By S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - At a conference held Saturday, March 21, at North American Martyrs Parish in Lincoln, popular Catholic authors and speakers Dr. Scott and Kimberly Hahn gave a series of talks on the New Evangelization and how to live it out in families and other relationships.
Made possible by a gift of the Dwaine and Evelyn Michalski Estate, some 700 people attended the conference, which included two talks by Dr. Hahn and one by his wife, with lunch and book signings in between. The Michalskis were long-time members of North American Martyrs Parish before their deaths just a few months apart last year.
“When I heard the Michalskis made this possible, I had to be there,” said Jerry Buettner, a friend of the couple who also was one of the first members of North American Martyrs Parish when it was established in 1993. He described Dr. Hahn as a “gifted” speaker.
In his first talk, Dr. Hahn talked about how he had initially thought the New Evangelization was a short-lived movement limited to Saint Pope John Paul II’s papacy.
“Like a lot of people, I had assumed the ’90s was the decade of the New Evangelization,” he said. “When you go back and look carefully at what Saint John Paul II actually said, he called it the advent season of the New Evangelization.”
Advent, Dr. Hahn pointed out, is the first four Sundays of the liturgical year.
“Then there are 48 more Sundays,” he said. “This was clearly not a sprint but a marathon.”
Dr. Hahn said that while Saint Pope John Paul II launched the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI “took it to a higher level,” and now Pope Francis has made it “the highest priority.”
Dr. Hahn stressed that every Catholic has a role in the New Evangelization, not just clergy, religious and missionaries.
“Laypeople fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization,” he stated.
He sought to make the concept of sharing one’s faith with family, friends and co-workers as natural as recommending a favorite movie or restaurant.
“Picture yourself at work next week and the coffee break rolls around…Nobody’s going to think you’re weird when you say that you went to a movie and add, ‘I really recommend it.’ Nobody’s going to say, ‘Who do you think you are to impose your theatrical tastes on the rest of us?’… Because that’s what friends do.”
“When we share the joys of life with people we work with, that’s how we strengthen friendship,” Dr. Hahn said. “And that’s what the E represents. It begins with a personal relationship but it doesn’t end there… It’s a covenant.”
He added that the most important thing about entering into the New Evangelization was not to take on a mindset of reaching other people or preaching to them, but to recognize the fact that we Catholics are “them.”
“We need the Gospel. We need to be evangelized ourselves,” he said. “The faithful need to hear the Gospel again and again.”
Dr. Hahn also reminded the audience of Pope Francis’ instruction to share the joy of being Catholic.
“Joy is what makes our faith infectious to other people,” he maintained. “Apart from whatever is said, just the presence of Christ that we bring to others brings joy.”
Approaching the New Evangelization in this way was something that made sense to Jackie Drehs.
Mrs. Drehs and her husband Tom, members of North American Martyrs Parish, wanted to attend the lecture because Dr. Hahn’s books were so instrumental in Mr. Drehs’ conversion to the Catholic Church.
“I always wondered what the New Evangelization was,” she said. “Now I understand it.”
Dr. Hahn’s “friendly conversation” approach also struck a chord with Darcy Parr and Chris Winieski, friends from North American Martyrs Parish who attended the lecture with their husbands.
“He made evangelization just seem like a natural conversation,” Mrs. Winieski said. “It just seemed different than what I thought about it before.”
After a lunch break, Kimberly Hahn was introduced by Father Brian Connor, pastor of North American Martyrs. Using personal accounts, she talked about the New Evangelization in terms of sharing joy.
She referred to the Lord’s miracle with a few loaves and fishes, donated by a small child.
“Such a small thing,” she said, referring to the meager bit of food. “But it was nothing to feed 5,000 men, and that didn’t include the women and children.”
From that lesson, she encouraged the audience not to be concerned with how small their role is in the Church.
“Whatever your skills and abilities, give it to Jesus and tell him, ‘I want to build up North American Martyrs,’ or Saint Mary’s or whatever parish you belong to,” she said.
She gave very practical examples of how any given Catholic can make a big impact on the spiritual growth of the church, whether that’s supporting a missionary, taking care of priests, or remembering to support the spiritual well-being of godchildren.
