Sunday, July 7, 2013

The New Evangelization: The Genius of the Popes

There are certain movies that, when flipping through the channels, I cannot help but stop and watch.  Among those movies is Field of Dreams.  I will presume that anyone who is reading this has seen the movie, so I will not describe the film at any length.  All I will say is that the recurring theme is, "If you build it, they will come."  If you follow through on this dream, then the people will come.  The movie ends with hundreds of cars driving to a baseball field built in the middle of nowhere in Iowa.  He built it and they came.

While I love the movie, this is not the model that the New Evangelization ought to take.  Today, Pope Francis told seminarians and novices that "Evengelization is done on one's knees."  It is a perpetual temptation to think that "If we build it, they will come."  If we only had more parking, a parish hall, a swimming pool, a babysitting service, more money, cutting edge technology etc. then our pews would be filled.  If only we built something better, then all of our evangelization issues would be solved.  If we build it, maybe they will come.  But, they'll be coming for nothing.

The Holy Father's reminder today continues a theme begun by Pope Benedict XVI.  We would be foolish to believe that the structures and programs that we create are the way of the New Evangelization.  The New Evangelization is about an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.  While programs, structures, parking lots, and church cafe's can all be used as tools in making that encounter happen, we humans can easily be duped into thinking that those things ARE the encounter.  We can dupe ourselves into believing that "if we build it, they will come."  Instead, Pope Francis and his predecessor remind us that it is only if we allow Christ to build it will they come and find something of true and lasting value.  Evangelization is not firstly about the tools we use.  It is firstly about living out of the encounter that we ourselves have had with Christ.

In today's Gospel, Jesus sent out the 72 disciples and he gave them a list of things not to bring.  In doing so, the Lord inserts into the work of evangelization something that frustrates our inclination to rely upon our human ingenuity rather than his Divine Power.  Throughout the Scriptures, God always seems to frustrate our desire to accomplish his mission without his assistance.  As Israel prepares for battle, he reduces the number of troops so that they will see that the battle was won by the strength of his arm and not by their numbers.  The multitudes were not fed by their own food, but by his Divine Power.  God did not choose powerful and influential men as his first apostles.  Instead, he chose those who were accounted to be nothing.

Pope Francis reminded the seminarians and novices (and by extension, all of us):

"Without a constant relationship with God, the mission becomes a job. The risk of activism, of relying too much on structures, is an ever-present danger. If we look towards Jesus, we see that prior to any important decision or event he recollected himself in intense and prolonged prayer. Let us cultivate the contemplative dimension, even amid the whirlwind of more urgent and pressing duties. And the more the mission calls you to go out to the margins of existence, let your heart be the more closely united to Christ’s heart, full of mercy and love. Herein lies the secret of the fruitfulness of a disciple of the Lord!
Jesus sends his followers out with no “purse, no bag, no sandals” (Lk 10:4). The spread of the Gospel is not guaranteed either by the number of persons, or by the prestige of the institution, or by the quantity of available resources. What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ, to let oneself be led by the Holy Spirit and to graft one’s own life onto the tree of life, which is the Lord’s Cross."

Even though the call for the "New Evangelization" has been around for decades, it has only recently gained the attention of many in the Church. There are certain dangers at this particular moment that the "New Evangelization" can be reduced simply to a catch phrase or that it can be co-opted by the failed methods of the past.  In other words, there will be a temptation simply to re-brand what didn't work as "the New Evangelization" and leave it at that. 

Pope Francis seems keenly aware of this danger.  Instead of allowing us to jump on the "If you build it, they will come" bandwagon, he is reminding all of us that what is necessary above all is for "Christ to build us."  If we are totally dependent upon and united to Christ, then the New Evanangelization will bear fruit.  If we put all of our hopes in the structures, programs, and bureaucracies that are already in place or in the ones that we create, then the New Evangelization will grind to a complete stop. 

One of the things that I like about Pope Francis is that he always is trying--through his preaching and example--to move me to do something.  The New Evangelization is about moving; moving towards Christ and being moved by Christ.  Admittedly, some of what Pope Francis has said along the way really challenges me.  I have my own structures, way of doing things, and purse, bag, and sandals that I'd like to put my trust in.  Pope Francis keeps saying, "Forget that stuff and depend upon Christ."

The genius of the New Evangelization is that, in so many ways, it has circumvented the established structures that are so entrenched in their ways. Instead of trying to get bishops, priests, and religious to become agents of the New Evangelization, Blessed John Paul II appealed directly to young people.  He preached Christ to them and their hearts were moved.  In parishes, dioceses, and institutions where the New Evangelization has taken root, the Church is experiencing new life.  The young people that were moved and influenced by the New Evangelization are the young priests and religious of today.  They are the people who are active parishioners and who welcome children into their families.  The genius of the New Evangelization is that it is not dependent upon my purse, bag, and sandals, but rather upon Christ. While it would be awesome if all of our structures, institutions, and leadership were truly engaged in the work of the New Evangelization, we don't have to bemoan that they aren't or wait for them to catch up.  Instead, we have to be on our knees, being moved by Christ.  If I am moved by Christ, then I am part of the New Evangelization.  Being moved by Christ is far more powerful than anything else I can offer to the New Evangelization.  If I am moved by Christ, then I can have certitude that I am doing his work.  If I am working but am not moved, then I can have certitude that I am hindering the New Evangelization.

Blessed John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and now Pope Francis changed the structures by moving the hearts of the faithful.  The New Evangelization is always about being moved by Christ.  It is a movement that happens one heart at a time.  For those of us who hope to be agents of the New Evangelization, we have to trust the way of the three popes.  It is perpetually dependent upon our being moved by Christ and in our sharing the joy of Christ with others. 

1 comment:

  1. "there will be a temptation simply to re-brand what didn't work as "the New Evangelization" and leave it at that."

    Exactly so. I quote myself: "I’ve read and heard hundreds of thousands of words about the New Evangelization on video, in print, and in person. And it all strikes me as 95% recycled generic Catholic information with a new name slapped on it...'

    But you're also right that "the New Evangelization...has circumvented the established structures that are so entrenched in their ways."

    At least in Upstate South Carolina, the New E happens not because of any formal structures or workshops, etc., but from motivated Catholics and pastors developing an evangelical posture toward the wider world.