You mean Catholics need to be newly evangelized? “Yes!,” said the late Pope! In 1997 Blessed John Paul II met with a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America: North, Central and South. This was in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. Two years later in 1999, the Pope summarized the discussions in what is now known as The Church in America. It is his Apostolic Exhortation to the Catholics in America (and elsewhere). He calls us: "not to a re-Evangelization but a New Evangelization - new in ardour, method and expression."
Throughout his exhortation he stresses that the starting point for this new initiative is a "fresh encounter with the Lord." This relationship with Jesus is so central that he mentions it sixty-six times!
On night four of the parish mission, the priest preached about hell. He had the people squirming in the pews. This parish was going straight to hell! Right in the front pew a man sat with arms folded and a grin on his face that really irked the priest. He couldn't take it any more. Looking him straight in the eye, he demanded, "And what have to smile about?" "Oh, I don't belong to this parish," was his smug reply.
When we Catholics hear the word "Evangelization" we tend to think that's for the people in the other parish! Evangelization is what missionaries do in Africa, Asia and Latin America. We're Catholic. We don't need to be evangelized. Correct! We don't need a re-evangelisation but a New Evangelization! How does that makes us feel? It's a bit like the surgeon telling me that I don't need by-pass surgery, I need a new heart!
Basically that was the message of the prophets throughout the Old Testament. True and genuine conversion could be expressed only in a change of heart.
In this series of reflections I will try to flesh out in a practical way this New Evangelization we Catholics are called to. Because discipleship and the Gospel are essentially simple - not easy - I will keep it simple. What would a fresh encounter with Jesus look like in my personal life and lived out in everyday life? A New Evangelization that is new in ardour, method and expression. Now that's a tall order! In fact, it is radical! What would that look like in my parish? It calls for an enthusiasm and excitement that comes only from a fresh encounter with Jesus. Risk and great courage are called for. Change is painful. But a relationship that is alive is always changing and risking. New methods, not gimmicks, demand risk, courage and change. If we are alive in Jesus they will automatically happen. And new in expression! Central to this is a new language. When the British occupied Ireland they found that “the natives speak a language that the stranger does not know!" Frustrating! Try reading a lawyer's letter! Impossible! I believe the institutional Church speaks a language that most of us find hard to get our heads around. A kind of a lawyer's language! It is heavily intellectual lacking personal flavour. Cognitive rather than affective. More head than heart.
Simplicity too is dangerous! How do we express in a simple way, not simplistic, our fresh encounter with Jesus? I will attempt to answer that in the rest of my reflections.
I look back to my seminary days with regret. I spent five years studying about Jesus and never met him! What a tragedy! No wonder I need a New Evangelization! Scripture would have come alive for me had I been taught to pray with the Word. This is something I stumbled upon many years after ordination. Now I have a personal relationship with Jesus and what a difference it makes in my life!
Sad to say but my experience continues. Let me give you an example. Two days ago I met with a young woman who just graduated with a Masters in Theology. A week ago she began ministry in the local university as chaplain. She had been in spiritual direction where she studied and wished to continue. My first question was “who is Jesus Christ for you?” And she replied, “I find that hard to answer.” And she has a Masters in Theology! Like me, she has a lot of knowledge about Jesus but does not know him. She knows the teaching but doesn't know the teacher! Just like me many moons ago!
On one occasion I met with representatives of the United and Pentecostal Churches to plan a service at sun-rise on Easter Sunday. The Pentecostals had been without a minister for a long time. Jim, their lay-leader, was happy that they were getting a new minister. Just out of seminary, 23 and his first assignment! But Jim's response to that was, "He has a passion for the Lord." That's what a fresh encounter with Jesus is meant to stir up in us. Passion! Fire!
Fr Sean Mac Gabhann is an Irish missionary priest. He ministered in South America and Canada. Recently retired from active ministry he is chaplain to a contemplative Order of Benedictine Nuns. Trained in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (Creighton University), he is engaged in spiritual direction and directed retreats at their retreat centre. His latest book: The New Evangelization Of Catholics: In A New Language, ISBN 9781425142285 can be viewed and purchased on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/search?tag=indepcathonew-21&creative=3946&camp=526&index=blended&adid=14SFES0SDYC2QSSJKYDJ&keywords=The+New+Evangelization+Of+Catholics%3A+In+A+New+Language&I3.x=13&I3.y=10&I3=Go