The New New Evangelisation


June 15, 2013 by lucieromarin

In 2000 or 2001 (I forget which year it was) I attended a meeting during which someone said something happy about preparing for the New Evangelisation. I remembered reading an almost identical sentiment in an article…published in 1992. I thought it odd that we had spent almost ten years preparing for something which had no apparent start date.

Well, it has its own Pontifical Council now, so I guess it’s underway, and I’ll admit that those decades of preparation have taught me a few things. If a member of the Curia were suddenly to ask my opinion, I’d offer these thoughts, which I summarise as the New New Evangelisation, because the ideas are a) newer than the ideas floated in the 1980s, and b) mine:

1) The idea of a New Evangelisation is more than 20 years old…so it isn’t new. (It’s retro!). It is about reclaiming those nations or souls which have fallen away, so we should call it the Re-evangelisation or, better still, the Restoration. This is more truthful (and ‘Restoration’ sounds better, albeit a little triumphalist, so I won’t be offended if no one else wants to use it. I’d just invite you to imagine the kind of outfit you’d choose to wear to a N.E rather than a Restoration, and the kind of music each concept brings to mind!)

2) Natural virtue. I’d ask for better training here, both in terms of growing it within ourselves, and in recognising it in people outside the Church. See, it’s true that people notice if you put holy cards around your work desk, utter aspirations aloud at intervals throughout the day, have lots of theological definitions at your disposal, and go to daily Mass. However, they’ll also notice it if you’re chronically unpunctual, mispronounce the name of your organisation every time you answer the phone, take an extra half an hour for lunch on the grounds that that time was for Mass, and can’t punctuate your business letters correctly. They’re not going to overlook these things on the grounds of your piety; rather, they’ll see it as proof that the outwardly pious are immature at best and hypocritical at worst. Seriously. People notice. And other people have to endure the agony of watching you be oblivious to your real effect on the very persons you hope to impress.

You can’t evangelise people who you don’t really know and don’t really love. ‘Finding common ground’ is often used to mean ‘finding a few ideas that we agree about, and then talking about them, and hoping that that helps us to agree about a few more things.’ I’ve started to wonder what would happen if those who wish to convert others spent time noticing the acts of natural virtue that occur in the lives of those others and taking those actions to heart. This is not the action of relativism, but of humility – and also of gratitude to the God who is the source of all virtue. Thanking Him for all His good works includes thanking Him for those works which manifest themselves where we least expect to find them.

3) Healing, and many more prayers for it. See, people aren’t machines who fall away from the faith – or, born outside it, refuse to become interested in it – simply because their brains have been programmed incorrectly, needing only a data-reset from the evangelist’s fingers to make everything right. Obviously we have to learn how to explain things; but we also have to understand that it’s not only ignorance that keeps people from God, faith or virtue. People don’t do the wrong thing because they hate God; they do the wrong thing because they’re lonely, hungry, grieving, frightened, and afflicted. All of this can be healed before theology is even mentioned; wounds can be healed by compassion, friendship, natural prudence, and practical works of mercy, provided these things are given from true charity, and not just because you want the person to convert. I’m sure that if we won more graces for the healing of wounds, a whole lot of turning to God would happen all by itself. It is actually He who converts people, after all.

This brings me to another point. You don’t have to be possessed in order to need the intervention that only a Catholic priest can provide. There are some depths of affliction that will never be healed by apologetics. We need more exorcists; our efforts are next-to meaningless without them.

4) The idea of the holy. Here, I’m at a bit of a loss. The great chasm that exists between us and those who don’t share our ideas exists because the non-sharers don’t have the same concept of holiness as we do – or, in some cases, have no concept of holiness at all. They sort of get it, but they think we made it up. An idea is better than nothing, I suppose, but if you’ve never experienced the holy, you’re always going to believe that something other than that experience is what motivates people to try to protect it. And that affects everything from Sunday trading, to the liturgy, right through to the protection of life. We can argue our position as well as we can, but it’s like arguing about music to someone who has never heard any music. All I can suggest is that we do our best to make that experience possible for other people (by which I do not mean letting non-Catholics into the sanctuary. I mean letting a sacred liturgical language into it. Having a few saints around would help, too.)