Poignantly, she shared how convicted she was when the woman who lived across the street died and was not discovered for days. Mrs. Hahn admitted that she didn’t even know the neighbor’s name.
“Do you know who your neighbors are?” she challenged that audience. “I need to actually care about the people around me if I want to be a witness to Jesus.”
She suggested starting with the easy, neighborly things like raking a neighbor’s yard, shoveling snow off the sidewalks, or bringing a meal to newcomers.
This kind of service opens up the opportunity to speak the truth about Christ.
“What’s the worst thing that people would say to you? ‘I’m not interested,’” she shrugged.
She acknowledged that sharing the Gospel can feel intimidating.
“I still get a lump in my throat when I feel God nudging me [to evangelize],” Mrs. Hahn admitted. “It’s okay to be afraid… Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the words to speak, and He will do it.”
Both the Hahns touched on the importance of living out the gospel within one’s family – the best way to demonstrate the joy of faith to others, and that personal relationships were the key to the New Evangelization.
“The message of friendship with God, and the medium is friendship, too,” Dr. Hahn said. “Most of you will never give a homily or give a talk like this or write a book or an article. The one thing you will have is family and friendships.”
He added, “A lot of people you know might not ever darken the door of the parish. Your friendship might be the only way they discover the Gospel and Good News of Christ.”
Dr. Hahn also emphasized that the New Evangelization is not combative.
“We’re not out to win arguments,” he said. “We’re out to win brothers and sisters of the family of God.”
Jim Hust of Cathedral of the Risen Christ Parish in Lincoln said he was thrilled to get his hands on a pair of tickets at the last minute, even though the conference sold out early.
“There’s just so many things he hit home with,” he said. “Basically, don’t be afraid. Personal touches are the whole answer.”
By lunchtime, Liz Bruggerman of North American Martyrs had resolved to make a difference in her life right away.
“I know a couple of my neighbors,” she said, identifying a couple more whom she had never met. “I should go to work on that.”
“We are being sent out as missionaries,” Dr. Hahn said in his final talk of the day. “It’s time to exhale the breath of God’s spirit that we have ingested.”
Scott Hahn no stranger to the Diocese of Lincoln
By S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - Scott Hahn is no stranger to the Diocese of Lincoln, having spoken here several times over the years. However, the connection between the Hahns and the Lincoln Diocese goes back to St. Bernard Parish in Milwaukee.
There, when Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz was pastor in 1986, Dr. Hahn left behind his Presbyterian roots and converted to Catholicism.
Dr. Hahn had already studied Catholicism for several years before moving to Milwaukee and meeting then-Msgr. Bruskewitz. His wife’s misgivings about the Catholic faith and his desire to keep his marriage sound had delayed his entrance into the Church.
In an interview with the National Catholic Register on the occasion of Bishop Bruskewitz’s ecclesiastical retirement in 2012, Dr. Hahn said that the future bishop, with “a pastor’s heart and a theologian’s mind,” answered his questions, instructed him in the Catholic faith and encouraged him to hold fast to what God would reveal to him.
Shortly after his reception into the Church, the Hahns had their third baby, Hannah. In the last weeks before the baby was born, the Lord impressed upon Mrs. Hahn that the child should be baptized Catholic.
In the book, “Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God,” Kimberly Hahn recounted how their daughter’s baptism, administered by then-Msgr. Bruskewitz, contributed to the opening of her own heart to Catholicism.
While Mrs. Hahn’s initial reactions to the Catholic Sacrament were negative, her opinion soon began to change.
“I listened intently as Msgr. Bruskewitz explained Baptism to our little boys… Applying John 3 to Baptism, [he] shared that, through her birth by water and the Spirit, Hanna would now be able to see and enter heaven. That gave me something to ponder.”
When Bishop Bruskewitz interceded for Hannah, Mrs. Hahn wrote, “I could hardly contain my joy… I exclaimed, ‘AMEN!’”
She added, “From that time on, I wanted a better understanding of what the Catholic Church taught about Baptism… and eventually led to my reception into the Catholic Church three years later.”
The Hahns and the bishop have maintained friendship and mutual respect ever since.