As I write this column, I am embarking on a trip to Australia with the Word on Fire team. We’re heading halfway around the globe at the invitation of the Australian Catholic University, and my team will be with me to film the events. My intention is to produce a documentary on the New Evangelization as it is actually practiced. The documentary will feature the trip to Australia, as well as a journey to the United Kingdom, and after that, New York City. Those settings will provide the context, and a kind of lens, by which I hope to invite the Church to not only imagine the New Evangelization in the abstract, but also to see it in action.
My message during these adventures will be about laying out the basics of the Church’s proclamation. Announcing the Good News is a matter of giving testimony to the risen Jesus Christ, declaring that he is divine, celebrating the deep humanism of the Faith, and finally, insisting on the indispensability of the Church as the Mystical Body of the Lord. These matters, which have the power to transform our lives and culture, are not merely ideas that are to be discussed, but an invitation to share communion with the divine life itself. In other words, evangelization is not just talk, it is a way of life.
How, then, do we engage this way of life? How do we move evangelization from talk to action? I would like to propose some simple, practical strategies to make it happen.
First, deepen your knowledge of the Catholic tradition. We have in the Church an extremely smart, rich, and profound history that comprises the incomparable Scriptures, treasures of theology, spirituality, art, architecture, literature and the inspiring witness of the saints. To know all this is to enter into a densely textured and illuminating world of meaning; not to know it deprives one of spiritual joy. If there is a first step in evangelization it is to cultivate a passionate regard for knowing what the Church believes, and how those beliefs have been a positive force for sustaining the human spirit.
You can’t share what you don’t know, and if you don’t know the full potential of what the Church has to offer, efforts at evangelization will go nowhere.
Second, let the language of the Faith be naturally on your lips. Many Catholics -consciously or unconsciously- censor our own speech out of fear that interjecting religion into public discourse is offensive. To be sure, we should never be aggressive or overbearing in regards to our Faith, but we should never acquiesce to social conventions that require a privatization of our Faith either.
The Faith must be all pervasive, invading and influencing every dimension of our lives: public and private, personal and professional. Allow your Catholic convictions to come to verbal expression. If this prompts a reaction or a question, so much better for the Church’s efforts at evangelization. How many people in your circle of acquaintances even know that you are a Catholic? I would submit to you that if the answer to that question is few to none, then you are not accomplishing your mission.
Finally, don’t be afraid to pray in public. How many times have you sat down with your family or friends at a restaurant and simply dug into your food without offering a word of thanksgiving? Again, you need not be ostentatious, but a simple, unaffected prayer, publicly offered, can be a powerful witness to the culture. Do you remember that sentimental but effective painting by Norman Rockwell depicting an elderly woman and her grandchildren bowing their heads in prayer before taking a meal in a truck stop? What I’ve always loved are the looks of bewildered admiration on the faces of the regular denizens of the place. Don’t underestimate the evangelical power of demonstrating your faith in public.
The Lord Jesus told his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all the nations. This call went out, not simply to the leaders of the Church then and now, but to all of us, the baptized. There is a danger that too much talk about evangelization can reduce it to an idea rather than a way of life.