March 16, 2012 – The New Evangelization

This past week at times felt like one of those weeks when you start in a hole, and the more you try to claw and climb your way out, the deeper you dig your own hole.  I would get one task accomplished, then 2 or 3 more would fall into my lap.  However, we have just about made it to the end of the week, and I’m grateful that God was with me to guide me over the bumps in the road.  One of the things that always lifts my spirits is our “Fanning the Flame” program.  This past Tuesday was a beautiful evening, so I figured folks would have other things to do and there would not be much of a crowd for our discussion group.  Boy was I wrong!  I think we wound up with a group of about 27 people.  Even though we were crammed I like sardines, I think everyone was still glad to be there to share their faith with others.

The chapter up for discussion the other night dealt with the Holy Spirit, and there was a point in the catechism that talked about having an “immediate experience” of God.  This led to a great sharing of how people felt God was with them and guided them through different events in their lives – both positive and negative.  Among many other things, our God is a God of hope – a God that we can turn to and lean on in even the most difficult times.

This discussion got me to thinking (WARNING: Brian is thinking again – retreat to the nearest shelter!) about our mission as Catholic Christians.  We are asked not just to let God into our own lives and turn to Him for guidance, but we are also asked to spread His message to other people through our witness and through sharing our own experience.  In other words, we are asked to evangelize.  Oh no, there’s that word again that Catholic seem to dread!  Many of us are proud to be Catholic and we love our faith, but to be someone who has to come front and center and try to convince other people to live the way I do … uh, that’s another matter entirely.  What if people don’t want to hear what I’m saying?  What if I offend someone?  We live in a free society – don’t people have the right to live their lives as they wish?

You may have heard the term “New Evangelization”.  This term was first popularized by Pope John Paul II.  It refers to a renewed effort to “reawaken” the faith in traditionally Christian parts of the world.  In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI announced the formation of a Pontifical Council for promoting the New Evangelization.  The Pope formed this council out of concern that secularization of our society has “produced a serious crisis of the sense of the Christian faith and the role of the church” and “a sort of eclipse of the sense of God.”  Among the tasks the Council has been given is to “study and promote the use of modern forms of communication as tools for the New Evangelization,” and to “promote the use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as an essential and comprehensive formulation of the content of faith to the people of our time.”  So the church recognizes the duty of the church to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, and that in a changing world more different and creative ways may need to be utilized to accomplish that.  I must say that our parish has not only heard this message, but has embraced it.  More people seem to be coming on to our website, we are utilizing Facebook, and many people are currently in study of the Adult Catechism (who would have though we in little old Chester, IL would be helping to pave the way!).

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, on the day before he was elevated to Cardinal, was chosen by Pope Benedict to address a Day of Reflection and Prayer.  He laid out a seven-point plan for the New Evangelization.  Here is a summary of His plan:

1)      Remembering that even those who boast of their secularization have an innate longing for the divine; the first step of evangelization must be to keep the quest for God alive

2)      “Be Not Afraid” – confident, without being triumphalist, since it is the power of God who sends His people to evangelize

3)      Knowing that the New Evangelization is not about presenting a document or belief system, but a person whose name is Jesus

4)      Nevertheless, this Jesus is the Truth.  Hence, evangelization is linked to catechesis.

5)      An evangelist must be a person of joy – someone who smiles.

6)      The New Evangelization is about love – the love of God made concrete in service

7)      Finally, martyrdom.  A reminder that the church is now peopled by those who are suffering persecution for their faith, and that these martyrs give impetus to the new evangelization.

I think that the current situation, with the U.S. Bishops being so outspoken about the mandate that non-profit businesses, including catholic hospitals, universities, etc. provide contraception and abortion drugs free of cost through their health care plans, is an example of putting this New Evangelization to work.  Many people continue to insist that this issue is solely about the availability of contraception, when is goes so much deeper than that.  When someone is forced to go against the basic beliefs that their religion upholds, it is a violation of our basic rights – plain and simple.  As Cardinal Dolan said, we cannot be afraid to stand up for our beliefs, since it is God who is calling us to do so.  We also know that we will likely face opposition to what we believe – a sort of “modern-day martyrdom.”  However, if a number of us stand up for what we believe, the task becomes much easier and much more effective.

Finally, just a reminder to check out our website to look at the dinner/auction booklet and also there will be photos of some of the main auction items up very soon (hopefully this evening).  Thank you to all who have been working so hard to prepare for our major fund raiser.  Pray this week for a successful auction (and maybe a little cooler weather).  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Have a great week.  Peace.

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