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!