The first is that of the Academics. There have been numerous conferences about the New Evangelization here in Rome, and and they are concerned with the relationship of faith and reason and modern culture’s encounter with the Gospel. This thread purports to be the intellectual basis for actually going out and introducing people to Jesus Christ, a figure poorly known in our times.
The second thread of thought concerning the “New Evangelization” is a lot closer to the “Mormon approach.” It is a pastoral approach. Many bishops have followed the lead of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. and have instituted citywide confession programs, emphasizing the importance of the frequent reception of the sacraments. This is a laudable and hope-inspiring movement that I would love to see spread across the entire country.
What we do not see a lot of, however, is an active approach to positively spreading the message of Jesus Christ in the sense of missionary activity. We don’t really have our own versions of the Mormon missionaries. There are some programs here and there, but for the most part, the Catholic Church in the West has ceased to be a missionary Church.
I think that’s why Mormons are converting Catholics in droves in Italy. You’d think it would be impossible here! Rome is the center of the Catholic world. There are thousands of priests and seminarians here when school is in session. There are over 500 churches in the city! It seems like you can’t ever be more than a 5-minute walk from one! And yet, in general, Roman parish life is non-existent. And this is not an isolated phenomenon: all over Europe, parish life is dead.
I once had a pastor in a summer assignment tell me that a parish without a mission is a dead parish. Something about actively spreading the faith, whether the mission is in the local area or whether it is in another country, sparks a fire in a parish. We are instructed by Jesus to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). Without that missionary focus—spreading the joy and the hope we have received from Christ—it seems unlikely that a faith could truly remain strong and vibrant.
But there’s a problem with evangelization. There’s something that makes it fairly unattractive: it’s difficult. And it tends to create martyrs. In a society where simply walking around in clerics can earn insults and spitting (as has happened to me in both my hometown of Atlanta, GA, and also in Ireland, historically an uber-Catholic country), in a society where the legal environment is approaching, little by little, the point where the simple charitable defense of the truth of who the human person is and what our true destiny is could lead to arrest for hate speech or civil disturbance, in a society that shuns anyone who exits from the rat race of materialism and technological one-upmanship, in a society that has forgotten what it means to love someone so much that one discovers objective truth in the midst of that love—in such a society, evangelization is going to be painful.