Intellectual Tasks of the New Evangelization, Part 1

This is the first in a series of blog entries examining the “New Evangelization” prompted by a conference in Washington DC. Together with a number of non-tenured theologians from Catholic universities and colleges throughout the United States (along with a number of seasoned, well known international theologians) I was privileged to participate in a symposium entitled the “Intellectual Tasks of the New Evangelization.” The symposium was held this past Thursday (15 September) and ran through Saturday (17 September). The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (Committee on Doctrine) and the School of Theology and Religious Studies of Catholic University of America sponsored it. The Knights of Columbus generously funded the conference including travel, room and board.

Permit me a word, at this point, to the Knights of Columbus. A sincere “thank you!” Your funding made it possible for many of us to attend who would have otherwise not had the financial resources to do so. Know that your gift was well used and will continue to be employed the service of Jesus and His Church. Thank you, again!

Before examining some of the wonderful insights surfaced at this conference, I believe some background on “New Evangelization” is warranted. I offer these words and musings in the spirit of understanding more precisely the work entrusted by Jesus to His Church and how each of us can assist. Feel free to register and post comments.

“New Evangelization” has been, is and will be a phrase sounded in Catholic circles for some time to come. In October 2012, bishops from around the world will gather in Rome with the Holy Father to ponder the command of Jesus to proclaim His Gospel to the ends of the earth. Many questions surface concerning the “New Evangelization” the most fundamental one being ‘what is it?’ ‘Can you describe or define the New Evangelization?’ It seems that in the present experience of Church a succinct, concise and precise definition of the term has yet to emerge. Even the lineamenta for next year’s Synod offers many different angles or facets of what might be considered or constitute a new Evangelization.

Among points written and discussed, one aspect has emerged clearly: the New Evangelization is not “new” in the sense of an invention that heretofore has not existed. In this context, ‘evangelization’ is not a what or an it, but a Who, a Person: Jesus the Christ Who we proclaim at the Easter Vigil, “yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega.” Hence the ‘new’ has nothing to do with a re-invention of Jesus nor a tossing out of the received Sacred Tradition and Scripture and starting anew. What ‘new’ addresses is precisely the how or the expression of Jesus the Christ Who reveals God the Father thus offering the Gift of adoption in the Holy Spirit.

One might ask another question, ‘why is the Church calling this new? Has not the Church always been vigilant about the expression of Jesus through the ages? Have not our theological, doctrinal, biblical, moral and liturgical words and gestures evolved throughout the ages? For example, there was a time in the Christian Church when we were unable to voice a primal teaching of Christianity: Jesus Christ, One Divine Person with a fully human nature and fully divine nature. The Christological and Trinitarian discussions and Councils of antiquity witness a great movement of the Holy Spirit opening the horizons of minds and hearts to voice a way of living that had been in place already for centuries prior to the expression. So again, why the adjective ‘new’ to describe the perennial work of the Church to evangelize in our contemporary era? Is there something different about now compared with previous generations?

From the viewpoint of history, it is dangerous - not necessarily erroneous - to single out one’s present as unique in the ebb and flow of history. An examination of some texts and discussions suggests that the word ‘new’ is appropriate to articulate the urgent need for the Church to respond to the eroding Christian life in areas of the world. Many of these regions were once passionately Christian and have now lost a good deal of their Christian identity and practice. Some regions have even become hostile to anything more than a mere ‘cultural Christianity’ devoid of conversion and commitment. In this sense, the current Evangelization is ‘new’ as the work of ‘evangelization’ has often been identified as work directed to people who have never heard - with ears AND heart - Jesus Christ. The current work of evangelization is still announcing and proclaiming Jesus Christ to people and lands who have not heard - AND - an urgent re-Evangelization of those who have heard but for any number of reason, have lost contact with Jesus and the subsequent demands of ongoing conversion and commitment. Thus this New Evangelization will not only ponder ways to proclaim effectively Jesus the Lord, but also the reasons why people have lost the fervor of their encounter with Him in the life of the Church. Initiated and guided by Grace, the New Evangelization is the human part of “putting people in communion with Jesus.”

On a note closely related to the New Evangelization, I offer links to four podcasts. Shortly after he was ordained a bishop and appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of Indianapolis, Bishop Christopher Coyne launched his foray into the blogging world as a bishop with a conversation he and I had on evangelization and the internet. Perhaps you may find these podcasts helpful in this discussion of the New Evangelization.

Evangelization and the Internet, Part 1
Evangelization and the Internet, Part 2
Evangelization and the Internet, Part 3
Evangelization and the Internet, Part 4

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