Being in Rome these past few weeks with my brother bishops for the Synod on the New Evangelization has provided a fresh perspective on an effort that comes at a critical time in our history. As the relator general for the Synod, I have had the privilege of reviewing suggestions and recommendations from bishops’ conferences around the world and from Vatican officials, along with observations from individual bishops, women and men in consecrated life, and the laity, and from Church movements and organizations. The number and quality of the proposals offer great hope for the success of the New Evangelization in what is really its infancy.
That success, though, depends on all of the faithful, particularly lay women and men, taking seriously our baptismal call to share the Gospel with those whom we encounter in everyday life. As our hearts are transformed by the Good News of Jesus, we in turn are called to share that story in our homes, workplaces, community and in our world. We know that Jesus’ love can transform our hearts and change the world, so we must share the great gift of our faith.
You might wonder why the New Evangelization is such an urgent challenge for our Church. The call to re-propose the Catholic faith – to re-propose the teaching of Christ – is needed precisely because we encounter so many who initially heard this saving proclamation but for whom the message and its promises seem empty or unconnected to real life.
In recent generations, poor teaching of the faith has not only led to family members, friends and neighbors drifting away from the faith, but it has also even permeated some of our Catholic institutions of higher learning.
It is as if a tsunami of secular influence has swept across the cultural landscape, taking with it such societal markers as marriage, the family, the concept of the common good and objective right and wrong. Tragically, the sins of a few have encouraged a distrust in some of the very structures of the Church herself.
On a practical level, this tsunami has left in its wake many Catholics who no longer attend Mass or receive the sacrament of Penance, and who don’t even know our basic prayers.
As a result, a large segment of the faithful is ill-prepared to deal with a culture that, as our Holy Father has pointed out on his many visits around the world, is characterized by secularism, materialism and individualism.
The challenges of being human and of living in a world that does not always want to hear about faith do not lessen the obligation to proclaim the Gospel and to call our baptized brothers and sisters in Christ to live their faith more fully. We know our own difficulties, the tensions in our lives, our restlessness, our faults and our human weakness. Nevertheless, God calls the Church – its leadership, the clergy and religious, and the laity – to proclaim salvation in Christ to the ends of the earth and to re-propose the Gospel to those who are now distant from the Church.
We see signs of hope. Many people who have been alienated from the Church, especially the young, are finding that the secular world does not offer adequate responses to the questions of the human heart. Many pastors have noted that the New Evangelization is not only unfolding as we introduce the faith to the young, but also as their parents come to a greater understanding and love for their faith. Campus ministry programs serving students at colleges and parish or diocesan programs that focus on critical issues facing our communities and our world are also places where the work of the New Evangelization can unfold.
The two great pillars of evangelization are a commitment to know and proclaim the truth of Christ and to do so with love. Because laypeople share the obligation to proclaim the Gospel, the Church must prepare them to do so. It is the task of the individual Catholic to invite people back to the practice of the faith.
As has been mentioned in previous communications, here in the Archdiocese of Washington a new program is being made available to reinforce Catholics’ knowledge of the faith and inspire the confidence to share it with others. Living Catholic is offered through parishes and on an individual basis in conjunction with My Catholic Faith Delivered. This short course, which is based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and is a response to our Holy Father’s call for the Year of Faith, is part of an effort to foster spiritual renewal and faith formation among all the baptized.
We who walk with Jesus in today’s world are called to share his Good News. As members of the Church, we are summoned to transmit faithfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth – beginning with our own families, neighborhoods and workplaces. By doing so, we continue the work of Christ himself.