What Is The New Evangelization?
By Greg Willits
We were having dinner with several other Catholics last summer, when my wife Jennifer posed the question, “What’s the first thing you think when you hear the phrase new evangelization?”
Around the table, everyone nodded in agreement with the hypothesis that, even though the phrase is frequently used in the Catholic Church—and despite the fact that Pope Benedict XVI declared a Year of Faith with a focus on the New Evangelization between October 2012 and November 2013—many people don’t have a clue as to what “new evangelization” is, what their role in it is, or how to make it a part of their daily lives.
Sadly, this seems to be the case even after three decades of discussion on the topic.
During his historic 1979 visit to Poland, Bl. John Paul II first coined the phrase when he proclaimed, “A new evangelization has begun, as if it were a new proclamation, even if in reality it is the same as ever.”
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase “new evangelization”?
Defining new evangelization is like herding squirrels
There are many different ideas of what the new evangelization is and isn’t. You might think it has something to do with improving religious education, or perhaps it has to do with new media, podcasts, blogs, and social networks. Or maybe you simply think the new evangelization is about a whole new way of sharing the Faith.
The fact of the matter is that the new evangelization includes each of these approaches, and many more. With so many possibilities, coming up with a concise definition for such an important topic might cause additional trepidation for someone who is already apprehensive about any form of evangelization, new or old.
Simply put, the new evangelization is all about Jesus Christ and living out the faith that draws us closer to him. It’s about your relationship with Christ, as well as helping others to continually develop a relationship with him, too. But it’s also about the many approaches available to do so, and the fervor with which we embrace this challenge in today’s secular and relativistic culture.
That’s why I say that defining the new evangelization is like herding squirrels: It can take you in a multitude of different directions, sometimes all at once.
It’s difficult to find someone in today’s world who has not at least heard of Jesus Christ.
That’s because the initial, first, and primary evangelization that started with the apostles has accomplished what Jesus instructed them to do, which was to be witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
The new evangelization can be considered a secondary follow-up to the first evangelization that introduced the world to the salvific message of Jesus Christ. It is meant not only for those without any relationship with Christ, but also for those who have been introduced to Jesus, but who, for one reason or another, have not developed or maintained a relationship with him.
As Bl. John Paul II wrote in Redemptoris Missio, the new evangelization is, in part, for “Catholics [who have] lost a living sense of faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church.”
Likewise, the new evangelization is an ongoing effort that applies to you, me, your priest, the pope—everyone who currently doeshave a relationship with Christ.
An easy way to think about the new evangelization is to break it down into three parts: know the Faith, live the Faith, and share the Faith.
For the new evangelization to work, it is necessary for each of us as Catholics to engage in all three areas and do so on a constant, unending basis. The new evangelization is a challenge to continually grow in our relationship with Jesus and to help others do the same.
This starts with knowing our Faith.
When giving talks to groups, I regularly remind people that from the moment we are conceived, we are 2,000 years behind the curve when it comes to learning about the history, traditions, and sacramental life of the Catholic Church. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do!
We can (and should) spend our entire lives on an unending quest of knowing as much about our Faith as possible. Our hunger for the truth should drive us to question our misunderstandings and incomplete knowledge and seek out answers that the Church readily provides.
And if you’re like me, growing up in the 1970s and 80s, perhaps the catechesis you did receive did not provide a truly firm foundational understanding of the core tenets of Catholicism—such as the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, for example.
But if we stop at just knowing the Faith without living it out, then we’re just talking the talk and not walking the walk. I know many people who can quote the Bible, chapter and verse, but do a miserable job actually acting in the way that Christ commands. Therefore, the second aspect of the new evangelization is living the Faith through regular reception of the sacraments (especially the Eucharist and reconciliation), as well as striving to be Christ to others in this world. It is finding ways each day to actually implement the teachings of the Faith through our thoughts, words, and actions.
Lastly, if we just know and live out our faith without sharing it with others, we are not living out our faith with the zeal of the first apostles. To truly be new evangelizers, it is not enough to just focus on one of these areas. It is absolutely mandatory that we strive to grow in all three.
- Know the Faith.
- Live the Faith.
- Share the Faith.
Knowing that the new evangelization is something that applies to each and every Christian, how will you make it a part of your life?
I suggest taking small, incremental, ongoing steps combined with a concrete game plan.
A week from now, what realistic steps will you have taken to better know your Faith?
A month from now, what are some tangible ways will you be more fully living out your Faith?
A year from now, what would it look like for you to more successfully share your Faith with others?
Writing down realistic goals and action steps ultimately has a snowball effect on how we know, live, and share our Faith. Though it may seem we’re only making minor improvements each day, week, month, and year, over time our incremental efforts build upon each other, making our Faith more exciting, engaging, and life-altering.
What’s your game plan? Given how basic the new evangelization truly is, what steps will you take to become a new evangelizer?
10 Ways to Know the Faith
- Pick one short book from the Bible (like James or Mark) and read it all the way through.
- Learn more about the Eucharist by reading, studying, and praying over John 6 (especially the Bread of Life discourse).
- Learn to use the Index of Citations in the back of the Catechism to learn what the Catholic Church teaches about individual passages of Scripture.
- Read Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI.
- Watch episodes of That Catholic Show at NewEvangelizers.com.
- Visit USCCB.org and read the bishops’ document, Disciples Called to Witness.
- Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom.
- Read the Catechism’s explanation of the Nicene Creed to better understand the words we recite at Mass.
- Brush up on the Ten Commandments.
- Start bringing your Bible to Mass with you, and write notes in the margins during the homily.
10 Ways to Live the Faith
- Go to confession. Seriously.
- Clean out your closet and find at least five items to donate or give away.
- Go sit in front of the tabernacle and tell Jesus you love him.
- Increase your tithe at least 1 percent, if not more.
- When you drive by a Catholic Church, make the sign of the cross and say aloud, “I love you, Jesus!”
- Pray for others, especially people you don’t like.
- Rest on Sundays. Turn off electronics. Focus on God and family.
- Keep a crucifix next to your computer.
- Vote as a Catholic—not as a Republican, Democrat, Conservative, or Liberal.
- Anonymously give cash to someone in need.
10 ways to share the Faith
- Hang a holy card in your office at work or on your refrigerator.
- Start a blog and write about your faith journey.
- Invite someone to Adoration, especially your kids or spouse.
- Forgive someone who hurt you.
- Buy Catholic newspaper and magazine subscriptions (like Catholic Digest) for other people.
- Eat dinner as a family and always start with a prayer.
- Offer to teach a class or get involved in other ministries in your parish.
- Wear Catholic T-shirts in public.
- Use Twitter, Facebook, or other social media to share your favorite verse from Mass each week.
- Make sure every person in your family has a Bible and rosary and offer to help them learn how to use them.
*For an entire year of ideas for knowing, living, and sharing your Faith, pick up a copy of The New Evangelization and You: Be Not Afraid.
Greg Willits is the director of Faith Formation and Family Life Ministries for the Archdiocese of Denver. He is the co-founder of New Evangelizers, Rosary Army, That Catholic Show, and several other apostolates dedicated to helping people grow in their faith. He and his wife, Jennifer, are the co-authors of The Catholics Next Door: Adventures in Imperfect Living and together they are the parents of four sons and a daughter. You can visit him online at www.NewEvangelizers.com and www.GregWillits.com.