What is the New Evangelization? Given all the events, programs, and committees claiming the phrase “New Evangelization,” it’s actually kind of hard to tell sometimes. I’ve had honest and humble parish leaders frankly admit that to them, the “New Evangelization” just seems like a brand the diocese puts on events that they want to seem important. And so, by the time “New Evangelization” talk makes its way from diocesan conferences and ministerial discussions to the typical person in the pew, what has “New Evangelization” come to mean? In many cases, the heart of the New Evangelization gets confused along the way, like in a classic game of telephone.
Marcel LeJeune strikes down some of the top myths and misconceptions that permeate pew-talk and ministry branding, explaining that the New Evangelization is not centrally concerned with:
- better apologetics (defense of the faith)
- fixing religious education programs
- sharing a new message about Jesus
- teaching others about being Catholic or getting people to be “more Catholic”
Instead, it’s all about the message of salvation that brings people into an on-going and growing relationship with Jesus Christ that we call discipleship.
Yesterday’s first reading from the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Galatians offers a passionate warning about our human tendencies to wander away from focusing on the real message. Paul is shocked that Christian believers in Galatia are so quickly straying to “a different gospel.” How could they do this, when they’d experienced the grace of Jesus Christ?!? The answer probably has something to do with sin (doesn’t it always?) and our intrinsic human desire to gravitate towards our own “different Gospel”–what’s most important to us at any given time when it comes to the Catholic faith.
For example, if I’m all about improving faith formation for kids, well then that’s what the “New Evangelization” can tend to become in my own mind. If there’s some cultural issue that fires me up, then I’m prone to call defending that teaching the “New Evangelization” and get on with it. If I want to convince more people to be Catholic (or convince Catholics to be more Catholic), then that can be the “New Evangelization” too. If I want more people to come to my talk on a moral issue, well just call it “New Evangelization” and it gets attention.
While none of these things are bad, per se, they are not the Gospel. They’re a different message. They are related to, yes–but not identical to the initial proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as one who loves, forgives, and wants a relationship with every person. This is the heart of the New Evangelization. And, like Paul writes, the offer of relationship, communion, and salvation in Jesus Christ “is not of human origin”–it’s not just the latest Church jargon, a new brand of ministry, or a new way of “selling” Catholicism. It’s nothing less than the divine revelation of God made present in and through Jesus our Savior.
So let us be reminded by St. Paul’s letter to stay focused. The Church’s call to a New Evangelization isn’t about a new message or slapping new labels or catchphrases on our own, human priorities. It’s about the evangel, the Good News of Jesus Christ that we are to spread, one-by-one, to every person throughout the entire world.