Catholic."  While they may be means of actual grace that touch people's hearts and call them to conversion, they cannot replace the effort to call individuals to faith in Jesus Christ and invite them to deepen that relationship with the sacramental and communal life of the Church.  We should no longer rely strictly on methods that promise us efficiency without efficacy, or simply be overwhelmed at the huge numbers of people in our parishes.  Ratzinger said something rather pointedly about "the fundamental paradox of the history of salvation," which is simply that "God does not count in large numbers; exterior power is not the sign of his presence."

The Method of the New Evangelization

When he spoke to the catechists and religion teachers about the method of evangelization, he said, "We are not looking for listening for ourselves—we do not want to increase the power and the spreading of our institutions, but we wish to serve for the good of the people and humanity giving room to he who is Life.  This expropriation of one's person, offering it to Christ for the salvation of men, is the fundamental condition of the true commitment for the Gospel."

The New Evangelization is costly for the evangelizer.  It means imitating Jesus who

"introduces us into the Trinitarian communion, into the circle of eternal love, whose persons are 'pure relations,' the pure act of giving oneself and of welcome. The Trinitarian plan—visible in the Son, who does not speak in his name—shows the form of life of the true evangelizer—rather, evangelizing is not merely a way of speaking, but a form of living: living in the listening and giving voice to the Father. 'He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak,' says the Lord about the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).

This Christological and pneumatological form of evangelization is also, at the same time, an ecclesiological form: The Lord and the Spirit build the Church, communicate through the Church. The proclamation of Christ, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God presupposes listening to his voice in the voice of the Church.

But this is not to say that evangelization is the work of those who are employed by the Church!  Rather, each Catholic encounters Christ also in the Church, through the proclamation of the Scriptures, the reception of the Sacraments, and the challenge of rubbing shoulders with others struggling to be disciples.  But in addition, we are to proclaim the God with whom we have a personal relationship, expressed in the dialogue of prayer. "All methods are empty without the foundation of prayer," Cardinal Ratzinger wrote. "The word of the announcement must always be drenched in an intense life of prayer."  I believe this is because, especially in our post-modern, post-Christian society that is suspicious of institutions, it is imperative that we speak of our personal experience of faith as first of all a relationship with God in the Spirit, through Christ, that impels us into the arms of the Church, despite her obvious problems and imperfections.

To evangelize is to suffer death.  It is to place the good of another and their happiness over my own convenience and anonymity as a Christian.  It is the willingness to be blessed either by helping another discover the joy of being loved by Jesus, or by suffering rejection "for the sake of the Gospel."  The process of expropriation is the concrete form (expressed in many different ways) of giving one's life in the cause of evangelization.  I have never associated Jesus' promise, "Whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35) with evangelization.  Now I see it is at its very heart.

Tomorrow, I'll look at what I suspect Pope Benedict will propose as the content of the New Evangelization.  Care to make any guesses?  I'll give you a hint - there are four primary areas.



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