Monday, June 24, 2013

Archbishop Chaput on the New Evangelization

From a conference last week on evangelization and preaching, Archbishop Chaput gave this stirring and sobering reflection (courtesy of

(Picking up with the second third of his talk:) And that requires us to understand the pastoral terrain we face as Christians right now, today.  We should probably start by realizing that some of the same civil authorities that once happily honored Father Serra with statues in Golden Gate Park and the U.S. Capitol building now work even harder to restrict the freedom of American religious communities, force the Church out of public debate, and impose same-sex “marriage” as the law.  Father Serra gave his life to the task of bringing the Gospel to the New World.  But the “new world” we actually have in A.D. 2013 is alien to almost anything Serra could have imagined.

Blessed Pope John Paul II saw the outline of our new “new world” more than 30 years ago.  And following his lead, the Church has been calling Catholics to the work of a “new evangelization” ever since.  But there’s a natural human tendency to attach magic powers to slogans, which then replace serious thought and effort — as if saying the slogan, or talking about it, actually makes mission work happen.  In practice, the words “new evangelization” are overused and underthought.  Unless we reconfigure our lives to understanding and acting on it, the “new evangelization” is just another pious intention – well meaning, but ultimately infertile.

From here he goes to interior conversion, and the possibility of inviting others to conversion when mostly people listen to the world telling them there's no reason to change even our most sinful and destructive behaviors.  He touches on the kind of shallow Christianity which has been called "moralistic therapeutic deism," and how it's so very different from real faith in Jesus Christ; on the narcissistic trap of love of novelty rather than substance; and on the resulting lack of the fundamental virtues that allow self-mastery which afflicts our culture.  He continues:

Here’s what that means for all of us as believers.  A “new” evangelization must start with the sober knowledge that much of the once-Christian developed world, and even many self-described Christians, are in fact pagan.  Christian faith is not a habit.  It’s not a useful moral code.  It’s not an exercise in nostalgia.  It’s a restlessness, a consuming fire in the heart to experience the love of Jesus Christ and then share it with others — or it’s nothing at all.  Mastering the new social and demographic data that describe today’s world, and the new communications tools to reach it, are vitally important for the Church.  But nothing can be accomplished if we lack faith and zeal ourselves.  We – and that means you and I — are the means God uses to change the world.  The material tools are secondary.  People, not things, are decisive.

This is always the basic dynamic of Church reform and flourishing: interior first, exterior second, leading to well-grounding mission.  Nothing surprising here, but his clarity and forthrightness are admirable.  So he goes on to talk about zeal:

The heart of every fresh work of evangelization is this kind of ardor; a passionate faith that can only come from seeking out and giving ourselves entirely to Jesus Christ, no matter what the cost.  Just as Francis was raised up in his time to preach the Gospel with new passion in new kinds of ways, so Junipero Serra followed the same path, with the same unshakeable faith, to preach Jesus Christ to new souls, on a new continent, in a new world.

And thus he concludes:

I began my talk today with a passage from St. Paul because the theme of this conference — “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (9:16) — comes from the same First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians.  The irony, the glory and the joy of faith in Jesus Christ is that the more we give it away to others, the stronger it grows, and the more we have for ourselves to feed our own hearts.  George Bernard Shaw once said that “When I was young, I observed that nine out of every ten things I did were failures, so I did ten times more work.”  Shaw was never a friend of Christianity, but that just makes me happier in borrowing his words.  Young or old, we need to live our faith as Junipero Serra did — all in, 100 percent, holding nothing back, with charity, endurance, passion and hope.  That kind of faith changes lives and remakes the world.

Read the full text of the talk.

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