In the world of politics and public relations people craft messages to be delivered in the length of a 10-second or 30-second radio or TV commercial. These messages are sometimes called “the elevator speech” to highlight that one ought to be able to describe a product or share a core message in about the time an average elevator ride takes. This is quite a challenge, as elevator rides often take seconds and usually don’t last more than a minute or two.
As I travel the archdiocese and speak with priests and lay faithful alike, there seems to be a growing enthusiasm for the mission of the New Evangelization and the new initiatives (like 30-second TV commercials for “Find the Perfect Gift” and “The Light is On for You”) that we have begun in the archdiocese. However, I am still asked, “What is the New Evanglization?” I appreciate that people are looking for a good working definition of this mission that we are undertaking at this time in our Church’s history.
In finding a definition for the New Evangelization, I prefer to use the word that Pope Benedict XVI applied to the process. He says we are to “repropose” the Gospel to others. This whole process begins, however, with a deepening of our own faith so that we experience a renewed confidence in the truth of the faith and then, as a result of all of this, the desire to share the faith with others.
Sometimes, people’s first question is, “What’s new about evangelization?” It is a fair question because the Church exists and has always existed in order to evangelize. Everything the Church is, she has received from Christ. The first and most precious of his gifts is the grace bestowed through the Paschal Mystery: his passion, death and glorious Resurrection. Jesus has freed us from the power of sin and saved us from death. The Church receives from her Lord not only the tremendous grace he has won for us, but also the commission to share and to make known his victory. We are summoned to transmit faithfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.
In my pastoral letter, Disciples of the Lord: Sharing the Vision, I call this commission the first moment in evangelization. Blessed John Paul II coined the term “New Evanglization” to describe a second moment in the evangelizing mission of the Church and that is the need to repropose the Good News of Christ’s love to those who do not know their faith well, or whose lives have not been changed by knowing Jesus or, in some cases, who have even moved away from the Church. Many of us know and love someone who fits one of these descriptions. Using new methods and new expressions and with a new enthusiasm, we tell the story of who Jesus is, what he accomplished for us and how in his Church and sacraments, he is present to us today. We tell Jesus’ story and invite others to see how we live and celebrate our faith in our homes and at our parishes.
If I were riding an elevator and asked to say what the New Evangelization is, I would say that it is inviting people to encounter Jesus in a new way that will profoundly change their lives forever. How do you answer the question, “What is the New Evanglization?”