The Church today is engaged in the “New Evangelization.” I am sure you have heard this term, but you may wonder precisely what it means. Even more so, you may wonder how it involves you as a Catholic person. It is good for all of us—priests and laity—to try understand our role in the New Evangelization, for God’s glory and for the service of our brothers and sisters, particularly those who may not be actively a part of the Church.
In their statement Disciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization, our U.S. Bishops stated, “With a renewed faith, the Church goes forth to share the faith. Given the current cultural context of our society, the Church is directing her evangelization efforts in a particular way to those members of the Body of Christ who are absent.” This is the whole thrust of the New Evangelization. But the Bishops remind us of an important point: in order to bring others back to faith and to active membership in the Church, we must all renew our own faith and grow stronger in it. As the Bishops say, “The New Evangelization calls us to renew our faith so that we can share it with others. Before one can evangelize, one must be evangelized. A disciple of Christ must continually renew his or her faith. The disciple who then shares the faith is an evangelist. The Church is called to renew her faith in every age and at the same time proclaim it. The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself. This means that she has a constant need of being evangelized, if she wishes to retain freshness, vigor and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel.”
The Bishops are emphasizing that the New Evangelization is a “two-way street.” We are called to help others come back to the faith, but at the same time, our outreach to them involves a growth in faith in ourselves. The New Evangelization is a holy time for all Catholics, active and inactive. For those of you who are in Church every Sunday, it is your time to do the following:
By doing these things, you will be “spiritually equipped” to do your part in the New Evangelization.
Most importantly, the Bishops tell all of us—active and inactive Catholics—not to worry. They explain, “Our brothers and sisters who no longer actively practice the faith may have apprehension about ‘coming back.’ They may wonder and worry about the following: Will the Mass be the same? Will I be judged because I stayed away so long? Maybe I have sinned so greatly that I cannot come back. What if I cannot remember the words to Mass?” Those are legitimate questions, but persons coming back to the Church should not be overly concerned about them. They will not be judged—they will be welcomed home! And if they are unsure about the Mass prayers, then go out of your way to help them find the right page in the missalette. (Remember we had a few problems when we learned the new Mass prayers a few years ago.)
But the Bishops go on to remind active Catholics not to worry either. They explain, “Those who minister to our missing brothers and sisters are filled with questions also: Who am I to welcome people back? Am I actually capable of explaining what the Church teaches? Can I offer guidance and listen to their concerns without judgment? Indeed, Christians often experience these concerns when they evangelize. We are often afraid to ask our family, friends, and co-workers, ‘Would you like to come to Mass with me this weekend?’ We have trouble revealing, ‘Yes, sometimes going to confession is hard, but once I am there, I experience God’s peace and mercy. If you haven’t been in awhile, consider giving it another chance.’” We all must overcome fear, because bringing our brothers and sisters back to Church is more important than giving into our fears. You may be the source of grace for some other person. Realizing that will help you to overcome any fear or hesitation. If there is to be a patron saint for the New Evangelization, it should be St. Augustine, a young man who “fell away” from the Church and from the sound teaching that his mother St. Monica gave him. Augustine was fortunate enough to come under the influence of the great St. Ambrose, who went out of his way to answer Augustine’s questions and help him conquer his doubts. St. Ambrose did what we are all called to do—he did his best to bring Augustine home, home to the Church. And Augustine responded. He changed his whole life. He became a Christian, a priest, a bishop, and a saint, because St. Ambrose went out of his way to help him. Perhaps St. Ambrose should be the second patron of the New Evangelization. He can be our patron to help us extend our hearts to others and to welcome them home.
Welcome the New Evangelization—and welcome your part in it. The Church needs you to be an “evangelizer.” When we hear that word, we think of TV evangelizers. But the word “evangelizer” simply means someone who proclaims the Gospel. We are all called to proclaim the Gospel, not only by words, but more importantly by the way we live, by the kindness we show, by the concern we have. Let us be ready to be “evangelizers” to our brothers and sisters who are waiting for us to welcome them home, home to the Church, home to the active practice of the faith.
Father Thomas B. Derivan