May 17, 2013


Catholics and the ‘new evangelization’

How is the “new evangelization” working out for you? Have you been making extra efforts to share the faith, especially during this Year of Faith?

For most Catholics, evangelization is “new” indeed. Let’s face it: When we’ve thought about evangelization at all, it’s been associated with non-Catholic groups that send people door to door, or perhaps with missionaries overseas. Or perhaps we think of televangelists who do things that we Catholics just don’t do.

Recent popes, including Pope Francis, have been trying to change that, but Catholics seem resistant. The Second Vatican Council, which is only part of history for most Catholics these days, spoke of evangelization more than 200 times, and the popes noticed.

Pope Paul VI, who presided over most of the Second Vatican Council, said that he chose the name Paul precisely because the Apostle to the gentiles traveled widely to spread the Good News of Christ. Therefore, Pope Paul also began to travel widely, something that previous popes had not done.

Pope Paul also changed the name of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and he issued his apostolic exhortation “On Evangelization in the Modern World” in 1975. He wrote, “The presentation of the Gospel message is not an optional contribution for the Church. It is the duty incumbent on her by the command of the Lord Jesus.”

Pope John Paul I didn’t live long enough as pope to emphasize evangelization, but Blessed John Paul II did. It was he who coined the term “new evangelization” early in 1979 during a homily he delivered in Poland.

Then, in his encyclical “Redemptoris Missio,” issued in 1990 to observe the 25th anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican II, he wrote, “I sense that the moment has come to commit all the Church’s energies to a new evangelization. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church, can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”

Then it was Pope Benedict XVI’s turn. He recognized the steep decline of the Church in Europe and the number of former Catholics in America. He summoned the Synod of Bishops in 2012, and asked the bishops to discuss the new evangelization. He also established a new Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

More than once, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI stressed that too many Catholics “are baptized, but insufficiently evangelized,” and they are falling by the wayside because of our secularized culture.

Pope Francis has already spoken about the necessity for evangelization several times. In a homily on April 18 he said that, if Catholics don’t proclaim Jesus with their lives, the Church becomes “not the mother, but the baby sitter. It is a Church dormant.”

He said that Catholics must be “faithful to the Spirit, to proclaim Jesus with our lives, through our witness and our words.” He made the same point in a message that he sent to the bishops of Argentina.

Since all of our recent popes have emphasized the necessity for Catholics to evangelize, why aren’t we doing it? Part of the reason, undoubtedly, is that Americans have been brought up to think that religion is a private matter. We are not to discuss religion or politics.

Part of the reason, too, is that most Catholics don’t think that they know enough about their faith to answer questions about it—and they may be right.

Scott Hahn is not one of those people. He has been encouraging, and practicing, evangelization for many years. He now holds the Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. He had an article in the April 22 issue of America magazine titled “Mass Evangelization.” Those familiar with Hahn’s writings will recognize his thesis: that our new evangelization should be based on the Eucharist.

It’s not a new idea. Blessed John Paul, Hahn says, referred to the Eucharist as “the basis of the New Evangelization” and Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George said, “All evangelizers proclaim who Christ is; Catholic evangelizers proclaim a eucharistic Christ.”

So perhaps we can evangelize simply by inviting people to attend Mass with us—especially family members who have strayed from the Church.

—John F. Fink

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