Secularization and relativism surround us today. We cannot dismiss new evangelization as a fad that will fade.
Merriam Webster's online dictionary defines buzzword as, "a word or phrase that becomes very popular for a period of time." A few people who want to categorize "new evangelization" as a buzzword -- a flash in the pan, the flavor of the month, a passing fancy. And if so, then why put effort into understanding it, or, taking it further, living it? In a Church over 2,000 years old, yes, new evangelization is a relatively new term but its roots are deep and theological underpinnings are sound.
In June 1979, at the Shrine of the Holy Cross in his native Poland, Pope St. John Paul II told the assembled crowd: "A new evangelization has begun, as if it were a new proclamation, even if in reality it is the same as ever." In Church history, 36 years is a blink of an eye, but this first pronouncement of new evangelization appeared more than a generation ago! Take note of his acknowledgement that this "new proclamation" is, "the same as ever."
He addressed the Church's missionary mandate in his 1990 encyclical "Redemptoris Missio." Here, he describes the rationale for a new look at evangelization: " ....Particularly in countries with ancient Christian roots, and occasionally in the younger Churches as well, where entire groups of the baptized have lost a sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his gospel. In this case what is needed is a 'new evangelization' or a 're-evangelization.'" (RM, 33.3.)
Twenty-five years ago he described our current reality: "(the) baptized have lost a sense of the faith....no longer consider themselves members of the Church ... people living a life far removed from Christ and his gospel." A 2015 Pew study reports that, of American adults who identify as having been raised Catholic, "fully 41 percent no longer identify with Catholicism"; 13 percent of all Americans describe themselves as "former Catholics." Secularization and relativism surround us today. We cannot dismiss new evangelization as a fad that will fade.
A saying attributed to both Henry Ford and Albert Einstein applies here: "If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got." If using familiar, once tried and true techniques is not helping the Church to grow and, in fact, there is evidence of shrinking numbers, then something new is definitely needed, not abandoning all that is good, but exploring what Pope John Paul called new ardor, new expressions, new methods. Pope Benedict XVI clearly recognized this when, in September 2010, he established the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. He asked the new council to: "examine ...the theological and pastoral meaning of the new evangelization; promote and foster, ...the study, dissemination, and implementation of the Papal Magisterium related to topics connected with the new evangelization; make known and support initiatives linked to the new evangelization that are already being put into practice in various particular Churches, and promote the realization of new projects...; and study and encourage the use of modern forms of communication as instruments for the new evangelization." (Art. 3)
At a September 2013, symposium at St. John's Seminary in Wonersh, England, Bishop Philip Egan of the Diocese of Portsmouth, England described evangelization and new evangelization:
"In the earlier understanding, evangelisation involved two stages: first proclamation to arouse faith, in those who have never heard of Christ; and then, 'classic evangelization', a gradual insertion into the life of the Church and the sacraments through schooling, involvement in parish life, ongoing catechesis, attending Mass, regular preaching, charitable activity and so on. Now ... there is new evangelisation, which is focused on developing a living relationship with Jesus Christ, above all in the Holy Eucharist."
Bishop Egan went on to say that in Western cultures, there is almost "a cultural Christophobia" at work -- fear of a "living relationship with Jesus Christ."
Here is the heart of new evangelization: it is not a buzzword, it is nurturing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and inviting others to do the same. Pope John Paul II wrote that we must be "in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity" (Catechesi Tradendae 5). When we have this relationship, everything else falls in to place, without changing or abandoning one word of doctrine.
O beauty, ever ancient ever new.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.
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