By His Eminence
Donald Cardinal Wuerl
Archbishop Of Washington
Christian Culture Series
Sunday, December 1, 2013, 3:00 P.M.
Before I begin these reflections on “The Challenges and Joys of the New Evangelization” I want to thank Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., the President of Assumption University, for the invitation to be a part of this series. I also want to express my great admiration for him, his extraordinary ministry in the Church, his leadership of Salt and Light Media and his unique role in the recently concluded Synod on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.
There is a very real sense in which Father Rosica and Salt and Light Media were truly the voice and vision to the world of
the Synod on the New Evangelization. I also want to recognize Mr. Sebastian Gomes, Salt and Light Producer. I am grateful to Assumption University for providing me this opportunity to speak about the New Evangelization.
We have three realities that help us focus on what is the New Evangelization and how it is lived today. The first of these obviously is the Synod on the New Evangelization that was held in Rome in October of 2012.
Secondly, we must see the efforts of the New Evangelization now through the lens of Pope Francis who assumed the office of Bishop of Rome and Shepherd of the Universal Church in March of 2013. Finally, we have the document that reflects the work of the Synod and the mind of Pope Francis, the recently published Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium.
Nine months ago the whole world was focused on the chimney at the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Some 5,500 journalists were accredited to the Holy See as world media awaited the white smoke.
Between the time that the smoke appeared and Pope Francis stepped onto the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica about an hour passed. Yet the Square was filled with people chanting, Viva il Papa! – Long live the Pope!” Even before they knew who he was the crowds were elated because, once again, we have a Pope. Their voices highlighted the understanding of Catholics around the world of the importance of the Pope. He is the link of continuity connecting us today with Peter and therefore with Jesus, his Gospel, his death and Resurrection.
But a whole new dimension of appreciation for the Pope became apparent with Pope Francis’ new style. He began with a simple “Buona sera” – “Good evening” that has had a ripple effect through the Church.
This engaging informal style is captured in scene after scene as our Holy Father wades into the crowds of pilgrims at Saint Peter’s Square blessing the sick, hugging children, and joining in “selfies,” the picture taken with him by people holding their own phone camera.
Everywhere we see the Pope’s smile reflecting his joy. It is not that he is giving us new teaching about the Gospel. Rather he is showing us a new way of doing the Gospel.
But the wider background for everything that Pope Francis proclaims, that the New Evangelization is all about and that Evangelii gaudium announces with insistence is the challenging secularism that dominates modern culture. In his first apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis notes some challenges of today’s world. “The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to sphere of the private and personal. Furthermore, by completely rejecting the transcendent, it has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin, and a steady increase in relativism” (64).
It is against this conditioning of human thought summed up in words like “secularism” and “relativism” that the proclamation of the Gospel – the New Evangelization proceeds.
A number of years ago I was invited to speak at the Catholic Center at Harvard University. The designated theme was “The Role of Faith in a Pluralistic Society.” At the conclusion of my presentation, a man who self-identified as an atheist and who taught in the law school was the first to present a question. He asked, “What do you people think you bring to our society?” The reference to “you people” was to the front row of the audience that was made up of representatives of a variety of religious traditions all of whom were in their appropriate identifiable robes.
Since he was a lawyer, I asked if he would mind if I answered his question with a question of my own. When he nodded in agreement, I asked: “What do you think the world would be like if it were not for the voices of all of those religious traditions represented in the hall? What would it be like if we did not hear voices in the midst of the community saying, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness? What would our culture be like had we not heard religious imperatives such as love your neighbor as yourself, do unto others as you would have them do to you? How much more harsh would our land be if we did not grow up hearing, blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers? What would the world be like had we never been reminded that someday we will have to answer to God for our actions?”
To his credit, the man who asked the question smiled broadly and said, “It would be a mess!”
What the Church Offers
The Church brings what it has always brought an invitation to faith, an encounter with Christ, a whole way of living.
Yet the Christian way of life and the Gospel vision of right and wrong, virtue and God’s love all seem to be eclipsed by a strong secular voice that comes even from some within the Church that find the Church’s perennial teaching somehow distasteful.