5) Training for contemplation. I’ll admit that this issue is particular to my country; both Europe and America can boast of a respectable ratio of contemplatives-to-active religious, and contemplative religious-to-laity. We cannot. I doubt that you need me to spell out all the problems that this causes! If, however, someone were to ask me how to apply the New Evangelisation to Australia, I’d say, “Make it possible for us to value contemplation over action. Make it possible for us to feel the effects of contemplative houses and make it possible for us to aspire to uniting ourselves with them. Teach us to pursue God first, and not think that this means ‘God is the only subject I talk about. All the time.'”

6) Ban Roman vestments! Okay, I’m half-joking here. But only half. Seriously, I know a trad priest who got attacked by an alligator and killed it. I know another whose job skills  – before seminary – included fending off grizzly bears and killing rattlesnakes. I know a third whose pre-seminary work involved storming armed pirate ships. (No, I mean real ones.) These men did not go into the priesthood because they were scared of –  for too delicate for – work, women, or anything else.  I see them gliding up the aisle in Roman vestments and birettas and lace, and all I can see is a scone reposing on grandmother’s doily.

Europeans can get away with it. So can Asian clergy. They can wear fiddlebacks (and even bows) and still look possessed of healthy amounts of Vitamin K. But if you come from a country that was once (or still is!) a British colony – well, I’m just saying. Scone and doily. Gothic vestments for all!


4 thoughts on “The New New Evangelisation

  1. Amanda says:

    Interesting post. I think you’re on the right track (I really like point 2 and wish it was said more often – by everyone), but I’d go a lot further with these suggestions. If you really want to convert non-Catholics, you could start by asking them why they don’t want to be Catholics and what you (individually or collectively) could do to make Catholicism seem more plausible/attractive to them. One of the striking things about supposedly evangelical religions is that they say they want to convert people, but they aren’t generally terribly interested in why people don’t want to convert (tending to assume that it is because the people outside their religion are flawed in some way) – whereas I’d have thought it would be the first thing to ask. It’s noticeable that the vast, vast majority of religious people in the world simply follow the religion that was inculcated into them from childhood. Far more people leave religions as adults than enter them. None of the major religions these days have much success at large-scale proselyting of adults on their own merits (i.e. not backed by force), and it seems worth asking why.

    I don’t think that people aren’t Catholics because they are wounded, or are in any way suffering, or (necessarily) lack faith and virtue. In the first place, people can love God and expect to find salvation just as well through any of the many other religions/interpretations. It’s only Catholics who think you need to do it through the Catholic church. People can also love God, or feel the same emotion as you feel when you ‘love God’, entirely outside any organised religion. Humanity seems to have an innate capacity for these reactions to the universe. It seems to me to be a mistake – in the context of talking to non-Catholics, at least – to imagine that Catholicism (or whichever religion you’re hoping to spread) has a monopoly on these experiences. Of course, that rather takes away your motive for spreading it, but I guess that’s a whole other topic. As far as this one is concerned, I think without this understanding, there is a risk of belittling or being tone-deaf to the souls of others, and there just ends up being a gulf between people who may in fact be quite similar in their love of ‘the good’. To me that seems very sad.

    Secondly – virtue. Well, it won’t come as a surprise to hear that people outside the Catholic church don’t associate Catholicism with virtue. I don’t need to go into all the reasons why because I’m sure you know them, but the fact is, there is a lot of genuinely repellent stuff for which the church has either been fairly unapologetic or is still doing, and that, I suspect, is the greatest obstacle to interesting people in conversion. I am not sure what the solution is to all this, especially for the well-intentioned individual, but I suppose it might help if Catholics recognised that a lot of what they think is a self-evident good – opposition to liberalism and secularism, to abortion, gay marriage, etc – sounds like a self-evident bad to other people for reasons that are as moral and important to them as yours are to you. Taking the moral high ground therefore might not be a good strategy because – well, I suppose it leaves people incredulous and all the more likely to focus on the various high-profile failings in reaction.

    Going further with this, two things. One is that the fear of liberalism, secularism, feminism and other aspects of modernity has pushed most religions into stressing the aspects of their belief and practice that are in opposition. We are that which is not secular, liberal, etc, seems to be the over-riding message. (again, I’m talking about what non-Catholics hear: I could be quite wrong about internal messages) Do some of the more positive aspects of Christianity get lost in this sometimes very strident public rejection of liberal virtues such as tolerance and the pursuit of equality (as opposed to complementarity)? After all, western liberalism has its moral and intellectual roots in Christianity just as much as modern variants of Christianity do, and I suppose one could argue that it was God’s intention that Christianity should develop into this more generous and all-encompassing attitude to humanity which has the capacity to end the bitter divisions engendered by the identification of different societies with rival ancient-world religions.

