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Part III: The Focus of the New Evangelization
Disciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization
A statement by the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis
"Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28
Jesus grants all people rest and comfort from the burdens of this world. The rest and comfort of Christ comes from the hope offered by him: the hope of salvation and eternal life. The hope of salvation proclaimed in the Gospel transforms our lives with the promise of eternal life and comfort to the weary. “The Christian message was not only ‘informative’ but ‘performative.’ That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life”[emphasis added].27 Jesus Christ offers us new hope through a New Evangelization. Through the re-proposing of the Gospel, the Church seeks to comfort all those who are burdened by offering faith, hope, love, and the gift of new life in Christ.
The New Evangelization calls us to renew our faith so that we can share it with others. Before one can evangelize, one must be evangelized. A disciple of Christ must continually renew his or her faith. The disciple who then shares the faith is an evangelist. The Church is called to renew her faith in every age and at the same time proclaim it: “The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself. . . . This means that she has a constant need of being evangelized, if she wishes to retain freshness, vigor and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel.” 28
With a renewed faith, the Church goes forth to share the faith. Given the current cultural context of our society, the Church is directing her evangelization efforts in a particular way to those members of the Body of Christ who are absent. In , the Catholic bishops of the United States described in general terms some reasons that have contributed to Catholics who no longer actively participate in the life of the Church: “Some were never formed in the faith after their childhood. Some have drifted away because of one or another issue. Some feel alienated from the Church because of the way they perceive the Church or its teaching. Some have left because they were mistreated by church representatives.” 29 These broad categories represent various reasons why our brothers and sisters are no longer involved in the life of the Church. These descriptions are meant to help bishops and diocesan and parish staff to better understand why our missing brothers and sisters have stopped coming to the Lord’s Table, enabling the Church to be an agent of healing and reconciliation.
Attention should also be paid to the cultural contexts and situations that our missing brothers and sisters face. Pope Benedict XVI described some of the contemporary situations confronting modern man, including secularism, globalization, social communications, the economy, scientific and technological research, and civic and political life. Many of these societal realities are positive, but when taken to the extreme, they can lead to disillusionment and weariness. For example, more people than ever before are able to participate in politics and enjoy political freedom, but current extreme political forces are also causing war, injustice, and the slow erosion of human rights, including religious freedom.30 The disparity in economic development, while lifting some out of poverty, has also led to an inequitable distribution of goods as well as damage to God’s creation, which adds to the plight of the poor. Secularism has led to a diminishing recognition of Sunday as the Lord’s Day, a holy day of prayer and rest. “[The New Evangelization] involves . . . the proclamation and demonstration that the Christian faith is the only fully valid response to the problems and hopes that life poses to every person and society.”31 The New Evangelization offers hope. Our hope is not in a program or philosophy but in the person of Jesus Christ, who comforts those who are burdened.
Currently, there are numerous pastoral programs meant to encourage and support people in their journey back to the faith. However, for these programs to be effective, bishops, eparchs, pastors, catechists, and indeed all Catholics reaching out to our missing brothers and sisters must touch the lives of others, interact with them, and show them how the faith answers the deepest questions and enriches modern culture. Many might ask, “How do I touch people’s lives? How do I interact with others in a spirit of love? How do I explain how the faith addresses modern concerns?” The Church has the resources to help. One such resource involves cultivating a culture of witness.
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