So pervasive is this “other message” that today many never even get to hear the truth, richness and joy of the authentic Gospel of Christ.
The Context of Our Faith Experience
The context then of the New Evangelization and the very reason why we repropose our Catholic faith to the world around us and of which we are a part is, as successive popes have indicated, the secularism that is now rapidly enveloping our society and our Western culture.
Pope Francis has noted the spiritual poverty of our time, which is the “tyranny of relativism,” as well as one of the most dangerous pitfalls of our time, “a one-dimensional vision of the human person, according to which man is reduced to what he produces and consumes” (March 20, 2013). Shortly after his election he said, “We know how much violence has been produced in recent history by the attempt to eliminate God and the divine from the horizon of humanity, and we experience the value of witnessing in our societies to the original opening to transcendence that is inherent in the human heart” (March 20, 2013).
These challenges must be overcome by a fullness of faith which overflows into the very society in which we live. As the Pope said, “Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.”
New Evangelization – A Definition
It is against this background – a diminished appreciation of the faith – that we were called to a Year of Faith and an ongoing New Evangelization.
The New Evangelization is a term that has become very familiar in the Church today. Blessed John Paul II began, more than three decades ago, to speak of the need for a new period of evangelization. He described it as announcement of the Good News about Jesus that is “new in ardor, method and expression” (Address to the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM), March 9, 1983).
Pope Benedict XVI affirmed that the discernment of “the new demands of evangelization” is a “prophetic” task of the Supreme Pontiff (Caritas in veritate, 12). He emphasized that “the entire activity of the Church is an expression of love” that seeks to evangelize the world (Deus caritas est, 19).
Likewise, in continuity with his predecessors, Pope Francis calls us to the work of the New Evangelization. This was also a major initiative of his when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. As in his ministry there, already we can see as a hallmark in this papacy the emphasis that the Church “go out” into the world, to not stay wrapped up within herself, but to go out to give to people the beauty of the Gospel, the amazement of the encounter with Jesus. I think we are going to have, as we move forward, a time of blessing, a time of renewal, of looking to the future to bring that New Evangelization to the hearts of people we know.
From October 7 through October 28, 2012, in response to the Pope’s invitation, over 250 bishops from around the world, together with nearly 100 men and women, representative of the Church, religious communities and expertise in various related areas, gathered for the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.
At the Mass on Sunday, October 28 at Saint Peter’s Basilica for the closing of the synod, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on some aspects of the New Evangelization. He spoke of the three areas and dimensions of the work of sharing and living the Gospel.
In Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis quotes at length from Proposition 7 of the Synod on the New Evangelization. He also quotes from the homily of Pope Benedict XVI at the Mass for the Conclusion of the Synod. The New Evangelization, he said, “applies, in the first instance, to the ordinary pastoral ministry that must be more animated by the fire of the Spirit.” We shall return to this point when we look at all of the ways in which we can be engaged in our own parish life, in renewing our faith and helping to fan into flame the embers of the Holy Spirit that animates the Church.
The second aspect of the New Evangelization, the Pope points out, is the Church’s task “to evangelize, to proclaim the message of salvation to those who do not know Jesus Christ.” This we traditionally refer to as the “missio ad gentes” or “mission to the nations.” We all recall the terms “foreign missions” and “mission lands.” The Pope went on to say that there were still many regions “whose inhabitants await with lively expectation, sometimes without being fully aware of it, the first proclamation of the Gospel.” The essential missionary work continues as it always has.
A new dimension of the misso ad gentes is, of course, the realization that many of the people from lands that were once described as “foreign missions” now live with us – in our neighborhoods – next door to us.
The third aspect, the Pope notes in his homily, concerns “the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of baptism…the Church is particularly concerned that they should encounter Jesus Christ anew, rediscover the joy of faith and return to religious practice in the community of the faithful.” We all know people – friends, colleagues, even family members – who are a part of this group.
At its heart the New Evangelization is the reproposing of the encounter with the Risen Lord, his Gospel and his Church with those who no longer find the Church’s message engaging. Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation says, “I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’ (Deus Caritas Est)” (7).
