A blueprint for the New Evangelization

The Catholic Church’s “New Evangelization” buzz phrase can be frustrating in its vagueness. What does it mean? Why is it new? And isn’t evangelization something only Protestants do, anyway?

Scott Hahn, in his new book “Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization” helps makes the abstract concrete by unpacking the phrase — including what it’s calling us, as Catholics, to do — in 168 manageable pages.

In three parts, Hahn outlines what the call to the New Evangelization means, the models and methods we should be using to respond to it, and, finally, he covers the basics of the message we are supposed to be spreading.

Though Catholics have been charged with this concept of “New Evangelization” since Pope St. John Paul II first used the phrase in 1979, Hahn makes it clear that this mission is still the “old evangelization” of “proclaiming Christ and living what we proclaim.” But new or old, it’s still helpful to have a plan of how to get there.

To this purpose, Hahn plumbs the depths of Christianity’s 2,000 years of history and finds lessons in the four Gospels and the example of the members of the early Church. He spends an entire chapter on the Christian family as “the primary field of evangelization” — emphasizing how essential it is to live the Faith within this most basic cell of society. He goes on to expand the circle of evangelization to our friends, local communities, neighborhoods, work environments and parishes.

And Hahn makes it clear that the call to be evangelizers extends well beyond that of the ordained. “Priests and religious cannot go where the laity can go,” he writes. “They cannot reach the people we can reach.”

He adds that the New Evangelization cannot be managed without the sacraments, especially Eucharist and confession.

In the final third of the book, Hahn makes sure, as if just in case, that his readers fully understand the message of the Church — an apropos stepping stone on the way to proclaiming it.

To do this, he lets his Protestant roots show as he drills home the basic facts. In doing so, Hahn makes it clear that there is nothing more that God wants than for us to love and be in communion with him.

To add some (perhaps intense) perspective, Hahn ends “Evangelizing Catholics” with two certainties: that each of us will die and that each of us will live forever.

The Church offers eternal life with God, he writes, but not all will achieve that end. It’s an ominous message, but one that’s at the core of all that we, as evangelizers, attempt to do.

Overall, Hahn manages to strike a balance in tone, resulting in a message that is both accessible and thoughtful. The result is a valuable guide to anyone seeking to further understand the mission of the New Evangelization.

Gretchen R. Crowe is editor of OSV Newsweekly.

For more summer book reviews: Swing into summer reads