For several years now we have been hearing about the New Evangelization. It seems to mean different things to different people. There are some who view it as the fruit of Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1969 statement, “The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.” Since Cardinal Ratzinger eventually became Pope Benedict XVI these same people feel justified in trying to purge and purify the Church. It is time to kick out those “Cafeteria Catholics” and hand out those excommunications. To them the New Evangelization means holding up the Catechism and all those who are not in conformity will be shown the door.
Yet if you read the full text of Cardinal Ratzinger ‘s statement, it is clear he is not advocating the expulsion of people from the Church because they are not Catholic enough. He is talking about the Church refocusing on her doctrine and her raison d’etre. She will be less concerned with the politics of the world and more centered on her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Some will find the truth of the Catholic Church very hard. They will walk away because her teachings are too challenging for their worldly sensibilities. However, their departure is not something to be hoped for, but rather to be mourned. The New Evangelization is a call to draw these lost sheep home.
With the election of Pope Francis there are now people who see the New Evangelization as offering an unqualified open door to the Church. They have grabbed on to the phrase, “Who am I to judge?” and declare everyone is welcome just as they are. It is true that Pope Francis is calling everyone home, sinners and saints alike. However, he never describes the Church as the big tent at the garden party to which everyone is invited. Instead, he calls it a field hospital. That means that those who come to the Church are wounded in some way and need healing. They are called to conversion. We are all sinners and the Church invites us to allow the Divine Physician to cut out our cancerous sins so that we may feel the therapeutic power of Divine Mercy. The New Evangelization does not invite us to accept and embrace our sins, but rather offers hope that no sin is beyond reconciliation with Christ.
So the New Evangelization is not about kicking people out of the Church nor is it about condoning all sins as just part of a person’s identity. It is about stating firmly the truth of the Gospel revealed through the Church and welcoming all, no matter their sins or vices, to give Christ and his Church a try.
I think we should approach the New Evangelization like Sam-I-Am from the classic children’s book, Green Eggs and Ham. Sam-I-Am tries desperately to convince someone to try a taste of green eggs and ham. When the offer is refused, Sam-I-Am does not say, “Well, if you won’t eat green eggs and ham, let me offer you something else. Maybe you would like bacon instead.” No. He persistently and cheerfully offers only green eggs and ham but in an array of different conditions—in a box, with a fox, on a train, in the rain. Eventually, the other character gives in and takes a bite. And he finds out he really likes green eggs and ham!
The New Evangelization calls us to do the same. We are going to offer Catholicism in all its beauty and with all its challenges. There is no watering it down or offering a modified version that is easier to swallow. The truth is the truth. But what we can do is bring people in to the Church one small bite at a time. They may not be ready to chow down on the teachings about marriage, sexuality, an all male priesthood, the veneration of Mary, and the intercession of the saints. But a beautiful liturgy might draw them in to sample a little bit of the Church.
You probably know a fallen away Catholic who hasn’t been to Mass in years. He is a lost soul waiting to be found. Maybe inviting him to Mass is too big of a bite. Invite him to vespers or a holy hour instead. Why don’t you ask him to volunteer with you at a Catholic charity? Let him see the loving side of the Church. Don’t be afraid to let him know that you said a Rosary for him or asked the intercession of a saint for his intention. The Divine Mercy Chaplet can be comforting to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Our Catholic prayers are wonderful tools of evangelization. A priest in my diocese is welcoming a local farmers market to set up in the parish parking lot one day a week. Just bringing people on the church property may prompt an interest in what the Church is all about or rekindle the flame of faith in a lapsed Catholic.
The New Evangelization also calls us to strengthen our own faith. We cannot share what we do not have. No one has ever maxed out his understanding of Christ on this side of Heaven. We must continuously strive to radiate the joy of the Gospel. We should positively glow with the peaceful calm anchored in faith. A loving and patient demeanor will entice others to give the Church a try far more than will shrill, bitter declarations.
Like Sam-I-Am, we only have one option on our menu, the Catholic Church as the one true church founded by Christ. There is no one who is unworthy to hear her message of salvation through Jesus Christ. Sometimes we just have to channel Sam-I-Am and get creative so they will listen. That is the challenge of the New Evangelization.