When Our Lord left this earth, he sent his followers with the mission to make disciples of all people: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Following this mission is a pathway to holiness that all are called to walk. Christ’s commission to go to all nations might make us think first of foreign missions and predominantly pagan countries, but we are also called to work for the ongoing conversion of Christian communities, as well as the conversion of fallen away Christians. The New Evangelization has to do with just that, calling us to be a special kind of saint for our time.
In 1983, St. John Paul II described the New Evangelization as having three qualities: new means, new expressions, and new ardor. In Redemptoris Missio, he gave the New Evangelization its scope, which consists primarily of the Christian countries where once fervent believers have fallen way, “where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel.”
What does this call to a New Evangelization mean for those who will engage in it as a path to holiness?
Be Unafraid of the Old
First, missionaries of the New Evangelization have to be unafraid of what is old!
Even as it invites new methods, the New Evangelization has to tap into the ancient and timeless. Christ is timeless and so is the message shared with us through Scripture and Tradition. The Church is wise in Her tradition and this wisdom is needed. Pope Benedict XVI furthered St. John Paul II’s call to a New Evangelization, beseeching in Verbum Domini that our time be “increasingly marked by a new hearing of God’s word” and a “recovering of the centrality of the divine word in the Christian life.”
In considering the old, we can also keep in mind something that leadership guru Adam Grant brings up about the concept of newness and originality when talking about major influencers in the world. Successful influencers are original, but not too original, he suggests. Finding some established, common ground to stand on allows a relationship and dialogue to unfold rather than not happen at all. Grant quotes Rob Minkoff, who says: “The goal is to push the envelope, not tear the envelope.”
Be Unafraid of the New
Second, missionaries of the New Evangelization cannot be afraid of what is new!
It might seem that, after 2000 years of Christianity, the Church has tried all that there is to be tried. Yet, St. John Paul II called for Christians to cultivate the new. Love is always new, he realized. Christ calls each person to perform a task that only he can perform; He calls each person to make an original gift of love through his life!
The New Evangelization needs a special kind of saint: missionaries who are in tune with the ways people are waiting to hear the message of the Gospel today, and the particular places where the world is waiting to hear it. Author Carrie Gress writes:
Having access to videos, articles, podcasts and e-books, particularly when passed along through friends via Facebook, Instagram, etc., takes the effort our of passing around printed material or loaning DVDs…. Moreover, students of all ages are no longer limited just to what their teachers teach or priests preach. It is easier now than ever to do our own research on a given topic, particularly if it doesn’t sound quite right.
Think of the best teacher you experienced in school. Typically, the best teachers engage you in the subject matter by revealing something new about it, offering a perspective of truth and insight you had not encountered before. The best teachers make you think and open your eyes to see more than you did before. What methods did the best teachers in your experience use to awaken something new and unexpected in you? Humor? Art and beauty? The splendor of truth? What talents do you have that draw you to a particular method of revealing truth through something new?
Follow the Holy Spirit into Newness
Missionaries of the New Evangelization have to follow the Holy Spirit into newness – like the first Apostles did. And like every evangelizer in history has had to do, too. We are bringing a message into a new paradigm: our particular historical time and place. We have to be ready to invent and innovate, developing the new language St. John Paul II called for.
We need to find ways to speak a language that can be heard. Modernity wants authenticity. The special kind of saint who lives out the New Evangelization must speak with authenticity. How do we do this? In Seeds of the Word: Finding God in the Culture, Bishop Robert Barron shows how we can seek and find elements of truth, fragments of the Word, in films, celebrities, books, and media today— then use these as starting points for authentic conversations about a fuller Truth.
Third, New Evangelizers have to be courageous.
We will encounter opposition. Often we will need to persevere in planting without seeing the fruit. After all, we are evangelizing, going after the lost sheep. Today, our lifestyle increasingly removes us from persons— through financialization, digitalization, etc. Yet, God is present much more in persons than in actions, so we need to be attentive to where in our lives we interact most with people, and whether we listen in those interactions. We need to develop new methods to remain open to others without allowing ourselves to be abused.
One powerful example of new methods in faith formation is evidenced by the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd movement. Seeing the failure of modern education to address children’s natural thirst for God, Sophia Cavaletti developed a new method, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, using the timeless truths of Scripture and the new insights of Montessori education to facilitate children encountering God in a powerful way.
We will encounter loneliness – It is hard to be new and innovative. We should expect there to be misunderstanding and lack of support at times. To face these struggles and disappointments, we need new ardor. For the evangelizer, the successes and failures must not matter; faithfulness is what matters. Success is from Him; failures can serve Him. Just think of Charles de Foucald, who went to convert the Muslims but didn’t have much success. He still became a saint and has inspired countless souls today! The evangelizer must have an intense ardor grounded in his relationship with the Father. Even though the life of the evangelizer will be hard, it will be incredibly sanctifying. It will be incredibly sanctifying precisely because it stretches us, allowing us to be more and more filled with God.
“A Profound Experience of God”
In a strong sense, the evangelizer acts for the sake of the community he evangelizes. At the same time, activity in evangelization is ordered to sanctifying the evangelizer. Charity transforms our human capacities into God-bearing ones. As an evangelizer, I enter into a life that will include stress, tension, and opposition. Charity— not merely human love but God’s very own love—is what impels me forward. My whole focus as an evangelist is to establish a link where charity is constant in my life. If I lose charity, I will lose evangelization.
At heart, the New Evangelization is about a “profound experience of God,” Pope Benedict XVI said. The whole point is entering into profound intimacy with God, sharing the depths of our soul with Him. Are we willing to be known by Him, called by Him, individually claimed by Him? If so, that love will summon a response in us, of our greatness, courage, and action in evangelization.
Mary: Star of the New Evangelization
The inner demand of the New Evangelization is beautifully manifested to us in the Church’s consecration of the work of the New Evangelization to Mary. Why would Mary be Star of the New Evangelization? What website did she ever produce or talk did she ever give?
Mary as Star of the New Evangelization draws our attention to how evangelization begins with our own virtue, which bears fruit in a witness of love. For us, this means that fidelity to our spouse and daily presence at the dinner table is a critical part of living the New Evangelization, and must come before seeking “more” through making videos, becoming a retreat leader, or writing a book. We acquire depth not from flashy endeavors but from the way that we do simple things: the gift of our presence in the moment.
How each of us presents the Gospel message will depend on our life experience and circumstances, how each of us has profoundly experienced God touching our lives. The New Evangelization calls for a special kind of saint. It calls for you to adopt new methods, language, and ardor in responding to the people He has placed in your life.
For further resources on the New Evangelization, check out: