Some questions and truths at the heart of the”New”Evangelization

I am gathered with over 200 brother priests from the Archdiocese for a convocation on the New Evangelization. And we are blessed to have Dr. Ralph Martin as our Keynote speaker.

Of course some wonder at the title “new” in the New Evangelization. On the one hand it is new in the sense that we are having now to reach back to once Christian cultures and people and repropose the gospel. The is a “new” (and unfortunate) development that is in a way harder than opening new “virginal” territory for the Kingdom. The ancient Western world was as a virgin awaiting her husband. But the modern West is more an angry divorcee. And this requires new approaches rooted in healing past hurts and overcoming a kind of spiritual boredom and sloth that has overtaken the modern West.

There are also many new modes of communication that make evangelization new in the sense that we must retool, and enter whole new realms of instant and global settings. But one of the most central aspects of evangelization that must be newly emphasized (as it was in the early Church) is to become a personal and firsthand witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is to be able to say how I met him, and what he’s doing in my life.

Doctrine and Scripture are essential and help us to verify whether our experiences of God, are in conformity with the truth of who God is as he has revealed himself. But one of the dangers is that we become content to quote the doctrine, to quote Scripture, but not really come to know the One, who reveals them. We run the risk of becoming content to know about the Lord, rather than  to know the Lord, personally and intimately.

And thus, there comes a time, and the moment for us to ask the critical questions, Do I know the Lord? Or do I just know about him. Have I met him? How? When? And what is my relationship with him doing in my life?

Sadly, we Catholics are collectively terrible at reflecting on and learning to give witness to the Lord in our life. Frankly, many of us were never taught to give personal testimony, and even worse many have never been taught even to expect a personal encounter with the Lord.

This needs to change, especially in a culture such as ours, where the argument from authority no longer holds much sway. If it was ever true that we could hand on the faith without personal testimony, it certainly is not true today. People rightfully and reasonably expect an authenticity wherein our proclaimed faith, matches with our life, both as publicly lived an experienced.

We may get to a moment with someone where we are able to announce that Jesus Christ can save them from sin and set them free from all bondage. And then comes the question from them, “That sounds like good news, but how do I know it’s true?” And here is where you have to be able to say, “Look at me.” and begin to describe how it is in fact true in your life, that since meeting the Lord, you are seeing sins put to death, and many graces come alive.

Yes, we have to be able to tell our story, to say, briefly, how we met the Lord, and what our  relationship with him is doing to change our life.

Critical though it is, all the apologetics in the world, may founder if we cannot authentically and authoritatively answer the question “How do I know it’s true?” by saying, authentically,

“Look at me. ” In other words to be able to say, “This word, this teaching, is true, because in the laboratory of my own life, I have tested it, and found it to be true, and here’s how. And Jesus is real, because I have met him and here’s when, and here is how. And here is how I’m experiencing him today in my life. Yes, when I pray, I am heard. The Lord speaks in the depths of my heart, sometimes in wordless contemplation, at other times vividly through his proclaimed word, and in my mind, and in the experiences and interactions of my day. I see him, I know him, and I experience his presence, and this is changing my life.”

  • Can you authentically speak like this?
  • Have you met the Lord,?
  • How, when?
  • Do you know him?
  • And how is your relationship with him changing your life?
  • What has your walk with him done?
  • Have you encountered him in his word, and in the sacraments celebrated?
  • How, when, and what has this liturgical experience of the Lord done for you?
  • How is it changing you?

These are essential questions and truths to ponder to be able to answer briefly and articulately if we are going to personally evangelize others today.

Ask the Holy Spirit to anoint you to know the answers to these sorts of questions, and to be able to access the memories of how the Lord is living, working and relating with you in your life. Ask God the Holy Spirit to help you form a testimony, so as to become a first-hand witness to the power of the Lord in your life!

It is increasingly clear to me, that God’s people expect me as priest pastor, preacher, an evangelist not just to know the facts, but to know the Lord. Our  people, whether they know it or not, are desperate to hear from us that we who announce the truth, know in a very personal and deep way He who is the Truth. The people of God, need first-hand witnesses, witnesses who know the Lord, and know by experience the truth of his Word. Our preaching cannot simply be technical and a mechanistic it must be personal and proclaimed by someone who knows what and of Whom he speaks.

And if this is true of priest, it is also true parents who must become more comfortable with giving true witness to their children of the faith, of the personal relationship and walk with the Lord, and of the power of God’s Word and Sacraments to change their lives.

Both priests and parents need to learn what it means to preach and teach with authority. The Greek word for authority is “exousia” which means to literally to speak out of one’s own substance and experience.  This is is what made Jesus such an authoritative preacher: he Knew the Father and spoke out of his own substance and experience. And we too, empowered by him must experience   his power, love, life, joy and truth and speak  out that experience and relationship. Nothing less will be very effective today Dr. Ralph Martin, in his new book The Urgency of the New Evangelization, a book which I want to review more thoroughly next week, has the following insight

Now at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit at the beginning of every class I have one of the students give his testimony. …. I ask seminarians and priests not to tell how they discerning a calling to the priesthood, but how they came to discover the reality of God in their lives. This is a struggle for some, but eventually almost everyone reaches the point where they can briefly give an account of how God became real in their lives in such a way that unbelievers could relate to it.

Thus, what is new about the new Evangelization is essentially very old, very apostolic. It is to give personal witness and testimony to the revealed faith based on what we have seen, heard and are experiencing. St. Paul couldn’t look it up and quote it, he had to experience it and write it. And while we are not evangelists like the apostles, we  are called to speak to the truth of the faith they revealed out of our own substance, life and experience.

More on this tomorrow wherein I would like to share more directly how and when I met the Lord and what he is doing in my life.

20 Replies to “Some questions and truths at the heart of the”New”Evangelization”

  1. I look forward to reading your testimony, Monsignor!

    Now that I am a mother, I am especially conscious of how I am living my faith. I’ve cancelled our cable, ruthlessly edited my bookshelves and closet…My divorce has been a spiritual purgation, which inspired me to turn towards Christ in desperation. I’m lucky it happened or I don’t think I ever would have realized that my main responsibility to my children is to bring them to Christ.

    Thank you for offering your support in the form of this blog!

  2. The LORD found me in the midst of my most miserable times of my life and I encountered HIM when my wife forgave me of my infidelity. I encountered HIM during a marriage encounter weekend and during a life in the SPIRIT seminar weekend. HE spoke to me in the most gentlest words of witnesses who declared how they were changed by The WORD of GOD, by our Church and the HOLY EUCHARIST. Just like St. Paul, scales came out of my eyes, pebbles came out of my ears and my stuttering tongue straighten out and my soul soar like an eagle and declared the beauty of GOD’s Providence and Love in my life and in my family. My wife and I became sharers of how GOD touched our marriage and family. Later on, my whole family attended a family encounter weekend and each attended their own life in the SPIRIT seminars. Now, I serve in my parish as a special minister of the HOLY EUCHARIST for the sick and the dying. I was the given grace by GOD to reconcile families before their dying member. I am still a work in process but I know GOD has given me chances and now I am trying hard to recover, not on my own, but by the help of the Church. Praise the LORD for HIS Mercy endures forever. YHWH ROPHEH.

  3. Some aspects of personal witness, perhaps the most compelling examples, on a transformation in Christ, will be a tough call for many Christian parents, who, in giving witness to the saving action of God in their own life, fear scandalizing their own children. Nevertheless, perhaps the NE has been underway for some time–as Msgr suggests, it began with the Apostles, and their living the Beatitudes. In our day, for example, the more open testimony of Christian living may be the number of children a family has, since contemporary society views large families as an evil, the attack that society makes upon the Christian family is itself testimony of the Christian witness, so long as we endure the petite persecution with generosity. Or the attack on priests as closet pedophiles, is also an aspect of Christian witness, if the priest endures the insult well, and responds with charity. Indeed, hasn’t true voluntary poverty, chastity, and obedience lived joyfully for Christ always been at the core of the “evangelical counsels”? These counsels are ever new. Pope Francis has repeated the call for a return to poverty. Poverty in the clergy may mean simpler rectories, cheaper cars, smaller meals, no booze, fewer trips, etc. Poverty for the family will mean openness to life, turning down promotions so that the family can live near a school that educates in the Faith, supporting family members rather than relying upon government assistance.

    1. I agree with everything you have written: our words fall flat on our listeners if we Christians are not living the Gospel message, especially in regards to material wealth. We drive around in cars with enormous price tags while so many people do without basic needs. How can we say we love our neighbor?

      Today, especially in America, Christians appear as hypocrites – who say one thing but do another… talk about Jesus, but have little resemblance to Him. Most of us are barely distinguishable from the world. I hate to say this ( and appear judgmental!) but it’s true – just ask most nonbelievers.

  4. Great stuff. Baptists are very good at this as anyone in the south can attest. One of the things I like to point at in my testimony is how when I feel restless it is usually a sign that I am neglecting my prayer life. I also point out to lukewarm or fallen away Catholics a moment in my life when despite having confessed my sins In prayer to God only in the Sacrament of Confession did I feel the weight of the world fall off my shoulders. Finally, I like to mention the great peace that Christ gives me.

  5. Dear Monsignor Pope,

    I read your posts every morning at 7 am with my coffee. I often take notes so that I can reread your insights and share them with my adult daughters in letters that I write to them. You are a great blessing in my life!

    My personal relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit got serious when I began Buddhist meditation 13 years ago. Eventually I found it to be meaningless to me and I re-evaluated the Christian faith in which I was raised. I then converted my sitting meditation into Christian contemplative prayer through reading and studying the mystic traditions. Jesus said, ” When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Mt. 6:6) This time I spend with the Lord in silence and solitude has much meaning for me and has deepened my relationship with Him. I feel a bond with Him that cannot now be broken because I have spent so much time with Him just being with Him often without words, thoughts or feelings. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10) I extend this to: Be still and know that I am. Be still and know. Be still. Be.

    I’m not quite sure how to tell my story to people. It’s taken me many years and much time and persistence. Our instant gratification culture is not too conducive to this long, slow process. Hopefully my life will also be a witness to others. Everyone’s journey is so unique it’s hard to explain.

    Your writing gives me much hope. Thank you for inspiring me and motivating me.

  6. I received my first, true experience as a Christian in the charismatic church. There, testimony was the gathering point, the communion, of the congregation. It’s tough to speak of one’s personal experiences, especially when they are failures of one sort or another, but they are all crucial to communion and faith, for they reveal the humanity within us, as God created, and offer the potential of redemption and perseverance to the Word.

    I am now Catholic because there can be only one Church.

  7. This is excellent. Your point about making it personal is right on. Even more it needs to be intentional. We need to be daily (ideal) or at least regularly intentionally drawing upon the graces of our baptism and confirmation. We are called to holiness (proximity to Christ) and gifted for service (working for the Kingdom, ie. evangelism). The Sacraments of Initiation make real the graces we have in Jesus Christ, but they also initiate the process. We are to grow in our ‘new life’ in Christ and mature beyond spiritual puberty, not only being capable of bearing fruit but becoming reproductive in that fruit bearing. We need to renew what Christ set in motion in calling us to discipleship and sending us out to make disciples. One very practical way to implement the “new evangelization” is to restore the order of initiation. Archbishop Aquila and others are doing this. Then, we can spend our time training or mentoring the young to live out their baptism and confirmation, their calling and gifts, for the Kingdom. At the same time we need to re-catechize the adults on who they are in Christ. This sounds like what you are saying needs to be done in helping people have a more personal relationship with Christ, but we need to teach clearly what it means to be in Christ. This cannot be done without teaching how to put off the old nature and dealing with sin. In sin we intentionally separate ourselves from Christ, that is why we must both put on Christ and put off the ‘old nature’ of sin. Rom.6, Col. 3, Eph. 4, etc. He must increase, I must decrease.

