The New Evangelization: Reflections on the Archbishop’s Pastoral Letter

The following originally appeared in the Nov. 18, 2012 parish bulletin

Last week I began to describe Archbishop Nienstedt’s letter to us about an important topic. “I Believed Therefore I Spoke”: A Pastoral Letter on the New Evangelization in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. This letter sets out for us what the Archbishop believes we ought to do to play our role in the New Evangelization.  The whole letter can be found here.

I had gone through a portion of the letter ending with a statement that should come as no surprise: our relationship with God is personal, but it’s not meant to be private. Thus we ought to be able to tell others about our experience of Christ’s love–evangelization is no more complicated than this.  Since we have been given the love of Christ, the greatest gift possible, we are called to share it with others. Each one of us is called, as were the early Christians, to take on the duty of proclaiming that the day of redemption has arrived. In other words, we are called to be evangelists.

St. Francis famously said, “Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.” This captures the fact that other people ought to see the Gospel being proclaimed by the way a person lives. But this can’t be used as an excuse not to speak about Christ. It would be easy not to share the Gospel because of the risk of rejection, but we can’t let that risk stop us. People need to hear us describe our personal experience of faith.

If evangelization has always been so central to the Christian faith, then what is the “New Evangelization”? Archbishop Nienstedt says, startlingly, that it “is an evangelization directed at those who have grown up in what were once Christian countries but who have lost their fervor for the faith.” He quotes Pope Paul VI, who in Evangelii Nuntiandi wrote: “Today there is a very large number of baptized people who for the most part have not formally renounced their Baptism but who are entirely indifferent to it and not living in accordance with it.” So the New Evangelization aims to reach all who are indifferent to the faith they once professed, but it also aims to influence the culture “by means of education, pastoral care, and social action,” the Archbishop Nienstedt tells us.

Many people close to us may be among those who “have drifted away from the Church and are still searching for meaning in their lives,” not realizing that their longings can be fulfilled by a real relationship with Jesus Christ.  Many people have stopped going to Mass and stopped seeking sacramental reconciliation with God, and it’s up to us, their fellow Catholics, to help them “rediscover the depth and healing path of our Catholic faith.” The situation is urgent: one study shows that only 23% of U.S. Catholics attend Mass each week, and that six out of ten who grow up practicing their faith fall away as young adults. Many people treat religious belief as a private affair but readily accept beliefs that come from the secular culture. Our society sends a strong message that happiness can be found in material things. And we know that our society “idolizes personal freedom and self-gratification.” These qualities of secular society make the Church and her teachings seem completely counter-cultural. If we become evangelists, though, we can influence our society.

The Archbishop was good enough to mention our parish in Part IV of his pastoral letter. As examples of the challenges faced in establishing the Church here in this Archdiocese, Archbishop Nienstedt describes the labors of both Fr. Galtier and Fr. Ravoux, the first and second pastors in this oldest parish in the state. He also mentions the heroic efforts of the Sisters of St. Joseph‑especially the first group of four sisters. We know that now, the spread of the Gospel belongs to lay people, who can reach those who seldom come to church and need to see the Christian life lived out around them. Today, many people have departed for other Christian faiths, and there are recent immigrants who need to be reached by the loving witness of Catholics. With so many pressing needs when it comes to spreading the Gospel, we must not forget the many opportunities already in place: vibrant parishes, a striking amount of Eucharistic adoration, the work of both the National Evangelization Teams (NET Ministries) and St. Paul’s Outreach (SPO), two seminaries, and the Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute. Archbishop Nienstedt wishes every parish “to examine itself and ask how it can become a welcoming and evangelizing parish where people can find ways to grow in their faith and learn to share it with others.”

Blessed John Paul II called us all to the contemplation and prayer that must precede any apostolic activity, so Archbishop Nienstedt encourages us to have a habit of prayer, of worshiping God at Mass, and of using the sacrament of Penance. He also encourages us to develop a personal testimony  of our faith that we can adapt to different circumstances, such as when we might have three minutes to tell our faith story or when we have ten minutes. Works of charity are important for our giving witness to the Gospel, and ecumenical prayer and discussions are also good for our spiritual growth.

The Archbishop closes his pastoral letter with what is most on my mind: “Following the constant encouragement of Pope Benedict XVI that we recognize ‘our need to rediscover the journey of faith,’ we have been preparing a multi-faceted program entitled ‘Rediscover,’ which emphasizes the works of evangelization and catechesis.” Rediscover is intended to become a way of life for us, beginning this Advent and continuing into the future. This past Thursday here at St. Peter’s, people from the entire Archdiocese came to the kickoff event for Rediscover. We will be hearing a great deal more about it soon.

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