Part I: Current Cultural Context
Disciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization
A statement by the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis
"While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him." — Luke 15:20
The Ministry of JesusHow do we, today, follow the call and summons of Jesus to seek out the stranger, heal the sick and welcome the weary?
Christ calls all people to himself. Throughout his public
ministry, the Lord Jesus welcomed the stranger,2 healed the sick,3 offered
forgiveness,4 and expressed his eagerness to give rest to the weary and
burdened.5 How do we, today, follow the call and summons of Jesus to seek out
the stranger, heal the sick, and welcome the weary? Jesus, in and through his
Church, wants us to experience the urgent vigilance of the father of the
prodigal son so that as we anxiously await the return of missing family and
friends, we will be ready to run to greet and embrace them.
Our Current Situation
Today, through the ministry of the Church, Jesus continues
to call all people to himself. It is estimated that only 23 percent of U.S.
Catholics attend Mass each week.6 Those 77 percent absent from the eucharistic feast
each week are not strangers: they are our parents, siblings, spouses, children,
and friends. According to a recent Center for Applied Research in the
Apostolate (CARA) study, the most common reasons given by Catholics who do not
regularly attend Mass are not related to controversial issues. The reasons given
instead point to a gradual slipping away from the faith. Most Catholics stop
attending Mass because they (1) have busy schedules or a lack of time, (2) have
family responsibilities, (3) have health problems or disabilities, (4) have
conflicts with work, (5) do not believe missing Mass is a sin, or (6) believe
that they are not very religious people.7 In other words, many of our brothers
and sisters have simply drifted away from the Church. This is due in part to
the busyness of modern life and to a changing culture. There are also Catholics
who attend Mass on a regular basis but who feel unconnected to the parish
The reasons for not attending Mass highlighted in CARA’s
study also point to an increased secularization, materialism, and
Secularism influences all aspects of society, claiming
religion is merely a private matter. Pope Benedict XVI has cautioned, “Any
tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when
their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly
open to the transforming power of the Gospel.”8 Materialism also presents an
obstacle to Christ. The ability to acquire limitless goods and an overreliance
on science create a false sense of hope that we alone can fulfill our deepest
needs. However, without God, our deepest needs cannot be fulfilled. “Without
God, who alone bestows upon us what we by ourselves cannot attain (cf. Spe
Salvi, 31), our lives are ultimately empty. People need to be constantly reminded
to cultivate a relationship with him who came that we might have life in
abundance (cf. Jn10:10).”9 Individualism leads to harmful forms of freedom and
autonomy. After all, “we were created as social beings who find fulfillment
only in love-for God and for our neighbor.”10 Our personal relationship with
Christ does not hinder our participation in the community of believers—the
In addition, there is an unsettling ignorance of the
Eucharist as well as an erosion of Sunday as the Lord’s Day dedicated to prayer
and rest. The reasons that Catholics cite for missing Mass can be met and overcome
by parishes that foster a welcoming environment for adolescents, young adults,
singles, married couples, parents, families, the sick or disabled, and anyone
who is no longer active in the faith. The means for fostering a welcoming
environment is the New Evangelization. The New Evangelization places a special emphasis
on welcoming back to the Lord’s Table all those who are absent, because they
are greatly missed and needed to build up the Body of Christ.
The New Evangelization
The New Evangelization is a call to each person to deepen
his or her own faith, have confidence in the Gospel, and possess a willingness
to share the Gospel. It is a personal encounter with the person of Jesus, which
brings peace and joy. The New Evangelization provides the lens through which
people experience the Church and world around them.
The New Evangelization invites people to experience God’s
love and mercy through the sacraments, especially through the Eucharist and
Penance and Reconciliation. Evangelization is the essence of the Church’s
identity: “The Church on earth is by its very nature missionary since,
according to the plan of the Father, it has its origin in the mission of the
Son and the holy Spirit.”11 Pope Paul VI reawakened the Church’s evangelizing
mission, Blessed John Paul II championed the call for the New Evangelization, and
Pope Benedict XVI has reaffirmed the need for the New Evangelization. In Go and
Make Disciples: A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the
United States, the Catholic bishops of the United States have expressed a
sincere desire to invite all of God’s children to their place in the Church:
“We want to let our inactive brothers and sisters know that they always have a
place in the Church and that we are hurt by their absence—as they are. . . . we
want to help them see that, however they feel about the Church, we want to talk
with them, share with them, and accept them as brothers and sisters.”12
Dioceses and parishes have already responded to the call of
the New Evangelization by creating evangelization formation programs. This
formation helps prepare parish leaders to initiate catechetical and reconciliation
initiatives, which are meant to invite back to the faith and welcome our
brothers and sisters who have been away. Sources of hope in the Church include
diocesan and parish efforts to continually strengthen high school-level
catechetical programs and to re-energize youth ministry programs and young adult
ministries so as to reach these populations before they stop practicing the
faith. Currently, dioceses focus their efforts on marriage preparation programs
for young couples discerning marriage and on programs for couples becoming new
parents. Diocesan and parish leaders also make an effort to welcome immigrants and
attend to the needs of diverse groups. Opportunities to live the Gospel through
concrete action, and thus to transform our culture, are numerous through
advocacy and social justice ministries. Direct service opportunities frequently
bring people back to the faith; this is especially true of young adults who
value service projects. Many parishes offer not only Masses but also religious
education, formation programs, and other pastoral services for cultural groups
in their native languages. Additionally, new ecclesial movements and
communities are flourishing, and they are eager to join dioceses and parishes
in evangelization efforts.
The New Evangelization places a special emphasis on welcoming back to the Lord's Table all those who are absent, because they are greatly missed and needed to build up the Body of Christ
Areas of Growth
Even though much has already been done to welcome our
missing brothers and sisters back to the Lord’s Table, there is still so much
more that can be done. Catholics may desire to take on the call to evangelize but
feel ill prepared to explain Church teachings. Some believe they lack the
formation to be personal witnesses to Christ. Also, our brothers and sisters
who have drifted away from the faith may be unable to vocalize why they stopped
regularly attending Mass and parish activities, or they may not know with whom they
can speak about why they left. Adolescents and young adults need active and
engaging ministries and formation opportunities, including direct service.13 Communication
and attention to cultural differences need to be addressed in ministry with
diverse groups. Cultural factors, including the lack of Masses and sacraments
celebrated in languages other than English, also contribute to people slowly
slipping away from the Church. The task before the Church is to form Catholics
who are willing to communicate and witness the faith to those who are no longer
actively practicing. By taking up the call of the New Evangelization, we will
do as St. Paul commands us: “Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed
- Jn 4:4-42.
- Mt 20:29-34.
- Jn 8:1-10.
- Mt 11:28.
- Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice Among U.S. Catholics, CARA.
- CARA, Missed Mass Chart of Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice Among U.S. Catholics, CARA. For the detailed analysis of reasons why Catholics do not regularly attend Mass please see: CARA, Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice Among U.S. Catholics, CARA.
- Benedict XVI, Address of the Celebration of Vespers and Meeting with the Bishops of the United States of America, The Vatican.
- Ad Gentes, no. 2.
- Go and Make Disciples: A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2002), no. 40.
- Statistics point to a median age of 21 when Catholics are more prone to stop practicing their faith.Please see: CARA, The Impact of Religious Switching and Secularization on the Estimated Size of the U.S. Adult Catholic Population, CARA.
- Rom 15:7