Although it’s been nearly 30 years since the Catholic Church began calling for a New Evangelization, many Catholics are only now coming to understand that call is for them, not just priests and religious. Many more have yet to even hear the call.
Why is that? What obstacles are standing in the way of the New Evangelization — impeding people’s understanding of it, as well as their ability and desire to be a part of it?
According to five Catholics who have been on the vanguard of the New Evangelization in the United States, those obstacles are at least seven in number.
“So many Catholics still have an institutional understanding of the Church,” said Father James Wehner, author of “The Evangelization Equation” (Emmaus Road, $11.95). “They think of the Church in terms of the ordained and vowed religious. And so they look to them to do the work. They don’t understand their role in building up the Kingdom, that as lay faithful they are as much a part of the Body of Christ as priests and bishops and have work to do themselves.”
Lack of knowledge
“Word and deed can’t be separated,” said Father Wehner. “Actions matter, but words matter too, especially in this era of social communications. And the truth is, far too many Catholics have less knowledge about the Faith than we expect the average sixth-grader to have. The Church is getting better at the work of catechesis, but we still have decades of inadequate catechesis to overcome. Until people know their faith, they can’t hand it on.”
Culture of universalism
“There’s an attitude among Catholics of ‘Why bother? What difference is it going to make anyway? Everyone’s already going to Heaven,’” said Ralph Martin, author of “The Fulfillment of All Desire” (Emmaus Road. $17.95) and one of the two Americans currently serving as consultors to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. “Many Catholics look at the world and think ‘Broad and wide is the way that leads to Heaven, and almost everybody is traveling that way.’ What’s troubling is that Jesus said the exact opposite, ‘Broad and wide is the way that leads to destruction and many are traveling that way.’
“It’s not like Jesus is making a statement about how things have to be,” he continued. “In a Christian society, where peer pressure points people to God, many people might be on their way to Heaven. But we do not live in that kind of culture, and right now people who drift along with the culture are going to find themselves on the road to destruction — in this life and eternally — if we don’t help them.”
Culture of distraction
“If you want to commune with the Lord at some point you have to turn off all the noise from the world that distracts you from him,” said Matthew Leonard, executive director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. “Not that these things are intrinsically bad, but TV, the radio, Facebook, Twitter and any number of other things are preventing many of us from taking the time we need to get to know Jesus and grow in our relationship with him.”
Plain, Old-Fashioned Pride
“A lot of people, Catholics as well as non-Catholics, don’t want to be evangelized or evangelizers,” said Leonard. “We want to do what we want to do. We think we know better than Jesus and his Church when it comes to managing our own lives. But unless we’re willing to submit to him, we can’t make much progress in the spiritual life.”
Compromised Lay Leadership
“With FOCUS, we have a rule,” said Curtis Martin, the organization’s president and the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization’s second American consultor. “Anyone can be involved in what we do, but if you’re going to lead you have to commit to sobriety, chastity and personal excellence.
“In a similar way, we can’t continue to allow people who are contracepting to be teachers and leaders in the Faith. Of course, they shouldn’t leave the Church; we’re all weak. But if you want to lead you need to be committed to walk the talk” he continued. “And right now, we’re letting many people lead who are fundamentally at odds with core Church teachings about the human person and the Church’s authority. As long as that continues to be the case, the New Evangelization is going nowhere.”
Confused notions of faith and public life
“There is this American tendency to privatize faith,” said Father Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire and creator of “The Catholicism Project.” “We all wrestle with the idea that religion is a private matter. If someone comes out and talks about it publicly, the sense is that they’re being aggressive or overbearing, so people are reticent to let their faith appear publicly. But we have to let our faith appear publicly. That’s part of our baptismal mission as Catholics.”
See also: Catholic Guide to a spiritual makeover