As Pope Francis has repeated many times, there is an urgent need to proclaim the Gospel message to the world today.
Guidelines on how to do this are contained in a book just published by Julian Porteous, archbishop of Hobart, Australia, in “New Evangelization: Pastoral Strategy for the Church at the Beginning of the Third Millennium,” (Connor Court Publishing).
Starting with the events of Pentecost, Archbishop Porteous explained that there “is an intrinsic link between the Holy Spirit and evangelization and the Church.”
The Christian Gospel is a message to be proclaimed, but he continued, it is much more than just an intellectual understanding of its content.
Evangelization, in the end, he insisted, is not a human but a spiritual activity and it is the Holy Spirit that enables us to come to and to grow in the faith.
Christ, and particularly Christ crucified is at the center of this mission of evangelization, Archbishop Porteous explained. When a person realizes what the death of Christ means for them, then they are moved by a profound truth and a desire to live in union with him.
Following a brief overview of the history of evangelization the book goes on to examine the current cultural context in which evangelization is taking place. Long-standing religious practices have faded away and marriage and family life has been significantly weakened.
With culture being influenced by a globalized mass media the trend towards secularism, individualism, and relativism has become pervasive.
It is not so much a case of people opposing God, Archbishop Porteous commented, but many people “have come to a place where they believe that God is not needed.”
Another chapter gave an overview of the main Church documents from Vatican II onwards regarding evangelization. Later, Archbishop Porteous commented that a clear call has emerged to all the Church to engage in evangelization.
“Evangelization is not an optional aspect to being Catholic,” he stated.
John Paul II was particularly active in calling for a re-evangelization of societies where large sections of the population, which once were traditionally Christian, now live as though God does not exist.
The establishment by Benedict XVI in 2012 of a Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelization continued this call to bring about a renewal of faith in secularized cultures.
“Because of the pervasiveness of forces of secularism it is true that either the Church commits itself to evangelize the culture or the culture will ‘evangelize’ the Church,” he observed.
Among the pastoral strategies that Archbishop Porteous identified is the need for an explicit proclamation. There has been a tendency, he noted, for Catholics to remain silent about their faith, relying solely on their own personal Christian witness.
This witness is indeed important, he admitted, but by itself is not enough. Quoting Pope St John Paul II he said that witness must be accompanied by a verbal testimony of the faith. “Indeed, the explicit expression of our faith is of vital importance,” Archbishop Porteous affirmed.
Another key issue in the new evangelization is the theme of salvation. Many people, he commented, think that their lives are going well and that they can manage everything themselves. Contemporary culture encourages us to have a positive attitude towards ourselves and to avoid being judgemental.
“It is when we consider the reality of eternity that a different perspective is presented,” he noted. Salvation involves a need to surrender ourselves into the hands of God, he continued, particularly in regard to our will.
The need to give our lives to Christ is a difficult message for people to accept today, but is an essential element of the Christian message, Archbishop Porteous explained.
The role of grace in our lives is another essential element. Many today, he observed, have fallen into a sort of Pelagianism, thinking that we can save ourselves through our own efforts.
One of the chapters described the many ways in which evangelization can be carried out. In addition to our own witness and testimony there are many possibilities, such as street evangelization and door-to-door visitation. University colleges and chaplaincies offer an opportunity to form students in their faith. Music, the arts, and the new media are other important ways to evangelize.
Archbishop Porteous also explained that evangelization is not an end in itself. The work of evangelization needs to be continued by means of catechesis. This involves nourishing the faith of those who have been baptized or returned to the Church.
This task involves not only knowledge, but also growing in a personal relationship with Christ, understanding the elements of Christian anthropology and growing in a life of virtue.
In concluding, he acknowledged that evangelization is a duty, but it is also a joy. We have a treasure through our faith and that faith is a source of hope and joy. “What we offer to the world is the joy of knowing God and living under the hand of his love.”