As we look at how we repropose the encounter with Jesus and how we can take it upon ourselves that responsibility, I believe there are three distinct, but interrelated stages the renewal of our faith both intellectually and affectively, a new confidence in the truth of our faith and a willingness to share it with others.
The New Evangelization begins with each of us taking it upon ourselves to renew once again our understanding of the faith and our appropriation of it in a way that embraces the Gospel message and its application today. The Gospel offers humanity a different way of seeing life and the world around us. We bring a fuller vision of life than that offered by an individualistic secular society that lives as if God did not exist.
In the Sermon on the Mount presented in Matthew’s Gospel, we hear of a new way of life and how it involves the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who mourn, the peacemakers, the poor in spirit. Here we learn of the call to be salt of the earth and a light set on a lamp stand. Later in that same Gospel, we hear the extraordinary dictum that we should see in one another the very presence of Christ. Jesus’ disciples are challenged to envision a world where not only the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given drink, the stranger is welcomed and the naked are clothed, but also most amazingly sins are forgiven and eternal life is pledged.
For the Christian, there is a whole new way of seeing reality – experiencing life. We see with the eyes of faith and thus experience so much more. It is precisely through that lens that we see the world around us and seek to invite others to experience with us the joy of Jesus Christ.
In his apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis puts it this way, “All of [the practical implications for the Church’s mission today] help give shape to a definite style of evangelization which I ask you to adopt in every activity which you undertake. In this way, we can take up, amid our daily efforts, the biblical exhortation: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say: Rejoice’ (Phil 4:4) (18).”
When we speak of faith, we use the word in two ways, really. We use it to speak of the act by which we place our trust in God. We accept God’s word; we accept Jesus. We “have faith.” Some people call this trust a “leap” of faith, because there is no way to prove that it is actually God who is speaking to us. We can cite evidence and point to the authority of reputable people—saints and scholars—but we’re never going to be able to demonstrate with mathematical precision that the Almighty has spoken to us in revelation. We choose to trust God’s ways of communicating.
But faith has another sense. We use the term to mean, not only the act of believing, but also the facts we believe in. Thus, we speak of “the Catholic faith,” or simply “the faith.”
It is one thing to say, “I place my faith in Jesus. I believe him.” But faith requires more. Faith requires us to ask the follow-up question: Well, what did Jesus say? What is the content of the message that he revealed and taught? And that brings us back to the Creed.
Every Sunday at Mass, we recite the words of the Nicene Creed. Each of us makes a personal and public commitment of faith, in the presence of our neighbors. We say, “I believe” to a rather long list of demanding propositions. “I believe . . .” in one God who is three divine persons, in a fatherly God who relates to me as his child; in a God who became man, in a God who continues to act through the Church, in a God who will raise me, body and soul, from the dead.
When we stop to think about any one of these propositions, we can identify with the man in the Gospel who “cried out” to Jesus, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). For we know, as that man knew, that we all need help. The truths of our faith are demanding. They are more than words, more than boxes we must check so that we can call ourselves Catholic. They are living truths that are meant to make a difference in our lives.
Faith has a language all of its own. It speaks to us of a realm, a world, a reality all of its own. We should not be surprised that when we try to get beyond this immediate material world into the transcendent world of the Spirit, we find our words inadequate. So we have to use special words with unique meaning.
Precisely in order to understand what it is that Jesus is revealing to us, we turn to his Church and the continuous apostolic tradition in the Body of Christ to clarify, reaffirm and assure us of what it is Jesus says to us.
A deepened appreciation for our faith should lead us to a new level of confidence in its truth. The words of the Gospel are the words of everlasting life. The teaching of the Church is God’s word applied to our day. We need to be confident that we stand in the truth so that we are not shaken by every challenge to the Gospel message.
The wide spread and deep seeded hesitancy among Christians to speak up and even stand up for the faith, for our Christian heritage and the values it brings to our world, is one of the marked signs of our time. Or at least it is part of the inheritance of several generations of questioning the validity of our message that has left many Christians shy.
