.- Facing an âeclipse in the sense of Godâ in Western society today, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl contends, the Church must revitalize the faith âin countries where the Gospel has already been preached.â
This ânew evangelizationâ will counteract a culture that increasingly seeks to deny its Christian origins or attempts to preclude faith from a place in the public square, Cardinal Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, told an audience at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, N.Y. on Oct. 30. The cardinal gave the seminaryâs ninth annual Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua Lecture in Pastoral Theology.
âWhat brings a new urgency to our mission is the recognition of just how widespread and profound is the new secularism,â said Cardinal Wuerl, who was named by Pope Benedict XVI as recording secretary for next yearâs Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization.
In the words of Pope Benedict, the new evangelization is a âre-proposing of the Gospelâ to people who have drifted from practice and even belief.
Unlike evangelization efforts that began with the apostles and continued for centuries with missionaries going out to foreign lands where the Gospel had never been heard of, Cardinal Wuerl noted, the new evangelization begins right in believersâ own backyards, preaching to âthose who are convinced they already know the faith and it holds no interest for them.â
Bishop William Murphy, citing their long acquaintance, introduced Cardinal Wuerl. The bishop also thanked Cardinal Wuerl at the end. âYou have certainly given us reason to prayâ for the insight and strength âso that we may evangelize.â
Evangelization, or proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was described at the Second Vatican Council as being at the very heart of the Church, a âsolemn mandate of Christ to proclaim the saving truthâ to the very ends of the earth, Cardinal Wuerl said.
Pope Paul VI wrote on the need for a new period of evangelization in his 1975 apostolic exhortation âEvangelii Nuntiandi.â Pope John Paul II first used the expression, ânew evangelization,â and Pope Benedict has established a pontifical council for new evangelization.
New evangelization seeks to reach âthose who have been baptized but never really evangelized,â or brought into a full, mature relationship with Christ, Cardinal Wuerl said. These are the people who were raised in the faith, often received their sacraments, but for whom âthe Gospel doesnât mean anything in particular.â
Cardinal Wuerl cited âdecades of poor catechesisâ and a period of theological confusion following the Second Vatican Council. The result, he said, is the ârocky ground and overgrown fields where we now try to sow the seeds of new life in Christ.â
The cardinal recalled sitting on a plane next to a man going to his nephewâs first Communion. The man seemed antagonistic about going, and was only bowing to family pressure.
Though raised Catholic, âhe didnât have the foggiest notion of what the Eucharist is.â After Cardinal Wuerl explained the Churchâs understanding to him, the man concluded that the Eucharist is âpretty cool,â even âgreat.â
The new evangelization tries to âre-propose the Gospelâ to people like that.
âIt is not a program,â one more thing that busy clergy and laity are required to do, Cardinal Wuerl said. Rather, it is a lens to see new opportunities to proclaim the Gospel and to see where the Holy Spirit is working in the Church.
Such evangelization requires âsolid catechesis,â or âknowing what weâre talking about,â as well as a level of confidence in what the Church believes and its value for others.
âWe cannot simply believe,â Cardinal Wuerl said, but we must have the willingness to share the Gospel by speaking about it and by engaging the larger culture to transform it in Christ.
Such efforts face the obstacles of materialism, individualism and secularism, which can seem overwhelming, Cardinal Wuerl said.
Secularism in the U.S., though less virulent than in Europe, tends to tell Catholics, âyou have some good ideas and itâs OK to believe what you believe,â but rails against any attempt by Catholics to argue the truth of their beliefs or to make a case in the public square.
âIâm glad that the U.S. bishops have formed the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty,â to counter a secularist mindset that seeks to âerode the very concept of religious liberty,â attempting to limit religious belief to inside the walls of a church, Cardinal Wuerl said.
âTolerance is a wonderful thing,â protecting the religious diversity of the people of the U.S., Cardinal Wuerl said, but respecting othersâ beliefs âdoes not mean I lose the right to say who I am.â
Cardinal Wuerl recalled a group of teens at which a girl asked: âWhat exactly does the Church offer me?â a question that revealed honest searching.
His reply was that the Church offers âan encounter with Christ,â the risen Lord.
âWe have a wonderful message.â The Sermon on the Mount offers a new way of life for those who are merciful, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who mourn, who are peacemakers, and who are poor in spirit.
Later in the Gospel of Matthew, Cardinal Wuerl continued, âwe hear the extraordinary dictum that we should see in one another the very presence of Christ,â and the challenge to envision a world where the hungry are fed, the stranger is welcomed, and the naked are clothed â along with the promise of eternal life.
The Church offers the living word of God, through which God speaks to the world today, not only in the pages of Scripture but also in the living body of the Church, Cardinal Wuerl said.
Through the help of the Holy Spirit, Cardinal Wuerl said, the new evangelization challenges the Church in âhelping this generation hear the God who speaks.â
Printed with permission from the Long Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y.