By Rev Fr Anthony Mario Ozele
INTRODUCTION: Generally, under the pressure of many forces (secularism, relativism, atheism, indifference, attacks on human dignity etc.); our present culture continues towards disintegration in many sectors and is crying out for help. Blessed John Paul 11 challenged us, echoing the Scriptures, to “be not afraid” to proceed with a New Evangelization and to promote and develop a culture of life and hope. If we are to fulfil Christ’s command to preach the gospel message to the people of our own time, we must first attain a comprehensive and authentic knowledge of the Catholic Faith. For this reason, the Second Vatican Council encouraged lay people to “devotedly strive to acquire a more profound grasp of revealed truth” (Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution, Luman Gentium, no. 35) Furthermore, this striving for deeper knowledge benefits our own salvation as well as that of others. Jesus tells us, “Eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3).
To attain deeper knowledge, however, requires good teaching. Such teaching needs to communicate authentic Catholic truth in effective and inspiring ways. Yet the provision of such resources is a challenge. Pope Benedict XVI, “Address to Rome’s Diocesan Convention,” at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, 11 June 2007,argued that our society is suffering from an ‘educational emergency’ and what Archbishop Raymond L. Burke in, “Be not afraid! Teaching the faith and the Lay Faithful,” St. Louis Review, 5 October 2007, refers to as, “the failure of catechesis, over the past three decades, to provide a sufficiently solid and integral presentation of the doctrine and practice of the Catholic faith.” Yet there are also many opportunities today. New technologies for example, have greatly facilitated communications, especially of beautiful images that illuminate the eternal truths of the Gospel.
Today, it is urgent for Christians to believe and proclaim-to “re-propose”-to live and serve and to celebrate the Gospel of Jesus Christ with “new ardor, new methods and new expression”.Therefore, believers are required to commit themselves and one another, and our whole life, to Christ our God, and to bringing the gift of His saving love and power through the Holy Spirit to everyone. No doubt, our catholic faith is truly a gift from God that is to be passed on to others.
What is the New Evangelization?
According to Pope John Paul 11, the expression New Evangelization was popularized in the Encyclical of Pope Paul VI Evangelization in the Modern World, as a response to the new challenges-which the contemporary world creates for the Mission of the Church. The Pope called for an intense re-launching of Evangelization in the life of the Church in a variety of ways. Hence, in Mission of The Redeemer (Redemptoris Missio), John Paul 11 presents a new synthesis of the Church’s teaching about Evangelization in modern times.
The Pope’s call to a New Evangelization is a prophetic and revolutionary calling to the Roman Catholic Church, which Pope Benedict XVI has continued to emphasize. Pope John Paul 11 writes that, “The moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.” (Redemptoris Missio, no. 3). The Catholic Church committing all of its energies to a New Evangelization and mission to the nations is a radical change in emphasis. The reality is that the vast majority of Catholics (clergy and laity) are not inclined to Evangelization. The term, Evangelization, itself for most Catholics sounds Protestant. Additionally, the Catholic Church is understood by many of her own members, as well as by those outside her life, to be primarily liturgical, pastoral and hierarchical. One might argue: “Isn’t Evangelization and missionary activities something Protestants do?” Yet the Church teaches that she is missionary by her very nature. Evangelization is a duty of every Christian. (Lumen Gentium nos. 16-17; Ad gentes, 2, 23 & 35).
Pope Paul VI in his apostolic exhortation Evangeli Nuntiandi states, “We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church. It is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize . . .” (Evangelii Nuntiandi no. 14) While the notion of Evangelization may seem foreign to Catholics, in light of the times we are living in, the changing world scene, the deterioration of western civilization and the weak condition of the Church in many parts of the world, the urgent call of the Popes to a New Evangelization is imperative. The entire Church must come to embrace this calling and make it a normal part of Catholic life.
The New Evangelization calls each of us to deepen our faith, believe in the Gospel message and go forth to proclaim the Gospel. The focus of the New Evangelization calls all Catholics to be evangelized and then go forth to evangelize. In a special way, the New Evangelization is focused on ‘re-proposing’ the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith. Pope Benedict XVI called for the re-proposing of 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”. The New Evangelization invites each Catholic to renew their relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church.
Why do we need the New Evangelization?
The New Evangelization offers hope. Jesus grants all people rest and comfort from the world’s burdens (Matthew 11:28) by offering us the hope of salvation and eternal life. Through the “re-proposing” of the Gospel, the Church seeks to comfort all those who are burdened. The New Evangelization offers the gift of faith, hope, love and new life in Christ. Evangelization of course, is a continuing concern of the Church. It’s her mission inherent in her very nature, since the Church is a pilgrim Church. The Church is in a kind of travel, dynamic process that involves forming people in all their variety of conditions to be the people of God, the family of God, in perfect communion of life and love with God and amongst ourselves. That is the goal. It involves the living transmission of the entire faith, not just part of it and everything else that goes into the making of a breathing and working Christian life.
Yes, it entails inculcating the doctrine and truths of faith in an organic way. But to be sure, Evangelization is not just an intellectual affair carried out simply by giving classes, receiving talks, listening to sermons etc. still the intellectual aspect of evangelization is, of course, very significant. Those involved in it-first the clergy and then the consecrated, religious as well as other committed lay people in reality have to master the doctrine of the faith in such a way that they have it at their fingertips and able to explain it well anytime to anyone.
This is always a big challenge. There are many who teach and catechize, who are not yet well-formed in terms of doctrinal grounding. Not only are there many still in their amateur stage and very sophomoric in their preaching. There are quite a number who are confused if not mistaken in some areas. This is not to mention the many inconsistence in the lived out Christian life and ministry, which often give rise to scandals that turn off people. The usual problem here is that our faith formation is in many instances shallow, irregular, and incomplete. It is not integral. If it is fiery in one part, it is cold as dead in the others. This is a serious challenge to the Church in the task of Evangelization.