By OSV Editorial Board - OSV Newsweekly, 5/6/2012
The “New Evangelization” is talked about so often these days that one worries it could soon become a kind of church-speak cliché. As imagined by a recent document published by the evangelization committee of the U.S. bishops conference, however, it is at its heart a radical call for the renewal of the Church from within.
The phrase was coined by Blessed John Paul II in 1983, and as it has come to be understood, its focus is not so much new lands and unbaptized peoples as it is Catholic communities that “have lost a sense of the living faith.”
With only 23 percent of U.S. Catholics attending weekly Mass, it is safe to say that the Catholic community in this country is in a crisis that it only partially recognizes. The bishops’ document “Disciples Called to Witness” expresses concern not only about declining Mass attendance, but also ignorance of the Eucharist, a lack of reverence for Sunday as a day of rest, and the lack of a welcoming environment found in many parishes. Recent letters to the editor underscore the fact that even among faithful Catholics, parishes are often lonely places where it takes a singular stretch of the imagination to feel that this is the People of God, much less the Mystical Body of Christ, at work in the world.
The key insight of the message of the New Evangelization is that we must start with ourselves. Until we are evangelized anew, there is little chance that we will have much impact on others. “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers,” Pope Paul VI wrote, and it is a critical insight the Church must always learn anew. The crabby, preachy, condemnatory tone that too often characterizes many Christian encounters with the world is more an exercise in self-indulgence than a real attempt to win hearts for the Lord.
The bishops argue, and we would tend to agree, that the heart of the new evangelization lies in the parish, although we wish that more room were made for the powerful impact of the new movements in the Church. In their new document, the bishops recognize that the parish must be renewed before there can be a truly effective evangelization of the community.
The bishops make several key points:
The document challenges the diocesan community, starting with the bishop himself, to provide for the spiritual needs of “especially those who are absent from the community.”
But it is in its prescription for local parishes that the document becomes both most specific and most challenging. It calls for engaging liturgies, welcoming pastors, the ready availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as well as greater sensitivity for issues of cultural diversity.
Noting that many who return to the Church still understand it only partially, the document calls for a greater effort at education in the faith, including sacramental catechesis and education in the prayers of the Church. Adult faith formation, the great chimera that is much talked about and rarely funded, must be a priority, starting with those who are the most committed, and radiating out to the rest of the community.
Finally, the document stresses the importance of good homily preparation, involving both the Catechism as well as Scripture, and that such homilies must take place within a welcoming community.
The 2012 Synod of Bishops in October will focus on the New Evangelization, and another document will likely be the result. Truthfully, the Church has less need for documents than it does for renewal and conversion. If the New Evangelization is to become something other than church-speak for the professional Catholic, there must be a focused, long-term commitment that starts at the top but does not stay there.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
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