    The other thing is that the demonisation by most religions of non-believers and secular social trajectories is probably particularly unhelpful because it prevents religions from earnest self-reflection. Is it possible that *even* atheists might be getting some things about ‘the good’ right and religions getting them wrong? If anyone’s knee-jerk answer to that is ABSOLUTELY NOT POSSIBLE!!! it might be a good time to stop and think a bit more, if only, as you suggest, for the sake of humility. Even the pope only claims to be infallible occasionally!

    • lucieromarin says:

      Yes, I agree with all of this. Oddly enough, we had a sermon about this today! The preacher made a point of telling people that if they want to know why people don’t convert to Catholicism, they should look at themselves, and how awful they make religion look! I should add that if I implied that woundedness was some kind of internal defect, then I wrote badly; I was thinking of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, when she said that a hungry man must be given bread before he’s given a sermon. The some goes for the hunger for love, or self-respect, or recovery, or any kind of need for some intangible-but-real good.

      • Amanda says:

        You’re exactly right. Maybe it was ever so – but I can’t help feeling that there is something especially de-humanising in modern society, and envisaging of humans as units of economic productivity (worker/consumer) must be one of the most grotesque and harmful ways of imagining humanity that we’ve ever had. Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment is fascinating on the processes behind this. It seems to me that any ‘re-evangelisation’ would have its point of entry in that weakening sense of – well, I suppose the importance of human as spirit, mind, soul – rather than in a We’re Right About God approach. This might be quite good for the religions themselves, as well.

  2. Cojuanco says:

    Amanda, but the problem is that the Church can’t change its teachings on secularism, on abortion, on homosexuality – and that we are called to advance our ideas of the common good in the public square where possible. It’s not a question of won’t for the Catholic – it’s a question of can’t.

    As for having a monopoly on loving God, Catholicism does not claim that – the Catechism talks about our common religious yearnings we share with those of other religions, and this of course goes back to Paul and the Athenian Unknown God. What we do assert is that we have a monopoly on the FULL truth about religion. Also that there is a possibility that those of other religions are saved, but through the Church – in a way Rahner’s anonymous Christian, as it were. The trouble is that the Catholic Church cannot overrule Christ’s command that only though him in the end can one reach God.

    Then we get to liberalism and feminism and secularism. To the first two, I say ‘distinguo’. It is possible to reconcile a belief in liberal constitutionalism as a good form of government with Catholicism. See Cardinal Sin in the Philippines, for example. But she can’t adopt Western liberalism wholesale, whether on things like abortion and society’s treatment of sex (which contradicts left-liberalism) or its emphasis on the supposed morality of the invisible hand (which condradicts Forbes magazine, the free market wing of the American Republicans, and right-liberalism generally). Another distinguo for feminism. The Church believes in a both/and view of complementarity and equality. In the Philippine experience, we have Corazon Aquino, the housewife and democratic reformer, for instance. But there are some aspects of Western feminism which the Church cannot abide – things like contraception or abortion. The Church cannot ever reconcile itself with those evils. Once again, simply impossible without becoming Protestant.

    Perhaps we need moral renewal in the Church. Actually, not a perhaps, but an indeed. Perhaps we need people who can give a more convincing, less offputting case for Catholicism, in which the orders around here in California seem to be doing, and also the Jesuits. Also for the quieter forms of missionary work to be strengthened – I know of a Franciscan mission in Miami that focuses first on preparing and counseling new parents, for example.

    On your final point, we would do well to acknowledge even the atheists have a point (Benedict has acknowledged that, y Francisco tambien). But when it comes to infallible doctrine on faith or morals, well, that really is not possible (infallibility is not the sole province of the Pope, but in the assent of the Magisterium on faith and morals, too). Church teaching on the basics simply isn’t possible – not even the Pope can declare gay marriage a moral good, or rescind the Church’s prohibition on abortion, or allow the use of means with the intent of closing off possibility of conception in marital sex (Humanae Vitae is silent on unmarried couples and extramarital unions, since that is already fornication or adultery anyway when consensual). There are certain things the Church simply has no earthly power to do.

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