Catholics must rediscover their religious identity and mission, according to two new American appointees to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization.
“In a certain sense we don't have an option,” said Curtis Martin, founder and president of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). He was named as a consultant for the council on Dec. 7, along with Sacred Heart Major Seminary Professor Dr. Ralph Martin.
“If we continue to do what we've been doing the last 40 years, we're on a course for self-destruction,” Curtis Martin said. “The good news is that the Church has within herself the mechanisms for healing – first and foremost, through the grace of God; but secondly, through a rediscovery of the Church's identity.”
Both men will advise the council that exists to re-awaken Christian faith in areas where it once thrived but has now declined. They are among the 15 new consultants announced by the Holy See Dec. 7, a group that includes six laypersons and nine clergy.
When it comes to evangelism, the FOCUS founder – who also teaches at Denver's Augustine Institute – told CNA that the Church has both a problem and an opportunity.
“Many Catholics suffer from a 'Catholic identity crisis,'” he said. “We don't understand what evangelization is, or how to do it.”
“We are told by the Church, that the Church exists in order to evangelize,” he noted. “So there is an opportunity to rediscover the meaning and purpose of being Catholic, and that will bring about a renewal of Catholic faith and Catholic culture.”
Dr. Ralph Martin, who serves as president of Renewal Ministries, alongside teaching at Sacred Heart, says Catholics must not entrust the spread of the Gospel solely to priests or to a professional class of experts.
“The main thing is awakening each Catholic to the fact that, just by virtue of them being baptized, they're called to participate in the mission of Christ,” he told CNA. “That mission is primarily focused on bringing people to himself – saving them from hell, saving them for heaven.”
“It involves awakening the baptismal identity of the average Catholic, because the priest can't possibly carry out the New Evangelization all by himself. It has to be priests and people working together, having a mentality in the parish: 'We're a missionary center. We're an evangelization center.'”
“The fields are ripe for harvest all around us,” Ralph Martin said.
“That means taking advantage of every contact we have with people, to look for opportunities to draw them towards faith.”
Both of the new papal appointees stressed the difference between Catholic missionary work, and the efforts of other Christian groups – whose energy and zeal cannot make up for the fullness of truth and sacramental life.
“Catholic evangelization is drawing people not only to Christ, but to his body the Church,” said Ralph Martin.
“As a Catholic, you can't evangelize someone without being concerned about them coming to Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist – the full Christian sacramental initiation.”
Curtis Martin described the Church's communal dimension as a vital principle, waiting to be rediscovered.
“We, as Catholics, by the grace of God, have Jesus Christ as our eldest brother,” he explained. “His Father becomes our father. His mother becomes our mother. And we are grafted into the life of the Church, whose members are brothers and sisters.”
With this sense of life, he said, believers can begin the task of re-Christianizing Europe and North America.
“There were generations before Christ that didn't know him—but we are a generation that has walked away, or slipped away, or been drawn away from him. And we have to acknowledge that,” he noted.
Nevertheless, divine grace—“the same energy that made Europe, or any Christian culture, what it was”—remains accessible to the faithful.
“If we turn again, in fidelity to the energy of Christ—the energy of truth, and of compelling charity—those forces that transformed the world once will transform it again,” Curtis Martin predicted.