Posted by: Thomas Richard | December 3, 2012

Crying in the Desert for a New Evangelization!

Last February I wrote a blog entry on the New Evangelization, It’s Time to Wake Up!, citing some of the shameful statistics of Church membership: we are hemorrhaging members.  One in ten American adults are former Catholics!  This is staggering, and humiliating, and is a serious indictment: we are failing to live the mission that Jesus sent us to do.  We are shrinking.  We are feeding protestantism with new members, many of them rightfully angry with us for our hypocrisy.  Someone please tell me that somewhere, the New Evangelization is being taken seriously!  That somewhere, we are doing what the Church is sent to do: “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19-20)

The many former Catholics who become zealous Protestants prove something important: these people didn’t leave because they were not interested in God and the things of God.  They were not cold-hearted secularists.  They were looking for Christ!  And they could not find Him in His own Church.  How many times I have heard from Protestants who are former Catholics, “I wasn’t being fed.  I wasn’t hearing the Gospel.  I couldn’t find Jesus Christ.”

The Pope is certainly aware of the need!  Thank God that our Pope is aware of the religious ignorance of modern Catholics!  He recently said (to French Bishops in a recent ad limina visit),

… one of the gravest problems of our time is the ignorance of religion on the part of many men and women, also among the Catholic faithful”.

“This is why the new evangelisation, in which the Church is resolutely engaged, … assumes such importance”, the Pope continued. “One of the most formidable obstacles to our pastoral mission is ignorance of the content of faith. Indeed, this is a dual form of ignorance: the ignorance of Jesus Christ as a person and ignorance of the sublime nature of His teachings, of their universal and permanent value in the search for the meaning of life and happiness. In the new generations this ignorance produces an inability to understand history or to recognize themselves as heirs to this tradition, which has shaped European life, society, art and culture”.

I especially appreciate the Holy Father’s precise and complete observation.  Although he is speaking here to French bishops, the problem is certainly not an exclusively French one.  Our problem – certainly for the modern West – is two-fold; there is “a dual form of ignorance” :
1) we are ignorant of “Christ as a person,” and
2) we are ignorant of “the sublime nature of His teachings.”

This grave, profound problem is not “rocket science”!  It is not as though the Church in the West is incapable of meeting the One who died to meet us!  It is not as though we all need theology degrees to know the beauty of His eternal Truth!  We need only His grace, and our desire!  He gives to all who ask; He is found by all who seek; He opens Himself to all who will knock at the door of His Sacred Heart!

The American bishops also, recently, have acknowledged in specific terms the poverty of our souls.  The new draft of the USCCB on preaching has this:

We also recognize that many Catholics, even those who are devoted to the life of the Church and hunger for a deeper spirituality, seem to be uninformed about the Church’s teaching and are in need of a stronger catechesis. At a time when living an authentic Christian life leads to complex challenges, people need to be nourished all the more by the truth and guidance of their Catholic faith. Aware of this present social context and realizing the need for a deeper evangelization among our Catholic population, with renewed vigor the Church’s preachers must inspire and instruct the faithful in the beauty and truth of Catholic Tradition and practice.

Adult formation is needed, to place Catholic adults in communion with Christ as a Person, and to communicate His teachings as received in His Holy Church.  This is rightly called formation in faith – more than merely education, or training, or exposure to “information” about Christ and His Truth.  Exposure is needed to Jesus Christ, God the Son.  We need to meet Him, to hear Him, to learn from Him – and thus to discover in Him, Truth.  Then it is alive in us, and then we are alive in Him.  We need this.  We need Him.  Not programs, not more episcopal papers, not workbooks and videos.  We need the life of God, and He is so very near.

We need a New Evangelization – we really do – not merely as a project, but as a reality.  The Pope pointed out to us in a recent homily, that the need is dire.  We are languishing in a spiritual desert:

“If today the Church proposes a new Year of Faith and a new evangelisation, it is not to honour an anniversary, but because there is more need of it, even more than there was fifty years ago! … . Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual “desertification”. …This, then, is how we can picture the Year of Faith: a pilgrimage in the deserts of today’s world, taking with us only what is necessary: … the Gospel and the faith of the Church, of which the Council documents are a luminous expression, as is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published twenty years ago.

If we in the West find ourselves in a spiritual desert – a wasteland – then our Church ought to be a place of life in the wilderness.  Our Church ought to be an oasis of His precious living water – in the midst of barren sand, fertile rich soil – in the midst of ignorance of God and Truth, treasures of blessed and holy wisdom.  How is it, that we have come to such poverty as we now have?  And when will we wake up and remember who we are, and what we are called to be?


Responses

  1. Dear Thomas,

    What a wonderful “follow up” to the two Bible Studies we had in our parish yesterday, for we spoke about this very need for being both re-evangelized ourselves and helping others to come to know Jesus and follow His teachings given to us in His Word!

    During this first week of Advent, let us strive especially to keep His Word in our hearts and ponder as Mary did, that we may do as she did: going with haste to share the Good News of Emmanuel – Jesus is within us! May we open ourselves to the power of His Word and the Holy Spirit! Let us not be like the “drowsy disciples” who left Jesus praying in His agony, but let us remain with Him as Mary did even to the Cross. The true disciple will become like the Master.

    Come Holy Spirit, kindle in us the Fire of Your Love! Overshadow us as You did Mary that Jesus may live in us and empower us to be all we are called to be, for the glory of God our Father, and for the good of all our brothers and sisters. Amen.

  2. There are two issues here, it seems to me:
    1. As mentioned, that Protestantism offers ex-Catholics that which they feel cannot be met by the Church. There are many other sources that show how the fastest growth in Christian churches is in the evangelical/charismatic category.
    2. That secularism has become the social norm, thus weakening Church membership. Politicians have been extremely ‘successful’ at neutralising faith as a force that would otherwise counter their power base over the public.

    The Holy Father has often commented how the Church should not try to appeal to general public sentiment; rather, stand by our true values and way of being. I agree, as otherwise, we would go the way of the Anglican community – popularism and doomed to implode. However, a reduction in the number of true adherents to the faith in such an environment is a natural and inevitable consequence of bucking popularism and secular values.

    What to do about that? Well, if the Church and the faithful stand by our way of being, we have to accept that by definition, numbers will dwindle. I suspect though that the way the world is going (downhill fast, based on all objective criteria) that people may increasingly look for an unchanging and steadfast anchor for their ship. That’s where the Church comes in, as nowhere else can true happiness and fulfilment be found.

    • Hello Chris, in response to your comment “… if the Church and the faithful stand by our way of being, we have to accept that by definition, numbers will dwindle,” I wanted to post then-Card. Joseph Ratzinger’s 1970 words:

      From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. It will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. It will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices it built in its palmy days. As the number of its adherents diminishes, so will it lose many of its social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of its individual members.

      Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry, and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly.

      The Church will be a more spiritualized Church, not presuming upon a political mantle, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost it much valuable energy. It will make it poor and cause it to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. (…). But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. (…) It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that it was until recently; but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming, and be seen as humanity’s home where they will find life and hope beyond death.
      (From Glaube un Zukunft (1970) Faith and the Future (1971/2006))

      This quote probably deserves a blog entry on its own – it is very profound, and provocative.

      Thomas


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