  8. Another great piece, Monsignor. Can’t wait to read tomorrow’s!

    One major problem among Christians is that we are lukewarm. Our hearts are not burning with love for our Savior, and our minds are consumed with worldly matters. Just as a person in love brings up in conversation his loved one every chance he gets, a Christian in love with Christ talks about Him whenever he can! A Christian in love with Christ thinks about Him, His Words, and His Goodness throughout the day and night, and spends time in prayer. He is therefore, prepared to share the gospel.

  9. Mgr.Pope, Greetings!

    I have some comments to offer on the article:
    (1) You say..” Of course some wonder at the title “new” in the New Evangelization.” and you suggest that it is new in the sense that it is a reaching back to once Christian cultures and people” to re-propose the gospel, which is harder in the modern world than it was when the approach was for the first time and the evangelization was welcomed. True enough. However, I suggest that we Catholics are ourselves also required to be re-evangelized in the New Evangelization. I humbly suggest that most of us Catholics, including the Church hierarchy practice a faith shaped by our own reasoning and not by God’s reasoning. The differing stances taken by different clergy and different laity even to the extent of contradicting Catechism teaching on prime aspects of the Faith, is proof enough. And the “West” can no longer be a convenient target. The West is us, all of us, and the East and North as well, if we truly believe that we are fathered by the one true Father.

    (2) You say “.. this (the New Evangelization) requires new approaches rooted in healing past hurts and overcoming a kind of spiritual boredom and sloth….”. I suggest that God’s message contains “healing” in and of itself. When evangelizers approach people with a focus other than on pointing out to them that all (and I mean all) problems arise because as God is the Solution because He is the Source of everything, including life, mercy (and therefore also healing) and that it is the non-following of His Way that is the cause of the problem, perhaps the message is being undercut to an extent. Perhaps it is radical to suggest that a focus on healing, independent of that achieved by an authentic turning to God could reflect an inability to believe that where there is God there is true healing as well.

    (3) In the Old Testament days, people always expected a sign that the message was from God. In Jesus’ time, He told the people (Mathew 16:1-4) that the only sign they would receive would be the sign of Jonah. But He did point out the sign. What is the “sign from God” today to indicate that the Catholic Faith is the one true Faith? I suggest it is in the miracles that have been experienced throughout history, by the Catholic Church….The miracles of healing at Lourdes, the incorruptible bodies of Saints, the Eucharistic Miracles including the Lanciano Miracle, etc…all these are the signs that have been there for us, if we want to believe them. These confirm the supernatural and heavenly nature of our Faith. I have not come across any such verifiable miracles claimed by any other Faith. Do we, as Catholics, ever suggest to others that such are indeed proofs of our Faith? Personally, apart from these, I always am uplifted by the miracle of Creation and how God has so perfectly created each and every component of our universe. I suggest that creation is another and constantly active sign of God’s presence among us. Do we take it for granted? Do we bypass it because of public opinion? As an engineer, I am overwhelmed even if I consider only the miracle of the human being..such perfection in the body systems, the internal healing mechanisms, the defence mechanisms, the growth mechanisms, etc at the microscopic and macroscopic scales, the DNA blueprint in every cell!!…certainly impossible to have happened “by chance”!!! And then there is the rest of creation…. How great thou art, oh God!

    (4) For me, that which connects me to God, is God fathering me (and all humans). I (and all humans) would have been condemned to death long ago (the wages of sin is death) if it was not for the love of the Heavenly Father who knew that there was no way humans could keep on paying atonement for their sins by making a sin-offering as in the days of the Old Testament, given their propensity to commit sin. And so He had His Son sacrifice His life, so that His Son’s life which is of infinite value, be available to us as a sin-offering to atone for our sins, each and every time we sin. And here is the thing… each time I go to confession, I receive freely, and with no hesitation whatsoever, the gift of that sin-atoning Life to adjust against my sin-offering (in the form of the absolution whereby the atonement by Jesus is used to wipe my slate clean)!! Now, who would do that? Who would forgive you that which should ordinarily cost you your life, not once but a million times if necessary? Who would provide you with the payment and say, “only live your life as you were meant to live it, the rest I will take care of”? Only One who loved you with an unshakeable love.. Your true Father. And if He has so much love for me as His child, can I hurt Him by hurting His other children (other humans) who He dearly loves as His own children as well? No. This is my reason for wanting to do whatever He says should be done.