It is precisely the recovery of confidence in the truth of the Gospel that is a part of the new Pentecost we are experiencing today and the partial explanation for why so many young people are once again turning to the Church, her Gospel, her message.
Out of our knowledge of the faith and our confidence in it, we should be prepared to share it with others. This can take place in many ways.
We are called to re-propose Christ as the answer to a world staggering under the weight of so many unanswered questions of the heart. We are called to be missionaries in the circumstances of our day with all of its challenges, within the context of the lives of the people who receive the message.
Because the New Evangelization seeks to increase people’s understanding of the faith, its theological foundations are very important. These foundation blocks are all the more significant today because of the need to bring back into equilibrium the balance between the proper understanding of the individual and the correct appreciation of the obligations of the collective society in civil terms and ecclesial communion in spiritual terms.
Among the theological foundation blocks, I would include the Anthropological, the Christological, the Ecclesiological and the Soteriological foundations which we will briefly examine.
(1) Anthropological Foundation of the New Evangelization
Human beings, made male and female, are by their nature social beings, created in the image and likeness of the Triune God who is Love and Truth. Thus, we are made to live in relationship and community.
Thus, the New Evangelization must point to the dignity of the human person, whose inherent nature is not to exist in solitude, as merely an individual closed-in on himself, but in solidarity with others. In short, we call for an authentic humanism, for man to be true to his nature, which is to love and be loved in truth.
The fact that each person is created in the image and likeness of God forms the basis for declaring, for example, the universality of human rights and the harmony that should exist among peoples. We must speak with conviction to a doubting civil society about the truth and integrity of realities such as marriage, family, the natural moral order, and objective right and wrong.
(2) Christological Foundation of the New Evangelization
“Who do you say that I am?” asked Jesus. Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)
The New Evangelization is the re-introduction, the re-proposing, of Christ, the center of our faith – who Christ is, his relationship to the Father, his divinity and humanity, the reality of his death and Resurrection, and his sending of the Holy Spirit. We are summoned to stand as one with Peter and, like him, profess that Jesus is Lord.
Our proclamation is focused on Jesus, his Gospel and his way. Christian life is defined by an encounter with Jesus. When our Lord first came among us, he offered a new way of living. The excitement spread as God’s Son, who is also one of us, announced the coming of his kingdom.
The Gospel that Jesus Christ came to reveal is not information about God, but rather God himself in our midst. God made himself visible, audible, tangible. In return, he seeks our love.
(3) The Ecclesiological Foundation of the New Evangelization
The New Evangelization must also clearly explain the necessity of the Church for salvation. The Church is not just one way among many to reach God, all of them equally valid. While the Lord does wish all to be saved, he specifically established the Church to continue his living and saving presence.
Our understanding of the nature and significance of the Church explains why the missionary activity of the Church is essential to her identity. The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity (Ad Gentes) and subsequent documents such as Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) of Pope Paul VI and Redemptoris Missio (1990) of Blessed John Paul II all insist that essential to the mission of the Church is the work of bringing every individual into communion with the divine persons revealed in Jesus Christ.
In Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis tells us, “The Church’s closeness to Jesus is part of a common journey; “communion and mission are profoundly interconnected.” In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear” (23).
The Pope goes on to say, “The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice” (24).
(4) Soterological Foundations of the New Evangelization
Intrinsic to understanding God’s presence with us today is understanding what we mean by his kingdom. The kingdom of God is manifest in his Church, but will reach its final fullness only in glory at the end of time. Thus, even though it is unfashionable to do so, we must speak the truth regarding sin and judgment after death, with the possibility of hell, but we also speak the truth of heaven through redemption in Christ, that God sent his Son into this world to offer us forgiveness of sin and new life.
Where the Work of the New Evangelization Takes Place:
Particular Churches and Parishes
The Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization, and pours out many gifts to guide the Church in her mission. The New Evangelization impels all of us to use this grace to discover fresh resources, to open original avenues and to summon new strength to advance the Good News of the Lord.
This brings us to a reflection on where, within the Church, the work of the New Evangelization takes place. One of these places deserves special mention: the particular church, or diocese and its expression in the parish.
