What's new about the New Evangelization?
A copy of the apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel") by Pope Francis is seen during a news conference at the Vatican.
Alessandro Bianchi/CNS Reuters
Blessed (soon to be Saint) Pope John Paul II frequently spoke about the New Evangelization. Just what is it? What's new about the New Evangelization? The word evangelium means "the good news." For we Christians this "good news" is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The New Evangelization refers to spreading this good news: that the Messiah has come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, that he is the Son of God and that through belief in him we may have eternal life.
Pope John Paul II said, "The new evangelization is not a matter of merely passing on doctrine but rather of a personal and profound meeting with the Savior." Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, "The essence of Christianity ... is an ever-new encounter with ... the God who speaks to us, who approaches us and who befriends us!" In May 2004 Pope Emeritus Benedict said, "Many people perceive Christianity as something institutional — rather than as an encounter with Christ — which explains why they don't see it as a source of joy."
The "Joy of the Gospel" is the title of Pope Francis' new apostolic exhortation. In it he writes, "The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day."
And so, we see the popes all speaking about a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus. Yet many Catholics don't seem to know this. Recent research from the book, "Forming Intentional Disciples" by Sherry Weddell indicates that only 60 percent of Catholics believe in a personal God. When asked if God is a person with whom people can have a relationship or if God is an impersonal force, only 48 percent of Catholics were absolutely certain that the God they believed in was a God with whom they could have a personal relationship.
And so what is perhaps new about the New Evangelization is this emphasis on the personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. Why is this relationship important? As Weddell points out in her book, many Catholics are leaving the church they grew up in. They see the church as perhaps a set of doctrines that don't seem relevant to them. And when they leave, many never return. But as Weddell points out, those who know Jesus personally don't leave. As with the apostle Peter, they say "To whom should we go? You have the words of everlasting life."
This personal relationship with the living Lord exponentially enriches our faith journey. Jesus becomes much more than a historical figure. He becomes a close personal friend. We become his disciple, which means that we learn the "discipline" of Jesus' teachings and way of life. We strive to put into practice his teachings and as we do we discover, sometimes to our own amazement, that his way is the best way to live. Then we seek ways to let other people know about this savior of ours — just as Christians have for 2,000 years. We can become evangelizers, too.
I invite you to make your faith personal. Take up Pope Francis on his invitation to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ and try to make it real for you each day. You will discover for yourself new possibilities and a grace working in you that comes from our living Lord.
(Father Lawrence D'Anjou is parochial administrator at St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Dublin.)
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