A Framework for the New Evangelization

Andrew Kassebaum

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.

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10 thoughts on “A Framework for the New Evangelization”

  1. Pingback: Ratzinger & Reagan Together on Faith & Hope - BigPulpit.com

  2. Pingback: This Week's Best in Catholic Apologetics | DavidLGray.INFO

  3. Matthew, I believe that we read two differing versions of Evangelli Gaudium. All your reference to Mass attendance, ritual, etc. are found in one segment of one line in a 225 page brilliant apostolic exhortation on the New Evangelization. The New Evangelization means doing things, Proactively as you say, with an intensity that we have not done before.

    “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).” (49) Evangelli Gaudium

    The New Evangelization means the Joy of the Gospel in being of service to others; all else flows from that service and that service is an individual duty, not an organizational one. Remember the Sheep and the Goats.

    Matt 25: 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’”

    Those are the criteria for the New Evangelization. Those are the works of compassion that draw people to the Church, nothing else which is man made, The New Evangelization is each Christian living those simple words of Christ, daily, individually, without excuse…the criteria for Christ recognizing us are in Matt 25….I do not know any other criteria laid out by Christ himself. After all, that is what he did and that is what drew followers….period. People oft resist taking Christ’s word literally…but that is where it’s at. Nothing else suffices or substitutes.

    1. Andrew Kassebaum

      I agree with some, and disagree with much, of what you have presented here.

      1) The ideas found in my article are the result of a syntopical reading of numerous core texts, and not simply a reference to one line of one document.
      2) Is it really the case that all else flows from service to others? That does not seem like the proper order of operations.
      3) I agree with your emphasis on the necessity of works and that works of compassion draw people to the Church
      4) I am not sure what you mean by man made

      Thanks for reading.

    2. Well, I spent many years as a fully professed member of a RC Religious order. I spent many years of daily attendance at Mass. In those years I learned rituals, disciples, rules and practice…I never met Christ and I am not sure that He would recognize me.
      I spent one day in visitation in silence at a state institution which housed humans who were placed there by others because of serious genetic aberrations like missing or lacking brain matter, extreme physical deformities, people totally lacking cognition and waiting patiently to die….tubes, vents, diapers, etc. I sobbed for days and it was there that I met Jesus and it was there that I knew he would recognize me someday….

      It did not take synoptic reading to realize that Jesus is the weakest to whom we show love and yes, all else flows from service to the poorest and weakest of human, for it is there that Christ IS.
      That which we can never understand from esoteric reading, we can experience if we have eyes to see and ears to hear….All these encyclicals and apostolic exhortations, all the treatises of Aquinas and his ilk, are beyond the reach and the understanding of the common man….poverty, suffering, hunger, etc is an experience available to all and understandable by all…only if we are open. Christ came for the “poor” not the theologian….Mass is the icing on the cake.

  4. ” … 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.”
    Between Saturday at 4:30 and Sunday at noon you only have 5 chances to go to Mass. That’s
    a 20 hour window with about 12 hours asleep. The point being: if one could make their Sunday
    obligation anytime during the week you could use that 168 in a realistic way; and might then see a tremendous spike in attendence.

    1. James, thank you for reading. And 12 hours of sleep… wow, that sounds wonderful!

      I did a simple search of Mass times within 5 miles of my house; it yielded 21 different start times. Saturday: 4:00, 4:30, 5:00, 5:15. Sunday: 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, 8:30, 9:00, 9:15, 9:30, 10:00, 10:30, 11:00, 11:30, 12:00pm, 4:50pm, 5:00pm, 5:15pm, 6:00pm, and 9:00pm.

      Here is my thinking process: 1) Mass is a priority, 2) I am in control of my weekly schedule, 3) Other important but non-scheduled tasks can be completed during one of the other 167 hours of the week.

    2. The point being: if one could make their Sunday obligation anytime during the week you could use that 168 in a realistic way; and might then see a tremendous spike in attendence. On your thinking process 1. No, it isn’t. 2-3 Many people are not in as much control as you think and work hours all over the week.

      But I digress, the point is that the CC is the only church,I beleive, that, ipso facto, condemns souls to hell for not attending church during a 20 hour period.. At one time you could not make your Sunday obligation on Saturday (Tradition) then the CC changed its Tradition – it can do so again. You are concerned with the New E. and my thought was that dragging people to church under the pain of damnation won’t play in the 21st century. So let’s at least get them back without retribution. After all, you only have to go to Confession and Communion once a year and going to church without receiving is like going to a fine gathering and feast … and fasting.

    3. Andrew Kassebaum

      There is a reason why I did not respond to your point the first time you mentioned it: it has little bearing on the New Evangelization. It will never be the case that Catholics will be able to fulfill their Sunday obligation anytime during the week and I did not state that in the article.

      You have made a strong case that going to Mass is not a priority for you, and I accept that. But the Church sees the Mass quite differently. The Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life and where we unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy. This is what the Church believes.

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