Parishes, gathered in communion with the bishop, are natural centers of the New Evangelization because they “offer opportunities for dialogue among men, for listening to and announcing the Word of God, for organic catechesis, for training in charity, for prayer, adoration and joyous Eucharistic celebrations” (Prop. 26).
Across this country, parishes need to be invited into a process whereby they collectively undertake a review of their vitality. In the Archdiocese of Washington, we have initiated a parish-by-parish self-evaluation around five principles of ecclesial life: worship, education, service, community and stewardship. Collectively we call these points the “Indicators of Vitality.”
For sure the light of Christ already shines brightly in each parish. Yet all of us recognize there is more to be done. Our efforts at a New Evangelization call us to look deeper into the vitality of our faith as it is expressed and lived in our parishes and in the homes of the faithful.
Penance – The Sacrament of the New Evangelization
The Sacrament of Penance looms large in the renewal of the life of the Church and particularly in proclaiming the Good News. The forgetfulness about God that is the result of secularism has included a dramatic decrease over the years in people going to Confession. Accordingly, the Synod Fathers saw Penance as the sacrament of the New Evangelization because it offers us “a new and personal encounter with Jesus Christ, as well as a new encounter with the Church, facilitating a full reconciliation through the forgiveness of sins. Here the penitent encounters Jesus and at the same time he or she experiences a deeper appreciation of himself and herself” (Prop. 33).
Pope Francis tells us, “Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me one again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.’” Pope Francis goes on to remind us, “Christ, who told us to forgive one another ‘seventy times seven’ (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven” (3).
A particularly effective pastoral initiative is entitled “The Light is On for You.” At the heart of this program is the commitment of a diocesan Church to see that on a specific evening during the week at a given time, confessions will be heard in all of the churches across the diocese. In this way, the people will have an opportunity no matter where they are to avail themselves of this sacrament.
In a public way, the campaign highlights the importance of the sacrament of Reconciliation and our need for God’s help, love and mercy. Some people have experienced the joy of returning to the sacrament after not having gone to Confession for decades. That symbol of the light on in churches provides people with a beacon of hope, reconciliation, and healing.
What are some of the qualities required for the new evangelizer today?
Many can be identified, but four stand out: (1) boldness or courage, (2) connectedness to the Church, (3) a sense of urgency, and (4) joy.
In the Acts of the Apostles, the word that describes the Apostles after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is “bold.” Peter boldly stands up and preaches the Good News of the Resurrection. Paul boldly announces the Word in frenetic movement around the world. Today, the New Evangelization must show a similar boldness born of confidence in Christ. We cannot be lukewarm, but must be on fire with the Spirit.
The new evangelizers also need a connectedness with the one Church, her one Gospel and her pastoral presence. The authentication of our message of everlasting life depends on our communion with the Church and solidarity with her pastors. In this, you – the members of the Ordinariate – can provide, and have already provided, an especially credible witness from your steadfast efforts at unity in the Body of Christ.
Another needed quality is a sense of urgency, as we see in Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth. The Gospel recounts how Mary set off in haste on a long and difficult journey. There is no time to be lost because the mission is so important.
Finally, when we look around and see the vast field waiting for us to sow seeds of new life, we must do so with joy. Our message should be one that inspires others to follow us along the path to the kingdom of God. Ours is a message to Rejoice! Christ is risen, Christ is with us!
Evangelii gaudium begins with the announcement, “The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus…In this exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy…” (1).
Pope Francis keeps lifting up this theme over and over again. He tells us how Jesus’ “message brings us joy: ‘I have said these things to you, so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.’ (Jn 15:11)” The Pope quotes Jesus saying “‘But I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you’ (Jn 16:22)” (5). That joy must be our joy.
This is a new moment in the life of the Church, a new Pentecost. It is our turn now, to reinvigorate our faith, not only today, but every day and every year, and to share it with others.
Always be open to the gift of the Spirit. It is the movement of the Spirit that has led you along this path, it is the nudging of the Spirit that brings you to this moment and it is in the outpouring of the Spirit that you will walk united with Christ at the service of his Bride the Church.
It is our turn in the long history of the Church simply to believe and proclaim: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.