What is New About the New Evangelization?

cropped-church-2.jpgBlessed John Paul II used the expression ‘new evangelization’ to described the ongoing evangelistic task of proclaiming the Gospel anewto those already evangelized and it quickly became one of the most characteristic themes of his pontificate.  What is ‘new’ about the new evangelization?   Blessed John Paul II observed that it is “new in its ardor, new in its methods, and new in its means of expression” (Pope John Paul II to Bishops of Latin America, Haiti, 1983). Pope Benedict XVI further clarified the meaning of ‘new’:

“New” not in the contents, but in the interior impulse, open to the grace of the Holy Spirit who constitutes the force of the new law of the Gospel and who always renews the Church; “new” in the search of ways that correspond to the force of the Holy Spirit and are adapted to the times and the situations; “new” because necessary also in countries which have already received the proclamation of the Gospel. (Pope Benedict XVI, Vigil Homily for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, 2010)

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization notes that the “new” in new evangelization has a sense which parallels the use of “new” in Sacred Scriptures.  He notes that we are not “speaking about is something that has appeared for the first time” but rather, “it makes reference to an attitude of renewal.” (The Sower 34.3)  In his opening address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI noted;

“There is a dynamic continuity between the proclamation of the first disciples and ours. Throughout the centuries, the Church has never ceased to proclaim the salvific mystery of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, but today that same message needs renewed vigour to convince contemporary man, who is often distracted and insensitive. For this reason, the new evangelization must try to find ways of making the proclamation of salvation more effective; a proclamation without which personal existence remains contradictory and deprived of what is essential.”

Recent Pope Benedict XVI hosted a Synod of Bishops for The New Evangelization for the Transmission of The Christian Faith (2011-2012).  Following Blessed John Paul II’s, encyclicalRedemptoris Missio 3, the final list of propositions from the Synod identifies three aspects of missionary outreach by the Church.  The first is the traditional evangelization ad gentes or the announcement of the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ.  Secondly, evangelization is the ongoing growth in faith that should be part of the ordinary life of the Church. Finally, synod defined the New Evangelization as that which is directed especially to those “who have become distant from the Church” (Prop. 7).  The third category of the new evangelization refers to Catholics who have at least some of the Sacraments of Initiation but have drifted away from the life of the Church.

In order to facilitate the new evangelization the synod calls on all of the faithful to renew their faith and then make an effort to share it, especially with those who are far from God and to invite them once again to hear the Word of God in order to encounter Jesus in a new and profound way  (Prop. 5). The new evangelization begins with renewal. “The new evangelization is a time of awakening, of new encouragement and new witness that Jesus Christ is the center of our faith and daily life. It calls on every member of the Church to a renewal of faith and an actual effort to share it” (Prop. 5)

Although the Synod acknowledges that God desires to save all people (1 Tim 2:4), and that God’s mercy even extends to those who have never heard the Gospel (Lumen Gentium 16) they also note that evangelization is still necessary for the salvation of all because of the danger of being deceived by the Evil One or the very real danger of our human reasoning failing to bring us into the light of salvation (Rom 1:21, 25) leaving us open to the possibility of being exposed to final despair (Prop. 6, cf. Martin, Will Many be Saved? 2012). The New Evangelization begins with the initial proclamation of the kerygma or message of the paschal mystery of Christ (1 Cor 15:3-5).  This proclamation has the power to bring about “repentance of sin, conversion of hearts and a decision of faith” (Prop. 9).

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