Help us expand our reach! Please share this article
Like everyone else, we have heard a great deal lately about the New Evangelization. It started with Pope John Paul II's request, echoing Christ's call to the Apostles to "Cast out further into the deep and lower your nets." Then, Pope Benedict following up on this message with the statement that "personal holiness" is the key to the New Evangelization. Our new Pope Francis has fully embraced the New Evangelization. Some say he chose his name for the Jesuit saint, Francis Xavier, who was the great missionary and patron saint of missionaries.
Fine, but what does it mean for those of us in the pews?
The cause is clear. Ten million Americans who were raised in the Church no longer consider themselves Catholics. In a few short decades, a third of the Church's members have quietly slipped away. Catholics elementary and secondary schools are closing. Catholic colleges and universities are struggling with or have abandoned their Catholic identity. Catholics, once a hearty, easily identified group have blended into the secular American landscape. Who among us is not made uneasy by the question, "If you were arrested for being a practicing Catholic, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"
On the other hand, it is crystal clear that the world needs the message of Christ which we are charged with spreading. Our rich nation is being polluted by a superficial and sexualized culture. Our children are being sucked into a giant commercially driven pleasure-machine. More and more of us are either succumbing to that pleasure machine, or we have walled ourselves off from our neighbors. The new evangelization, then, seems like the right idea at exactly the right time.
Again, fine, but what do we do? What does it mean for us to be part of the new evangelization? Few of us can drop everything, like the Apostles or Francis Xavier and head to the mall to announce the Good News. How should living our daily lives be different? How should we change our behavior to be part of this New Evangelization?
After rather fruitlessly trying to answer these questions for ourselves, we contacted a half dozen friends and put the questions to them, "What should we do to respond to the New Evangelization? What follows is a slightly edited list of their answers.
Wear a crucifix.
Find a quiet place to pray and pray every day. If you currently pray for, say, ten minutes a day, stretch it to twelve minutes.
Find or start a Bible study group. There is plenty of support material available.
Say grace at meals and don't hesitate to say it in public places.
Call or write that friend with whom you have lost contact or with whom your friendship has frayed.
Tune into Catholic Radio and television and stay abreast of current Catholic thinking.
Ignore the commercialism of Christmas and observe the austerity of Lent and then, when everyone else is throwing out their trees and the holiday glut, celebrate the joy and jubilation for the full Twelve Days of Christmas.
Share religious articles or Internet links not just with your friends, but people who you think are ready to receive a religious message.
Gently [and prayerfully] ask that son, daughter, parent, cousin or neighbor who has slipped away, "Have you thought of giving the Church another try?"
Go to funerals and wakes for those in your parish you may not know.
Make your parish a more welcoming place. Start an after-Mass coffee hour. Go out of your way to get to know fellow parishioners. Talk up your parish to friends, particularly those who have slipped away.
Pray the rosary. Start a car trip with the rosary. And pray it especially when you are stuck in traffic.
Make some small sacrifice each day to share in the larger sufferings of Christ. Skip a desert. Straighten a closet. Let that obnoxious driver get ahead of you.
Take on one explicitly Catholic cause: regularly visiting hospitals and hospices; join a prison ministry; teach CCD; help out at a Catholic school;
Call or write, but reconnect with your Godchild.
One of our respondents, Mary Taylor, has had success explaining the faith with what she calls "a five finger explanation" of Catholicism. The thumb she explains stands for the sacraments (the opposable thumb is what makes us different from lower species). As the thumb anchors the hand, so sacraments anchor the Church. The pointer finger stands for Scripture which points the way. The middle finger stands for the Church's moral virtues which are an affront to the world's values. The ring finger stands for the enduring solidarity of community. And the little finger stands for prayer, which always gets the short end of the stick. No fist. Just five fingers extended in welcome.
These are simply suggestions.No commandments. We or our contributors in this effort are not suggesting that everyone do all of them. Like shoes, some fit better than others. Nor is the list above complete. What have we missed? Please send us your suggestions. We are all on a long road and we need all the provisions we can get.
"Cast out further into the deep and lower your nets."
Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, editors of "Why I'm Still a Catholic," worship at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline.