I recently had the opportunity to attend the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) Student Leadership National Conference at the invitation of one of our campus FOCUS missionaries. The distinguishing feature of this conference was that it was geared toward student leaders with a special emphasis on equipping those present for engaging in the New Evangelization.
Curtis Martin, the founder of FOCUS kicked off the weekend with a roll-up-our-sleeves and get to work talk that laid out the mission before us. He painted the bleak reality, presenting the Catholic population of the United States. Although 77 million strong, research has found that only about 22% attend mass on a weekly basis and even fewer support the Church’s teaching on procreation and life as found in Humane Vitae. However, Curtis’s call to action urged us as active members of the Church’s young adult laity to help increase this small but powerful number of Catholics. It’s not enough to simply increase the existing 77 million, rather we need to take the 77 million and, through evangelization, help to form new apostles who are more learned in – and ready to spread – their faith.
This is all well and good, we may say, but that’s a lofty goal even for the average engaged Catholic layperson. Therefore, it’s good to understand this entire New Evangelization movement. Many of us are familiar with the term evangelization but not exactly sure what makes it “New.” Fr. Michael Keating shared three thoughts explaining precisely why this New Evangelization is just that… “New.”
First, we must understand this as a re-evangelization that is rather new in the light of the entirety of Church history. The Church has been evangelizing since Christ himself walked the earth, but this concept of revisiting those who have heard the Gospel message and in return have either grown indifferent toward it or outright rejected it, can prove much more difficult. As C.S. Lewis once said, “It’s the difference between a man attempting to woo a young maiden and a man attempting to reanimate a relationship with a cynical divorcee,” which, unfortunately, aptly describes the challenge before many of us.
Secondly, Fr. Keating noted that this evangelization has to happen in a different context than it has throughout history because the Church is no longer mainstream. Throughout the centuries, evangelization was made easier because the teachings of Christ permeated the culture and the very way that people lived their lives. In the span of Church history, this is considered a very “new” problem.
Lastly, the moral and human truths the Church teaches have never before been under attack as they are now. Some of these are direct attacks and others are more subtle, as they have existed in our culture for many decades and have now became mainstream.
The only way to help turn this around and face these new challenges head on is through building and promoting a culture in which the moral truths and teachings of the Church are promoted. Fr. Keating emphasized this change, saying that the deciding factor of the success of the New Evangelization through this change of culture lies within the very source and summit of everything we are as Catholics – the Mass. Our ability to be engaged in the Mass and submit ourselves to the liturgy so that it may form us needs to be our primary concern in building ourselves as apostles.
It is in the Mass that we are united with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, including all the saints who have gone before us. We should use the saints as examples of how to be evangelizers, and they should serve as our inspiration in our task ahead. Jesus didn’t choose the most talented or skilled rhetorical speakers to be his apostles – take Peter and Andrew who we recently heard about in the Gospel reading. They weren’t scholars of the ancient Jewish law or customs – just fishermen. Yet it all started with them and ten other humble apostles as they evangelized throughout the lands and, as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of spirit” (1 Cor 2:4).
This is certainly reassuring to someone like myself, who is no theologian and writing a blog post on the Church. But, perhaps, that’s just how God intended to use me. And perhaps He is just waiting to use you, too.
David Burkey is Communications Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center.