Pope Benedict has recently unveiled a new office to promote the “new evangelization” that both he and Pope John Paul II have called for. What does this phrase “new evangelization” mean? After all, as Catholics, we should be rightly suspicious of anything that presents itself as “new” in regard to the Faith, for we believe that the Gospel has been handed down to us through the centuries via Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition and that public revelation ended with the death of the last apostle. We are not Mormons and thus should not accept anything novel or recent when it comes to the content of our Faith, for Jesus Christ was the complete Word and nothing needs to be added to the deposit of Faith.
So what do the popes mean by “new evangelization”? Simply this: the Church needs to re-present the truths of our Faith to societies which were originally seeped in the Gospel but now have become adrift in secularism. We are called to evangelize the “old” Christian countries such as those in Europe and even here in the Americas. The content of the Catholic Faith has not changed – and will never changed – but how we present it must change as society changes. Beliefs that were assumed in previous generations are now challenged and ideas that were rejected a century ago are now accepted at face value.
What does this mean practically? Let me use an example I recently encountered. My daughter is being confirmed this year and I am teaching a class to her and some of her friends to prepare them for this sacrament. In my research, I was reading a book published in 1922 on the Sacraments of Initiation. At one point the book was referring to the practice of bishops administering this rite as opposed to priests, and the main argument given for this was, in so many words, “because the pope says so.” Now it is true that the pope has authority to make the bishop the ordinary minister of confirmation, but an answer such as “because the pope says so” is simply not going to be accepted in today’s world. A Catholic from a century ago might have accepted this, but most will not today. Some might lament this fact, but it doesn’t change the reality of it. When defending and explaining the teachings and practices of the Church, we must first understand the presuppositions of those we are encountering; if we don’t, we risk speaking past each other or even alienating the person to the Catholic Faith. This often means that before we can even present the Gospel we must first lay the groundwork by explaining the natural law and the truths about the human person.
Of course, the “new evangelization” has the same foundations as the “old” evangelization: prayer, fasting and personal sanctity. I don’t care how you present the Faith, if you don’t base it in a life of prayer, fasting and striving for holiness, your efforts will be fruitless. People of every age are attracted to authenticity, and living the faith is still the best preparation for sharing it with others.
St. Paul, pray for us!