Aug. 16, 2013
It seems like we have been hearing and talking about the “New Evangelization” for at least two decades now. But what does it really mean, and how will it happen? Blessed John Paul II first introduced us specifically to this concept, and Pope Benedict XVI moved the mission forward by establishing a Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, conducting a world synod of bishops on the New Evangelization, and by calling the Year of Faith. Pope Francis seems poised to continue this great enterprise, adding his own unique thrust to it.

We will continue to explore, ponder and pray, seeking to understand more deeply what the New Evangelization means for the life of the Church in our times. But some things are beginning to emerge very clearly. One of these is the overall strategy and context in which the effort will proceed. I have been referring to this as the three “fronts” on which the New Evangelization will be conducted. They are catechesis and faith formation, the sacred liturgy, and works of charity.

It may come as a surprise to many that the New Evangelization is directed first and foremost to those who are already baptized. Perhaps many think that we are going to set out to “evangelize” right away what many here in western Oregon have been referring to as the “nones,” i.e. those who profess no Church affiliation. These are those who may consider themselves “spiritual” but who would answer “none” on a form asking for their religious affiliation.

But we who are already baptized must first deepen our own faith and relationship with the Lord before we are ready to reach out to those who do not yet know him. There are at least two generations now who have experienced poor catechesis and formation in the Catholic faith. I know because I am part of those generations, having been catechized in the confusing and unsure times of the late 1960s and ‘70s.

So the first “front” of the New Evangelization is to allow ourselves in the Church to first be evangelized anew, and maybe really for the first time. We must come to a proper and well informed knowledge of the content of our faith, as contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Do you have one handy? Have you read it? In this effort we must especially reach out to baptized Catholics who, for whatever reason, have drifted away from our community and the practice of the faith.

It is true that there is a lot more to being a Catholic disciple of the Lord Jesus than an intellectual knowledge of the content of our faith. It is about a true and loving relationship with the living Triune God. But that does not exclude a deep and profound knowledge of the doctrines of our faith that have been handed on to us from the Apostles, throughout history, and down to our own day under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I used to hear as a young person, “it’s more important to touch the heart than give ‘head knowledge’ of the faith.” No, no, no! It is not an “either/or” but a “both/and.” Both are important.

The second front of the New Evangelization is the sacred liturgy, i.e. the divine worship we offer to God in the sacramental life of the Church, especially in the offering of the most Holy Eucharist. Vatican II emphasized to us that the sacred liturgy is the “source and summit” of the Christian life. All the other apostolic works of the Church are wrapped up and directed toward the celebration of the Holy Mass, and the Church draws her life from the Holy Eucharist. It is the most important thing that we do, while not minimizing the other aspects of the life of the Church. The liturgy itself catechizes and forms us, being a unique and irreplaceable space for evangelization.

So we must get our divine worship right if we are truly going to be renewed and reformed as the living Body of Christ, the Church. I will have a lot more to say in time concerning the sacred liturgy. For now, let me just say that we have much to recover in the sense of reverence, prayerfulness, beauty and appreciation of the awesome mystery we celebrate in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass. But this is essential to being formed as the People of God, sanctified and ready for the works of evangelization.

Finally, the third front of the New Evangelization is the works of charity and mercy that we must render to others, especially to those who are most in need, whether in or outside the Church. Our service and outreach must extend powerfully, visibly and meaningfully to the poor, the homeless, the marginalized, the lost, the abandoned, the vulnerable, the lonely, the sick, and the troubled, indeed all who need to see the loving and merciful face of Christ in us. We must also see the face of Christ in them. “Whatsoever you do…”

Pope Francis has been drawing our attention powerfully to this important aspect of the life and ministry of the Church. Our love and care for those in need is one of our most, if not the most powerful witnesses of our faith in Jesus before the world. Our efforts at the New Evangelization will fall flat if this is not an important and essential part of it. It’s simply doing what Jesus commanded us to do.

Coming to a deeper faith, celebrating that faith well in the sacred liturgy, and living the faith we celebrate in our works of charity and mercy. There is the heart of the New Evangelization. Not just one or the other, but all three. We indeed have a lot of work to do. May Jesus help and guide us!