In his 1990 encyclical, Redemptoris Missio, Pope Saint John Paul II writes: “God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes.”[i]
We’ve heard a lot about the New Evangelization, since Pope Saint John Paul II introduced the concept in a 1983 address to the Latin American Bishops. But what is the New Evangelization? If evangelization means sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and His Church with the world, the New Evangelization means re-proposing these truths to cultures and individuals that were once Catholic. The New Evangelization is characterized by new ardor, new methods, and new expressions.
It may now be a corporate buzzword, but I believe one of the essential aspects of the New Evangelization is proactivity. The Church has been on the defensive for several centuries, starting in earnest with the Reformation, continuing through the French Revolution, and reaching a nadir in the totalitarianism of the twentieth century.
Catholics cannot afford to merely react to national and worldwide developments that are detrimental to the Church. While Supreme Court decisions and legislative actions are extremely important, and demand proper responses, the Church must go on offense and transform the culture. This is simply a realignment with Christ’s mandate to make disciples of all nations.
Working her way through space and time, the Church transcends nations and even empires. Without the proper ordering of morality and virtue provided by the Church, democratic processes lose their upward trajectory and may even work contrary to the common good. We must strive to reorient the collective gaze of society to the truths, beauty, and goodness of the faith.
The goal of the Church is to make each and every individual a saint. While we must always keep this end in mind, we also have to recognize the situation of the Church, as well as the state of the average Catholic, today.
Allow me to suggest a few foundational principles for Catholic renewal, concepts that were very influential in my own faith journey:
- The number of individuals attending Mass on Sundays is the most important metric.[ii] Yet, less than a quarter of U.S. Catholics do so. Perhaps we can look at this in a new way: there are 168 hours in a week, which means that Sunday Mass takes up less than one-half of one percent of the week. We all have time for Mass.
- Once an individual is going to Mass every Sunday, it is important that he or she embrace the remaining Precepts of the Church: observing days of fasting and abstinence, going to confession at least once a year, partaking of the Eucharist at least once a year, contributing to the support of the Church, obeying and defending the Church’s teachings on matrimony, and participating in evangelization. The Precepts are not the province of a saintly few. They are the foundation for the life of every Catholic!
- All Catholics should strive to make one degree of spiritual progress this week. If not currently embracing all of the Precepts, progress should be ordered to this end. If all of the Precepts are embraced, then this is a prudential decision made in the heart. Examples of one degree of progress include memorizing the Mass responses, remaining to pray for a few minutes after Mass, or picking up a spiritual or theological book.
- The laity will be essential to the New Evangelization since 99% of the Church’s members are lay persons. All Catholics have both a right and a duty to build up the Church. Members of laity are called to bring the light of the Gospel into the secular spheres, while always thinking and acting with the heart and mind of the Church. Vatican II’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity and Pope Saint John Paul II’s Christifideles Laici are important documents for understanding the role of the laity.
- This may be the simplest concept, but it may make the biggest difference: we have to be assured of the fact that it is okay to be Catholic. Not only is it okay, but we should make the faith central to our lives and strive to share it with others.
In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis shares his dream of “a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”[iii] The world is waiting.
[i] RM, 3.
[ii] CARA’s Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice Among U.S. Catholics notes this correlation: “In general, the more frequently one attends Mass, the more frequently he or she participates in other Church or religious activities, the greater his or her knowledge about the Catholic faith, the greater his or her awareness of current events in the Church, and the greater his or her adherence to Church teachings.”
[iii] EG, 27.