The buzz is everywhere. Books with the name in the title are flying off the shelves. EWTN is constantly talking about it. The USCCB is promoting it with vigor. And the Vatican just created a new office in the Roman Curia: The Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. But what is the New Evangelization? There's certainly nothing new about evangelizing, so what are we to make of all this, well...hype?
There does seem to be a bit of hype, but it's holy hype. Something significant is taking place. The following is a side-by-side summary of four timeless characteristics of evangelization, and the nature of their "newness" for the Church today.
4 Timeless Characteristics of Evangelization
1. INTERNAL: The gifts of the Spirit are, first and foremost, for the building up of the Body of Christ, the edification of those who've been baptized (Eph 4:12-13). Jesus commands us to "Go" (see Matthew 28), to take the message of the Gospel ad gentes ("to the nations"), but he assumes a personal and living relationship with the Lord is already well established. The Church has always given primacy to the interior life, and to the health of her members. We cannot give what we do not have.
2. CULTURAL: The Gospels were written for specific audiences, and it effected the way in which the four evangelists presented Christ. St. Paul became all things to all people (1 Cor 9:19-23), suffering with the downtrodden, philosophizing with the Greeks, and interpreting Scripture with the Jews. The Truth must 'incarnate' itself in human culture. God became man. The beauty of Christian Truth is indeed its ability to well up from within a culture, any culture, and to purify it in God's love. This has always been the nature of genuine evangelization.
3. INTEGRAL: "Go...teaching them all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28:16-20). Jesus is clear. The Gospel message isn't meant to be broken up or watered down and treated as if it were a buffet line in the cafeteria. The truth is one because God is one. Our faith is organic, and all aspects of it shed light on who God is, and who we are in that light. If it's not a complete presentation, it's not Jesus. Revealed truth grounds morality and calls us to serve those in need. The faith is passed on in its integrity, or not at all.
4. UNIVERSAL: Every Christian has the same twofold vocation. How this looks will vary based on states in life, talents, personalities, and desires. First of all, everyone has the vocation to holiness. This isn't new. Jesus tells everyone, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48). God desires a deep, transformative relationship with each one of his children. That's what it means to be a saint. That's what it means to get to heaven. And, secondly, everyone has a vocation to evangelize. The call is "twofold" because one flows from the other. If you don't feel an intense call to introduce Jesus to others, it's because you haven't met him.
What Makes Them New
1. The 20th Century left us in the wake of unprecedented secularism. "Fallen away" Catholics are the norm. For the first time in history, formerly Christian societies -- most of whom are baptized -- need to be reintroduced to Christ. They don't know him. They're "catholic", but they don't know what that means. We need to consciously, and aggressively turn our energies to building up the Body of Christ. Lapsed Catholics are being called to come home.
2. Culturally relevant methodologies have been present from the beginning. Still, something altogether new is happening. "Cultures" are emerging everyday. The advent of technology has created a rapidly changing world. A "global village" is in our midst. Youth culture has a mind of its own, and it's very much connected to the global and technological revolutions. Secularism, individualism, materialism, subjectivism, and a host of other -isms are calling us to get shrewd, learn the language, and prepare to engage; always, of course, "speaking truth in love" (1 Pet 3:15).
3. In the last century, the faith has seen a dis-integration. Doctrine and Morality have so often been presented separately from the demands of Social Justice. In certain circles, Social Justice has been given all the attention -- to the neglect of the foundations of truth it stands on. If we want to pass on the apostolic faith, we need all three. Each relies and sheds light upon the other. Politics have dis-integrated the faith in recent decades, making our efforts to be comprehensive critical.
4. A prayer life doesn't mean you're called to be a priest, it means you're acting like a Christian. The New Evangelization, echoing Vatican II, emphasizes this truth. In fact, it's primarily a lay movement. Never before have the laity in the Church been so integral to the Church's efforts. The secularization of society has closed many doors to our clergy and religious. And the doors that are always open (our churches), are rarely entered. The home, the classroom, the workplace, the team, and the market have all become mission territory, and it's up to the laity to bring the light of Christ into these places.
A variety of excellent resources are popping up everywhere, and many of them will present and define the New Evangelization in different ways. I haven't exhausted here the characteristics of the movement, nor the multi-layered aspects of evangelization in general, but hopefully I have shown the critical "newness" of the call for the Church today. These are unprecedented times.
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