It seems like a product isn’t on the store shelf very long before it reappears in different packaging boasting of a “new look” or that it’s “new and improved.”
When Bl. John Paul II began speaking and writing about the New Evangelization, I confess I didn’t delve deeply into it, maybe because the term seemed like more marketing. Now that it’s no longer so new, I’ve been wondering what it means and how it affects me.
It turns out that it does have something to do with marketing but a lot more with ways to reach our changing world for Christ and show all Christians that they have a role in that mission.
To begin with, I wondered what exactly is evangelization? In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI synthesizes teaching that originated at the Second Vatican Council, a major inspiration for the New Evangelization.
Evangelization is the Church’s deepest identity, Pope Paul VI writes. “She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection.”
In his encyclical Redemptor hominis, Bl. John Paul II emphasizes that the New Evangelization isn’t merely passing on doctrine but “a personal and profound meeting with the Savior.”
Its content can’t be new because its theme is always Christ’s Gospel, JPII writes. However, he says “evangelization can be new in its ardor, methods and expression.” It makes sense since he writes, “In the history of the Church, the “old” and the “new” are always closely interwoven. The “new” grows out of the “old,” and the “old” finds a fuller expression in the “new.”
So why a New Evangelization now? Because according to Pope Paul VI, the “split between the Gospel and culture is without doubt the great drama of our time.”
Perhaps in reaction to that, the Church gained a new awareness of her salvific mission from Christ during preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000, JPII writes.
The New Evangelization isn’t just about the institutional Church. It’s the work of each member to share the Gospel, says Pope Paul VI. “Those who have received the Good News and who have been gathered by it into the community of salvation can and must communicate and spread it.”
JPII even calls evangelization a duty in his encyclical Redemptoris missio. “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”
Does this mean we’re supposed to do mission work in a foreign country? Pope JPII emphasized that along with reaching those who’ve never heard the Gospel, the Church needs to focus on the many people who may already be baptized but have “lost a living sense of the faith or no longer consider themselves members of the Church.”
Evangelizing our culture often means reaching out to people we know. “… always taking the person as one’s starting point and always coming back to the relationships of people among themselves and with God,” writes Pope Paul VI.
What do we tell them? First, about the need for conversion, says Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). Second, conveying to them that, “God exists. God is alive. God is present and acts in the world, in our—in my life.” Third, showing them Jesus, with His Cross and Resurrection as the path of life. Finally, sharing with them the reality of God’s justice and eternal life.
Above all, evangelization needs to offer a convincing response to the question of how to live, Cardinal Ratzinger writes. “…evangelizing is not merely a way of speaking, but a form of living: living in the listening and giving voice to the Father.”
The New Evangelization isn’t about immediately attracting large crowds through new and refined methods but rather about planting small mustard seeds and letting God decide when and how they will grow, notes Cardinal Ratzinger.
“We ourselves cannot gather men,” he states. “We must acquire them by God for God. All methods are empty without the foundation of prayer.”