New Evangelization is a term most are familiar with, but perhaps many don’t have a clear idea of what it means for them personally.
Scott Hahn, a prominent Biblical scholar and prolific author, addresses this in his latest book, “Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization,” (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division).
The New Evangelization, he explained, is mainly meant for “those who’ve been inadequately catechized but all too adequately secularized.”
It’s well known that many Catholics aren’t actively practicing their faith, but even those who regularly attend Sunday mass are often lacking not only in knowledge of their faith but also in forming a personal relationship with God.
The New Evangelization, Hahn said, “ultimately, must be a call to every man, woman, and child to fall in love, grow in love, and walks in love with the God who loves us.”
The seeds of the New Evangelization began in the early part of the twentieth century and were reinforced by Vatican II and by Paul VI, who travelled widely and visited all the world’s continents.
After, St John Paul II launched a call for the New Evangelization during a visit to Poland in 1979.
Following this, in his writings, travels, the publication of the Catechism, the World Youth Days, and in many other ways he urged people to commit themselves to evangelization.
Subsequently, both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis continued to insist on the importance of communicating the Gospel message and bringing people to a personal encounter with Christ.
This comes in the context of what Hahn termed a “catechetical breakdown” which meant that in past decades many Catholics were ill-instructed in their faith, which in turns means they are not in a position to evangelize others.
There has been a renewal in recent years in catechesis, but even so many of those Catholics who are now better instructed are reluctant to be active witnesses for their faith.
Part of this reluctance, at least in the United States, is because in the 18th and 19th centuries Protestants were the overwhelming majority and there were strong anti-Catholic sentiments. As a result Catholics kept quiet and blended in.
As well, many Catholics associate evangelization with the practices of evangelical Protestantism. Added to this is the tendency to regard religion as a private matter and a culture that holds tolerance as the highest virtue.
Evangelizing is definitely not just a task for priests and religious. The laity have a vital role and can reach many people the institutional Church cannot, Hahn insisted. The parish priest cannot talk to the co-worker who never goes to Church, or to many of the people the laity encounter in their daily lives.
“All Catholics are called to witness to the faith among our family and friends, as well as in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and parishes,” said Hahn.
He then singled out some places of particular importance in carrying out this mission. University campuses are one and he pointed out that many young people who go to college end up leaving the Church, up to 70% of them according to one source.
The media is another critical area, particularly social media. While it is an instrument often used badly Hahn commented that the advent of new media has changed the playing field and that Catholics have many more means of communicating and proclaiming the Gospel than ever before.
Conferences and retreats are another important venue and are a proven instrument in leading people to conversion.
Lay movements, Hahn continued, have been a strong force, particularly in Europe, and have helped millions of Catholics.
Answering the call to the New Evangelization requires more than a willing heart and in the concluding chapters Hahn examined the essential content of what needs to be proclaimed.
For a start the basics of our fallen nature, sin, the role of God’s grace in our lives, and our redemption by Christ, are core truths.
The message of the cross, in which we see not God’s wrath, but his mercy, is another key element.
“On the cross, the love of Christ overcomes the hard, cold sin within our hearts,” he said.
In an earlier chapter Hahn insisted on the importance of a strong family life to sustain believers. In the concluding chapters he returned to the theme of family and spoke of how Christ, through the New Covenant, founded the one universal family of God.
“The Church is God’s family because it is Christ’s body, an extension of the incarnate Christ, and, as such, an extension of the Trinity’s own life.”
Hahn also considered the Eucharistic dimension of the New Evangelization, “which is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life,” Vatican II Lumen Gentium, no. 11). He later explored the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist.
We are all called to the New Evangelization, he repeated in the closing words of the book. A call that continues to be repeated and asks for a response.