usa-vaticano-bandiereNEW EVANGELIZATION

By Ralph Martin

Ralph-Martin-PHOTORalph Martin is founding editor of New Covenant magazine and president of Renewal Minis­tries, an organization devoted to Catholic renewal and evangel­iz­ation.

Evangelization has become a major concern for the Church today. St. John Paul II’s constant call for a “new evangelization” was confirmed by Pope Ben­edict XVI when he established a new curial office dedicated specifically to the “new evangelization,” the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangeliz­ation. And Pope Francis emphatically endorsed the need in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. And yet with all the focus on evangelization there is still a widespread lack of clarity about what it is, what’s new about it, and why it’s important.

Even though there is a broad understanding of evangelization, which can include almost everything that the Church does, there is a central core to it that was well expressed by John Paul II in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio.

“The proclamation of the Word of God has Christian conversion as its aim: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith . . . Conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple.” (RM, 46)

Much of the conversation about evangelization on the parish and diocesan levels focuses on programs to get people to come back to Mass or get people more engaged with the parish. These are worthy goals, to be sure, but not at the center of evangelization. It’s unfortunately entirely possible for people to be coming to Mass, and even active in the parish, but not be converted according to the definition of John Paul II above. Pondering this definition would be a very fruitful exercise for any individual or group concerned about evangelization.

But what’s “new” about the “new evangelization?” The first thing that’s new about it is whom it’s directed to: baptized Catholics who are not living as disciples of Christ. Vast numbers of the baptized are no longer practicing their faith or are doing so in a very sporadic and lukewarm manner: they are the primary field for the new evangelization. A second thing that’s new about the new evangelization is who does it, not just priests and nuns or professional missionaries, but every baptized Catholic. One of the main themes of Vatican II and the subsequent post-conciliar magisterial documents on evangelization is that every Catholic is called to participate in the mission of Jesus which, while it includes the transformation of every aspect of human culture, at its heart is “seeking and saving those who are lost.” There are other “new” aspects as well, but I move on to what I consider the most important issue. Why bother?

Despite all the papal exhortations to evangelization, these calls are often met with indifference. One reason is what I believe is a widespread, unfounded presumption that virtually everyone will be saved since God is so merciful, except perhaps a few specially evil people, such as Hitler.

fedeli-gente-germaniaSuch presumption undermines conviction about the importance of evangelization, growth in holiness and vocations. And such presumption is not the teaching of Scripture, the Catholic tradition, Vatican II or the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Nor is it a balanced understanding of the Divine Mercy message and devotion, in which Jesus regularly tells St. Faustina that those who don’t respond to the offer of mercy with faith and repentance will certainly perish, including a very vivid description of hell (#741, The Diary). I have written at length on this issue (Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization, and on a more popular level, The Urgency of the New Evangelization) and here can only draw our attention to two key texts from Vatican II.

Concerning baptized Catholics who are not living as disciples of Christ: “Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not, however, persevere in charity is not saved… All children of the Church should nevertheless remember that their exalted condition results, not from their own merits, but from the grace of Christ. If they fail to respond in thought, word and deed to that grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they shall be the more severely judged.” (LG 14)

Concerning those who have never had a chance to hear the Gospel, Vatican II teaches that under certain conditions it may be possible for people in this situation to be saved, but that “very often” the conditions aren’t fulfilled and therefore the Gospel urgently needs to be preached. (LG 16).

May we do so, gently and in love, led by the Spirit, in all the environments in which we find ourselves.

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