"If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire" (Pope St. John Paul II)
“The New Evangelization” continues to be a slogan for Catholics. I see it in books, on blogs, on parish event flyers and on the lips of faithful Catholics hoping to spread the faith. As with many ubiquitous words, however, it is sometimes hard to understand what people mean by the term. Does the New Evangelization mean getting more people in the pews? Is it a new way to propose the faith to people? Is it an attempt to convey the Gospel to baptized Catholics who have fallen away from practicing their faith?
There must be something distinct about the way Catholics are called to share the love of Christ with others, right? After all, most religions exercise some method of calling people to conversion. The other night I ran into an eager group of young Mormon missionaries at a soccer game. They were ready to explain the Book of Mormon to me. I know many Christians of other denominations who sincerely share their acceptance of Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. On the extreme end of the religious spectrum, fanatical groups like ISIS “evangelize” by telling Christians to “convert or die.”
So what about us? Pope St. John Paul II coined the term “New Evangelization” in the 1980s and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made it popular. Benedict reminded us that we must re-propose the Gospel "to those regions awaiting the first evangelization and to those regions where the roots of Christianity are deep but who have experienced a serious crisis of faith due to secularization" (Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, 2010). And, of course, Pope Francis continues to call us to evangelize, both through his encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel” and his constant exhortations to joyfully engage the world as witnesses of Christ’s love.
Catholics seem to agree that evangelization is not a numbers game. We are not simply trying to reach a quota of new or returned Catholics. Attorney Michael Sullivan, founder of The Miracle of Unity (helping Catholics learn about evangelization techniques from non-Catholic Christians), confirms this:
Sullivan refers to the root of the word “evangelize,” which is, of course, “Gospel.” Catholics are called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and that includes the Church He founded.
Emily Borman, who launched the site Conversation with Women, defines evangelization as “the sharing of Christ’s story and love and extending His story and love to all others.”
This sharing of the love of Christ and His Church is occurring in an encouraging number of ways. From Sherry Weddell’s transformative efforts to help parishes “form intentional disciples,” to the wave of new directors of evangelization in dioceses, to the growth of lay associations and movements, along with the efforts of a multitude of ministries and individuals, today’s Catholics are clearly responding to the call to evangelize.
These initiatives, and the sincere conversion of hearts they inspire, are encouraging in a society that seems to be embracing a “post-Christian” identity. And yet, if we believe the Gospel, we know that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church founded by Christ. He is “the way, the truth and the life.” Out of a global population of over 7 billion, there are 1.2 billion Catholics. Imagine how the world would look if we embraced our calling to evangelize.
I’ll be highlighting some evangelization efforts in the coming weeks. For now, though, I’ll leave you with the words of a CCD teacher named Rick Landry who explained that, for him, evangelization means “knowing Jesus as friend and making Him known to the world around me, by living the life of Grace He has given me and by surrendering my life to Him.” May we all strive to do the same.
Caitlin Bootsmais the editor of Human Life International’s Truth and Charity Forum as well as the Communications Director for Fuzati, Inc., a Catholic marketing company. Mrs. Bootsma received a Licentiate in Catholic Social Communications at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome as well as a Master’s of Systematic Theology from Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and two sons.