Apologetics by Bob Sullivan
By now, we have all heard the phrase “The New Evangelization.” If you are like me, you have struggled to understand what that phrase even means. Is the Church bringing in some sort of consulting firm? Maybe the theologians are drawing up a plan? When do these evangelists show up at my door?
I’ve come to understand the New Evangelization by breaking it down into subcategories set forth below.
What it is not:
It is not a spectator sport, nor is there a requirement that every Catholic is to grab a bullhorn and a picket sign to threaten everyone with Hell if they don’t repent.
What it is:
The New Evangelization has three primary objectives which tell us what it is. The objectives are:
1. To help practicing Catholics deepen their relationship with God;
2. To help young Catholics become adult Catholics;
3. To attract non-practicing Catholics back to the Catholic Church through a thorough explanation of the truth of the Church and a more robust introduction to the beauty and goodness of Catholicism.
These three objectives are achieved when we combine faith and reason in order to know not only what the Church teaches, but why the Church teaches it and how beautiful the Gospel really is.
Why we need it:
The United States is becoming de-Christianized right before our eyes. There are currently about 70 million Catholics in the U.S. That sounds like a lot, but only around 10% to 30% of us actually receive the sacraments on a fairly regular basis. Catholic families still have more children than the average American family, but young Catholics have been leaving the Church at an increasing rate, and fewer and fewer of those who leave their faith are returning as they reach adulthood.
This means that even though we are baptizing more children than the average American Christian family, we are not ending up with anywhere near that number of adult Catholics.
The Catholic population of the U.S. has basically held steady for the last 20 years, mostly due to Catholic immigrants. But the children of Catholic immigrants are walking away from their faith at at least the same rate as the rest of the country’s Catholic youth. Therefore, researchers predict that the Catholic population of the U.S. is going to be decreasing rapidly over the next 25 years.
Who is supposed to be doing it:
We are all called to participate in the New Evangelization, both as disciples and as priests, prophets and kings. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church 897-913.) This may sound demanding at first, but it isn’t. In fact, if you are nourished by the sacraments and prayer, your participation in the New Evangelization will be extremely fulfilling, invigorating and exciting. Not only that, but it will be eternally rewarding.
Does this mean that you will become a public speaker, lead prayer groups and Bible studies or be ordained a priest? Some of you might, and if you are so called, you must say “yes.” But we all have different gifts. While eloquent speech and the gift of teaching could flow from the grace you receive from a deepened relationship with God, your gifts could lead you to something totally different. This is because the Body of Christ is made of many parts (feet, heart, hands, eyes, mouths, etc.).
In order to function as Christ planned, the Church must have people in all the different roles. It is our job to discern the gifts we receive and then to put those gifts to work in a way that glorifies God. Rest assured that God will not call you to anything that will not flow from the graces he gives you.
We are all called to some role in the New Evangelization because we are each a living part of the great Body of Christ. As that living part, we must function as designed or we might better consider ourselves something other than a living part of the Body.
Some of us may participate in the New Evangelization simply by smiling and showing joy more often than we do today. Others may volunteer to do something new in the parish, such as becoming an usher, an acolyte or a Eucharistic adorer. From the most humble and unseen act of service in the parish to the most visible, the New Evangelization is the call to fill each role according to your gifts, so the Body of Christ is healthy and strong.
How it is supposed to work:
Your role in the New Evangelization is defined by where you are on your personal spiritual journey today.
In other words, you must determine where you could benefit from some growth, then pursue it. You may already know what the Church teaches well, in which case you might spend more time on the reasons for the teachings. You may know the teachings and the reasons, so you might focus on developing a deeper appreciation of the beauty of the Catholic faith through the liturgy, prayer, art, or service of the poor and needy of the world.
If you think you are good enough on all three, you likely need to grow in all three. Sorry, I had to be the one to break the news to you on that one, but people who think they are good on all three are kind of like the Pharisees in the Gospels. Jesus was tough on them.
The opposite of the pharisaical mindset is that of an intentional disciple. An intentional disciple deepens his or her relationship with Christ and thereby effortlessly evangelizes others by word and deed. One of the beauties of the New Evangelization is that by being evangelized, you evangelize.
On the other end of the spectrum is the fearful servant who has been given gifts, but refuses to use them. The fearful servant does nothing, the Pharisee pats himself on the back, and the disciple does God’s will.