Intimations of the New Evangelization
I believe in the mission of the new evangelization. This website represents my work and desire to see the Gospel of Jesus Christ rekindle the flame of faith in the "frozen chosen" scattered about in pews all across America. I have often reflected on what the new evangelization looks like. In this post I am not going for exhaustive analysis. What I want to do is toss out a brief sketch of what I think are 4 elements of the spirit of the new evangelization.
First, the new evangelization is about the "art of living" and of finding the path to happiness, which is Jesus. Cardinal Ratzinger in an address to catechists that he gave in the year 2000, taught that the new evangelization was necessary today because, in our joyless world, there is little room for God in the secularized and de-Christianized nations. In such a world that still yearns for happiness, the new way to preach the gospel must be provided that communicates this art of living. Teaching the art of living means, among other things, communicating Christian morality in a way that involves grace, a relationship with the Holy Spirit, of the Beatitudes and of the virtues of Jesus.
A second intimation that I am discovering over and over again is "Smallness". Faith needs to be the size of a mustard seed for it to be genuine. God was not born in Rome, or even in the palace of Jerusalem, but in a rock-hewn stable. Just as all life begins invisibly small, so too should the life of our sacred work. "God does not count in large numbers;" explains Card. Ratzinger, "exterior power is not the sign of his presence." In this I believe the "little way of spiritual childhood" of St. Therese of Lisieux is the main spiritual theology behind the new evangelization. She has been acclaimed as "the greatest saint in our times" for this is the saint for our times.
A third characteristic is personal holiness, or ongoing conversion. You cannot give what you do not have, and if your desire is to impart the gospel, you ought not just know it, but breathe it. "For to me, life is Christ and death is gain" says St. Paul, and so should I. Vatican II made it clear, there is one universal call to holiness for all God's People (LG:5), and not just the clergy. This is why I chose to frame my ministry around being a lay evangelist; for though I am always in cooperation with the clergy and in submission to the Magisterium, I know that a lay witness is needed to revitalize the practice of the faith. This characteristic is rooted in the previous, because only a humble witness knows his own limitations and is never satisfied with his own righteousness. If holiness means intimacy with God, then the new evangelization starts from an individual's own commitment to being holy before all else. "Unconverted life is self-justification (I am not worse than the others);" declares Cardinal Ratzinger, while "conversion is humility in entrusting oneself to the love of the Other, a love that becomes the measure and the criteria of my own life."
And thus the fourth characteristic is contemplation. We are too busy with the doings of ministry that we forget it was Mary, not Martha, that "chose the better part." Contemplation lets us hold in the forefront of our memories the Face of Jesus, who alone is the Savior. Our work is nothing if it is not his work first. This fourth characteristic is difficult. It involves "wasting time" for the glory of God. It is about resting in the only Source of comfort and peace. Thus, the sacred work of the new evangelization must be contemplative action. I see this growing in three ways: the resurrection of the ancient practice of Lectio Divina (cf. CCC #2708), the worshipful practice of the sacred liturgy, and the holy boldness of intercessory prayer. Contemplation puts people in connection to the Presence of God all the time. That's what it means to "pray without ceasing". Pope Benedict said in an address on the practice of lectio divina, “The recovery of the practice of the prayerful meditation of the scriptures is what will bring a new spiritual springtime for the church.”
In sum, the new evangelization is a movement. It has essential elements that help us identify its basic contours, but it is not itself able to be institutionalized. And thank God for that! The Church has enough institutions. What She needs more of is the Spirit. "Teaching the art of life", smallness, personal holiness, and contemplation are just some intimations of what God is doing for His People today.