    Thanks Monsignor, for opening up your thoughts to us.

  10. How, how, how do you do it, Msgr. Pope? Every day you come up with something to say and it is never just surface-level fluff. It is deep, rich and wonderful every time! Thank you!

  11. 1373 “Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us,” is present in many ways to his Church:197 in his word, in his Church’s prayer, “where two or three are gathered in my name,”199 in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned,199 in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But “he is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species.”200–Catechism of the Catholic Church

  12. “He said to him, You shall LOVE the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.This is the greatest and the first commandment.” Matthew 22:37,38

    So, how can we “love” someone we’ve never “met” and do not “know”?

    “— He breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit–.” John 20:22

    As a Christian we have received the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit certainly “knows/loves” God and Jesus.
    “Do you not understand that you are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit has his dwelling in you?” 1 Cor. 3:16

    We are blessed by the Holy Spirit who “dwells” within us and this is the answer to how (from a human perspective) we can “love” someone we’ve never met and do not “know”.

    The effectiveness of words/theology regarding evangelization are likely just “jibber/jabber” without the influence of the Holy Spirit from within us.

  13. Christ is alive and present in the world today. My most vivid reminder is the woman who married me. Jennifer is a daily source of unconditional love for me, keeping me constantly in the real presence of Christ. Jennifer is that Ephesians 5:22 woman who submits to her husband. My daily question – how do I respond to one who loves me as Christ loves to show that I am fully aware and appreciate the gift of God’s love thru her? Think about the person who loves you unconditionally and tell someone about how that person influences your life.

    I was thinking about the witnessing in my own life – as I am about to have a grandson baptized into another faith tradition. My thought – I have not witnessed as strongly as I could to the faith that sustains me and thus my family that was marked with the sign of my Catholic faith. I have come to realize that when men witness to the faith more women and children come.

  14. I went to a session through the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis that taught us how to give our testimony in three minutes or less. It was wonderful. We are involved in the Rediscover initiative here and it is truly transforming people and bringing about a new evangelization in our parishes. I recommend it to everyone!
    We must know Jesus in order to introduce Him to others. Sharing how God has transformed us is a must.

  15. This is only a tiny fragment of the thoughts one has, reading this post. But I just wanted to quickly say, the rosary is an awfully good witness when prayed in public places. Once on a CTA train in Chicago I had mine out and was sitting directly across from a couple of hooded and tough young men who glared at me (and at everyone else). Then a strange person got on, about seven feet tall and nothing but muscle, his eyes rolling, and so stoned he was slobbering. He began with scary aggression to solicit passengers for money. The two young men caught my eye and with a look of desperation signalled with theirs, ‘Keep going, go ‘head, pray!’

    I wonder if there is a hunger to pray in people. During the time when I left the Church in my secular marriage, prayer was what I missed the most. I substituted all kinds of things for it. And as soon as my husband proved why one shouldn’t marry outside the Faith and broke my heart, the first place I went–immediately–was a church to find the Eucharist to cry to. To have Christ there for us is the most thoughtful gift He could ever have given. I have said this to people–to women in those same said circumstances. But I have never found out if they too hungered for just such a friend, if they were not raised in the Faith as I had the good fortune to be.

  16. I was thinking about this very subject while praying last evening. I don’t know how it could work, but perhaps at the end of every Mass during the announcements, a person from the parish could share their brief witness of how the Lord has brought them to life in Him. It would give impetus to all present to bring the good news to others as we are dismissed.

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