What is the New Evangelization?
For the first time in the history of the Church, we are in a situation where entire countries and civilizations that once claimed to be Christian no longer do. They accepted the Gospel and even strived to live Christian moral values for some time but have since rejected those values. We can see evidence of this in many ways that suggest we are not far from this situation in the United States. The New Evangelization is the Church calling us to understand that reaching people who have been exposed to the Gospel but have rejected it requires us to evangelize with a “new” approach. The great Saint John Paul II articulated this, defining the New Evangelization as new in ardor, method, and expression.
One of the most common analogies I have heard used to explain the New Evangelization is that of the flu vaccine. When someone gets the flu vaccine, they actually receive a diluted dose of the flu virus to help protect themselves from getting the flu. This seems a little silly when you think about it, but in order for one’s body to reject the virus, it must be exposed at least minimally so it can later reject it.
To give a practical example of this in a youth ministry context, imagine talking to a youth, and as you begin the conversation about Jesus Christ, they immediately respond, “Oh I know about that Jesus guy. My parents go to Church every week, but he hasn’t helped them at all; they fight every day. Why would I want anything to do with that?” Their exposure to the Gospel (or rather, what they think it is) actually leads them to reject it (like the flu vaccine). This is why the way in which we present the Gospel must be new in ardor, method, and expression: because we have new circumstances. This young person needs to experience the message of the Gospel in a way that is more accurate.
Another definition I love comes from the Lineamenta for the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization. It says:
“The new evangelization is not a matter of redoing something which has been inadequately done or has not achieved its purpose, as if the new activity were an implicit judgment on the failure of the first evangelization. Nor is the new evangelization taking up the first evangelization again, or simply repeating the past. Instead, it is the courage to forge new paths in responding to the changing circumstances and conditions facing the Church in her call to proclaim and live the Gospel today.”
We must not be afraid to forge new paths. The image that comes to mind is what is known as a desire path (see image). The desire path is the one on the right. In my last post, I talked about how no program will be the magic pill that will solve everything. The problem is that the programs, in an effort to help us, are giving us new resources but these resources are not solving the problem. They do their best to make it as easy as possible for us so we don’t have to worry about the pains of taking the road less traveled. The New Evangelization is a call to respond in faith, to be formed by God and challenged through our efforts to grow. It dares us to go where we may not have everything we think we need but to trust in God’s providence .
It gives me great hope to know that there are many in the Church whom God has called down these desire paths. As the paths become more traveled, they become more clear. It will not be easy to have the faith to enter into the New Evangelization, but it will be an exciting time in the Church.