If there’s anything daunting about the mission our recent popes have proposed to us, called the New Evangelization, I suspect it’s mostly the name. When I think of “evangelization” I tend to conjure up images of zealous Protestants, well-versed in Scripture, going about door-to-door encouraging people to accept “Jesus Christ as a personal Lord and Savior” or the wilds of foreign lands like East Africa or the Solomon Islands, where highly trained missionaries preach the Gospel to peoples who have literally never heard the Holy Name of Jesus. It seems that most God-fearing, Sunday-Mass-going Catholics simply aren’t cut out for this kind of work. So is the mission of the New Evangelization absurd? Are good, faithful Catholics stuck facing the paradox of trying to explain the complexities and nuances of ancient faith without being properly readied for the task?
Of course not! God calls his sons and daughters to many different works, equipping them with a variety of gifts, talents and graces (1 Cor. 12:4-11). Not all are called to be ordained priests; not all are called to be parents; not all are called to religious life. And yet, while some vocations mean the exclusion of others, the New Evangelization does not entail the same Pauline particularity. It is simply not the case that only some are called to share in the New Evangelization. How then can the varied members of Christ’s body participate in this universal work?
Pope Benedict offers perhaps the best description of the New Evangelization. In a homily on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, he describes the New Evangelization saying its work consists in finding ways “to propose anew the perennial truth of Christ’s Gospel.” Most simply put, the New Evangelization, calls us—in the words of Julie Andrews—to “start from the very beginning.” We’ve got to be able to say, simply and certainly: “The mysteries of the life and death of Jesus give my life meaning and purpose” or “I believe the God of love is in control of the universe” or “When I die, my life will be changed, not ended.” These simple truths of the Gospel are the brass tacks of the New Evangelization.
So in addition to professing what we believe, what can we do?
1. Pray. No, seriously. Pray for the people in your life that you think need to encounter the peace only Jesus offers. Pray for them by name. Everyday. Prayers in front of the Blessed Sacrament, such as during Eucharistic adoration, or intentions entrusted to the Blessed Mother are especially powerful.
2. Wear Christian jewelry. A little cross goes a long way. There’s no need to buy a five inch crucifix and never take it off, but medals of the saints are great conversation starters (not to mention the graces God gives from wearing sacred images which have been blessed by a priest).
3. Put Christian images in your home or on your desk. Building Christian culture takes more than browbeating people with clever arguments. There was a time when every French home proudly exhibited an image of the Sacred Heart. Our forefathers knew what was up.
When it comes down to it, your family and friends are not actually waiting for mysterious strangers to arrive offering eloquent presentations purportedly deciphering the mysteries of the universe. They also are likely not interested in clever arguments you may (or may not!) be able to offer. They want to be loved. It’s up to us to show them that God already loves them. And when they see this love in you, they’ll find its source.
Image: Eugene Boudin, Leaving Mass at Plougastel